The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A warm hello from South Africa: My ... second starter

MorneDJ's picture

A warm hello from South Africa: My ... second starter


Brilliant site, wish I knew of it 3 weeks ago.

After reading in a book about a sourdough bread, I felt like I had to taste some. After going to the local bakery to get one, I have to admit I was less than sattisfied with the taste. I now know why, as I found out today that they use ordinary yeast for their "Sourdough".

In any case, after a few slices of bread and cheese, I decided to make a sourdough starter, and after some reading on the net decided on the plain Water and Whole-Wheat starter. I got a reaction after 24 hours with some delightful bubbles, but with a smell of sour milk. As I have read about the various smells they go through, I kept going, feeding it twice per day as per the recipe. while there are bubbles, there is no rise at all.

However, the smell never improved, and actually got worse, and I actually binned the started last week. I again tried.

Same results so far, it was yesterday still in the sour milk stage, and I was getting desperate to bake a sourdough bread. Got to this website 2 days ago, and communicated with PMcCool yesterday that referred me the the Pineapple juice starter. I in the mean time had 2 starters running, one whole wheat (Last week friday) and a white-bread and Rye starter (started saturday). Both were in the sour milk stage.

So I went, got a few pineapples and juiced them all. Feeded the older starter with flour and the juice, and when I wanted to it some more, I learned that my 5-year old discovered the bottle of juice in the fridge and drank it ... So I fed it water and flour. The smell is a bit more pineapply and less bad milk, and the bubbles are definitely smaller. The dough is also a bit more liquid than I remember (50 grams flour, 50 grams water). Just checked it, but there is little activity it seems. So I am playing the wating game.

However, as I am in a hurry to bake some sourdough bread, I thought of going to a bakery to buy a starter. And to my surprise I learned that all of the esteemed bakeries use yeast to start their sourdough bread recipes. None of these bakeries had their own starters. I hope to get one from the local farmer's market saturday. It is just a rather big surprise that these bakers do not do a proper starter based sourdough bread.


Morne from a very warm and sunny South Africa

G-man's picture

I remember looking through the plastic bagged breads in the bread aisles at the nearby supermarkets out of curiosity and discovering that pretty much every single one of them used yeast in their sourdough breads. It goes a long way toward explaining why I never liked sourdough until I made my own. We never had it in my house when I was a kid because none of my family liked it. Now they all ask me to bake them sourdough!

The plus side to the pineapple juice method is that it should have done the trick in the short time you were using it, making the environment in your starter inhospitable to the bacteria responsible for the nasty smells.

One thing, though: "good sourdough" and "hurry" are mutually exclusive. You can't have one if the other is present.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

The pineapple juice starter solves one particular problem that only appears within the first few days of starting a brand new culture. It hasn't been proven to do much for a new starter that had already passed that stage, nor an older starter experiencing 'issues'. It really does nothing 'magical' that makes a starter do something better or quicker.

If you can be patient, you'll be rewarded with a nice starter, but Mother Nature will insist on your patience!

You can try mail-order. There's Carl's Starter and King Arthur.

For King Arthur, their shipping page simply says "For International orders, please call 800.827.6836 for a quote", which I interpret as "we try to fill International orders". You might find the solution there, although the shipping charges would be outrageous for such a small item.

For Carl's, visit - On their "How to get.." page, there is a section for "Other Countries", and instructions are contained within. Carl's is free except for postage, but it takes awhile to recieve it. You are encouraged to donate to the project if you can, with your order.

There might be other ways through mail/shipping, but those are off the top of my head. Finally, I'll just say again, if you can calm down and dedicated about 6 weeks to your goal, you will have something amazing for your work - especially if REAL sourdough is your passion and goal.

- Keith

Syd's picture

Welcome to TFl Morne! I would encourage you to be patient and persevere with your starter. It is going to be so rewarding when you succeed and you will learn a lot about caring for your starter in the process. Read as much as can on this site and others about starting a starter from scratch. In my experience it takes at least two weeks before you can make a decent loaf of bread so don't be disheartened by early failures. Just continue to feed at regular intervals. Try and be as consistent as you can in terms of what you feed it, at what temperature you keep it and when you feed it. Eventually something will happen. I have never had a starter fail on me yet and I have made quite a few. It's winter in South Africa now so the temps are lower and the whole process is going to take longer. Everything about sourdough takes longer but the result is well worth it. Take some pictures of your starter and post them here. There are some very experienced folk here who are sure to give you excellent advice.

