The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter Trials

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theluckyfox's picture
theluckyfox

Starter Trials

I found Debra Wink's pineapple starter writings (which appear to be the same recipe you're using), and inspired by her findings, I started my own trials.  Now on day nine, the results are interesting.  I have three batches going: one with distilled water and a blend of 50/50 whole wheat/bread flour; one with tap water and the same 50/50 flour blend, and another starter with pineapple juice and whole wheat flour that I'm now feeding with only bread flour.  Now on day nine, I see no measurable difference, though that wasn't the case up to this point.

If you're interested in following the process (with detailed photos), you can do so on my blog: www.theluckyfox.blogspot.com.  Just click on the category "Starter Trials" to the right.

Debra Wink's starter writings are impressive, and I highly recommend them.  They can be found on TFL here: www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/

Debra clearly understands this process.

pjkobulnicky's picture
pjkobulnicky

Is the tap water chlorinated? If so, you will prpbably start to see some degradation of the tap water starter over time if you continue to use tap water.

theluckyfox's picture
theluckyfox

I couldn't tell you if it was, or not.  Of the three starters, it's the one I have had the least enthusiasm for in my trials, until today, and today it's going like gang busters.  It's all an experiment, so I will keep it going, but I think it's the hardest to control, because I don't know what's in the water.

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

There is no comparative advantage to the pineapple-juice method, and, in fact, it's probably ultimately counterproductive.  Why not try just creating one starter?  I am asking this because one starter can be expressed in a seemingly infinite combinatorial-game of musical chairs; a baker has a lot of control over her culture (both its microfloral make-up and metabolic activities[re: flavour]).  The science on all of this is still quite young--barely over a century-old, and the rate of discovery versus what is already known has shown us that we know very little.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I do not understand how creating a low-pH environment in the starter that is friendly to the desireable yeast and bacteria in a sourdough starter and hostile to undesireable bacteria, specifically leuconstoc bacteria, is "counterproductive." 

The use of whole grains - wheat or rye - in initiating a starter provides a higher micro-organism inoculation as well as higher ash (mineral) content, thus accelerating yeast and bacterial growth.

Note that the process of establishing a starter initially is not the same as maintaining a starter. Once a starter is established, it can indeed be modified in flour mix and hydration as needed for a particular desired result.

David

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

Please see here.  Your questions cannot be answered because, I believe, you are asking the wrong questions.

The use of whole grains - wheat or rye - in initiating a starter provides a higher micro-organism inoculation as well as higher ash (mineral) content, thus accelerating yeast and bacterial growth.

Note that the process of establishing a starter initially is not the same as maintaining a starter. Once a starter is established, it can indeed be modified in flour mix and hydration as needed for a particular desired result.

A review of all my posts on this forum will show I completely agree with the above.  Please see here.

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

One other comment:  acidification is one way, but not the way sourdough lactobacilli handily out-compete all other organisms in cereal substrates.  In fact, the most important bacteria of all, Lb sanfranciscensis, is an acidophobe, compared to the rest of native-cereal lactobacilli.  It thrives best in a pH range between 5.1 - 5.6, yet still manages to becomes the dominant sourdough species everywhere in the world in "type I" systems.  This tells us that acidifying the sourdough matrix to very low thresholds is not necessarily as important a prerequisite to maintaining a successful culture as other process parameters might be.

As for Leuconostoc species, the pineapple-juice method is silly.  The most efficient process-parameter for curbing their growth is temperature, as they are most active between 18 - 22 degrees Celsius.  Native-cereal lactobacilli will always out-compete Leuconostoc at temperatures above that; so much so, that raising the temperature to 37 degrees Celsius (thereby ensuring activation of a significant amount of Lb Plantarum numbers) on the first day of creating a starter will assure that Leuconostoc does not become the dominant species, ever, and this is assuming they are undesirable in the first place.  Please refer upthread to my post on another thread asking certain questions about this lactobacillus.  The answers to those questions might surprise you (same with Weissella).

theluckyfox's picture
theluckyfox

FWIW, I did not choose the pineapple juice method because I had some notion it was the best, and only way to cultivate a yeast culture.  I chose it, along with two others, and set out on a trial.  Not everyone that endeavors to make sourdough bread has an indepth knowledge of how the bacteria all play together.  The point of my post was to simply share an experiment, and draw my own conclusions, which I have yet to post.

On the start of day 10, which is today, all three starters are performing exactly the same, even though each has a different set of ingredients.  The only notable difference to this point has been the point at which each became active.  I'm hoping to dispell some of the mystique for the lay-person.  I doubt the scientists in the bunch will find much value in my trials, but perhaps others, like me, will find my experiment useful.

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

And I applaud what you are doing.  I'm just not sure one can infer much from the process, though.  I say this as a lay-person, too, and one that conducted the sort of experiments you have throughout the years.  Besides which, my comments were more a reply to those who believe in the pineapple- or any-juice method, and your conclusion sort of shows what I mean.  If we know the outcome, what is the best, easiest way there?  Ten days is an awful long time to create a starter, at least for me.

Well done.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I peeled over Debra Wink's articles and could find no suggestion of 65° F (?) as the basis temperature for growing a starter.  (This is the temperature used for the starter trials at the lucky fox blog.  Small comment on the bottom of the first page.)  Plenty of reference to room temperature and up to 30°C for growing starters are mentioned by Wink but not the low room temp of 65°F.  Where did this suggestion come from?  Why was it used?  It is not a passive comfortable room temperature for me and I wouldn't expect a sourdough starter culture to rapidly form.   Not within a week so, I think the test results say more about using a cold temperature than using different liquids.  Keeping the starter cool has more to do with the results than anything else.  

