The Fresh Loaf

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Problems transitioning from rye/whole wheat to white flour.

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foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Problems transitioning from rye/whole wheat to white flour.

Recently, I decided to start a new batch of sourdough cultures. Unfortunately, I've had problems with transitioning from their whole grain state to a white starter.

Over about 4 different starters (some using orange juice, some not, some using whole wheat, some rye) the initial activity was great and they seemed quite happy being maintained as wholegrain starters. Problems manifested as soon as I started transitioning to white flour. 

The first thing I noticed was a very bad smell during fermentation - somewhere between rotting vegetable matter and hydrogen sulphide. This didn't seem to clear with successive feeds.

I tried to keep the feeding on a 'low ratio' of 1:2:2 or 1:1:1 and used a number of different white flours but all suffered the same bad aroma. I tried introducing the white flour gradually - no dice. I also tried the 'shock treatment' by using about a teaspoon of wholegrain starter to a much larger amount of white flour:- same problem. I also tried different hydrations with no luck. 

While I don't believe the source of the unpleasant aroma is 'bad' bacteria (it's not at all like the leucs I've dealt with in the past) - I do think something is happening with the yeast and/or bacteria in the culture, causing them to struggle. Strange that I encountered no problems when using the same white flours with IDY.

Anyway, I kept feeding these unpleasant starters hoping the problem would eventually clear...and I suppose eventually it kind of did - but not in a good way! The smell diminished but so did the activity until I was left with a culture that would sit there on a 1:1:1 feed doing hardly anything (barely souring at all) and no discernible rise.

To give some idea of how limiting this can be on bread making: while my whole rye starter remains stable and active, I can't make anything other than a high percentage rye bread from it. Any time I add the rye starter to a predominantly white dough, I end up with a stinky mess. It's almost as if my rye starter has a white/ wheat allergy!

Wondering if anyone else has experienced this 'transitioning to white' problem?

Cheers,

FP


 

SteveB's picture
SteveB

FP, what you describe is a phenomenon that a number of others, myself included, have been seeing recently.  It's interesting to note that the phenomenon is not specific to any one country.


I've managed to suppress the sulfur odor by reducing my firm starter's maintenance temperature to 70ºF and continuing to feed at 1:1:2 inoculant:water:flour, every 12 hours, over a period of a number of days.  I'm still trying to determine from where the unusual behavior originates.


 


SteveB


www.breadcetera.com


  

ehanner's picture
ehanner

FP and SteveB:
Debbie and I have been discussing this issue and I'm about to try converting some my healthy white starter to a firm white and also converting to a rye starter. What are you two using for flour types for both white and whole grain?


My usual routine is to feed at 1:2:2.2 or 50g starter:100g water :120g flour. 83% hydration.


I would like to try to duplicate your issue here.


Eric

SteveB's picture
SteveB

I've used Hodgson Mills whole grain rye flour to start the culture and both KA Organic Select Artisan flour and Heartland Mill Organic All Purpose flour to convert and maintain the starter.


 


SteveB


www.breadcetera.com


   

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Steve, have you had the same experience of FP where he can make a rye loaf but if he uses the rye starter on white flour the bad aroma returns? That's very strange.


My guess is that the yeast population is corrupted somehow. What ever it is that's creating co2 and rising the dough, it must be some other organism. Debbie is probably smiling now, reading my interpretation of these symptoms.


As FP points out, It would be seriously limiting if this were to be a common occurrence around the World.


Steve, are you keeping the affected starters at low hydration now?


Eric

SteveB's picture
SteveB

Eric, I maintain only a 50% hydration white starter.  When I first started culturing the starter, I used the standard procedure of using rye flour the first couple of days to get the starter going.  Once I started feeding it white flour, it became quite sticky and overly extensible and developed a sulfur odor.  After feeding every 12 hours while maintaining the starter at 70ºF for about 10 days, the stickiness and excessive extensibility abated but the sulfur smell remains.  I don't have a problem with CO2 production or dough leavening.  The starter just produces a noticeable sulfur odor.


