The Fresh Loaf

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Crust bitterness, which vanishes after an hour or so. What?

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Bread Breaddington's picture
Bread Breaddington

Crust bitterness, which vanishes after an hour or so. What?

I know I've made a thread about a similar issue in the past, but the plot has thickened. I've been using a KAF starter lately, and this has happened with my homemade starters in the past as well. It's very odd since I have no idea what would be causing this.

My bread comes out perfectly fine, but the outer crust has a bitter sharp flavor. Rather unpleasant, no effect on the crumb taste or the overall aroma of the bread. Then after letting the loaf sit out for an hour or so, it goes away, tastes normal and fine. 

The only variable that the breads I have made over the weeks have in common are the types of flour I use, which is bleached AP to feed my starters and KAF bread flour for, of course, the bread.

It's just such a strange thing. This only has happened with sourdough, and I bake other things with the same flours and on the same surfaces which get no off flavors, so I imagine the issue is with my starters. It's manageable since this bad taste goes away, but it's just so bizarre and it's very irritating to not understand what the cause is!

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Why in the world are you using bleached flour? The bleaching process oxidizes flour components that are important for flavor. Maybe that's the source of your crust bitterness.

David

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

I agree with David. You should be feeding your starters with the same quality flour you're baking the bread with. Considering that a huge amount of the flavor comes from the sourdough culture, it's just as important as the final dough.

This is making me sad that my sourdough culture is only on day 5. Move, yeasties, move!

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

Unbleached flour can be difficult to find in quantity, even in a city as large as Montreal.  And when you do find it, it tends to be more expensive.  I've made many, many loaves of bread, including sourdough, with bleached flour and have never had any problems.

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

That surprises me. Even here in Podunk Iowa, both the grocery stores in town carry a version (or two) of unbleached flour in at least 5 pound bags and it isn't more expensive anymore. I wonder why it's so hard to get there?

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

In Central California - arguably the Podunk of the West - , bleached flour, while available, is much less common than unbleached. I think I've used bleached flour one time only, for some sort of pastry or pie crust maybe.

David

Bread Breaddington's picture
Bread Breaddington

Yes, I use bleached flour for the feeding due to availability as well as price (unbleached flour seems more common under "premium" brands, it seems).

Is there any particular reason that bleached flour would have such a specific effect on sourdough as to cause my crust to become temporarily bitter? I can understand how the flavor might not be optimal, but that? I'm suspicious. But I don't know how it works.

I suppose I could try feeding my starter with my bread flour (which is unbleached) for a few days and see if it makes a difference. It's a varaible I haven't considered, at least.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

save the discard and put it into the refrigerator.  Let it sit there a few days and then feed 20g of it (with 20g water and 40g flour) and see what happens at room temp.  On another 20g add equal weights of water and some of your already baked sd bread crumbled up (instead of flour) and blend into a similar paste and let ferment at room temp.  Run a test on each flour mixing a tablespoon with just a little water and let them stand overnight.  Then taste them.

Another thing... get more taste-buds involved, could be you are sensitive to sourdough in a specific way and it just doesn't appeal to you.  See if others detect a bitterness.  It's no crime not to like sourdough.   If you were in a tropical climate I would suggest sifting the flour for critters.  Does your sourdough bread recipe ask for any ingredients that you don't use in non-sd breads?  oil or salt?  pine nuts?  or the bowl the dough stands in?

Mini

Bread Breaddington's picture
Bread Breaddington

The bread was eaten by a number of other people, and they agreed with what I've reported. So it's not just me, or my preference, I'm not hallucinating! And the crumb is good, mind you, it's just the crust that's getting this. Very strange, stranger still that the bad flavor wears off after a while. The breads perfectly good at that point, which is weird but I'll take it. And no, no special ingredients or anything else in my SD.

Not tropical, I live in Minnesota in fact, nearly the opposite. I'll take you up on that experiment next time I bake, which should be tomorrow. And I plan to start feeding the starter with unbleached flour just in case that has anything to do with it.

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

If it is a flavor only in the crust, chances are that it is a product of the Maillard browning reactions.  I am a chemist, but not a bread chemist, so I don't know offhand exactly what compounds would be reacting in bread dough.  It stands to reason, though, that sourdough would have a different set of organic compounds available to react on the crust, compared to dough fermented by commercial yeast.  The more complex flavor is, after all, the whole point of making sourdough, right?  I only bake sourdough these days.  You would think I could tell you if my bread has the same issue, but I can't.  That's at least in part because I don't dislike bitter flavors, so I can't pick them out so easily within a mixture.  Also, I use whole red wheat flour, so my entire loaf is probably more bitter than yours.

The fact that the flavor disappears after an hour means that either it is volatile, or that it combines with the starch in the bread as the loaf cools.  I lifted this from a document by Lallemand, who apparently sell flavoring aids for breadmaking among other things: "Heating stale bread temporarily reverses some of the changes and releases aroma compounds that had been bound to starch."  Presumably that holds true for undesirable flavors as well as desirable ones.  It is possible that toasting your bread would make the bitter flavor re-appear, if the reason that it goes away is that it becomes bound to the starch in the bread.

 

Bread Breaddington's picture
Bread Breaddington

That's interesting. The odd flavor does indeed seem to wear off when the bread is completely cool, I have noticed it more often when, due to my or someone else's impatience, I slice the loaf early.

I will experiment with the toasting. If that reactivates the undesirable flavor then that'll answer part of the question. I'll just have to be sure not to use my sourdough for french toast, or something.

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

The only thing that comes to mind is that the flour was improperly aged, but it sounds like this is an ongoing problem with multiple flours and starters. 

Starters are hyperlocal (Your San Francisco starter turns into [insert your city here] starter in very short order), so you might have an interesting visitor that's not affecting the leavening-quality, etc. of the starter, but is nontheless leaving its imprint.

Also, there are a couple of posts re: bitterness from improperly milled flour if you do a search.

Bread Breaddington's picture
Bread Breaddington

Maybe my environment is simply not well suited to sourdough, but I know for a fact that there are Minnesotans with succesful sourdoughs, so I'll have to talk to them. 

If it were a pervasive flavor problem I would think that would be the case, but the fact that the flavor problem is so specific and intermittent is what baffles me. But who knows.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

If you are concerned about waste by using the more expensive unbleached flour, downside your starter to an ounce or two.  Then if you plan ahead it is easy to grow to the required level for your recipe over two or three builds.  Then less/no guilt by throwing out the unused starter - assuming of course you didn't find another use for the discarded part such as pancakes, flat breads or other...  And only one type of flour to manage.

Earl's picture
Earl

 

Since the same thing happened with your other starters. Maybe you have a weird wild yeasty in your environment that migrates into your starters and upon being scorched, one of its traits is it emits a strange bitter substance that dissipates quickly. :-) Do you have a sourdough pal close by who can make you some dough to bake for comparison? Could it be your local water?

Bread Breaddington's picture
Bread Breaddington

Well, today's loaf turned out just fine, with none of this funny flavor business. Which is nice, but since I don't know the cause I can't prevent it from happening again.

I did nothing different, though the hydration was slightly higher than usual. I don't think that would have anything to do with it.

I wonder, I've been using a starter ordered from KAF as I said, and I've read in reviews that it can take it a few days to get up to shape. I wonder if it is now stabilizing after passing through a more volitile stage, that my homemade starters never got through. Who knows.