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The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2

Pineapple juice is a simple solution to a problem that many people encounter while trying to start a sourdough seed culture from scratch. Oftentimes, a new culture will appear to start off very strong, only to die a day or two later. The early expansion is caused by a prolific gas-producing bacterium which many mistake for yeast. Pineapple juice can be added to flour instead of water at the beginning, to insure against unwanted bacteria and the problems they leave in their wake. It doesn't change the end result, but it does seem to keep things on the track to finish on time. Part 1 tells the story of where the pineapple remedy comes from and how it was conceived. The rest of the story probes deeper into how it all works. But first, here is a recap of the key patterns revealed by notes and data collected during experimental trials:

  • When starters expanded significantly on the second day, a period of stillness followed, and the appearance of yeast was delayed.
  • Gas-producing bacteria stopped growing when the pH dropped to 4.5, but yeast growth didn't begin until the pH fell to around 3.5, accounting for the period of stillness.
  • Lowering the pH in the initial mixture, by adding ascorbic acid or by replacing the water with pineapple juice, kept gas-producing bacteria from growing and brought about a more timely and predictable result.

But it wasn't enough just to find a fix. The problem-solving efforts of my team were creating a buzz which we hadn't anticipated and this thing, like the seed cultures we were creating, was taking on a life of its own. Some were jumping to premature conclusions, and speculation seemed to be spreading as fact. It made me very uncomfortable, because I'd rather be dispelling myths than adding to them. I wanted to find some real answers, and find them fast, so I started making phone calls. I found two local labs that could help me out. One had the capability to identify leuconostocs, and the other to detect lactobacilli and other bacteria of interest. I submitted samples of a day two starter during the big expansion. Both labs found that there were three organisms growing. But there were no lactobacilli or yeasts found, which supports what I observed time after time on microscopic examination. My gas-producer was identified as Leuconostoc citreum. At the time, I couldn't find much information specific to this organism, although it seems to share many characteristics with other Leuconostoc species found in foods. Most will not grow below pH 4.8, and this one doesn't appear to be an exception.

Until recently, I could only theorize that the Leuconostoc may actively hinder the process, because the pattern supports it, and because it's not uncommon for microorganisms to produce substances which inhibit competitors. But in updating this article, a new search of the scientific literature finally uncovered the piece of the puzzle I was looking for. Who would have thought the answers would be found in kimchi and sake? It turns out that kimchi fermentation has a lot in common with sourdough development, and mirrors the early days of the seed culture process. Leuconostoc citreum plays a dominant role in the early and mid-phases of fermentation where it causes a slow and prolonged drop in pH, and retards the growth of other lactic acid bacteria.[1] In a study on sake fermentation, Leuconostoc citreum was found to produce bacteriocins (bacterially-produced antibiotic proteins) which inhibit the growth of similar lactic acid bacteria (i.e., lactobacilli).[2] It appears that these bacteriocins linger for a time even after the organism stops growing, although their effect is diluted through successive feeding. A dosage effect would explain nicely the apparent relationship between the vigor with which this bacterium flairs up initially, and the number of days the starter remains still afterward. The higher the rise, the longer it seems to take to recover.

In addition to Leuconostoc citreum, there was also a large amount of Aerococcus viridans. The first lab I visited found Leuconostoc to be in the greatest quantity, but Aerococcus was multiplying so fast that it soon passed the Leuconostoc in number. That is important, and could very well have contributed to the delayed progress. Even though Aerococcus doesn't produce gas, and so was not responsible for any of the expansion, it is not an acid producer either. So while it was using up a large share of the available sugars, it was not helping the pH to fall. Aerococcus is an occasional spoilage organism in unpasteurized milk, which is the extent of information that I have found on its involvement in foods. Its lower limit is not given in my reference books, but since pineapple juice seems to keep it at bay, I suspect that it must be in the same ballpark with leuconostocs. I'm still not sure how big a part each of these organisms plays in slowing the progress of a seed culture, but lowering the pH at the outset seems to be a blanket fix.

I mentioned in Part 1 that some of the bacteria were flipping, twirling and zipping around under the microscope. Those were Enterobacter cloacae. Enterobacter produces gas, but since it was present in only a scant amount compared to the others, I think it safe to say that the Leuconostoc was responsible for the majority of it. However, Enterobacter contributes to an unpleasant odor, as do Aerococcus and Leuconostoc. Because some people report a very stinky smell and others not as much, I'd have to say that even among starters that grow Leuconostoc, not all necessarily have the same combination of bacteria. There are others that can grow as well. Results vary from flour to flour and year to year, because the number and species of microorganisms are influenced by conditions relating to weather and grain crop production.[3] I wish I could have all the organisms identified at every stage, but there aren't any laboratories in my area that are equipped to identify wild yeasts or sourdough bacteria. And even if they could, the cost would be prohibitive. I was fortunate to be in a position to have two of the organisms identified as a professional courtesy.

With the additional information, and having watched the drama unfold under the microscope, I started seeing the seed culture process not as good guys out-competing bad or gradually increasing in number, but as a natural succession of microorganisms that pave the way for "the good guys" in the way that they transform their environment. There are bacteria in flour that prefer the more neutral pH of freshly mixed flour and water (like Leuconostoc and company). They are the first to start growing, some producing acids as by-products. This lowers the pH, and other bacteria begin to grow; they produce their acids, lowering the pH even more. It soon becomes too acidic for the first batch and they stop growing. One group slows down and drops out as the next is picking up and taking off. Each has its time, and each lays the groundwork for the next. It's much more like a relay than a microbial free-for-all. The baton is passed to the next group in line as conditions become suitable for them. The acidity increases a bit more with each pass, and the more acid-loving bacteria can eventually take over. The appearance of yeast seems to be tied in some way to low pH---maybe directly, maybe indirectly, but the correlation shows that it isn't random in the way that "catching" yeast from the air would be, or their gradually increasing in number.

In the late fall/early winter of 2004, I was coaching a group of women on Cookstalk, Taunton's Fine Cooking forum, and I noticed something else. My starters sort of liquefy the day before yeast starts to grow. Gluten disappears, which shows the work of proteolytic enzymes. At first I thought it signaled the appearance of lactobacilli and their proteases. But now I think it was simply an indicator that the pH had dropped low enough to activate aspartic proteinases, pH-sensitive enzymes abundant in wheat.[4] Because I prefer to seed a new culture with whole grain flour for at least three days, there are more cereal enzymes present than in a starter fed with white flour (most of them are removed with bran in the milling process). But either way, it is a good sign of Lactobacillus activity, whether by production of bacterial proteases or by the organism's effect on pH and activation of cereal proteases.

The starters were developing a little more slowly this time around, which inspired me to describe the different stages that a new culture transitions through, rather than try and pin it to a time frame. Room temperature is different from one kitchen to the next, as well as season to season. Sometimes rye flour works faster, sometimes whole wheat is faster. Sometimes a culture doesn't start producing its own acid for the first two days instead of one. Because this process involves variable live cultures under variable conditions, it doesn't always work in a prescribed number of days, but it follows a predictable pattern. While this has been a discovery process for me, it is not a new discovery:

"There has been nice work done in Rudi Vogel's lab on the microflora of a freshly started sourdough: first, there are enterobacteria (Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Enterobacter), highly undesirable organisms that stink terribly. Then there are homofermentative lactobacilli (good lactic acid producers, but they don't produce gas or acetic acid), then acid-tolerant, heterofermentative lactobacilli that make lactic and acetic acid, as well as CO2. I think this took about forty-eight hours at 30ºC in Vogel's study. The stink at the beginning does not matter as the organisms will be diluted out or die eventually. No L. sanfranciscensis appears by forty-eight hours, though: these will occur only after repeated refreshments. Peter Stolz told me that it takes about two weeks of repeated inoculations to get a good 'sanfranciscensis' sourdough."[5]

That paragraph didn't have any special significance for me until I had gotten to this point. But when I read it again, I had one of those aha moments. Not only did this describe a succession, but it filled in some of the blanks, and I could see clearly how all these microorganisms related to the four phases I had defined. Here is the updated version marrying the two. You don't need a microscope for this, because there are outward signs which serve as useful indicators of progress.