MorneDJ's picture

Thanks for all the comments guys, it is appreciated.

I am a rather patient guy but after 3 weeks I still do not have anything to show, I really thought I would be chewing on a piece of bread now with my coffee. I however found the quick Ciabatta recipe, and will be trying that tomorrow or Saturday.

The winter is past, and it is rather hot already. The starter is in the corner in the kitchen in an area that we store our eggs, so the temperature is relatively constant and a comfortable temperature.

The starter seems a bit more inactive now, and have turned more liquid. I will be feeding it in about an hour, and will check back here.



Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

If you intend to perservere through your current starter, let us help and support you, and with that, we'd need some current information...

You say it's been 3 weeks, but above you also say, I think, that you pitched one and started another. In relation to this newest one, exactly how many days has it been fermenting?

Are you still using 100% WW as the refreshment?

What is the typical temp where it is stored at peak daytime, and low at night?

You say you are feeding it twice daily, which -might- be too much depending on some other questions here... are we sticking to an avg of about every 12 hrs? How much old starter is retained before adding the 50g water and 50g flour? What type of container are you storing it in (a pic would be helpful if it's not a typical vessel)?

In the meantime, I'll assume you're still 100% WW. I would retain exactly 100g of the old starter, and do the 50g water and 50g WW flour refreshment. If there is NO increase in volume (not just bubbles) after 12 hours, do not feed it, wait another 8 hrs. If it still has not increased, wait another 4 (you're at 24 hrs now). No matter what, at the 24 hr mark, refresh it the same way (100 retained, 50 each added). Repeat the above until you get any noticeable volume (the bubbles can create a foamy faux volume, that doesn't count). Also, do not add any pineapple juice, or anything else but water and flour. Once you see some volume, switch to 12 hours, and report back. At that point, if you intend to convert it to a white starter, you can do so, but that might introduce a Thiol condition and it's best to let us work with you through the conversion.

- Keith

Adding - wanted to clarify the bubbles situation... the 'faux' bubbles I am referring to are extremely tiny, and are usually in the 10's of thousands. They create a definitive foam, which will obviously increase the volume a bit. Yeast bubbles are irregular. There are some tiny ones, but also large ones, and everything in between. They can create a 'frothy' top on your starter, but that's different than 'foam'. If you're used to seeing slight foaminess, you'll know right away when it turns to yeast activity.

MorneDJ's picture

Hi Keith,

I have just fed it. I started with this one last week friday afternoon. I actually used a brown bread flour (BBF) as I could not find any fresh whole-wheat flour (WWF). Try and feed it every day (every 12 hours) based on a recipe I found at

I keep 100 g starter and add 50g each flour and water.  I use a 1.5 liter canning glass jar. Once every 24 hours I would replace the jar by adding the feed to the new (and serilized) jar and add 100 g of starter. I do not use any metal in the process, not even to scoop out the flour.

I fed it twice with the BBF, and got some activity after 24 hours. By then I managed to get stone-ground white bread flour (WBF) as well as natural rye bread flour. (I have heard about a place selling whole wheat (stone ground) and will go and collect some this weekend). 

I fed the starter on Saturday with a 50 gram mixture of rye and the WBF, and have been feeding it the WBF since, as I believe it is rather fresh and a better quality product than any of the shop bought flours available here in South Africa. By Sunday I had a relative active starter smelling like sour milk. I also started a Rye starter by then, but I binned that since.

The temperature curently are about 26 - 28 during the day, and about 20 - 24 at night, actually very good. I will install a temperature monitor tomorrow.

I just fed it, and there was actually a foam on top, but little other activity. The bubbles were all very tiny. The sour milk smell is totally gone, replaces with a nice earthy smell like normal yeast dough. I have however not noticed any rise. I will go home in about 2 hours to see whether I have any rise and give feedback. Actually, will also install the temperature probes.



Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Ok, great info. The bread flour should be fine, but it not being WW, you might already be in the Thiol situation - tough to tell. A Thiol situation -usually- develops after you've had verified yeast activity/volume, and then switch to another flour or refreshment cycle. If you have not had any actual yeast activity/volume, let's throw Thiol out for right now.

