The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

wheat vs. rye in starting starter

bwraith's picture
bwraith

wheat vs. rye in starting starter

I noticed in another thread Mac said a mix of whole wheat and rye is generally the best for starting a starter. In Mike Avery's comments he says more people have had leuconostoc problems with whole wheat in the initial starter mix, and I had the same experience myself. Also, some authors say that whole rye in particular may carry more of the right organisms. My overall impression from reading various starting a starter articles and recipes was that there is somewhat of a bias toward using whole rye as opposed to whole wheat when starting a starter. On the other hand, if there is a large variety of the desired yeasts and lactobacillus around, then Mac's point of using both sounds good, as then you have a better chance of "capturing" them if you use both. Since you can use pineapple juice in the beginning, the problem mentioned, if it's real, with whole wheat can be handled that way. Just curious if Mac or others have more info on this.

mij.mac's picture
mij.mac

Get it bunged in, mix it up, don't worry if it stinks for a day or two, it works every time.  Anyway Mike doesn't know everything. lol

mac

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Mac,

Only thing is, it really doesn't work every time for everyone. There seem to be so many examples of cases where a starter goes dead. That's such a common question. When I was getting my starter started a few years ago, I tried several times to get one going, and it always just died and smelled awful and was extremely bitter/sour. Some of them could go on for weeks without coming to life, though they all did eventually - sometimes after 3-4 weeks. So, maybe it works every time, but sometimes it takes a much, much longer time to come to life. When I began adding some acid to the initial culture, I started about a dozen different versions, and all of them were cranking away within days. However, it seems like other people, like in L_M's case, for example, who follow the instructions - including the acid part, get one up and running at first, as in L_M's use of SourdoLady's recipe, then run into some kind of mysterious sluggishness when switching to all AP flour for feedings.

So, maybe a good question is, what are the key mistakes that lead to the deadness or sluggishness that seems to afflict so many when they try to make their own starter? Why is it so darn repeatably easy for some and not others who presumably follow the same recipe?

Bill

mij.mac's picture
mij.mac

Well you're asking me to guess now, I'll have a go.

  • 1. They don't get the temp within the best range.
  • 2. The flour they use isn't organic or has been stored too long.
  • 3. The water they use contains chlorine.
  • 4. They don't refresh the starter enough.
  • 5. I don't think this will happened very often, they refresh too much.

It isn't rocket science, you need just a couple of things for it to work. Enough of the right kind of flora present in the flour and optimum temperature for them to grow.  If you haven't got these it won't work. Simple.

Incidentally, if you introduce artificially a yeast that isn't adapted to flour though it may survive for a time it will either have to evolve or get replaced. In most cases it will get replaced, if it doesn't get replaced gradually the starter just dies. I think this is what accounts of reports about unstable starters. I have always, bar one time, made my starters with wheat sometimes with rye too. The only time they didn't work was when I didn't use wheat. I haven't always used wholewheat though. It never took more than 5 days either. One of the quickest was from wheat grains.

mac
bwraith's picture
bwraith

Mac,

Those may be guesses, but I think it's a really good summary of typical problems.

I think a common problem is overheating, because it's really easy to unintentionally overheat while trying to heat a culture, which can kill the yeast in particular. I also suspect letting the starter go way too long without feeding, once the bubbles start is another one that causes a lot of problems.

Whole wheat worked great for me, with the one caveat that I got the leuconostoc flare-up absolutely 100% of the time until I added the acid. However, what I can't remember because I did all those starter experiments more than two years ago, is how old my whole wheat flour was, and it was just regular KA whole wheat flour - not specifically organic. One possible reason for the leuconostoc  problem I was having might have been some spoilage of the flour. When you say "organic", what in particular are the important characteristics that you're looking for? For example, I've heard stone-ground is better because it's at a lower temperature and less destructive to the grain.