The First Phase:
For the first day or so, nothing really happens that is detectable to the human senses. It doesn't taste any tangier or develop bubbles. It remains looking much the same as when it was mixed, except a little lighter in color if an acid was used, and a little darker if not. While nothing appears to be happening, the first wave of bacteria (determined by pH and the microflora in the flour) are waking up, sensing their new environment and preparing to grow. This phase usually lasts about one day, sometimes two.

The Second Phase:
The starter will begin producing its own acid and develop a tangy taste (although it might be difficult to distinguish from pineapple juice). Lactic acid bacteria are actively growing at this point. When using only water, this phase represents two waves of microbes---first Leuconostoc and associates, followed by homofermentative lactobacilli and possibly other lactic acid bacteria. By controlling the pH, you can by-pass the leuconostocs and other "highly undesirable organisms that stink terribly," and skip to the second wave. It will get bubbly and expand only if the pH is not low enough to prevent growth of gassy bacteria, otherwise there won't be much to see. There probably won't be much gluten degradation, and it may smell a little different, but it shouldn't smell particularly foul unless started with plain water. This phase can last one to three days or more. If it is going to get hung up anywhere, this is the place it usually happens, especially if it is put on a white flour diet too soon. If after three days in this phase, it still doesn't become more sour and show signs of progress, the best thing to do is switch back to whole grain flour for one or more feedings. Whole grain flour has a much higher microbial count and will re-seed the culture and get it moving again.

The Third Phase:
The starter will become very tart---an indication of more acid production by more acid-tolerant bacteria. The gluten may disappear and tiny bubbles become more noticeable. These are signs that heterofermentative lactobacilli have picked up the baton. Once a starter becomes really sour, it usually transitions right into phase four. Note that lactic acid doesn't have much aroma, and so smell is not a reliable way to judge the level of sourness.

The Fourth Phase:
Yeast start to grow and populate the starter relatively quickly at this point. It will expand with gas bubbles all over and begin to take on the yeasty smell of bread or beer.

This pattern suggests that wild yeasts are activated by low pH. Or perhaps the activator is something else produced by lactobacilli, but it happens predictably at this point for me, as long as the whole grain flour has not been diluted out. There may be some variation among wild yeasts as to the exact pH or activating substance. I have been unable to find the answer in scientific literature, and my contact at Lallemand did not know. I have only found studies done with cultivated strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which don't seem to require much more than a fermentable sugar (and may explain why seed cultures take off much quicker in a bakery environment where baker's yeast is everywhere). The most useful information I have found on the subject is this, about microbial spores in general:

"Although spores are metabolically dormant and can remain in this state for many years, if given the proper stimulus they can return to active metabolism within minutes through the process of spore germination. A spore population will often initiate germination more rapidly and completely if activated prior to addition of a germinant. However, the requirement for activation varies widely among spores of different species. A number of agents cause spore activation, including low pH and many chemicals... The initiation of spore germination in different species can be triggered by a wide variety of compounds, including nucleosides, amino acids, sugars, salts, DPA, and long-chain alkylamines, although within a species the requirements are more specific. The precise mechanism whereby these compounds trigger spore germination is not clear."[6]

What this means is that for dormant cells to return to active growth (germinate), they need to break dormancy (activate) which is initiated by different things for different species. In the case of these wild sourdough yeasts, if all they needed were food or oxygen, which are there from the get-go, then they would start growing immediately. The fact that they don't, is probably why many people think they need to be caught from the air, or that large quantities of flour must be used to round up enough of them. There are enough dormant cells present even in relatively small quantities of whole grain flour, but it's like a game of Simon Says. You can try to coax them into growing, with food and all the things you may fancy to be good for actively growing yeast. But they're not active. They are dormant, and will remain so until they receive the right message from their surroundings. Compare this to the plant seed that sits in soil all winter long, waiting until spring to sprout, when conditions are most favorable. Is it a survival mechanism? I don't know, but waiting for the pH to drop does increase the likelihood that the yeast will wake up in the company of lactobacilli, with which they seem to share a complex and mutually beneficial relationship. It is also important to point out here that active sourdough yeasts thrive in a much wider pH range than what appears to be required for activation of dormant cells. The point to keep in mind is that active and dormant cells are physiologically and metabolically different, which also means their needs are different.

This pattern of growth is not unique to the formula in the Bread Baker's Apprentice. I have seen the same progression, in whole or in part, with all the starter formulas I've tried. And it doesn't really matter how much flour you start with. In fact this can be done with very small quantities of flour. All else being equal, it proceeds just as fast with a teaspoon as it does with a pound. Procedures that call for two or three feedings per day, or large refreshments before yeast are active, can actually get in the way of the process. Overfeeding unnecessarily dilutes the acid, which slows the drop in pH, and keeps it from moving through the succession of microorganisms in the timeliest manner. But while it can take up to two weeks or more this way, with Mother Nature as the driving force, things do fall in line eventually. It's just a question of when. Three to five days is about all it really takes to reach the yeast activation stage at average room temperature, somewhat longer if Leuconostoc and associates grow. The strategy is quite different from reviving a neglected starter, which is likely to have an overabundance of acid, and a large population of yeast and sourdough bacteria, however sluggish they may be.

So, what can we do instead to facilitate the process? Start by providing conditions for the first two to three days which are favorable to lactic acid bacteria. A warm spot if you can easily manage one (but not too much higher than 80ºF), and a reasonably high hydration (at least 100%). Use pineapple juice if you like, to bypass the first round of bacteria. (Or use water if you prefer, and don't mind the odors and delay.) Feed with whole grain flour until yeast are actively growing, not for the wider spectrum of sugars it may offer, but for its higher numbers of yeast and lactic acid bacteria to seed each phase in its turn. Don't feed too much or too frequently, so as to allow the acids to accumulate and the pH to fall more rapidly. The ideal feeding quantity and frequency would depend on the temperature, hydration, and how fast the pH is falling. However, I usually recommend once a day at room temperature, simply because it is the easiest to manage, it works, and the daily manipulation helps to keep mold from getting started. Mold is the biggest stumbling block for procedures in which a young mixture is allowed to sit idle for two or three days at a time. Turning surface mold spores into the center by re-kneading or stirring and scraping down the sides daily, is the best way to get around it. Mold is not inhibited by low pH or pineapple juice, and anti-mold properties don't fully develop until sourdough is well established.

While you don't actually need a formula to do this, no article on making sourdough starter would be complete without one. This procedure was designed with simplicity in mind, to be efficient, effective, and to minimize waste. It was developed with the participation of four willing and very patient women whom I worked with online---DJ Anderson, Karen Rolfe, Deanna Schneider and the still-anonymous 'lorian,' whose plea for help is what renewed the quest to find a better way. I learned a great deal from the feedback they gave me as we worked out the kinks, and this formula is a tribute to them.

There is nothing magic about the two tablespoons of measure used throughout the first three days. Equal weights didn't provide a high enough ratio of acid to flour to suit me, and equal volumes did. Two tablespoons is enough to mix easily without being overly wasteful (and just happens to be the volume of an eighth-cup coffee scoop, which is what I kept on the counter next to the flour and seed culture for quick, easy feeding). These first few days don't really benefit from being particularly fussy with odd or precise measuring, so make it easy on yourself. Keep it simple, and let Mother Nature do the rest.

Day 1: mix...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour* (wheat or rye)
2 tablespoons pineapple juice, orange juice, or apple cider

Day 2: add...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
2 tablespoons juice or cider

Day 3: add...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
2 tablespoons juice or cider

Day 4: (and once daily until it starts to expand and smell yeasty), mix . . .
2 oz. of the starter (1/4 cup after stirring down-discard the rest)
1 oz. flour** (scant 1/4 cup)
1 oz. water (2 tablespoons)

* Organic is not a requirement, nor does it need to be freshly ground.

** You can feed the starter/seed culture whatever you would like at this point. White flour, either bread or a strong unbleached all-purpose like King Arthur or a Canadian brand will turn it into a general-purpose white sourdough starter. Feed it rye flour if you want a rye sour, or whole wheat, if you want to make 100% whole wheat breads. If you're new to sourdough, a white starter is probably the best place to start.

