The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Does changing the hydration level "upset" the WW starter?

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Does changing the hydration level "upset" the WW starter?

Hello all,

I finally got a scale! So I started measuring my feedings instead of just eyeballing it, and the starters have gone all wonky, one smells very acidic, like vinegar, burns my nose, the other is musky unpleasant smelling.

After receiving the scale I started measuring 100% hydration, this is much drier than what I was eyeballing, after some fiddling I think my eyeball method was about 135% hydration, I would use about 1/8c starter, 1/4c water and add flour till it seemed thick enough.

They are both very slow to show activity now, after 2 hrs they look the same as at feeding time, by the 12 hr mark they are maybe near doubled, but smelling strange, this is about day 3 with the scale, I'm about ready to go back to eyeball method!

Both are 100% whole wheat. Are they upset over a change in their environment? Do whole wheat starters like it wetter?

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

Water, as an ingredient, is fundamental to activating the fermentative process.  It also provides the dispersal mechanism for sourdough microflora; the most accurate means of controlling dough temperature; and, lastly, for determining fermentation quotient.  Those are really the most important considerations for water as a variable in baking naturally-leavened bread.

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Thank you for the "smarty stuff" My brain is a little cobwebby this morning, I'll read it again after coffee and sourdough! :)

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Firmer starters will sometimes be more sour than liquid ones. Two threads to check out:

1. Debra Wink and Dan DiMuzio talk about firm and liquid starters

2. JMonkey's sour starter thread

Both summarize the information much better than I can explain. 

Have both starters always been 100% whole wheat? Did you use a new bag of WW for feeding, or is it from the same previous bag of flour you were using?

Are they upset over a change in their environment?

Good question. They may be, changing hydration definitely leads to changes in your starter. 

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Thanks for the links, after reading jmonkey's sour info, it makes perfect sense, the acetic acid is making it vinegarish, and since I am not looking for more sourness, I think I will go back to the higher hydration.   Yes, they have always been whole wheat, occasionally(g-whiz can't spell anymore) I will add about a tsp of rye or oat flour, but the rest is 100% WW, and still using the same bag of flour.  I let the musky one go a full 24 hours before feeding it again, we'll see if it comes around.

Thanks for the help!

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

Why not measure the eyeball method once and have the best of both worlds? You can do this by using your old method but weighing a flour container before and after you add the flour by eye. Thereafter you can weigh out the flour. Then you will know for certain what hydration you are using, but still be keeping your starter happy.

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

I think I will! thanks!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

for the temperature, you are now overfeeding the starters and slowing down the fermentation.  Then feeding on a schedule before the starter should be fed.  A thinner starter ferments faster.  You might try reducing the amount of flour or increasing the starter   to be fed if you want the starter to be at 100% hydration.  

Letting the starter stand 24 hrs sounds like a good idea.

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

I fed both this morning, (eyeball method) they were both stinky this afternoon, :( So this evening I stirred them both and left them be. I did move them to a warmer room last night.

If they are still funky in the morning I am considering seeding them with the "backup starter"that is in the fridge; will this help them get balanced again, or should I just wait and see?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and save your back up starter, you might be needing it all by itself.  Meanwhile describe "funky and stinky" to the best of your ability and any other characteristics.


 

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Like stinky feet, limburgher cheese, yuk.  The one that was vinegary is a little better this morning, I will feed both, and see how they do, the smell is what I would associate with "leuco's" which would agree with your overfeeding theory right?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and so typical of beginning ww starters too!  I remember one "sir stinks-a-lot" and I myself had one ww starter that smelled like dirty sweat socks for a while.  

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

Throw 'em all out, except the vinegary one.  Keep it at room temperature constantly, and continue to feed at least daily in whole wheat.  Keep 100% hydration if this is what you want.  Lower your inoculation percentage by at least 50%, maybe even 75%.  Once it has risen and no longer has a convex dome, refresh it.  If you're having to refresh it too often, again lower your inoculation amount (or lower temperature or water amount).  Vinegar = good.

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

My experience with a 50% whole wheat 50% white starter (100% hydration) has been that I can feed it 20:25:25 (seed:total flour: water) and it will do just fine, but if I feed it anything larger, i.e., starting at 20:30:30, I get that icky leuconostoc smell for a portion of the feed cycle.  The smell disappears when you let the starter continue to ferment and build up enough acidity to kill off the leucos.

Here's what I did:  I got some low range pH paper and took the starter pH at feeding, several hours in, and then at the end of the cycle.  Compared to an all-white starter, the whole wheat starter was slower to build up acidity, I think due to the buffering capacity of bran.   So with the bran comes both delayed acidity and a fresh seeding of leuconostoc.  

Another thing I learned is that the physical peak in this starter happens before the acidity reaches a level that will inhibit the leucos.   So you have to wait until a little while after the peak (until the pH paper- or your nose- says it's OK) to feed it again.

This was confirmed for me lately when maintaining Ken Forkish's part-whole wheat starter, which reaches a peak well before the 24-hr mark that he establishes as a guideline for the end of the cycle.

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Hmmmm, this pH cycle is very interesting, so, if lowering the hydration level slows down the feeding cycle, this probably means less mobility for the yeast (if they move around-I don't know) and/or slower reproduction rate, which probably means even slower to lower the pH level and vanquish the rule of the leuco group. I keep aquariums, so I am familiar with my tapwater chemistry(sp) I have pretty strong carbonate level, water comes out of the tap at about 7.4pH and ends up 7.6 or 7.8 in the aquarium environment. The carbonates prohibit me from easily lowering the pH in the aquarium, so I keep fish that can adapt to it.  I am thinking this also will contribute to slowing down the acidification of the starter.

If I am right, higher hydration means faster acidification because of more activity from the yeast and/or lactic acid.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

unsweetened pineapple or orange juice.   That little bit of liquid acid helps to lower the pH.   Stirring helps circulate the yeast unless it is thin or active enough to let the gas bubbles stir the culture.  Thinner than 100% hydration will not rise much so be aware of using expansion as a gauge of activity.  

Because of the pH and your water, you may find it easier during maintenance to keep a larger portion of starter to feed, that keeps the pH from rising so high as to have a long lag time for the yeast to increase numbers and kick out gas.  It is important to raise pH enough for the bacteria and yeast to recognise that more food is available but too high leaves the culture vulnerable before the lactobacilli can lower it again.  

In fact, your conditions would be a good reason to maintain a very liquid starter.  A large jar of starter where you remove a fair portion to add to flour to make bread dough.  (Then restock half the starter pot.)  This gives you a lower pH for your dough as well speeding up what might be a long sourdough process because most of the liquid for your dough comes from the starter .

 

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

Higher hydration speeds things up, but I think what Mini Oven and I are both saying is try a larger seed and/or let the feeding cycle go for a longer time before feeding again.  

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9


They are happy and bubbly and fragrant again.  Feeding 1part seed, 1 part flour and 1.25 part water did it :) Thanks for everyone's help!