Bill

L_M's picture
L_M

Just for interest sake, and to test myself, today I started up a new one - using SourdoLady's instructions again but this time using 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 whole rye. Didn't have an orange around so I used 1/4 teasp of vinegar so it looks like I'll refer to it as 'vin'. I'm quite sure that out of mac's guesses, #4 and #5 are the main reasons for the starter to go sluggish or die out after it had already showed good signs initially. The problems arise when something happens you aren't expecting, and then you don't know what to do because without experience the signs mean nothing. There is so much contradicting information around about when and how much to feed that it is very confusing and in the early stages it seems to be very easy to mess things up if you don't really know what know what you're doing.

So I'll be using the same AP flour and the same water as before, and don't worry - I won't ask any questions or post any comments. After a week or so is up I'll just say if it worked (if I can find this thread by then), and then I'll know for sure if it was the water, the flour, or me - and I'm quite sure it was me...

L_M

bwraith's picture
bwraith

L_M,

Ascorbic acid works well, if you don't have pineapple juice. I think it's a better choice than acetic acid, which specifically inhibits yeast. Put 1/8 tsp ascorbic acid in 2L of water. Then use some of that water for your first day mix only. After that, just use plain water. If you have an extra container, maybe you could try it. The culture w/ascorbic acid rises a little more slowly at first, but it shouldn't go dead or very sluggish later, either.

Bill

bwraith's picture
bwraith

L_M,

Funny, I started some experiments yesterday. I'm doing 6 starters, three with ascorbic acid, three without, where there is a 100% rye, and 100% whole wheat, and a 50/50 for 6 total cultures. I'm keeping notes on them and they've been going for about 30 hours. I have more activity than I was expecting at this point, so now I'm waiting to find out if they die or convert to white flour well. I was going to wait and just give a summary of how they turned out, maybe including some pictures.

I'd say feel free to comment or ask questions as much as you want. I'm defintely interested in these experiments and details. However, this may be a perfect example where we could have something like a "conference room" thread that doesn't post to the main page. In the meantime, if that doesn't exist, and you'd rather not post comments and questions, then maybe just email me if that works. Enjoy the experiments.

Bill

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I enjoyed all the discussions on pH and wouldn't be surprised if the pH of rye flour had something to do with it.  Please keep track of it too.  Thanks,  Mini Oven

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Personally, I enjoy reading about the experiments and trials. Please don't take it to email only. The people who don't like it don't have to read those threads if it bores them. I think we all learn a lot from these lenghty discussions.

L_M's picture
L_M

 SourdoLady that is a reassuring remark, so it's fine by me to keep it here.

Bwraith, I've just now fed it again with vinegar (before I saw this so I'll just keep it like that for tomorrow's feed as well). Anyhow what would I call it 'acid'????? You really are tops for experiments!

L_M

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi L_M,

I don't know, the acetic acid one is still not my favorite. You have to be careful because just a little goes a long way. I think only 10g of vinegar in a liter of water will give you a pH of 3.4 (for the solution before you add flour). Then, there is that paper about the effects of the byproducts of fermentation on yeast and lactobacillus. One of the conclusions of the paper is that acetic acid has an attenuating effect on yeast. Also, the purpose of the acid is only to acidify the culture to disadvantage spoilage bacteria early in the process before the culture becomes acidic on its own, so I wouldn't add any vinegar or other acid after the first day. At least that's my understanding.

I've had the same culture going for a couple of years now, and I never named it after all this time despite the traditions. I could see calling it "Scurvy", since vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy. Now you know why I haven't gotten around to naming mine yet.

Bill

L_M's picture
L_M

Hi bwraith,

OK - you've scared me enough! Tomorrow I'll give it oj for it's third day and we'll have to call it 'oj - jr.'  Good thing you haven't named it yet - do you think anyone is going to want to eat bread that is made from something  called 'Scurvy'?LOL!

L_M

bwraith's picture
bwraith

L_M,

I was going back through my notes, and I think the ascorbic acid concentration I gave you is too weak. I used half a 500mg vitamin C tablet crushed up the last time I did this, and it was in 2oz of water. Anyway, I think a better concentration is 1/8 tsp of regular ascorbic acid powder (as in KA product I got) in 250mL of water, which should result in a pH of about 3.0 in that water before adding flour. According to the package, 1/8 tsp is 750mg of ascorbic acid.