On average, yeast begin to grow on day 3 or 4 in the warmer months, and on day 4 or 5 during colder times of the year, but results vary by circumstance. Feed once a day, taking care not to leave mold-promoting residue clinging to the sides or lid of your bowl or container, and refer back to the different phases to track progress---particularly if it gets stuck in the second. Once you have yeast growing (but not before), you can and should gradually step up the feeding to two or three times a day, and/or give it bigger refreshments. Before yeast, don't feed too much; after yeast, don't feed too little. This is the point at which I generally defer to the sourdough experts. There are several good books on sourdough which address the topic of starter maintenance and how to use it in bread. Just keep in mind that the first days of the seed culture process have nothing to do with developing flavor or even fostering the most desirable species. The object is simply to move through the succession and get the starter up and running. The fine-tuning begins there. Once yeast are growing well, choose the hydration, temperature and feeding routine that suits you, and the populations will shift in response to the flour and conditions that you set up for maintenance.

One more thing I have found is that with regular feeding at room temperature, new starters seem to improve and get more fragrant right around the two week mark. Maybe this coincides with the appearance of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis mentioned previously, or another highly adapted sourdough species. A Fifth Phase, and beyond? Obviously, there is still more to learn.   -Debra Wink

References

1. Choi, In-Kwon, Seok-Ho  Jung, Bong-Joon Kim, Sae-Young Park, Jeongho Kim, and Hong-Ui Han. 2003. Novel Leuconostoc citreum starter culture system for the fermentation of kimchi, a fermented cabbage product. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  84:247-253.

2. Kurose, N., T. Asano, S. Kawakita, and S. Tarumi. 2004. Isolation and characterization of psychotrophic Leuconostoc citreum isolated from rice koji. Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi 82:183-190.

3. Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains, p. 135. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

4. Katina, Kati. 2005. Sourdough: a tool for the improved flavour, texture and shelf-life of wheat bread, p. 23.VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

5. Wing, Daniel, and Alan Scott. 1999. Baker's Resource: Sourdough Microbiology, p. 231. The bread Builders. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT.

6. Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Spores and Their Significance, p. 50. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

7. Arendt, Elke K., Liam A.M. Ryan, and Fabio Dal Bello. 2007. Impact of sourdough on the texture of bread. Food Microbiology 24:165-174.

------------------------

This article was first published in Bread Lines, a publication of The Bread Bakers Guild of America.
Vol. 16, Issue 2, June 2008.

Related Links:
  The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1 | The Fresh Loaf
  Lactic Acid Fermentation in Sourdough | The Fresh Loaf 
  Basic Procedure for Making Sourdough Starter | Cooks Talk

Comments

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Thanks Debra, that will be really good. In the meantime the posts you have written here will be very useful for anyone struggling to understand how to maintain their starter.

coffeetester's picture
coffeetester

So I can feed it on a weekday at 8 AM, 6 PM and 10 PM. So I go 10 hours then 4 the 10. So if I get this right for a 10 hour feeding I want to stay closer to the 1:1:1 ratio but for the 4 hour feeding move closer to a 1:2:2. Now the starting ratio is where you say I need to be. I want to keep upping the ratio for a 10 hour feeding tell it rises and starts to fall a little before I feed it again. Am I thinking the right way or do I have it backwards.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

"I want to keep upping the ratio for a 10 hour feeding tell it rises and starts to fall a little before I feed it again. Am I thinking the right way or do I have it backwards."

Yes, you have it right, except you meant 2:1:1 (2x) for 4 hours, rather than 1:2:2 (5x). You can certainly do a 10-4-10 schedule, and that may make sense for you if your goal is mild, lofty bread, and your work/sleep schedule prevents regular 8-hour intervals. But you may want to go easier on yourself and start with 12-hour feedings and see how that goes first. It's entirely up to you. You could probably start at 1:2:2 (5x), and if it doesn't peak in 12  hours (but it probably will), you can skip a feeding or drop back to 1:1:1 (3x) at the next. Or increase the feeding to 7, 8, or even 10x if need be. See how it works? The starter needs to work in your schedule, but you can adjust the size of its meals so that you're both happy. It really is like a pet that way. Once you settle into a routine that works for both of you, your starter will stabilize, be healthy and strong.

I suggest that you make yourself a chart with dilution rates across the top, and flour/water/starter/time down the side. The ripening times will likely get a little faster as the starter gets stronger, and they will fluctuate a little with temperature. But keep notes, because knowing how much time your starter needs to ripen at different refreshment rates will help you figure out how much to feed and when to start your levains for bread-baking days. You may find, as I do, that your culture follows a different clock than one in any given cookbook or formula, even if you hit the right temperatures. And that can throw off your whole day. Starters are as different as their keepers.

Best regards,
-dw

coffeetester's picture
coffeetester

So after 14 hours using a 1:1:1 ratio (I use pounds so I started with .2 LBS until I get a gram scale). Since I mixed in a different container and poured back in there where no marks on the side of the chamber to confuse me. The starter was 50% bigger than the night before. There was residue evidence that it rose to 100% bigger but receded. It looks like the starter is active but not sure how active. I want to get my formula correct so on Saturday I can treat it more like a science experiment (And Sunday if needed). So this morning I fed it a 1:2:2 feeding (.1 LB Starter) to see what it does. I will get to check it after 8 hours but feeding it will be hard as my little one has a Halloween party to go to.

So here is where my question still comes up:

1. Does 1:2:2 or a 2:1:1 feeding speed up the fermentation process. If I wanted to complete a feeding in 4 hours do I starve the starter or over feed it?

2. For my typical 10 hour feeding: I want to give it just enough food so it peaks at around 9 hours so that I can feed it right after a peak (My understanding is this spikes the sour taste)

I think once I understand question 1 more I can keep track. So for my Saturday Schedule I am going to split my starter in 1/2 and give #1 a 1:2:2 feeding and #2 a 1:4:4 and check each one every hour (Unless I my thinking on question 1 is wrong). This will allow me to find a ratio that works for 4 or 10 hours.

PS How important is temperature to this experiment. I can’t get my oven over 71 degrees without additional help.

Mike
Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

"If I wanted to complete a feeding in 4 hours do I starve the starter or over feed it?"

Neither actually. The purpose of matching feeding rate to fermentation time and vice versa, is so that you're not over- or underfeeding. Like Goldilocks, you're looking for the one that's just right :-)  Think about the cute four-legged dog-child in your avatar for a minute..... How did you figure out how much to feed him/her? You probably made an initial guess at how much food to put in his bowl. If he devoured it, you gave him more. If he left food in the bowl, you waited until he came back and finished it before adding more. And you observed over time if he gained or lost weight and generally seemed energetic and healthy. You adjusted accordingly, and now, you have a sense of how much food he needs, and how many times in a day under normal conditions. Two big meals, or several mini meals? It's the same principle here.

"Does 1:2:2 or a 2:1:1 feeding speed up the fermentation process."

The better question is, which one will ripen sooner? Maybe if we look at it from another angle, it will be easier to make the connection. Ripe starter will have an optimal concentration of microorganisms. If you take one part of starter and add an equal amount of fresh growth medium (flour/water mixture), you are expanding the starter to twice (2x) its original weight and volume. The microorganisms now have twice the space, half the toxic waste products, and a replenished food supply. The entire population only has to divide once to be back to the original concentration of microorganisms and ripen the starter. This is a 2:1:1 scenario. You're taking 2 parts of starter and expanding it to 4 total (2+1+1).

Now, let's see what happens with a 1:2:2 ratio. 1+2+2=5. This time, you're taking only 1 part of ripe starter and expanding it to five times its original weight and volume with fresh growth medium. Not only are you starting with only 1/5 as many organisms per the same amount of space, you've also cut the toxic waste products by that much, as well as given them a whole lot more fresh food. But to reach the optimal concentration and ripen the starter, the population needs to increase by a factor of 5. That means the population will have to double a little more than twice. And twice takes longer than once. So a 1:2:2 (5x) refreshment is going to take longer to ripen than 2:1:1 (2x).

"I am going to split my starter in 1/2 and give #1 a 1:2:2 feeding and #2 a 1:4:4 and check each one every hour. This will allow me to find a ratio that works for 4 or 10 hours."

