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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

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

That's fairly cool for mother starters, but they adapt. Cool starters generally develop good leavening, but less acidity.

How much collapse are you seeing? That, and how it performs in bread are more important indicators than speed or getting a triple volume rise at 18-20ºC. When is it arriving at peak?

So two questions for you today:

1. How many hours until it reaches peak?

2. How much collapse are you seeing at 12 hours?

This is a process :-)
dw

Rob1's picture
Rob1

1. How many hours until it reaches peak?

Ii generally peaks after 10-12 hours from refreshement..at 18/20°C


2. How much collapse are you seeing at 12 hours?

The starter has a long time of "latency" when it reaches its peak, and after that it slowly collapse. Sometimes I mix the starter when it is at its peak and it grows again very fast until it peaks in few hours.
It has an alcoholic smell, its flavor reminds me a bit of lemon juice and it looks alveolate.

Too much of wild yeasts established? The behaviour seems a bit different from what I can read around..I think that the lactic acid is not well produced..

I use a mix of 50% WW and 50% AP flours..

Bread made with this starter has an "honeycomb" structure.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Rob, I'm not sure what you mean by this:  "The starter has a long time of "latency" when it reaches its peak, and after that it slowly collapse."

This makes me think that it is generally underfed:  "Sometimes I mix the starter when it is at its peak and it grows again very fast until it peaks in few hours."

Are you saying that when you feed it early (less than 12 hours), it becomes more vigorous?

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Sorry Debra,

What I wrote is not clear.

This is schematically what it happens:

1. I do a 1-1-1 refreshement  than I wait;
2. after 10-12 hours (18°C) the starter reaches its peak;
3. the starter does not collapse soon after its peak, but very very slowly..
4. sometimes when the starter reaches its peak I take a fork than I mix the starter without adding new flour or water. A simple mix to aerate it and degas it..
5. after this "simple mix" the starter grows very quickly (generally 2 hours at 24°)...until its peak; And it looks very vigorous!

So my doubt is that my starter has a predominance of wild yeasts..But I would like to have more lactic bacteria...
It smells to much alchoolic instead of fruity.. :/


I use a mix of 50% WW and 50% AP flours..

Bread made with this starter has an "honeycomb" structure.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Okay Rob, now it all makes sense. From 1, 2 & 3, it sounds like your refreshments are adequate, so we'll set that aside for a moment.

What's working at cross-purposes to your goal of promoting the bacterial populations is the cool temperature. If you can, the best thing to do is keep it warmer. Try 4º higher for a few days and see if you get enough of a change. Keep bumping it up by a couple degrees at a time until you get the effect you're looking for. As you raise the temperature, you will need to increase the refreshment rate accordingly.

If you can't increase the temperature, the next best thing might be to reduce your refreshment frequency to once per day. In this scenario, you'll also need to increase the refreshment rate accordingly (or decrease the ratio of mature starter to fresh flour and water). I'm not sure by how much, but probably 1:4:4 or higher.

50% WW is fine for LAB either way, but that is probably the source of the smell you mentioned earlier rather than leuconostocs. The pineapple juice was probably covering it up. If you find it too off-putting, you can always take out the whole wheat and use all AP. But try changing the temperature or the feeding frequency first and see how it goes. At least you're starting from a healthy starter.

Please let me know what happens :-)
dw

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Hello Debra,

things seems to go fine now since I've increased temperature to 25°-27° C.

When ripen It smells fruity with few alcoholic notes , not tested yet on dough.

But I noticed something strange....

1) When I do a refreshment with 1-5-5 ratio  the starter generally triples in volume, when I do a 1-2-2 or 1-3-3 it generally double! :/

2) I don't see to much difference  between 1-2-2 and 1-3-3 ratio considering time to reach the peak.

Can you explain me why?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

To answer your questions about the ratios, I need you to read these posts, preferably in sequence:
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-99010
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-105719
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-116222
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-121037

The answer to question 2 is in the last one --- the number of generations growth that your feeding rates represent:  (1+2+2)/1 = 5x, and (1+3+3)/1 = 7x
As number of generations go, both feed rates fall between 2 and 3 generations of increase to maturity. So not that much difference time-wise, especially since they're still ramping up to speed, with 1:3:3 having a little more speed-up in the end.

The 1:5:5 can get even more speed with (1+5+5)/1 = 11x increase. That's more than 3 generations, and that extra generation is like reaching cruising altitude in an airplane, as opposed to just climbing and descending because landing is so soon after takeoff. The plane can reach a higher speed when there's enough distance to go.