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Dear Lucky Fox,

Wish I had seen this sooner. Thanks so much for the props, and I am very sorry you were rebuffed for investigating on your own. Curiosity is a good thing. I think you can and did show, independently, that pineapple juice didn't change the end result, it only shortened the time getting there. So I can't see it as hurtful or counterproductive. It's simply one problem-solving trick. It's always good to have independent verification, and I thank you for taking the time. I don't know if you've seen it, but Paul at Yumarama conducted a similar experiment a while back and saw the same results as you.

Click here: Another Yumarama Bread Blog Entry!

Having said that, I'd like to address inaccuracies in this and the other thread linked to, starting with information about Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. As David pointed out, the process of establishing a starter initially is not the same as maintaining a starter. While Lb. sanfranciscensis doesn't thrive at low pH, it also does not thrive without a small peptide produced by yeast. And outside of a bakery environment (which includes home kitchens in which bread is made frequently enough to build up "in-house flora," especially baker's yeast), yeast doesn't activate until the pH drops fairly low. Low pH, or something associated with it, appears to be the activator for dormant wild yeast. But a more moderate pH along with active yeast are needed to cultivate a good sanfranciscensis population. This might seem like a bit of a Catch 22, but it all sorts out perfectly. The pH will rise after yeast joins the party and all will be well for Lb. sanfranciscensis to join in as long as starter maintenance supports it (somewhat iffy with typical home practices). While Lb. sanfranciscensis is common around the world, it is not always dominant. There are other possibilities (some as yet to be discovered), and there are other species just as uniquely associated with sourdoughs.

Leuconostocs, as Paul pointed out, are not lactobacilli. Not the same genus, or even in the same family taxonomically speaking. Temperature won't help in curbing their growth because they will grow in pretty much the same temperature range as lactobacilli. Lc. citreum grows fastest at 20-30ºC, but can grow all the way from 10 to 37ºC. Their ideal pH is 6.5---higher than typical sourdough lactobacilli---and they don't grow much below pH 4.8, which is why they stop growing when the pH falls. Viable cells will always be present, however, since they are naturally in the flour. Leuconostocs are utilized for leavening in pancake-like breads such as idli and dosa, but that is a different kind of sourdough than type I, or "traditional" sourdough that folks here keep. Scientific literature doesn't always distinguish between the types, and often lumps them all together in discussions of sourdough microflora, so that can be a source of confusion or misunderstanding if one doesn't understand the context.

Temperature is something that I tested in my many trials, and what I can say is if you think leucs smell bad (sour milk, rotten cheese...), the enterobacteria---also present in flour and which thrive at body temperature (37ºC)---will positively blow you away. Think poopy diaper forgotten in a trash can for a week. Apply that same heat in a bakery environment, and you may get something more well-behaved because you'll have help from the background yeast. Unfortunately, many home bakers don't have this advantage. If you own a proofer, combining pineapple juice with controlled warmth can move things along, but most home bakers don't have a convenient means to control temperature. As Mini pointed out, things just take a bit longer at 65ºF.

As an interesting side note, sourdough starter creation follows a sort of universal succession pattern: enterobacteria, followed by leuconostocs, and finally lactobacilli. The same progression is seen in naturally fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, deli-style pickles, kimchee, etc. The typical species and strains are a little different from one system to another, but the basic pattern is the same. The thing that sets sourdough apart is that sourdough is perpetuated beyond that, and maintained to evolve further, whereas the others are not. They reach an endpoint, and are started anew each time (traditionally), as are idli and dosa. This is because leuconostocs play an important part in their fermentations and flavor profiles. But for our kind of sourdough, the enerobacteria and leuconostocs are only transient and may be skipped altogether. Suffering through them doesn't make the starter (or the baker) any better, it just delays breadmaking.

This whole discussion reminds me of something brilliant said by Richard Feynman in The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out while talking about his cousin's struggles with algebra (9:09 minutes in). What he realized was that algebra is just "a set of rules, which if you follow them without [need of] thinking, could produce the answer... a series of steps by which you could get the answer [even] if you didn't understand what you were trying to do." My objective has always been to provide both---a series of steps that work, and the understanding (for those who desire it) of what you're trying to do, so that if and when you need to, you can deviate from the procedure in an effective way.

The series of steps were designed purposefully. To be minimum-fuss, but effective for the majority of people, in the average home conditions, without special equipment. If you follow the guidelines, they will lead you to success in their own time. But I also aim to educate and empower. So now that you understand what you're trying to do, you might choose to skip or delay a feeding when the house is cool, to allow the acids more time to accumulate and facilitate the process. That would be a perfectly sensible, minimum-fuss solution to 65º slowness. Just remember to stir every day and scrape it down to deter mold :-)

Very best wishes,
dw

Click here: Richard Feynman - The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out - YouTube

theluckyfox's picture
theluckyfox

Thanks for your message, Debra.

I'm kind of shocked at the degree some will go to in order to debunk the pineapple juice starter.  Frankly, I made my first bread with it, and even with two significant mistakes, it turned out exceptionally well.

I thought your writings were helpful, and gave me a basic understanding of things that helped me move along this process.  For that, I'm grateful for your efforts.  Much appreciated.