I'm pretty confident that neither of those will ripen in four hours. 1:4:4 is a pretty big feeding (9x), which means that the population is going to need time to divide a little more than 3 times. And because you'll be starting with only 1/9 as many organisms producing CO2, it will take much longer to see the first gas bubbles. You may not see any signs of life in the first four hours, so don't panic if it appears dead. Just let it be until it comes around (it will). Be sure and record all the ripening times.

"I want to give it just enough food so it peaks at around 9 hours so that I can feed it right after a peak (My understanding is this spikes the sour taste)"

You're way over thinking things and getting ahead of yourself at this point (quit that ;-)  But I do understand your enthusiasm. This raises the question---is sour bread your goal? Because, if it is, then 4-hour fermentations don't make any sense for you in a maintenance scheme. I recommend that you feed on a 12-hour cycle as a normal routine.

Is it beginning to make more sense now? You really will learn by doing.
-dw

"PS How important is temperature to this experiment. I can't get my oven over 71 degrees without additional help."

Temperature will affect ripening times, but see how it goes at room temperature. Why make it more difficult if you don't have to?

 

Candango's picture
Candango

Debra,

     Thanks to you and your PJ and rye method, I developed a successful starter in early summer, converted it from rye to white and then from a liquid to a stiff starter (50% hydration) and it lives in the fridge between weekly feedings and bakes.  I recently converted part back to a 100% hydration rye starter (sour) in an experiment to bake a particular rye bread recipe, and currently have the two starters sleeping quietly in the fridge between bakes and feedings.

     I just wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks for your work, efforts, guidance and patience, which have been invaluable to newbies aqnd experienced bakers alike.

 

Bob

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

How very kind of you to say :-)

-dw

oceanicthai's picture
oceanicthai

Thank you for your posts, they have been very interesting and helpful!

I am somewhere in week 3 or 4 of my pineapple sourdough starter.  I did everything by the book and everything went by the book.  I feed my starter in the late morning and in the evening, and it always doubles or almost triples.  My only problem is the horrid bitter flavor of my bread!  I love sourdough, including SF sourdough, so I know it is not the sour flavor.  I had my family taste it and they all confirmed it was bitter.  That was a week ago and I went from single day feedings to twice a day feedings, and the bitterness has gone away somewhat but not completely.  I live in Northern Thailand and it is in the 80's in the daytime and cooler at night and mornings.  I know there is a lot of microorganism activity here in Thailand because of the humidity and year-long warm temperatures.  I am wondering if you can help me???  I have searched and searched the internet for answers and still can't seem to find satisfactory ones.  My flour is not bitter, and it doesn't matter whether I use whole wheat or white or a mix.

Thank you so much!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Oceanicthai. you're very welcome, and thank you.

There are basically five variables that influence starter character and health:

  • Temperature
  • Hydration
  • Feeding rate
  • Feeding frequency
  • Flour

Think of the ones you can control as your tools.

Once a day feeding at 80+ temperatures is clearly not enough. That degree of warmth is challenging to starter health, but fortunately you can adjust one or more of the other factors to compensate and make it work for you. It will require diligence though, and twice a day feedings are the minimum. You are already on the right track there, but three times would be even better if you can manage it. When you can't make a feeding, rather than letting it sit out to over ripen, park it in the refrigerator to slow things down until you can get back on track.

The next point of attack is hydration. Firm it up as much as you can---50%, if you can work in that much flour, or whatever level of hydration that makes it a little bit of work to knead in the last bit of flour.

Reduce (or increase) the percentage of ripe starter in your feedings until you find the feeding rate that will just ripen the starter before it's time to feed again. You don't want to see it collapse and deflate between refreshments.

The last point is the flour itself. Use only white flour to refresh the starter. Save the whole grains for your final dough.

Whenever you make a change to your routine, be patient and give it at least a week or two to adjust. There will be some shifting of the populations, and possibly even a complete changeover in the dominant organisms. Natural selection will work in your favor if you feed well, and give it time to readjust.

Give those suggestions a try for a few weeks, and let me know how it goes.

-dw

oceanicthai's picture
oceanicthai

Thank you so very much for your speedy reply. I will keep you posted.

oceanicthai's picture
oceanicthai

My starter is no longer bitter at all, thank you for your help!  I am baking with it everyday.  I keep it at a lower hydration and feed it more often. 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

You're very welcome. I'm so glad it turned around quickly for you.

Happy Baking!
dw

oceanicthai's picture
oceanicthai

Thanks again for your help with my starter.  I have been baking with it almost every day and enjoying it thoroughly.  The long discussions you posted have helped me understand what is going on with my starter and how to feed/maintain it.  It is very hungry and active, which is great for baking.  Here's a bread from a couple days ago:

My 7-grain whole wheat sourdough boule

The crumb.

Thanks again.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

You're entirely welcome, Oceanicthai. A little understanding was all it took. That's one healthy-looking boule.

Wishing you lots of sourdough successes :-)

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

In working through the huge bibliography that goes with this series of posts I built a model of both yeast and LAB growth rates based on Gänzle's work and using his lab derived parameters created a spreadsheet that calculates growth rate for any particular temperature.  My observation is that at every temperature the LAB growth rate is higher than the yeast growth rate.  But that can't be true over the full refreshment cycle for a starter or the population of yeast would gradually decline over multiple generations and the yeast would disappear.  We know that the yeast is relatively uninhibited by pH (the growth rate does decline but not as much as the growth rate of the LAB as the pH drops to 3.8 or below) so if a starter is refreshed and allowed to grow until some limiting factor stops the growth of both LAB and yeast (presumably different factors) then there will be some relative abundance of yeast and LAB in the resulting starter which might be expected to duplicate the starting distribution.  But in between these two end points there are substantial differences in both populations and growth trajectories.

I have not seen any writings that explain what constitutes "mature starter" in terms of LAB/yeast population ratio or absolute numerical densities. There seems to be an opportunity to tune the regeneration process (and thus the population density evolution during bulk fermentation) to achieve specific goals (unspecified at this point, but potentially quite interesting as a way to produce a particular flavor profile).

Is there theory, data, or at least insight into the dynamics of this coupled system of biochemical processes that might be of value in managing the results outside of the lab.  The most basic question is "what constitutes a mature starter and what is the biochemical trajectory of a refreshment cycle"?

This query could have become a new topic but it seemed to fit very nicely into the discussion that has persisted within this topic for such a long time.

Doc

(edited for grammar and clarity)

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

"at every temperature the LAB growth rate is higher than the yeast growth rate.  But that can't be true over the full refreshment cycle for a starter or the population of yeast would gradually decline over multiple generations and the yeast would disappear."

Indeed. And you're right. What those graphs don't show you is the disparity in the time it takes for the various populations to start growing. Yeast start growing first. LAB join in. Yeast stop growing at some point, while LAB keep going for a while. It's a game of leap-frog. Ideally, the refreshment cycle ends when the yeast stop growing, but before the LAB stop. That keeps the LAB in check, and the yeast population from declining.

"I have not seen any writings that explain what constitutes "mature starter" in terms of LAB/yeast population ratio or absolute numerical densities. There seems to be an opportunity to tune the regeneration process (and thus the population density evolution during bulk fermentation) to achieve specific goals" 

There really are no set values associated with starter maturity. Ratio and population densities vary from starter to starter, and are a function of starter maintenance practices. In general, increasing temperature and/or hydration increases LAB:yeast. Larger refreshments less frequently also increase the ratio, while smaller refreshments more frequently decrease it.

"Is there theory, data, or at least insight into the dynamics of this coupled system of biochemical processes that might be of value in managing the results outside of the lab.  The most basic question is "what constitutes a mature starter and what is the biochemical trajectory of a refreshment cycle"?" 

Yes to the first question, and I think you'll find answers to the second in this thread:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough 

dw

 

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

The pineapple juice worked for me...

well, sort of ; )

I posted about starter problems here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/23312/starter-fail-after-nearly-3-weeks

The problem, as I am figuring it really was, was protealysis. I believe if I had read more posts on what the real problem was, I probably wouldn't have had to start over. Start over I did, using KA WW and the pineapple juice. Eventually, I got right back to where I was before. Yes, I did not experience the initial 'Leucs', but when it finally started to noticeably rise after a refreshing, it didn't rise much, it stunk terribly, and it was gluey (gluten destroyed). This was the exact same spot I was at when I declared 'failure' the first time around (and posted). It was also at this point that I started researching what were the obvious symptoms, and ran across many articles addressing protealysis.

