The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

leuconostoc issues

Nassiaba's picture

leuconostoc issues

Hi, I hope I'm not asking an obvious question this is my first attempt at a starter, I've tried to read on whatever threads I could find on the forum first but I think I'm a bit confused still. 

So 4 days ago I sarted a sourdough starter. I'm using the method listed on the Wild yeast blog (100 g water (I used bottled), 50 g whole wheat organic rye, 50 g white (trader joes)

Anyway, after the first day I didn't see any change at all in the dough --I waitedan extra 12 hours when it seemed a little bit more wet/glossy and tiny bubles on the bottom and I've done what wild yeast recomends in terms of feeding: "Discard all but 75 g of the culture. Feed this with 75 g water, 25 g rye flour, and 50 g white flour (1/3 c. starter, 1/3 c. water, 5 teaspoons rye flour, and 1/3 c. white flour)." The problem is that the smell of the starter is just getting worse and worse...I've been feeding every 12 hours to try to overcome the leuconostoc but I think it's even getting worse smelling each time? I guess my question is if it is hopeless to continue with it at this point and hope that the leuconostoc will die out? Today I added a few small pinches of citric acid to the starter and mixed it in, but I haven't fed again, should feed too? And if yes how much?

I saw the threads recommending the pineapple juice method instead of water and I guess I will try that next time if this batch is an absolute fail but wondering if I should keep at it for another 2-3 days to salvage this one? 

Thank you in advance for any advice! 

Yerffej's picture

Keep going with this one.  I would simplify things and use just organic rye flour but that is not essential.  If things do not look and smell better in another two days, then I would consider starting anew....and welcome to the forum.


raqk8's picture

Hpoefully the bacteria will just die out in the next couple of days. WHenever you start a culture, it seems to have a pretty strong smell initially, then become very faint after a while. Then it'll develop a nice mature smell that is what you want your bread to taste like :)

For me, my starters always started out slow... They took a couple of days to show any growth. If you don't notice much improvement in the next 3 days or so, I'd give it another go with the juice. That method has always worked for me!


hansjoakim's picture


I'm betting that you're feeding too frequently at this stage. To overcome the leuconostoc phase in the beginning, it's important to get an acidic environment. Equally important, to get to the next stage, i.e. beyond the leuconostoc phase, you must make sure that the proper sourdough bacteria get the upper hand. I usually feed every 24 hours during this phase, and the reason for this, is that the concentration of "right" sourdough bacteria is low in this phase compared to the population of leuconostoc. You are gradually building up a flora of sourdough bacteria, but right now, they are outnumbered. You can add an acidic component to the mix, and this will dampen the growth of leuconostoc, but it will not directly promote the growth of the beneficial sourdough bacteria you're looking for. If you feed every 12 hours during this stage, you keep on diluting the sourdough bacteria concentration, and they don't overcome the leuconostoc bacteria. If you change to feeding once every 24 hours instead, you will grow more sourdough bacteria during each feeding cycle, and you bring more sourdough bacteria with you into the next feeding cycle. Once every 24 hours, mix equal weights whole rye flour, water and your flour-water (not yet starter) mix from the preceeding day, and you'll have a sourdough starter up and running in 5 - 6 days.

Getting a new sourdough starter up an running is not difficult, as long as you know the signs of each phase, and how to adjust the feeding interval accordingly. From my experience, the simpler the method, the better. I'm not sure if you have "Bread" by Hamelman, but in it, he outlines a very simple, straightforward way of getting a rye starter going. Here's my slightly modified version of this:

Day 1: Mix equal weights of whole rye flour and water. Make sure the water is lukewarm, mix this together into a rough, grey paste, and leave to stand in room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2: You will notice a slight difference in colour and texture of the paste, but it will probably not have expanded much in volume. Mix equal weights of whole rye flour, water and your paste from day 1, once again using lukewarm water and keeping it in room temperature for another 24 hours.

Day 3: You will notice a large increase in volume, and you'll see that the mixture is very runny and soupy by this point. This is when the leuconostoc bacteria have gained a solid foothold of the proceedings. Fear not, however! Again, mix equal weights of whole rye flour, lukewarm water and the runny mixture, and leave for another 24 hours.

Coming few days: Things will now seem to settle down, with a lot less activity, and a more subtle, yoghurt-like smell will start to be noticeable. Keep on mixing equal weights of whole rye flour, lukewarm water and your flour-water mixture, until you see a pronounced increase in volume again. This should be accompanied by a nice, pleasant aroma, and typically a threefold increase in volume. Once you observe this, switch to feeding every 12 hours, still using equal weights of whole rye flour, water and what is now a sourdough starter. Feed it like this in 12 hour intervals a few times to make sure the starter is robust. This should take no more than roughly 6 days in total.

To encourage more rapid growth, eventually you can move over to a e.g. 1:5:5 (starter:water:flour) feeding schedule, e.g. 10 gram starter + 50 gram water + 50 gram whole rye flour, feeding every 12 hours. Make sure that the starter is able to ripen and expand roughly threefold between feedings. If it does not, or appears to be a bit sluggish, either increase the amount of starter every time you feed, use warmer water, or increase the time between feedings, so that the starter is fully ripened between each feeding.