I think the answer to question 1 can be explained by that higher "speed," the faster metabolic rate of a more vigorous population. If you were to plunge a straw to the bottom of a thick liquid and blow through it, the liquid will bubble higher the harder you blow, no? Up to the limits of the liquid anyway, and if you blow more slowly, it won't rise as high. Same with the starter. All else being equal, it has to do with how vigorously the microorganisms are generating CO2.

Are you happy with the changes so far? I guess you'll have to bake with it and find out :-)

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Hello Debra! Thank you for the helpful informations!!

And yes, I'm happy with the changes, I've tested the starter on a dough yesterday and it was workable, still now after the rest in the fridge, no problems with folds. I've some experience to judge if the dough has problems..so thank you again.Temperature (25°-27°C) was probably one of the main "factor" that helped me.

I'm interested now in creating a "vigorous" starter, one that can easily expand the dough!

From what I can understand 1-5-5 seems to be more suitable for starters that are fed once a day, the population has sufficient "time and nutrients" to grow before reaching its stationary phase. But this is not probably the best way to make a vigorous starter..

I think that 1-1-1can be more suitable for increasing the activiy of the starter "Feeding at the end of growth phase/beginning of stationary phase several times in succession". I think the only problem adopting this method could be the rise of acidity so there's no space for mistakes instead of 1-5-5 ratio.

1. Am I corret?
2. What do you suggest for making a vigorous starter?

Thank you for the support!

P.S. you said that a starter must adapt itself every time we change a factor (flour, water, temperature, hydration....) but often a starter is mixed  with different flours , hydrations, temperatures...probably compromising the result!! Because the starter has no time to adapt properly to the new condition!! Is it better to create a pre-ferment instead of using the starter directly into our recipes??

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Temperature (25°-27°C) was probably one of the main "factor" that helped me.

Super!

From what I can understand 1-5-5 seems to be more suitable for starters that are fed once a day, the population has sufficient "time and nutrients" to grow before reaching its stationary phase. But this is not probably the best way to make a vigorous starter.

Actually, 1-5-5 twice per day is probably the best place to start at your new temperature of 25-27C. The higher temperature speeds up ripening. The best way to maintain a vigorous starter is simply to feed enough to keep it active. So the right amount to feed depends on the temperature, hydration, your schedule and your goals. You want your starter to be within the window of ripeness at feeding time. Not too over- or under-ripe. You can adjust your feeding rate or other parameters until you find the sweet spot.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1#comment-181531

I think that 1-1-1can be more suitable for increasing the activiy of the starter "Feeding at the end of growth phase/beginning of stationary phase several times in succession". I think the only problem adopting this method could be the rise of acidity so there's no space for mistakes instead of 1-5-5 ratio.

1-1-1 in succession is great for increasing leavening power and reducing acidity, which I don't think is exactly what you were wanting. You would probably need to feed 3 or 4 times per day because the temperature changes everything. That's great when you wish to bake lighter, milder breads with little or no acidity, but if you want more acidity, the larger feed/longer ripening makes more sense. It will increase the bacteria to yeast, but the yeast will be active.

a starter must adapt itself every time we change a factor (flour, water, temperature, hydration....) but often a starter is mixed  with different flours , hydrations, temperatures...probably compromising the result!! Because the starter has no time to adapt properly to the new condition!! Is it better to create a pre-ferment instead of using the starter directly into our recipes??

I think it's best to be consistent in feeding the mother starter, although that doesn't necessarily mean every feeding has to be equal. I often do smaller 6-hour refreshments during the day in summer to knock the acidity down, and a larger 12-hour one overnight when it's a few degrees cooler, for example. But the more consistent you are from day to day, the more stable and predictable your starter will be. Having said that, yes, change up the pre-ferment to suit the bread you want to make. Just keep in mind that a liquid starter made into a firm pre-ferment will not be the same as a mother starter that is maintained firm. Or any other major change that you're making to adapt your starter to use in formulas where the starter called for is different from yours.

 

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Hello Debra!
It's me again!! :P

Things are going well now, sometimes better than other but with not too much difficulties..

I would like to focus you attention on the therm "Time at peak" which I found here: https://www.questforsourdough.com/blog/how-good-your-starter

The "time at peak" of my starter seems to be "variable", sometimes it lasts a long time sometimes it lasts a very short time...

And this is very strange for me because I'm consistent in feeding the sourdough at the same temperature with the same flours (1-5-5 / 100% hydration / 25°-26°C)

1. Is there an explanation why a starter begin to collapse early or late keeping all the factors (flours, temperature, feeding ratio..) equal?