Debra suggested in an exchange with (I think?) FoolishPoolish that to just keep at it, and around day 9 or so, it should quite suddenly disappear. I kept at it. I don't remember exactly what day it was, but it did change. Instead of a zillion tiny bubbles and very little expansion, it was riddled with both large and small bubbles, and just about doubled. I kept feeding it, and over 6 or so feedings, it started regularly doubling. This is 100% hydration KA WW starter, 2:1:1 maintenance (starter:water:flour). It doesn't smell familiar to me, but I've never had a WW starter before. It's not 'beery', but it doesn't stink either. It also doesn't smell like the initial flour and water. I can't really describe it other than, it's not bad, and not being familiar with what's 'good' for a WW starter, I don't know if it's correct yet. It's been fed at 2:1:1 every 12 hrs for the last several weeks now.

After the WW was stabilized for a week or so, I used it to inoculate a KA AP (unbleached) starter in a separate container (again 2:1:1). It immediately turned to glue, and I recalled the previous discussions (mentioned above) about protealysis affecting this exact same transformation. The smell was horrible, the stuff was almost nigh impossible to wash off of my stirring device, it was that sticky. 12 hrs later, I fed it 2:1:1 with the white flour, and it DIED. No bubbles, no nothing but horrible smelling glob of glue. Next feeding, I converted it to 85% hydration (all of these are 2:1:1), I did 2:1:0.5(WW) and 0.5(AP), and I got activity again, but very slight, and it still stunk. This went on for DAYS, and every time I would try to refresh with only AP, all activity would cease, so I would keep doing half and half WW/AP to get it moving. Eventually I started doing .25 WW and .75 AP, essentially trying to 'wean' it off of the WW. After 3 or 4 days of this ratio, and getting a least some expansion/activity, I tried all AP again. This time, it remained at least somewhat active. About 3 days after nothing but AP, all H E double-toothpicks broke out! After only about 4 hours, it had doubled and a half, had some rather large gas pockets, and (hooray!) smelled like beer! At the 12 hr mark, I refreshed and it tripled (from one C to two C after about 4 hrs, then to four C at about hour 6 or 7). This is a 4 C pyrex measuring cup, and after the next feeding, it started hitting the top of the plastic wrap over the top (more than tripling)! At this point, I quickly transitioned to a 1:1:1 feeding (still 85% hydration), and that's where I am currently with that particular culture.

All this time fussing with this, I have faithfully kept up the WW starter, but as mentioned above, it only exactly doubles on a 2:1:1 feed, never changes, and has no alcohol nor sour smell.

My current concern is, the AP starter has been on a 1:1:1 for a week or so, and there is no sour smell, it is overwhelmingly alcohol. When I stir it down, there appears to be NO protealysis at all, and in fact, seems like the gluten has actually strengthened (it pulls away from the side of the glass). Should I start feeding it every 24 hrs instead of 12? Convert it back to 100% hydration? Both? It peaks at about 5.5 hours and starts collapsing in on itself around the 6th hour...

In the end here, I'm not sure the pineapple juice trick did all that much for me, as the Leucs only cost a day or two, and the protealysis seemed to be my greatest enemy and consumption of time. It does work for the Leucs, though, of that I'm sold on. If I can get my AP starter to balance out with some sour and on a regular maintenance, I'll be happy.

Thanks for this excellent education, Debra = )

- Keith

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

You're welcome, Keith. I'm sorry that you've been struggling with your starter.

This is 100% hydration KA WW starter, 2:1:1 maintenance (starter:water:flour). It doesn't smell familiar to me, but I've never had a WW starter before. It's not 'beery', but it doesn't stink either. It also doesn't smell like the initial flour and water. I can't really describe it other than, it's not bad, and not being familiar with what's 'good' for a WW starter, I don't know if it's correct yet. It's been fed at 2:1:1 every 12 hrs for the last several weeks now.

WW starters do have their own smell, as do rye starters, but they ferment faster than white, and so they need to be fed more.

After the WW was stabilized for a week or so, I used it to inoculate a KA AP (unbleached) starter in a separate container (again 2:1:1). It immediately turned to glue, and I recalled the previous discussions (mentioned above) about protealysis affecting this exact same transformation. The smell was horrible, the stuff was almost nigh impossible to wash off of my stirring device, it was that sticky. 12 hrs later, I fed it 2:1:1 with the white flour, and it DIED.

Proteolysis will liquify your starter, but not in a gluey way --- more like thin pancake batter. What you describe sounds like the thiol issues I've talked about elsewhere. Proteolysis and thiol compounds both affect gluten, but in different ways.

All this time fussing with this, I have faithfully kept up the WW starter, but as mentioned above, it only exactly doubles on a 2:1:1 feed, never changes, and has no alcohol nor sour smell.

My current concern is, the AP starter has been on a 1:1:1 for a week or so, and there is no sour smell, it is overwhelmingly alcohol. When I stir it down, there appears to be NO protealysis at all, and in fact, seems like the gluten has actually strengthened (it pulls away from the side of the glass). Should I start feeding it every 24 hrs instead of 12? Convert it back to 100% hydration? Both? It peaks at about 5.5 hours and starts collapsing in on itself around the 6th hour...

Both starters need more feeding, rather than less. If it is collapsing at 6 hours, that's when it needs to be fed, unless you increase the refreshments to at least 1:2:2 (or more if need be) to slow ripening. By the way, 1:1:1 is 100% hydration. Any time you are adding equal weights of flour and water (to any amount of starter), that is 100%. Whatever you do, do not go back to a 2:1:1 feeding unless you intend to feed every 4-6 hours. That just is not enough this time of year, and is most likely the root of your problems. I don't recommend feeding less than twice a day, and you may wish to reduce the hydration to extend the ripening time (use less water in proportion to flour).

Give those things a try, and I think you'll see improvement. Keep in mind that lactic acid, doesn't have an aroma, so you can't tell how sour your starter is by smelling it. I'll bet it's more sour than you realize :-)

-dw

 

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Thanks for your response, Debra!

Since my post, I actually did 2 days at 1:1:1 at 24 hrs, then 1 day of 1:1:1 at 12 hours, and the next loaf was quite a bit better. Who knows if what I did actually changed much, when it fact, just 3 more days of anything would have made it better. Fact is, I'm baking with it, and it's definitely edible - will get better with time now.

I'm trying to get the differences between proteas and thiol. They are so similar... Well, this has been an education in not only a procedure, but patience, and at least education can be passed on. I'm good now, and am prepared to help the next person! Thanks again for your response, and for this incredible write up! It's pure gold... I tip my hat your general direction! ; )

- Keith

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Hi Debbie,

here in italy there are several reports of a very early start using mozzarella whey and 00 flour. They talk of a full rise within 8 hours since dough mixing.

I think that maybe that whey happens to have the right acidity level. I haven't tried myself, yet, but I will and report back.

  Nico

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Nico,

I wouldn't have thought of cheese whey, although yogurt whey works as well as anything I've tried. Wonder if they're very similar?

dw

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

As far as I know the strains used to culture mozzarella are different from yogurt strains.

Unfortunately the magic didn't work for me: no sign of fermentation after a couple of days. How sad :-))

  Nico

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Sounded too good to be true, didn't it? No matter. Once a starter is up and running, you never have to worry about that again :-)   dw

Somtimes things just work in spite of what we do, not because of it.

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Wow, this has been a very helpful article, thank you for all your study and experiments!  I didn't find this thread, or this website before i started out so I did not use the pineapple method.  My first question is, (and I hope this hasnt been asked already but I did try to read/skim the posts and didnt find it) in the article is says many have tried and failed, did they really fail or just give up too soon? Did the starter actually die, or just move into a slow stage?