Maverick's picture

Leuco can be frustrating. This is why the pineapple juice method is recommended so often. It skips that step and speeds things along. You could keep going with this one and it will eventually work out ( probably only a coupole more days). But you might want to start a Pineapple Juice one as well. Since you are a beginner to creating sourdough starters, doctoring a stinky starter while trying to learn the when to feed and how much can be a little much to take on. It really is amazing how much of this frustration can be avoided simply by using the pineapple juice method. I recommend using rye to start and following Debra Wink's method as closely as possible.

edit to add: This site give a good visual...


Nassiaba's picture

Thanks Jeff, Raquel I will keep trying with this one and see how it goes. Right now I'm sure the yeast are still not very active yet because the mixture smells so horribly AWFUL and there really isn't any rise, more a soupy gray consistancy. And Thanks Maverick for the link! very helpful, I will get some pineapple juice to have in the house just in case I need to start over in a few days. 

And Thank you Hans for the very detailed response on how much to feed and the recap of the "Bread" by Hamelman method--I think I looked at that book a few years ago but it blew my mind with its amazing amount detailed just made it seem impossible to do. But I will slow down the feeding to the simplified ratios you wrote (only rye) every 24 hours--I will report back after the weekend to let you know how it's doing.  I'm also wondering if room temperture in my house (about 65-75 F it really fluctuates) might be hurting the yeast from developing (?) Is it possible that it is not really warm enough? Another question, and I don't know if it's a silly one is if you wash out the container (I've been using a tupperware with the lid covered but not sealed) each time. The first 2 days I did not wash it out but I started doing that since every time I feed. 


hansjoakim's picture

Sounds great! You know, since you don't sound awfully hopeful with regards to your current situation, you might also consider starting over, with whole rye flour from the very beginning. It's amazing what a clean slate can do... ;-) Please keep us informed on your progress.

I don't think you should worry about your ambient temperature - it's quite similar in my apartment this time of year. Just make sure you use lukewarm water (aim for something around 85F), and keep your container in a place without drafts. Temperature is one of the many factors that determine the lactobacilli composition in the sourdough - lower temperatures mean slower growth, but ordinary room temperatures (65F - 75F) should not be any problem.

I also find Tupperware containers to be very practical containers for sourdough cultures. No need to wash it every time you feed, just mix it all down, and use a paper wipe or a small towel to wipe off the sides of the container. You might want to wash the container once in a while, but no need to overdo it (if anything, you might introduce some soap residue or similar that you don't want in the sourdough). I spent a few weeks working in a bakery a few years ago, and the bakery kept three different sourdough starters in huge 50 liter plastic containers. The containers were stored underneath the benches used to pre-shape and shape loaves, and they hadn't been thoroughly washed for years. Dried sourdough clinging to the sides were sometimes scraped away, but that was it. Wash your container when you feel like it (be it once a week, once a month or once a year), but don't worry about it. Once your culture is beyond the leuconostoc phase and triples between feedings, you'll be surprised how adaptable it is and how much negligence it can handle :-)

Best of luck, and please keep us up to date!

Nassiaba's picture

Thanks Hans, I think that I might might be seeing some improvement! I somehow forgot to feed my starter last night when I was supposed to but today to my amazment it smelled more "sour" or fermented than that awful (AWFUL!!) was also more dried out and bit crusty on top but many more bubbles too under the crustyness. I also changed the location of my starter--I was worried that it was in a drafty place and I've moved it to the kitchen on top of my fridge on Friday.  Well I hope this is a breakthough of sorts, I will definitly update again. Thank you again to you (and the others) for taking the time to respond. I also saw the amazing bread you bake on your fresh loaf blog and I'm really in awe! I hope I can make such great and beautiful bread one day too! Thanks again

hansjoakim's picture

Hi, and thanks for letting us know about your progress!

Based on my own trial and error, it seems to me that it is much easier to get the favourable lactobacilli off to a good start if you feed roughly once every 24 hours in the beginning. Keep in mind that there are many different bacterias present, and there will be a natural selection happening. In the beginning, the favourable lactobacilli concentration is low, and it takes time for them to get a solid foothold. Feeding frequently during the first couple of days is likely to be counterproductive, as you keep on diluting the lactobacilli concentration, and they never really manage to develop enough acidity to combat leuconostoc and other nastiness. Provided you use whole-rye flour, you ensure that there is plenty of nutrients in the paste, so there is no reason to feed more often than say once every 24 hours if you keep it at room temperature.

Once you get to the stage that the culture doubles or triples every 24 hours, and you see a fragile web of many small gas pockets underneath the top crust, it's time to switch gears. This should be after roughly 4-5 days from starting off, and you now have a solid concentration of favourable lactobacilli bacteria in your starter. To encourage more rapid growth and keep them happy, switch to feeding every 12 hours. You should still see a doubling or tripling between feedings. If not, the starter might be a bit too weak still, so better go back to feeding every 24 hours a few more times to ensure that it is robust.

There's no alchemy involved in maintaining and using sourdoughs, but I guess the main hurdle is that, as a beginner, one doesn't know what each phase is supposed to look like, and how one should adjust the feeding schedule of the starter accordingly. Think of it in terms of "survival of the fittest", and the rest is quite intuitive. It sounds like you're on the right track, and I'm confident that (with a bit of practice) you'll be making stellar sourdough loaves! Best of luck, and keep us updated on your progress :)