2. Is there a way to increase "Time at peak"?

Thank you
Rob

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Rob, so happy to hear things are going well for your starter now.

1. Hard for me to speculate on why you're seeing a variable time at peak. It takes a few weeks in a new maintenance regimen for the populations to sort out and settle in, particularly when going warmer. They tend to stabilize faster going the other way around. Also, minor fluctuations in temperature will have more impact in the higher temp range than the low. These are just a couple of thoughts.

2. Increasing time at peak, probably means edging the dial back towards yeast and leavening power. Fine tuning. One way is to lower the temp back down a little. Maybe 22-24ºC. If you prefer your new temperature, I would recommend lowering the hydration instead. Or some combination of the two. But give your starter at least two weeks to stabilize after making changes before the final assessment.

Have you baked with it recently?

dw

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Have you baked with it recently?

Yes I Have! Two loafs..not very extraordinary but two loafs.

But the problem is always the same here, at some point the "stinky smell" comes out..probably due to Leuconostocs or other bad bacteria. No way to solve the problem effectively so I decided to change type of flour, using only white flour. And the smell seems to be a little more pleasant..(by now!).

I know that it's a question of "time" to have a stable sourdough starter, but I think that the starter should get better day after day....but this is not what happens to me!!

Flours? Contaminations?
I really have problems trying to keep my starter stable, Yeasts and Lactobacillus seems to be active only for a short period instead of a long one :(

Sometimes the starter expands very fast...without any particular smell..not acidic, not fruity...I really cannot find an answer for this behaviour.

When I finally have an active starter I use it..than it starts to get worse day by day apparently without reason!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

But the problem is always the same here, at some point the "stinky smell" comes out..probably due to Leuconostocs or other bad bacteria. No way to solve the problem effectively so I decided to change type of flour, using only white flour. And the smell seems to be a little more pleasant..(by now!).

Rob, as long as you're refreshing your starter often enough, undesirable bacteria are highly unlikely to be a problem. But whole wheat flour will bring a stronger and less pleasant smell. Of course, pleasant is a subjective thing and that is my opinion. Do you have any previous experience with whole wheat starters to compare this smell to? It could just be you were expecting something different than what it is. I also think that whole grains increase the difficulty for sourdough beginners, so white flour in the mother is easiest to start with.

I know that it's a question of "time" to have a stable sourdough starter, but I think that the starter should get better day after day....but this is not what happens to me!!

I know it seems like that's the way it should be, but that has not been my experience. They sometimes seem to not change much at all for several days, until suddenly they do. It takes a little time and patience to reach the tipping point. :)

Flours? Contaminations? 
I really have problems trying to keep my starter stable, Yeasts and Lactobacillus seems to be active only for a short period instead of a long one :(

Is the temperature stable? I can't speak to the flours as I don't know where you are, but if you're using the same flour, same source, same bag, then it's probably not the flour causing variability in your results. If you're changing the flour source and can clearly attribute performance changes to that, then there could be differences in enzyme activity or gluten quality to consider. But maybe your starter is fine given the parameters you've settled into, and you're expecting it to behave like someone else's.

Sometimes the starter expands very fast...without any particular smell..not acidic, not fruity...I really cannot find an answer for this behaviour.

Sounds like the yeast are flourishing during those times.

When I finally have an active starter I use it..than it starts to get worse day by day apparently without reason!

Oh, there's always a reason ;-)  Keep practicing and noticing, and your sourdough skills will improve.

dw

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Hello Debra!!!

First of all thank you for all the time you spent for me!

Now i have more awareness of the mechanisms that regulate sourdough behaviour and I think that I will surely have a stable starter thanks to all the informations you gave me!!

Thank you again Debra. 

Rob :) 

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Wishing you the best, Rob
dw

Preu's picture
Preu

Hi Debra, I stumbled upon your article and it was the best thing ever! I loved how you looked under the microscope and see what’s happening and the reason why they act they’re acting. I’ve tried several ways to make a starter here in the hot and humid climate, nothing seems to work, I normally kept and fed them until they’re mouldy 😅

 

I was hoping by following your instructions, it would eliminate some of the unknown and be more surefire. I am on day 4 right now, and unsure whether it’s doing well or not, I’ll attach my journal for the monsters, would you mind seeing if there’s a misstep somewhere or if it’s actually alive with yeast instead of the first CO2-producing strand of bacteria? 

