The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Started from wheat to rye switch is not working

Barmaley's picture

Started from wheat to rye switch is not working

I was able to start my own AP wheat starter. After seven days is it working as crazy - it quadruples itself within 4 hours and then repeates it one or two more times. I am trying to refresh if every 8 hours to "season" it ASAP. However, my main goal is to make 100% rye. For that reason I take a bit of my wheat starter (20-30 grams) and add 100 grams rye (very fresh Hodgson Mill Whole grain rye flour) and 100 grams water. Suspiciously it raises only about 50% of its volume. I decided to check if I can still call it " starter", so I took 20 grams my rye starter and 100 gr. AP and 100 gr. water. It raises about 40% the most. At the same time my wheat starter is still working very aggresively. I keep 27 degrees during starter preparation. Why my rye starter doesn't work?

Please, help! 

ehanner's picture

You can't judge much from a day or two's performance after switching flours in the feeding. The culture you are feeding produces bacteria and yeast in varying amounts depending on many things. Temperature, how well ground is the flour ground, How is the mix combined or stirred and is the gluten developed in the starter when feeding is done, to name a few. Try feeding at a slightly dryer hydration, say 80%.

Then there is the gluten structure to be considered. Rye doesn't have much if any gluten structure so the gas that is produced by the yeast isn't trapped well. The rise you see is a result of many small bubbles growing and staying trapped in the dough mix.

I'm confident that your AP flour mix will rise as expected if the gluten is well  developed and the temperature is in the range of 74-78F. The most you should expect from rye sour is a modest rise and lots of visible bubbles in the side of the container or when you stir it it should be honey combed with gas pockets.


maryserv's picture

When I started my new starter, I kept the container on top of a heating pad covered with a towel.  My kitchen hovered around 68 degrees when we were in our sub-freezing arctic blast (in Southeast Texas!).  Life is better now. 

maryserv's picture

Usually when beginning a new starter, one begins with rye flour as that has more of the yeast and lactobacilli than wheat flour.  Once the rye and water have begun fermentation, the next feed may be either rye or wheat; all subsequent feeds should be wheat.  On this site and many others those who know and understand the science behind the process explain why this is so. 

One expert advises that if a starter is sickly (not bubbly and alive after a few feedings when refreshing) you can "give it a shot of rye" flour.  I do not take that to mean changing over the flour completely, but to add some fresh rye into the next feeding.  If you want to make a rye loaf, just feed with unbleached AP flour and get your starter happy and ready to go.  Good luck!

Bee18's picture

Hello Barmaley,

I use a 100% rye starter since I began with my baking rye bread addiction which is now about 18 months. I keep it in the fridge . Rye will never rise like white flour. It make little bubbles and in my experience when I refresh it after I take a portion of it to use it for my weekly bread, I replace the quantity with 50% rye 50% water and leave the pot outside on the top of my fridge for the night (it's the warmer place I can use when the temp. is 15 to 20 deg. Celcius where I live which is not enough to warm the place) and from a thick paste it usually rise well above 50%. I then close the container and put it back in the fridge until the next use.

The part that I use for the bread I refresh with white and rye flour, or with only rye, and after 8 to 12 hours I get a well honey comb consistency which I mix with white flour or wholemeal, more rye,  and 60 to 80% hydration depending of how you want to do your bread - I use the no knead method and bake it in a cast iron closed pot which mean that I don't need to shape it and I keep a higher hydration % -

If the starter in the fridge stay there for longer and form a dry surface I mix this dry surface with the underneath mixture, take the quantity I need for my bread and refresh it with the same quantity I have taken off. One night outside and everything is ok the next morning, before I put it back in the fridge.

May be my way is not very orthodox but it work! The more rye I put in my refreshing the more the bread is sour and it need to stand at least 24 hours or more to dry a bit and develop the right flavour after the baking.

I have read and I continue to read everything I can about Rye on this website and learned that every one has his own method depending on the climate, the flour, the kind of bread they want to do, time, personality,  everything is mix for each individual. But they are basics instructions that you have to respect (like hydration ratio, steam, oven temp. etc...) to keep you out of upsetting results !

I never made two batches exactly the same from one week to another trying to find the right recipe I would use for ever ! But most of them were very good and eaten in nothing time by my partner and me!

Good luck, Bee 18


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Barmaley.

I would encourage you to regard a rye sour as a different animal than a white starter. (For that matter, a firm starter and a liquid starter also are different in many ways.) 

Using volume growth as the criterion for starter ripeness works well for firm starters. Bubble production is a better criterion for liquid starters. There is a very traditional way of judging the ripeness of a rye sour that I would encourage you to use. 

Feed your sour in a bowl. After feeding the sour, sprinkle the top of the starter with additional rye flour, covering the surface completely. This was originally a way of preventing the sour from drying out, in the days before plasti-crap and Tupperware (tm). An additional benefit is that, as the sour ripens, it does expand (even though not like a firm wheat flour starter). The dry flour begins to "fracture" and ultimately spreads out into "islands." The islands' degree of separation is a reliable measure of rye sour ripening, just as the amount of volume increase is in a firm wheat flour starter.

There is more information regarding this method, along with photos of that which I described, in this TFL entry: Greenstein's Sourdough Rye (Rye Sour) care and feeding, illustrated

I hope this helps.