I went back and studied this because I am seeing that my cultures with the ascorbic acid rose more slowly but did rise in the first 24 hours, as did all the ones without any acid. Then, they all became dormant after about 40 hours and a feeding w/bread flour. This is the same behavior I always got, and it seems to then take a while for it to recover from that quiet state, just as described by Peter Reinhart and others.

What worked successfully last time I did this was to get the water down to a pH of 3.0 with ascorbic acid. Then, it wouldn't rise in the first 24 hours, but it followed approximately the schedule in BBA if not a little faster after that. I was able to start a dozen different cultures with that formula last time I did this.

I don't know why this is always so repeatable in my case, when so many people seem to report absolutely no problem with the BBA or with the directions in the sourdough starter faq, but apparently there are also many who experience the same problem, as Peter Reinhart has an article about it on his blog. This time, I am using Poland Spring water, which worked great before, and I am using KA Organic Pumpernicle and KA Organic Whole Wheat.

Anyway, if you haven't started the ascorbic acid one yet, try 1/8 tsp in 250mL water on the first day. Sorry for the false start.

Bill

L_M's picture
L_M

Hi bwraith,

As a matter of fact I haven't started another one yet - I'll just see how this one goes for now. At around 30 hours mine started getting a lot of small bubbles and is continuing to do so. No major flare ups or anything just looks a bit foamy, quite the same progress as with 'oj' if I remember correctly.

If I do start one with ascorbic acid I'll use the corrected amount - thanks

L_M

L_M's picture
L_M

So far things have progressed as expected with 'oj - jr'. Today is day 4 and it was fed with only water and a mixture of 1/2 AP flour and 1/2 ww/wrye. It is now 6 -7 hours later and has formed a layer of light coloured foam on the top, and just beneath that it looks like there is some liquid. So far it is only a little bit and the smell reminds me of whole wheat bread. In another thread mij.mac said that this liquid in between was a sign of leuconostoc bacteria - if so, what should I do? When thinking back it might be that this is what happened with 'oj' and I just thought it was hooch, and from there it was all downhill. I don't want to mess things up again, and I don't want to panic...so please tell me what to do

L_M 

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

It sounds like you're doing fine. If its leceunostac (sp.?), then it'll eventully go away on its own, but I doubt it since you've got an acidic environment thanks to the vinegar. Sounds to me like you've got a very wet starter. If you're adding equal volumes of water and flour -- say 1/2 cup of each -- then you've got a hydration of somewhere around 180-200%.

Nothing wrong with that -- I've kept some that wet myself -- but they do tend to seperate, with the flour settling near the bottom and some water coming to the top.

Is it a really wet starter like I described?

L_M's picture
L_M

Or it just went away. Last night I stirred it and then in the morning there were no more signs of the liquid. After stirring this morning the smell is now more like yeasty beer, the whole thing is still foamy, and the top layer of foam is now full of bubbles as well, so it looks like everything is ok.

JMonkey the starter is from SourdoLady's instructions by volume so I'm not really sure but I usually am light handed with flour - I will probably move it to 100% hydration by weight as soon as it is stable (just easier for me to calculate recipes etc.).

L_M

L_M's picture
L_M

Now there is about 1 mm of the liquid layer in between the foamy body and the layer of foam with bubbles on top. There is still about 3 hours til feed time of day 5.

Sourdough-guy, I went to stir again after I saw your post and yes the 'Oh, what happened?' has certainly happened to me...

Are you saying that the layer of foam on top is also a sign of it, or just because it has separated with the liquid in between?

L_M 

L_M's picture
L_M

Sourdough-guy,

If that's all it takes to get rid of the horrible "L" then that's sounds easy. The smell has changed over it's life span but so far it hasn't ever been bad, although it doesn't smell sweet and I'm not sure what you mean by clean. Right now it smells of yeast and a bit of beer. The whole thing is still foamy and has risen a bit, so I guess it just needs more time.

