The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Converting white starter to rye starter... is it supposed to rise?

jeffesonm's picture

Converting white starter to rye starter... is it supposed to rise?

I've been making sourdough for a few years now, refreshing my starter at 1:2:3 and it works just swell.  Lately I've been baking more and more rye bread.  I usually just use my white starter and recipe, subbing in about 50% rye which I hydrate the night before a la Reinharts WGB technique.

Well I'd really like to try the Vollkornbrot from the BBA (or WGB) and it calls for rye starter.  I figured I could just change my white starter into a rye by feeding it rye flour instead of white.  The trouble is, it doesn't seem to rise at all.

I've tried 1:2:3 and most recently 1:4:4, thinking a little more water and a little more food might help it get going.  But both times it doesn't really rise... maybe just swells a bit, but no more than 10% expansion in volume, and definitely not double/triple like the white starter.  Room temp is usually around 65 and for a few days I kept it near the wood stove up high so it was closer to 75... still no rise.

Now I can tell there's activity because it smells sour and you can see little air pockets forming within the starter, but it terms of rise, pretty much zip.  Am I doing something wrong, or just expecting too much?  Suggestions?

isand66's picture

I have been through the same thing as you and here is how you fix the issue.  First, you don't need your rye starter to double or triple but maybe increase about 1/3 the size.  Second is that your white starter is not used to being fed rye as it's sole source of food so you need to gradually build it up.  Start with a small amount of seed starter from your white starter and add double the amount of water and rye flour.  Let that sit for 6-8 hours overnight.  Next day, do not discard anything but add additional rye and water.  Here is where you need to decide if you need a 2 step or 3 step build.  I have done both with success but sometimes it's safer to do the 3 build version.  You also want to decide how much starter you want to end up with and what hydration you need so you can adjust the flour and water accordingly.  I have done this many times now and it works great.

Again, you don't need a double or triple rise with a rye starter but it should show signs of life and increase at least 1/3 the size.  65 degrees is rather cool so I would keep it at 70 - 75 degrees for your quickest rise.

Once you develop the starter you can either leave it in your refrigerator and refresh weekly or just convert your white one as you need it.  A lot of people keep 2-3 starters but I only keep my AP and Yeast Water starter and sometimes a third but only for a short time.

Hope this helps.


dabrownman's picture

doubled in 4 hours as did the WW one yesterday for today's bake with just one build out of the fridge.  It is pretty active since it knows I have a very strong WW one and YW going too.   It doesn't want to get tossed for being lazy.  Rye starters should easily double in 6 hours once they get established and used to digesting rye flour instead of white flour - if they aren't taken to China on a vacation or a joy ride that tries to kill them off :-)  we never use any starter in  bread until it can double itself at 100% hydration in 6 hours.   If it can't do it than i just feed it again until it does.  

Skibum's picture

I used 25g seed, 75g total flour, 85% rye, 10% strong bread and 5% whole wheat for the first refresh @ 80% hydration.  For my working rye starter, I use 25g of the 1st refresh, 65g rye flour, 10g bread flour and 75% hydration.  I let both starters double which took about 4 hours @ 20C.  I love P. Reinharts NY deli rye from BBA and this model has worked fine the last 4 bakes of this recipe.

Regards, Brian

hansjoakim's picture

Hi jeffesonm,

What kind of rye flour are you using (whole, medium, white)? In my experience, a finely ground whole rye flour is the best choice for maintaining a healthy and vigorous rye starter. I've only kept a rye sourdough over the last few years, as I tend to bake with quite a bit of rye anyway. It's very easy and quick to get a rye sourdough started from scratch; if you've got good, fresh rye flour, it shouldn't take more than about 5 days to have a rye sourdough ready that can leaven your bread without any added commercial yeast. Just a thought...

Indeed, just like your white starter, a healthy rye starter should also increase noticeably in volume as it ripens. I would typically look for at least a doubling in size; a rye sourdough that's fed equal weights flour and water (i.e. 100% hydration) should be at least doubled, and be light and airy when ripe. It shouldn't smell very sour either, but have a fresh, yogurt-like flavour to it. Not the best of pictures, but the one below (red bowl) shows what my starter looks like after 12 hours on the kitchen counter (started with 10 gr seed and mixed with 80 gr each whole rye flour and room temperature water). If you like, I can take some pictures of what my rye starter looks like over the course of 12 hours (from feeding to ripe starter) this weekend (work prevents me from doing so before the weekend, though). No problem at all, just let me know.

jeffesonm's picture

Thanks all for the feedback.  I will try starting with a mix of white and rye flours and then gradually building it up.

My rye flour is pretty coarse so maybe I will sift some for feeding the starter and use what's sifted out in a mash or soaker.