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whole wheat levain scent

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sam's picture
sam

whole wheat levain scent

Hello,

I began a starter from scratch several months ago using Hamelman's procedure, and maintain it at 125% hydration and primarily AP white flour.   I do spike it with some whole rye from time to time.   I've never once had any bad scents with it, except for a bit of the wet-paint smell if I have neglected it for too long.   Using this starter, I have made many white-flour and whole-rye levains from it, all without issue.   However, whenever I have made a 100% whole-wheat levain, the levain smells cheesy / a bit sulfury when it is ripened.   In the past I went ahead with it anyway, and the resulting final dough did not smell chessy, the bread was tasty, etc.   But it always kind of bugged me about how the levain smelled.   So I've sorta been avoiding making whole-wheat levains because of it.

This week, I decided to see if I could somehow train my starter to do better with whole-wheat flour.  So this past Monday, I began feeding it 25% whole wheat, 75% white flour, every 12 hours, all week.   I detected a little bit of the cheesy scent during the first couple days (nowhere near as strong as the 100% whole wheat levain scent), but after 2-3 feedings, even that small amount of cheesy scent disappeared.   Yay, I thought.   I kept feeding it the whole-wheat/white flour mix all week.

This morning I took a small portion of the starter, and fermented a new 100% whole-wheat levain.    The result?   Darn cheesy smell again!   Sulfury and pungent.

Any ideas?   My next thought was to branch off the starter and try to maintain a 100% whole-wheat starter, with the understanding that I'll get the cheesy scent, but maybe after feeding it enough times entirely with whole-wheat flour, it might do better over time.

Or, is this a normal scent for a whole-wheat levain?    I don't have any off-scents at all when making up white-flour or whole-rye flour levains.

PiPs's picture
PiPs

I have been keeping a 100% wholewheat "desem" style levain. I keep it at around 60% hydration feeding it with freshly milled flour and cool water keeping it at a cool temperature - 18°C (64°)

I am biased though. I prefer the smell of firmer starters. I can appreciate and judge a batter type starter but I really don't like the smell of them (white or wholewheat). A firm starter kept right smells fruity and sweet to me. I have tried batter type starters with wholewheat and I think I know the smell you are talking about. I think fermentation happens so much quicker with a wholewheat batter type and there is also alot of enzyme activity that I don't really understand happening when it is kept that hydrated.

You could maybe try keeping it cooler and using less of an amount in the inital feed if you want to keep it as a batter.

Phil

sam's picture
sam

Hi PiPs,

Thanks for the reply.   Today's attempt was 100% hydration for the whole-wheat levain, and prior attempts were either 125% or 100% hydration.

That is a good idea, I could try a lower hydration all-whole-wheat flour levain and see if that behaves any differently.   It is just odd to me.   My high-hydration levains with all whole-rye or all-white-flour don't have the same issue.

Thanks again.

jcking's picture
jcking

How fresh is the wheat flour?

sam's picture
sam

Fresh as in milled a few days ago at home.    :-)

I've tried whole-wheat berries from two separate vendors also.    

 

jcking's picture
jcking

Check and make sure the mill is extremely clean.

Mebake's picture
Mebake

I wouldn't think that freshness of the flour, nor the source is the culprit here, gvz, It would, but not in your senario at least.

I have had the exact same issue with wholewheat levain recipe of Hamelman, and Phil is right. high hydration wholewheat starter, as in 100% or 125%, is a perfect medium for bacterial growth. Add that to room temperature, and bacterias such as cheese odour causing strains will thrive and wreack havock in your starter yeast population. This happens due to the enzymes readily available in your wholewheat flour, and micro-nutrients that benefits more the bacteria under such hydrations than wild yeats.  If you love the effects of liquid leavens, keep them cool: as in 21C or less. If you can't control your starter fermentation temperaturem, then you're better off using a stiff wholewheat levain. Everything happens faster in a wholewheat starter, when you have such a batter of it, you're just giving the bacteria a leading edge over the yeasts. By keeping the starter cool (not cold), you'll delay the bacterial activity, while allowing yeasts to flourish.

 

sam's picture
sam

Thanks for the advice, but I have also done many 100% whole-wheat soakers at room temps for hours with no salt and no issues, but they were at the 80% hydration.

Also I have chilled liquid whole-wheat levains and got the same scent.

It is odd.   There is something about a whole wheat liquid levain.   I am wondering if other people have this same situation or if they successfully do liquid whole-wheat levains or starters.   

Well, now it is a challenge.   :)

thanks again.

 

Mebake's picture
Mebake

What you are experiencing has been discussed several times: here is one. When changing the diet of flour from entirely white to wholegrain, the yeast/bacteria population needs time to adjust.