I've used Mike Avery's (sourdoughhome) process before, it has worked for me, but also takes about 3 weeks to have something bakeable. Note I am not saying flavorful, as while the yeast eventually developed and would raise dough, the other organisms in that young of a starter leaves a bitter after taste that I really don't care for. That takes another 2-3 weeks to go away, which is why I realistically say about 6 weeks is expected to achieve something that is really satisfying to both work with, and taste.

You don't really need a temp probe for a starter.. the temps you stated are well within a reasonable environment to get this done.

Some people swear by rye to help speed up the process, I've not tried it, can't really comment on how much should be used. Only thing I can say is that it's definitely not necessary, but if you're in a hurry, it might be helpful.

I also don't think you should bother with the WW if it's inconvenient to obtain right away. WW will definitely pick things up, of that I can attest to, but the downside in my experience has been in converting it to a white starter. That's where I get Thiol and another 9 days in jail (no baking). I say if you want a white starter, start a white starter. If you're going to get Thiol, you're going to get it. Starting with WW doesn't save you.

You can use metal utensils, that's an old wife's tale that probably had a rhyme and a reason at the time, but then took on a life of its own. I use metal all the time. You're using a glass jar, so that's good there. You do not need to sterilize it in between any 'x' amount of feedings, that's extra work. Just make sure that after a refreshment is stirred in thoroughly, that you scrape the sides of the jar with a rubber spatula, or even wipe with a dampened paper towel. Old starter that collects on the sides of the jar is susceptible to molding, which is somewhere we do NOT want to go. ; ) If you keep the sides of the jar fairly clean, you shouldn't have to clean/sterilize the entire jar - ever.

If your starter has never had any yeast activity since day 1, you can over feed it by doing refreshments every 12 hours. It won't kill the process, but will slow it down. A very young and under-populated yeast culture cannot eat that much food in 12 hours, and every time you refresh, you reset the pH of the starter to an environment that is not advantageous for them. Going 18 or even 24 hours can help jump start a young population, but I would stick a fork in there several times a day and stir it up real good. Yeast like good oxygen content, so whip some air into it whenever you think about it. Definitely whip LOTS of air into it at refreshment. Dump/fork/spoon out whatever you're discarding, add the measured water, and then stir until it's got a good beer head of foam on it. Then add the flour and stir that in thoroughly. That should have a good oxygen content for the next cycle to start off with.

I use a fork to remove my discards, because it's easy for me to tell the relative stage of my starter. The starter should cling to the fork in clumps, and there should be a sort of dough/gluten texture to it. It also rinses completely off of the fork very easily. If I let my starter go beyond about 15 hours, it will be much thinner, and have much less structure. I have to spaghetti-twirl it onto the fork to get it to hold. It still rinses easily and completely to the metal. When Thiol invades, you will not have any structure, period, and it's like glue. It will not come off the fork easily, and you'll have to actually rub the fork with your fingers to get it all off. These are just hints at what you'll be working with once you actually have healthy population of yeast. If you're not there, you will be soon enough. By your timeline, it looks like your culture could 'pop' any refreshment now. = )

- Keith

bertie26's picture

Hello Morne

I am envious all the sun and space but never mind. My oupa used to make mosbolletjies and for 4 days he made a raisin starter which i still use now  herewith the ingredient for it 

250g chopped seeded rasins

15 ml sugar

750 ml cooled boiling water(to  lukewarn)

Mix and leave for 4 days or until raisins  rise to the top. strain and add to flour to make a preferment as required. 

i use this when I cant get my sourdogh right.

hopes this helps



MorneDJ's picture

Hi All,

I just fed my starter. Amazing smell, yet while there is bubbles in the starter there is still very little rise. Since it is now only 7 days old I have little hope yet of any significant rise, but I am checking it every few hours (work from home) for any rise and activity.

PMcCool offered me some of his starter, and strangely, he stays just around the corner from me :P I also have the option to buy a MF1700 starter from a bakery in Knysna. The starter was started in 1700 in a bakery in Austria by Markus Farbinger, and the origins can be traced back in some trademark books. I understand it is a distant cousin from the original baker (Markus Farbinger) that owns this bakery, and that the sourbread baked from this starter is delicious. But the starter is also priced at about $40 (R300).

I will continue with my starter for the next few months and compare it's bread with other starters. I have learned alot in the last week, more than I learned in the 2 weeks prior. I will provide feedback here on my progress and efforts.