So here's my story: I found a webpage (who knows where it was) that detailed raisin water yeast recipe, it had little info on what to do after the raisins floated, but here's what I did, I strained the water and "fed" it white flour, the next morning it had doubled in size, so i THOUGHT i had yeast, I thought all i had to do next was reduce and feed, and put it in the fridge, after a day in the fridge I found this site (but not this article) and changed tactics, I split it and left some in the fridge and moved the other to the counter and started to reduce and feed 2x per day, 1:1:1.  Activity seemed ok, but not very exciting, I decided maybe the flour was old, I started giving WW flour and activity improved, and then it started in on the bizarro roller coaster ride, which I guess is part of the process, the hoochy part, the glutinous stringy goopy part, the stinky sour milk part, the vinegar smell part, NOW I find your article, I see that I have been feeding too often, oh- forgot to say that I split it again and for experimental sake fed one 1:1:1 and the other 1:2:2, the latter was more active, more rising, the former seemed to languish, the vinegar smell seems to be fading now, but today I have had very little rise, maybe 10% (I fed this am, but after reading this article thought maybe not to feed this evening) oh also, my house is cool, 63 to 67 degrees

Oh, more info, 4 days of raisin soaking, and am now on day 8 or so of flour/water mixture, so about 14 days from the start.

Help! what do I do next???

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

following a logical progression.  You might try looking for a warm spot for your starter when you want to increase the yeast before using. The cold temps mean waiting longer for the starter to mature to the point of being able to reduce and feed.  In cold temps, once a day or every  36 hrs might be a better choice.  Watch the starter, it will rise but slowly.  Give it a chance.  

Smells of vinegar, hooch, beer, sour taste are all signs of not feeding enough flour for the amount of starter.  Warmer temps speed up fermentation, temps below 72°F slow down yeast and with each degree, multiply by a few hours.  When getting your starter started, it helps a lot to get the temps up to 75° - 80°F and then slowly reduce temps when the starter is strong and predictable.  But you can easily leave the starter out of the refrigerator when the kitchen is in the 60's.  

You might want to put the starter in a pocket to keep warm during the day and then let it cool down at night on the counter with eventually a 24 hr schedule.  (Reduce and feed before warm growth periods.)  

By keeping it in your pocket during the day, you could start out the day with a feed and then if mature & peaked around 8 hrs, you could reduce and feed again keeping warm for 3 -4 hrs and then counter cool for the night.  This might be a way to keep the starter from settling into a slow pattern at this important stage of your starter development.  (You want faster yeast at low temps and not slow yeasts at low temps.)  

Then after a week of this pattern, try switching to 24 hrs (or longer) feeding by warming the starter for the first 3-4 hours after reducing and feeding.  The rest of the 24 hrs can be spent maturing slowly on the cool counter top.  For baking, if you have enough discard, use it directly into a recipe otherwise take your discard, elaborate by feeding it fresh flour, warm it and use it when peaking.  Whatever works best for your schedule.  

Do not reduce and feed your starter if it smells and tastes like wet flour (over feeding.)  Give it more time.

 

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

THANK YOU for responding quickly and for your help, this morning the 1:2:2 mixture was liquidy, smelled fruity and had some hooch near the top, I guess this means underfed like you said, since I only fed once yesterday.  The 1:1:1 mixture smelled horrible, vinegar-old feet-limburgher ugh! So this is really underfed? Also had similar hooch as the other, but many tiny bubbles on the surface I reduced both and gave BOTH 1:2:2, stinky got a new clean jar, and I put both in the oven with the light on.  I have one of those remote digital thermometers somewhere....

Obviously I have no idea what I am doing, now I have discovered that I could have baked with the raisin-yeast-water?? So was there actually yeast in the raisin water?  I am a bit disappointed that I could have baked with that and missed the opportunity.

Side note: I have kept some discard on the counter in plastic container and ignored it, checking it every day to see what it does, it got hoochy, and vinegary, but today I notice tiny bubbles on the surface of the hooch, and oddly, it smells like storebought bread.

THANKS AGAIN

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I have kept some discard on the counter in plastic container and ignored it, checking it every day to see what it does, it got hoochy, and vinegary, but today I notice tiny bubbles on the surface of the hooch, and oddly, it smells like storebought bread.

I think this one has activated. Feed it 2:1:1 and see what happens today :-)

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

This one, sadly, was not a "clean" container, it was a plastic almond container with some almond dust in the bottom.  I wish now I had used a cleaned container.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Almond dust shouldn't make any difference. Go ahead and feed it.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Welcome sunnspot9,

... many have tried and failed, did they really fail or just give up too soon?

Many give up too soon, because most formulas fail to guide them through the scenarios that play out in their own kitchen. Some procedures are developed in bakery or bakery-like settings where daily or frequent use of baker's yeast provides a sort of cross-contamination that contributes to a quick start---like adding a pinch of yeast at the outset. Others simply fail to consider the diversity of microorganisms present, and the many variables that influence them and their relationship to each other.

Raisin water yeast is perfectly fine for kicking off a sourdough in a similar way as adding a pinch of bakers' yeast. Yeast activity inhibits leuconostocs as successfully as pineapple juice. But be aware that raisin yeast won't persist in the starter any more than bakers' yeast would. Once you start adding flour and maintaining as sourdough, sourdough-suitable microflora will gradually take over.

Having said that, raisin water needs to be used at an appropriate stage of development in order to donate active yeast. The raisins floating, alone, isn't a reliable indicator. There should be some lively bubbling like you would see in beer or soda---that is how you know yeast are active in there. Otherwise, all you're really adding is raisin extract. And if the pH isn't low enough, it won't hurt, but it probably won't help either. Four days of raisin soaking may be adequate at warmer months of the year, but at 63-67F it's unlikely to have been far enough along. None of that really matters at this point, except as an aid to interpreting the signs you're seeing now.

The sour milk / stinky cheese is what Leuconostoc smells like growing on white flour. From that detail, I can confidently say that you are overfeeding at this point. Don't worry about the liquid---it isn't hooch. Let this feeding go at least a full day (and 48 hours wouldn't hurt), and then reduce to 2:1:1 once a day until it takes off for you. You may need a feeding with whole wheat at this point to provide yeast :-)

Best wishes,
dw

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

OK, I think you are right about 'raisin extract' I didn't smell wine.  My schnoz is not a sensitive as it once was so sometimes I don't trust it like I probably should. So, to clarify, the 2 starts I am writing about are both on the counter(well currently in oven), and both getting whole wheat flour, there is still another in the fridge, he's getting the cold shoulder in more ways than one!

I thought I was past the leuco stage when the sour milk smell went away and morphed to vinegar, and currently only the one has this dastardly odor, I am quite confused! overfed, underfed, OY!

the neglected discard is very interesting though, too bad about the container, methinks I will do it again with today's discard and a clean container

so recap: Today: Winey and Stinky are in the oven with the light on and off to maintain 75ish

The Red Headed Step Child- neglected and left in an unsanitary container by the sink

Paintball is in the fridge.... doing who-knows-what

New Red Headed Step Child to be neglected in a clean container starting today

:)  THANKS for the help :)

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

The reason your neglected discard is coming around now, is because it did not get the overfeeding treatment.

Best regards

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Winey: yesterday fed 1x in am 1:2:2, had rise of about 25%,  THIS AM: still smells fruity/winey, had some clearish liquid just under the surface, consistancy- very liquidy. Fed 2:1:1

Stinky: yesterday fed 1x in am 1:2:2 had minimal rise, THIS AM: not as foul smelling, same clearish liquid as winey, very liquidy also, fed 2:1:1

Red headed stepchild: fed last night 2:1:1 had maybe 10% rise today smells like bread and alcohol

Red headed stepchild 2: neglected, today reminds me of egg salad a little bit.

All the kids getting food have moved to a warmer room 72'

ratio= starter/flour/water  (hope that's right)

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

It's almost 12 hours later, I was gone all day, so I am speculating what the kids have been up to while I was out shopping.

Winey appears to have risen about 50%, and collapsed back to about 10% above the start line, when i got home a couple hours ago I thought it smelled a bit like bread, but now it smell strongly of fruit, hubby's nose confirms apple/pear I am tempted to feed because it has collapsed back almost to the start point and it's been 12 hrs... and he's whiney

Red headed stepchild is due for 24 hr feed, hubby's nose says "oatmeal soap" ha ha, I think it smell less like bread and more like fruit

Stinky is stinky, also confirmed by hubby's nose, stinky laid around all day and didn't rise much, maybe 20% I am thinking of sending stinky down to the septic tank!