L_M

L_M's picture
L_M

So I imagine this would taste pretty awful - for me it isn't even an inviting smell yet...

The liquid layer in between still comes back a few hours after I stir or feed.

Should I just keep going?

Thanks

L_M

sourdough-guy's picture
sourdough-guy

Hi L_M,

Yeah I think it would taste pretty disgusting, funny though how we all categorize things differently, my partner always say, 'yuck, smells like paint!' That's for anything fermenting. lol

But seriously,

 Keep going with it, every 12 to 24 hours feed by volume:

  • 1 part starter
  • 2 parts flour
  • 1 parts water  

 Sourdough-guy

L_M's picture
L_M

Hi Sourdough-guy,

Until now I've been feeding 1:1:1 by volume every 24 hours, so I'll start giving it a bit more as you suggest. Hope it feels better soon!

 Bwraith, how are you doing with your 6 little jars????

L_M

sourdough-guy's picture
sourdough-guy

HI L_M

that would be more like 2:1:2 by weight. You've been starving it : -( poor thing. It will perk up really quickly though. Feed it twice a day too. It won't hurt, trust me.

I can send you some of my starter to play with in the mean time if you like. Let me know and I'll give the address. 

Sourdough-guy

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi L_M,

Well, I'd have to say the 6 jars aren't doing all that great, given we're on day 7. Basically, I went too low, as I had mentioned, on the amount of ascorbic acid I added. Also, I now realize I made another interesting "mistake", although I didn't think it was at the time. I placed the containers on a rack in the cabinet above my coffee machine, where the temperature is very uniform and constant at about 80F. Sounds great right? Except I now think that made my traditional leuconostoc problem in the first 24 hours far more flagrant even than what I usually experience doing things at room temperature.

The overall picture is that the ones started without ascorbic acid added to the water seem to be doing just terribly. In particular, the rye only version, which had the most flagrant rise (3x) in the first 24 hours, now has a tremendously powerful, like knocks you out, smell of nail polish remover. The others have somewhat suspicious smells as well. Also, after you stir them, if you smell again, the nail polish remover smell is much weaker, but what remains has a rotten character to it. If you breath a little too deep trying to smell it, it makes you want to gag.

Of the ones started with ascorbic acid (1/8 tsp in 2L of water), the smells are closer to normal at this point, though after stirring, I still detect some very subtle rotten smells, along with something more like "paint" as described by Sourdough-guy's friend. All of them have bubbles, but none are really taking off yet. I have hope for the "all-rye with ascorbic acid one", though. It rose a little recently.

You were discussing what "clean" means with Sourdough-guy. When I take a deep breath of my good, stable starter, it smells really good, like you want to take more breaths. It makes you hungry. That's true while it's being fed, and at the point I put it in the refrigerator after it has risen. Even after a couple of months in the refrigerator, it still smells good. When I smell one of the starters that isn't doing well above, it makes you want to gag, and you stop your breath short right away.

I read "The Bread Builders" starter recipe, and I see he specifies leaving the culture at 60-65F for the first 48 hours, to "discourage spoilage organisms". So, my choice of 80F probably did "encourage spoilage organisms", at least I think this made my usual problems dramatically worse.

I'm going to continue the "6 jars" a while longer, but I've started one with water I doctored w/ 1/8 tsp ascorbic acid in 200mL. I put this in a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and whole rye (KA organic flours), and I have it at room temperature, which is at about 72F here. I think it will work, as it's pretty much what I finally found worked reliably a few years ago for me, but we will see.

Bill

sourdough-guy's picture
sourdough-guy

Hi Bill, that's an interesting point about the temperature early on. I wonder if it can be repeated. Perhaps it's time to brush off my white coat and have a see. There is some logic there. Then I can look at stability of new flour/water starters in the early stages as well.

Thanks Bill. 