 


SteveB


www.breadcetera.com


 

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Unlike Steve, I continued maintaining a 100% hydration starter (although I did try a stiff starter at one point). 


I observed a similar pattern - the proteolytic activity (at least I assume that caused the stickiness) abated but the sulphur smell persisted.


 


FP

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

"Debbie is probably smiling now, reading my interpretation of these symptoms."


I'm smiling more at that statement than anything else  : )


This has turned out to be quite a head-scratcher because it is starting to look as if similar issues are cropping up in more places---I read on PMcCool's blog that he is getting sticky doughs with his new starter in Aftica. That seems to be one of the hallmarks of this affliction---gluten problems that present as sticky, stringy starters, or slack, sticky doughs, problems rising, and in some cases, accompanied by sulfurous odors. I have no real doubt that the problem is bacterial, but why now? Why these starters? The only thing they all appear to have in common is recent change in feeding routine. I have my theories, but I'm also consulting with the big guns in an effort to figure this out. Will let you all know more when/if I do.


In the meantime, my advice is to keep your starters on a healthy feeding routine at cool room temperature. The tunnel may seem very long, but there is light at the end. My sticky, stringy problems spontaneously cleared up between days 9 and 10. It was a noticeable turn-around, not a gradual thing. The starter had been in a holding pattern for 9 days; on day 10 it was completely different. And today, my starter made a very nice dough.... with elasticity!


Keep the faith, guys  : )
-dw

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Eric


I should also mention Debra Wink has been incredibly helpful and patient in working with me on my starter issues. As a result I've also benefitted indirectly from information passed on by Eric and Steve (thanks guys! :) )


So far I've been able to keep one of the cultures going on long after the others...although it's been showing signs of slowing down recently and the smell still persists - but it's still hanging in there (just).


Regarding the flour:


White:


 



  • Shipton Mill 'Traditional Organic White' (a blend of maris widgeon and canadian wheat). 

  • Waitrose Canadian Strong White (v. high protein flour) 

  • Molino Alimonto 00 (organic medium protein white made from italian wheat)

  • Waitrose Organic Plain and Bread flours were also tried briefly.


 


Rye:


 



  • Waitrose Organic Stoneground Whole Rye

  • Shipton Mill Dark Rye (couldn't get anything to grow from this flour so I ended up tossing it. I suspect the flour was past it's best...all 25kgs of it!) 


 


Whole Wheat


 



  • Waitrose Organic Plain Wholemeal (lower protein whole wheat)


 


Cheers,


Toby


 

abqhudson's picture
abqhudson

Trying to make liquid levain and am having trouble making my starter.  Starts fine with lots of rye, but slows markedly with reduced rye - almost no growth.  I gave up on the last batch after about 7 days and no activity and started a new one.  Now I am getting very little growth on day three: 75 culture saved, add 75 water, 25 rye, and 50 KA AP.  I think the temp of my house is about 68 degrees  - it's cold outside.  Any ideas - I would like to try to make baguettes.  TIA.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

It can take a while to get a new starter going, but keep at it and you'll get there.

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

My long-suffering white starter IS showing signs of improvement. There is less smell and more activity of the 'rising' kind. It's only happened in the last couple of feeds so I'm holding it steady at a 1:2:2 feed and see what happens.


It's still a long way off from being a 'normal'/healthy starter but at least it's progress. 


FP


 

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hi FP,


And thanks for keeping us posted on the latest development!


The sluggish behaviour and sulphuric smell is mind-boggling, to say the least. I've never encountered this situation myself. I often kick-start rye sourdoughs by seeding with my firm white starter, and it just "works". The white starter is the one I keep on a regular basis, so I haven't done any rye-to-white conversions recently, however.


Have you tried starting a white starter using wheat flour from the very beginning?

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Well, I tried to use whole wheat rather than whole rye to start a culture and experienced exactly the same problems. I must admit I've not tried a starter from all-white - not sure how well that would work. It is my lay understanding that starters really benefit from the presence of whole grains during the beginning phases of culture growth. 


The 'successful' one I'm maintaining at the moment came initially from rye and transitioned to 00 flour (70% hydration) before moving to my regular white flour a week or so ago. 


FP