Am I on the right track? is fruit smell good? Is it time to feed more, or still keep it on the skinny?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Sounds like most have clearly demonstrated yeast activity today, so yes, it is time to feed more. You don't want to wait until they fall back to the starting point. Pick one and let the rest go, or you'll go crazy trying to keep them all going.

Have fun with it :-)
dw

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Stinky went to live in that big yeast container in the sky, well, not exactly, but he has lots of other stinky beasties to hang out with :)

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

I think starter is doing well now, rises for about 4-5 hrs, close to double, and begins to collapse, lots of small bubbles, but not sure what feed ratio to use now, I have been giving it 1:2:2 last 2 days, because I've been busy, out of the house for many hours and was hoping it would take longer to use up the "feed", but I'm not sure it works like I think. The fruit smell seems to be fading, and vingar hints are back, which is a good smell? If I am late feeding, and hooch appears, it smells like wine.

 

baybakin's picture
baybakin

Sorry if this was covered earlier, but your 1:2:2 feed, is that by weight or by volume?

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

I can't seem to find my scale, so by volume more or less, I go for a pancake batter consistancy, so sometimes i add additional water or flour --just a little that is, to get that consistancy.

baybakin's picture
baybakin

When most people on here talk about a 1:2:2 feeding, they are referring to by weight.  I can understand how feeding 1:2:2 by volume might cause some of these issues, including the sour smelling top and boozy liquid layer.  a 1:1 flour/water ratio by volume is about 166% hydration, give or take a bit depending on the compaction rate of the flour.

If you work more towards a stiff pancake batter, at 100% it will slow the starter activity a bit, and I've never had it separate out on me at this hydration.  Even slower and less prone to fermenting as quick would be a stiffer starter, around the hydration level of bread dough.  A scale will ease these transitions, you should really look into finding one.  Baking is made far simpler to re-produce with more exact measurements.

Hope this helps.

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Thanks! that info is helpful, I will now try for a stiffer batter, and I am still looking for my scale, alas the little grey cells just don't work like they once did.

Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

It works! The yeast took off on Day 5, right on schedule. Thank you, Debra. Knowledge is power!

Janet

dlfinajzo's picture
dlfinajzo

Hi Debra!

Thanks for your thorough explanation on how to make a succesful starter. I actually am in the final step of the procedure and I have a couple of questions. Today I fed my starter with the final 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 of water. The batter looks great, there are signs of activity and it has doubled in size. I think I´m all done now, right? But I dont know how to proceed next. Im not at home and Ive brought the starter with me to feed it one last time but wont be able to start a sourdough bread until I get home three days from now. 

Can I store it in the fridge? Should I still feed it? Im not clear on the amount of flour and water I should use from now on. I understand that if I keep it in the fridge I just have to feed it once a week, is that ok? Before I feed it, should I warm it up for a few hours at room temperature or I just take it out of the fridge, feed it and put it back?

When Im ready to bake, should I take the starter out of the fridge, feed it, wait for it to raise and then use it?

Im sorry for all the questions, but since my starter looks healthy, I dont want to spoil it.

Thank you very much in advance. Regards,

Delfina

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

You can park it in the fridge until you get home, but if you're wanting to bake bread immediately upon your return, you should keep feeding it at room temp if it's practical to do so. Otherwise plan on it needing a few days to perk up and get back to speed before using in a dough. It may not take that long, but there's no point in baking with sluggish starter. It will disappoint you.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/44723/sourdough-starter-care-and-use

Best wishes,
dw

yodafan's picture
yodafan

Does anyone else have trouble building their starter past the pineapple juice phase?

So, I have a couple of starters in process.  One was started before I found this amazing post by Debra Wink.  That one was having problems (going nowhere) so I started the second batch using the pineapple recipe here so that I'd at least have something successful in the works (substituting OJ for the pineapple juice).  

The first starter had been a 100% hydration (by weight) that was kicked-off using rye flour.  It had been producing lots of small bubbles for days on end (4-5), but never rose at all.  So I figure that that was the LAB getting the pH in line for the yeast to start its work.  On the day that I started the second starter (the Wink recipe), I also added OJ to the first batch in place of water for it's scheduled feeding to see if the pH shock did the trick.

As it turned out, the OJ did indeed make all the difference to the first batch.  Got a 75-100% rise within about 8 hours (after several days of bubbles with no rise).  So, I figure, the yeast have activated. I did a 1:1:1 feeding about 12 hours after the OJ feed (now using water instead of OJ but still using rye flour) and got a 100% rise overnight again.  I followed that up the next morning with another 1:1:1 feeding, now using AP flour and water instead of rye and OJ.  About 12  hours later, it had risen ~100% and was starting to fall back.  Figuring that I had a decent starting yeast population, I went for a 1:3:3 feed.

In the mean time, I have my second pineapple (OJ) batch building through the first three days.  By the end of day 3, I have a great looking rise (hard to estimate since I didn't mark the starting point -- wasn't expecting any rise until the next day).  When I get to the day 4 feeding, the starter has beautiful bubble structure and is popping nicely as I scoop it out to mix it with the feed.  So, I figure, the yeast have activated.  I did the recommended 2:1:1 feed, switching to water and white flour instead of OJ and whole grain flour.

My 1:3:3 feed of my first batch went almost nowhere -- almost no rise overnight.  Perhaps the feed ratio was too aggressive? Or, did I just not wait long enough for the yeast to build? So to try to get activity up, I again fed at a 1:1:1 ratio with OJ instead of water.  Sure enough, I got a 100% rise about 8 hours later.  But I'm thinking to myself, if the yeast had activated, why did the non-OJ feed produce almost no activity?  pH should not be an issue at this point.

In the mean time, my pineapple recipe build was still doing OK, but the % rise was not as big as the day before (using the same 2:1:1 feed ratio. I got ~75% rise before the batch started to fall back.  I fed again at the 2:1:1 ratio and as of now (>12 hours later) I have about a 10-15% rise with no movement in the last 3-4 hours.  I thought my yeast had activated!

Back to batch 1, after a 2:1:1 feed using water (no OJ this time), I have a negligible rise after 6 hours.

Both batches are being raised in a kitchen with a room temp of ~72 degrees.

Is it possible that my prior rises were not due to yeast but due to LAB?  Have my yeast not yet activated?

Or, is it possible that my yeast in both batches were gorging on the sugar from the OJ, and that once I switched to water (and the OJ sugars exhausted) the yeast went on strike?  Seems that once I switch from OJ to water, the rises peter out after a few feedings.

Any thoughts on why my starters have come to a virtual stop after going gangbusters a day or two ago?

Tim

P.S., if I get a reply from Debra Wink, I'm not sure I'll be able to contain my excitement!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Tim,

So sorry, you're having difficulties getting a starter going. The good news is that the hard part is behind you. Now it's just a matter of understanding, and working out a routine that works for you. 

STARTER 1

The first starter had been a 100% hydration (by weight) that was kicked-off using rye flour. It had been producing lots of small bubbles for days on end (4-5), but never rose at all. So I figure that that was the LAB getting the pH in line for the yeast to start its work. On the day that I started the second starter (the Wink recipe), I also added OJ to the first batch in place of water for it's scheduled feeding to see if the pH shock did the trick. As it turned out, the OJ did indeed make all the difference to the first batch. Got a 75-100% rise within about 8 hours (after several days of bubbles with no rise).  

I suspect that the starter was ready by that point, and would have risen with or without the OJ. The timing just coincided. Patience (and faith) will come with experience  : )

So, I figure, the yeast have activated. I did a 1:1:1 feeding about 12 hours after the OJ feed (now using water instead of OJ but still using rye flour) and got a 100% rise overnight again. I followed that up the next morning with another 1:1:1 feeding, now using AP flour and water instead of rye and OJ. About 12 hours later, it had risen ~100% and was starting to fall back.

These are all good signs that yeast are active.

Figuring that I had a decent starting yeast population, I went for a 1:3:3 feed. My 1:3:3 feed of my first batch went almost nowhere -- almost no rise overnight. Perhaps the feed ratio was too aggressive? Or, did I just not wait long enough for the yeast to build?