Sourdough-guy

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Sourdough-guy,

I thought it would be fine, since I had added the ascorbic acid, but I added a somewhat lower amount, like to make the water have a pH of 3.5 before adding flour, as opposed to closer to 3.0, which I had used a couple of years ago. However, I guess the effect of the higher temperature, which hovered between 79 and 82F, if you have any leuconostoc or similar organisms in there, is big. I had a huge rise and very unpleasant odors in just 24 hours. The ones with ascorbic acid rose a little less, but they haven't really ended up doing any better than the ones without ascorbic acid after 7-8 days now. Basically, when I've had the big rise in the first 24 hours, it just takes forever after that to get a normal starter going.

Meanwhile, I started over with a 50/50 rye/whole wheat mix in a 1:1 ratio, which forms a fairly thick paste. I added 1/8 tsp to 200mL of water to make the water for the culture, which should give a pH around 3.0 before mixing in the flour. I left it at room temperature - around 73F right now. After more than 24 hours, there is no rise or noticeable bubbles. The smell of fermentation is there, but it isn't an unpleasant smell. So, it's working much better, as it did when I tried all this a couple of year ago.

Bill

L_M's picture
L_M

Sourdough-guy,

It looks like we're doin' good! "oj - jr' just gobbled up that extra food and doubled in a bit less than 4 hours.  A little while after that it was looking really fierce (wide open large bubbles) and then it started to dip in the center... so it got more food...

I've had so much trouble lately with starters I really, really, really hope this one will be strong and healthy. I am used to working in weight so can you please advise a feeding ratio to use at the moment while keeping it at room temp ( about 21C) since it is still young and I don't want to starve it or over fed it. After a while I'll store it in the fridge.

Bwraith isn't it interesting the differences we are getting with these starters? It's too bad they can't talk - I think they'd tell us about all sorts of amazing things that are growing inside! Come to think of it maybe they are talking by giving off all of these different smells, and its up to us to understand 'starter language'. Good luck with your '7 jars' - it sounds like you aren't in the clear yet. Hope they perk up soon. I"ll post in our other thread about 'oj' in a day or 2.

L_M 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

error, sorry...

bwraith's picture
bwraith

L_M,

Now OJ-jr sounds much more like the one I have ("Scurvy?") , i.e. 4 hours to double sounds right. Does it smell a lot better now?

Sourdough-guy, I'd like to here your points on this, but here's what works for me. My routine is 1:2:2 by weight. I would normally find it takes about 4.5-8 hours at room temperature, depending on how recently and how many times I've fed it, for it to double. In between feedings, I refrigerate my starter after it rises by double.

If you want to stretch out the time, so you can feed it twice per day and keep it at room temperature, it's probably better to use a higher ratio - maybe 1:5:5 or 1:10:10, so that after 12 hours you will still have a reasonably fresh starter. Overall, if the schedule fits, I like feeding at 1:2:2, let rise by double, refrigerate until the next feeding. It's a simple and flexible routine.

Bill

sourdough-guy's picture
sourdough-guy

Hiya Bill,

Yes I like your advice with the 1:2:2 thing. Once the starter is active I think this is good advice. I prefer the larger feeding in one go simply because I can walk away and forget all about it and it means that the by-products have been diluted enough to allow the next stage of fermentation to go unhindered, when that's your main dough I think that's important. But done properly there's no difference in effect between the larger and the smaller feeds if the baker times things well. The larger feeding gives you much more wiggle room though. Perhaps with new starters or non-standard starters it's better to do the smaller feedings. I'll have to bow to experience on this one. It's been so long since I made a starter with flour and water I wasn't using larger feeds then and the idea of stability didn't occur to me until I tried making non-standard starters where everything is going swimmingly then bang it's gone. 

 

There really is so much that we have to learn for ourselves with sourdough. It's taken me years to sieve out the myths. And I think it would have taken even longer without RFS to cut through the proverbial with me.

Sourdough-guy

sourdough-guy's picture
sourdough-guy

Hi L_M

That's fantastic news. Congrats.