 

I tried all combination of pineapple juice, orange juice, rye flour, and wholewheat flour.

 

Here is my journal up to now.

 

Day 1 Starting with pineapple juice and orange juice, wholewheat and rye flour. Started with 20 g of juice and flour

 

Day 2 All OJ mixture were bubbly and developed the most gluten in comparison to the PJ mixture. There was discolouration in rye and PJ mixture, the surface darkened. WW and PJ had the least gluten development.

Added 20 grams of juice and flour to all mixture.

 

Day 3 Both OJ mixture had risen and fallen, with a lot of bubbles. Gluten is still very strong, the starter was clumping together and it was difficult to mix.

Both PJ mixture had risen and became rather bubbly, but not nearly as much as OJ counterpart, with the rye rose more than WW. Gluten was diminishing, it was very easy to mix.

 

Day 4 OJ mixtures started to lose its gluten, not as tart as yesterday, but seems like it’s still in phase 3. Smells really sour, like fermented juice. OJ rye didn’t rise as much as everything else.

PJ mixtures were bubbly, not much gluten, smell sour like fermented juice, and tart.

All mixtures had risen and fallen.

For PJ mixtures, added 20 grams of flour and juice again.

For OJ mixtures, added 18 grams each for rye mixture, and moved on to 50% WW - 50% bread flour for the whole wheat mixture.

 

So, I’m unsure if they’re developing early, or the early bacteria were also developing due to different pineapple/ orange juice in tropical countries, such as higher pH level, or the humidity could cause the pH to rise.

 

Thank you so much!

Preu's picture
Preu

Just to be clear, on Day 4, I did 2:1:1 that’s starter : flour : water. Whereas for previous days, I kept adding to the mixture without taking any out.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Preu, and thank you :)

And thanks for giving the important details. A few things jump out to me:

  • ... here in the hot and humid climate
  • Day 1  Started with 20 g of juice and flour
  • Day 2  All OJ mixture were bubbly... There was discolouration in rye and PJ mixture, the surface darkened.... Added 20 grams of juice and flour to all mixture.

Equal volumes, rather than equal weights were intended for the first 3 days because equal weights may not keep you in the safe pH zone, and the precision isn't necessary at this stage. For those who insist on weighing, what I recommend is 15g flour and 30g juice. Whole grain flours have more buffering capacity, so more juice is needed to overcome that.

The telltale sign that you didn't have enough juice starting out is darkening of the surface. There's an enzyme in the flour that causes this --- same as how some fruit will darken after cut surfaces are exposed to air. But when you add an acid like lemon juice, ascorbic, or citric acid, browning is at least slowed, if not stopped. With plain water starting out, the whole grain flour mixture will darken. But with enough juice, the mixture will get lighter and brighter.

Day 1, 0 hours  (water on the left, pineapple juice on the right)

Day 1, 24 hours

I don't know where you are in the process at this point, but if you stuck with the day 4 routine long enough to verify it was rising consistently, then all should be well no matter how it started out. Surely your hot, humid climate helped move things along :)

Preu's picture
Preu

Thank you for the reply Debra. 

I didn’t think the weight vs volume thing would matter. But it’s now at day 17 and it’s alive and well. I’ve been baking with it and it works! 

Haven’t had a chance to try out your latest advice, but both the pineapple juice and orange juice worked beautifully. For me, it seemed like the orange juice starter worked faster at the start, but then the pineapple juice starter excel in the last week.

Thank you thank you thank you! You’re a superstar!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

 

I didn’t think the weight vs volume thing would matter. 

Hi Preu,

Every single detail is a result of troubleshooting problems with feedback of hundreds of people (including not starting with enough juice). There is a method to my madness, and a reason behind each instruction :)

But it’s now at day 17 and it’s alive and well. I’ve been baking with it and it works! 

Wonderful, that's what we like to hear.

Haven’t had a chance to try out your latest advice,

No need to at this point --- you are past that now.

but both the pineapple juice and orange juice worked beautifully. For me, it seemed like the orange juice starter worked faster at the start, but then the pineapple juice starter excel in the last week.

Orange juice has a higher pH, so it makes sense that you saw more gassy bacterial growth in that one. It only appeared to be working faster, but that was probably a bigger "false start." The pineapple juice was ahead of the orange, even though the activity was less visible. Ideally, all will be still for the first 3-4 days. I know that frustrates many who just want to see something happening, but early rise usually comes at a time cost.

Thank you thank you thank you! You’re a superstar!

You're very kind, thank you :)

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