The bigger the feed, the longer it takes to see signs of activity. Temperature is usually a little lower at night as well, slowing things down a bit too. Patience and faith  : )  

So to try to get activity up, I again fed at a 1:1:1 ratio with OJ instead of water. Sure enough, I got a 100% rise about 8 hours later. But I'm thinking to myself, if the yeast had activated, why did the non-OJ feed produce almost no activity? pH should not be an issue at this point. 

Again, probably little to do with the OJ, or even the pH. You just didn't give it long enough after the larger feed. I think this starter will be fine once you settle into the right ratio.

 

STARTER 2

In the mean time, I have my second pineapple (OJ) batch building through the first three days. By the end of day 3, I have a great looking rise (hard to estimate since I didn't mark the starting point -- wasn't expecting any rise until the next day).  

Congratulations. Sometimes it goes that way. They're all a little different.

When I get to the day 4 feeding, the starter has beautiful bubble structure and is popping nicely as I scoop it out to mix it with the feed. So, I figure, the yeast have activated.  

Yes, sounds like yeast to me  : )

I did the recommended 2:1:1 feed, switching to water and white flour instead of OJ and whole grain flour.

So, here's where the recommendation changes. Now that yeast are active, you've graduated from my procedure, and it's time to transition to some sort of maintenance program. I like to tell people, before yeast don't feed too much; after yeast don't feed too little.  

In the mean time, my pineapple recipe build was still doing OK, but the % rise was not as big as the day before (using the same 2:1:1 feed ratio. I got ~75% rise before the batch started to fall back. I fed again at the 2:1:1 ratio and as of now (>12 hours later) I have about a 10-15% rise with no movement in the last 3-4 hours. I thought my yeast had activated!

2:1:1 is okay if you can refresh it every 4-6 hours (or after it peaks, but before it collapses) and that (for a day) should get the leavening stronger. But it's not very practical as standard operating procedure. Try increasing the refreshments until you find a ratio that consistently takes at least 8 hours, and up to 12 to ripen, and then feed twice a day until you get to know your new starter. In the meantime, don't be afraid to bake with it. If it can raise itself well, it can raise a bread dough.

Welcome to sourdough : )
dw

yodafan's picture
yodafan

First, what an honor to get a reply from the sourdough diva herself!  Thanks for the reply Debra.

So, I tried a little experiment with my starter 2. I divided it roughly in half. The first half I left alone and stirred 4 times over 30 hours without feeding it -- trying to see if my my yeast just needed more time.  The other half, I fed with a 2:1:1 ratio using rye flour and water (no more AP flour & OJ). Within 7 hours, my rye flour batch had risen 200%, while my unfed (but stirred) batch just sat there.

So now I'm thinking that perhaps I have a bad bag of AP flour that is somehow inhibiting yeast growth.  My rye experiment proves that I have active yeast, but they don't seem to like my AP flour.

So last night I fed the "stir-only" batch with bread flour at a 1:1:1 ratio, while giving my rye batch a feed (using rye flour) also at the 1:1:1 ratio. This morning (12 hours later), the bread flour batch is basically just sitting there (a handful of bubbles on the surface) while the rye batch is again rising nicely.  I fed the rye batch again this morning when it seemed to have peaked, taking your advice to "... (not) feed too little."

Knowing that I have active yeast in the rye batch, I also tried a test levain overnight using a 20:75:75 ratio. I'm seeing some bubble and rise activity, but nothing exciting. It failed the float test, but I'm still encouraged that I am getting somewhere with this rye batch.

For the rye batch I went with a 1:1.5:1.5 ratio this morning, still 100% rye flour. I figure it's best to get it stronger before starting to mix in bread flour.

What I can't figure out in all of this is why my yeast seem to go dormant when fed with white flour and water? I know that I have active yeast, so pH should not be an issue. Their populations apparently thrive in the presence of OJ or rye flour, but not when fed white flour and water.  I'm stumped.

Tim

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Oh dear Tim (she says with a sigh),

You're overthinking this. A common newbie mistake, so you're in good company, but the constant switching will keep things from stabilizing. You have yet to give your white flours any kind of a real chance, because you're expecting to see immediate results. I was quite serious about the patience and having faith in the process. : )

So, I tried a little experiment with my starter 2. I divided it roughly in half. The first half I left alone and stirred 4 times over 30 hours without feeding it -- trying to see if my my yeast just needed more time.  The other half, I fed with a 2:1:1 ratio using rye flour and water (no more AP flour & OJ). Within 7 hours, my rye flour batch had risen 200%, while my unfed (but stirred) batch just sat there. So now I'm thinking that perhaps I have a bad bag of AP flour that is somehow inhibiting yeast growth.  My rye experiment proves that I have active yeast, but they don't seem to like my AP flour.

What the experiment tells me is that the starter was desperately in need of a refreshment. The half that was refreshed, grew, while the half that got nothing, didn't. It wasn't because it was AP, it was because it was spent. It's as simple as that. Waste products of fermentation build to inhibitory levels. If I wasn't clear before, this starter was severely under-refreshed by the too-infrequent 2:1:1 feedings, and that's why you were seeing progressively less rise. But you were getting good rise from the AP otherwise:

STARTER 1:  I followed that up the next morning with another 1:1:1 feeding, now using AP flour and water instead of rye and OJ.  About 12  hours later, it had risen ~100% and was starting to fall back.

STARTER 2:  I did the recommended 2:1:1 feed, switching to water and white flour instead of OJ and whole grain flour...  I got ~75% rise before the batch started to fall back.  I fed again at the 2:1:1 ratio and as of now (>12 hours later) I have about a 10-15% rise

There's nothing at this point to conclude a problem with the flour. What brand are you using?

So last night I fed the "stir-only" batch with bread flour at a 1:1:1 ratio, while giving my rye batch a feed (using rye flour) also at the 1:1:1 ratio. This morning (12 hours later), the bread flour batch is basically just sitting there (a handful of bubbles on the surface) while the rye batch is again rising nicely.

Let's not forget that your stir-only batch had been sitting 30 hours past what was already spent and chronically under-refreshed, and so it's no surprise that it hasn't done much. It's in no shape to be judged at this point. I certainly wouldn't point the finger at the flour. The yeast were stressed, are sluggish, or maybe even dormant again. And if that's the case, then you'll have to drop back to don't-feed-too-much until there is rise again. If there is any rise, then don't feed too little (but don't get carried away either). Be reasonable.

What I can't figure out in all of this is why my yeast seem to go dormant when fed with white flour and water? I know that I have active yeast, so pH should not be an issue. Their populations apparently thrive in the presence of OJ or rye flour, but not when fed white flour and water.  I'm stumped.

Well hopefully you're no longer stumped. Just remember that new starters will be in transition for a while. And when you change flours, the cultures will shift. But they'll adapt if given enough time to complete the transition. That means the rise may be more or less at first than you're accustomed to. Just see it through.

Patience. Faith in Mother Nature. Patience. Faith in the process. Patience. Faith ...

Best,
dw

yodafan's picture
yodafan

... patience is hard when it means more waiting for that first home made loaf.  Sigh.

I've managed to keep a good rise/feed/rise rhythm going now into a 3rd day with the rye batch. Am slowly increasing the proportion of white flour with each feed. I've pitched the starved half -- no reason to keep that experiment running now that I have a good build going.

What I will say in my defense is that I always got dramatic results when I used OJ or rye flour in place of water and white flour respectively. It's true that I didn't follow scientific "control" protocol well in my experimentation (I didn't feed each experimental batch at the same time) so perhaps that was just coincidence. But I think it's worth further investigation -- just not now ;-)

Thanks again for your wisdom & counsel.  Count me as one of your groupies.

Tim

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

You're very kind, Tim, and I think you're well on your way now. Keep in mind it doesn't really matter at this point what kind of results you get with OJ and rye (yes, they have substances that speed fermentation rate) if what you want is a good white starter. As I said before, the rise is different when you change flours, but one refreshment isn't enough to complete a real transformation. Be reasonably consistent, and give it 10-14 days to catch up before re-evaluating or changing direction again. I highly recommend starting here:

https://www.theperfectloaf.com/sourdough-starter-maintenance-routine/#more-1429

https://www.theperfectloaf.com/frequently-asked-sourdough-starter-questions/

All best in baking,
dw

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