I think Bill's advice to you is pretty good. Which you decide to do depends on your schedule. At this stage perhaps 1:5:5 by weight should be at the higher end for 8-12 hours on the counter. Being cautious you could build that up and play it by ear. As I said earlier the larger feeds work best for my taste where I don't want strong sour flavours and want good crumb. But I think anything between the lower and the higher end will be okay as long as you catch it when it's just peaked as you've done. You're going to have lots of fun with your starter now. I've been using just the one for almost two years now and have learned so much. I hope I can keep on learning about it 

 

Sourdough-guy

L_M's picture
L_M

That's what I found in the morning! It had been about 8 hours and the mixture seemed a little bit thicker than 100% hydration but I wanted to make sure it would last the night. Smell is about the same - somewhere in between bananas, yeast and beer, but I'm quite used to that by now, not that I'd really like to dig in and eat some, but certainly not unpleasant.

It looks like both of you agree that the 1:2:2 is the way to go until I really am sure it is stable and the life cycle repeats itself in the same amount of time for a few feeds/days and then I'll probably start with higher ratio feeds or using the fridge like you suggest bwraith.  I think for the first time I'll try to make some bread with the starter straight from the counter to see how it tastes before I go on to the routine you use.

Sourdough-guy it was very kind of you to suggest sending me some starter, but it seems like mine has come to life so I think it'll be fine.

L_M

sourdough-guy's picture
sourdough-guy

Anytime.

I'm so glad it's going well now. It does sound yum though. lol. I just bought cakes for everyone here and one was banana and chocolate gateaux, that's just how the shop smelt, bananas, yeast, alcohol, now I want to go back for more. lol.

Sourdough-guy

bwraith's picture
bwraith

L_M,

That's great to hear. I like Sourdough-guy's idea of building up to larger feeding ratios over a few feedings, so you don't destabilize your brand new culture by diluting it too much before you know it will work.

I wouldn't be reluctant to use 1:2:2 and refrigerate for convenience, but you could try it first by putting a small portion of your risen starter in the refrigerator and just make sure it can be revived  the next morning without a problem by feeding it 1:2:2. Coming from the refrigerator, it will take a while to warm up and start rising, but it should still rise vigorously after only one night in the refrigerator, once it starts rising. Be careful if you use warm water to feed that it is just warm and not hot, i.e. 90F or lower.

Bill

L_M's picture
L_M

About testing a small portion in the fridge first bwraith - I certainly don't want to spoil or loose activity with this one!  Today I'll be  doing 2 feeds of 1:1:1 with 8 hours apart, (again tripling and just before the dip) but for the night and tomorrow it will be 1:2:2. I guess this just goes to prove to us that the AP flour was not the reason my other starters weren't doubling - never mind tripling.

Are yours any better today?

L_M

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi L_M,

Yes, it is nice to know your flour is behaving well. It sounds like you were having a very similar type of problem to the one I always get when my starter grows too fast and smells bad in the first 24 hours. After that, there is sluggish activity for a long time, it doesn't smell too bad, but not really good either, and one day, if you keep feeding it, it just decides to start working.

As far as my 6 jars, one seems "normal", which I am feeding and following. It looks like it will do fine. It is the one started with wheat only and without ascorbic acid added. In the early going, it did flare up like the others, but interestingly it smelled more like sour milk, instead of that awful gag producing smell. So maybe the leuconostoc didn't get the upper hand on the wheat only one for some reason. The one with rye only continued to have very strong nail polish remover smell, and I threw it and the rye/whole wheat one out.

The ones with ascorbic acid have all been just sluggish, but not bad smelling. I threw out all but the one that started with rye. I'm going to give a try refrigerating it and doing a high ratio feeding at room temperature, kind of like the 1tbsp method in the sourdough starter faq, just to see what happens.

The 7th jar seems very promising. There, I added the ascorbic acid in the higher dose (1/8tsp/200mL water), and used rye and whole wheat in combination. After more than 24 hours at room temperature, it smells good, is slightly puffy and less thick, but has no noticeable bubbles yet. We will see if it behaves more according to typical starter recipe schedules.

Bill

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

My Austrian SD has a sour milk smell.  Baked flavor comes close to sour bagels with cream cheese.  I'm looking for he who said he cannot tolerate dairy products, this is a starter for you.    Mini Oven