The Fresh Loaf

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Can changing flours effect starter?

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Bread Head's picture
Bread Head

Can changing flours effect starter?

My starter is fed 50% All Purpose and 50% Whole Wheat.  It is a 100% hydration starter.  I follow the one in Tartine's Book.

I recently changed my whole wheat flour that I feed my starter and the bread I was making didn't feel the same.  During the "turns" in the container it didn't increase in size and the dough was very sticky, it just wasn't the same.

I changed the whole wheat I was feeding it 2 days before I made a leaven with it.  It seemed ok and my leaven floated, so I don't understand??

What happens to a starter when you change some of the flour?

Thanks for your time!

wildman's picture


Seening that you changed brands of whole wheat flour used in your starter you probably changed the whole wheat flour used in the main bread dough. Whole wheat soaks up more water and does not share it as readily with the other flour in the dough. You might try extending your autolyse time to double your usual time before adding your levain.  


Jaydot's picture

I once bought a different flour by accident (I buy flour from a mill, and I got a bag of non-organic instead of the organic I normally buy), fed my starter with it once, and the starter died the following day. Went from a nice, active starter to a lifeless smelly puddle within 24 hours. Took me days to figure out what happened, because the bags looked the same, just the tiny label was different.
So yes, changing flour can have an enormous effect on your starter.

wildman's picture

It seems unlikely that this minor change killed your starter. I've been keeping a 100% hydration 50/50 KAF unbleached bread flour and KAF unbleached white whole wheat flour starter for several months now. 

I have also experimented with other cultures on the side and it has been my experience that when using flour from a single source (KAF in my case) and make a change using a similar flour (KAF white whole wheat to KAF organic whole wheat) it made no difference in my starter. I have also purchased bulk flours from Costco which resulted in minimal changes to my experimental starter when the Costco flour was used for a short time, maybe two days (four feedings). But over time the starter did change when I continued using the Costco bulk flours. This is also true when starting a new culture using SAF Red commercial yeast. I used the standard 50/50 mixture and a dose of commercial SAF Red yeast. The SAF yeast went wild on the fourth day and smelled and behaved exactly the same as my normal wild 50/50 100% hydration starter.  



Jaydot's picture

... but I doubt that the difference between organic/non-organic alone caused the problem, could have been anything. I wondered if it had anything to do with residue of treatment the grain or the flour had undergone, but I don't know for sure. I've changed flour before and since, and I have noticed some change, but never that dramatic.
Currently I use an organic, stoneground rye/wheat mixture I buy in a local artisan bakery, and the starter *loves* it :).
My point was just that changing flour can have a great impact on starters. 

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

I have read many articles on this issue as I had the same problem when I tried feeding my rye sourdough with whole wheat.  My healthy starter slowed down and eventually died within days.  Apperently the starter doesn't like change.  I now keep a few different types of starters; Rye, WW, White.


wildman's picture

 When you change the food given to your established rye starter culture this much you are asking for trouble. The yeasts found in a particular flour will eventually become the dominent yeast cultures in the starter often in a very short time. By changing your rye flour culture's food to a wheat flour you almost immediately change the starter's dominent yeasts as the rye yeasts cannot compete with the yeasts that were already established in the new wheat flour used to feed your starter / culture. Essentially you starved the rye starter and established a new culture but did not give it enough time to become a balanced and stable culture. 


JOHN01473's picture

A couple of weeks ago I changed my flour to feed my starter. I went from wheat to rye. The wheat flour I was using was a very cheap one. I changed to rye because I was getting loads of brown waste liquid. Since using the rye this has stopped. I feed it once a week and keep it refrigerated. I would say that the final loaves have not really changed.