The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Whole wheat starter

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Ramsay49's picture
Ramsay49

Whole wheat starter

I ordered a starter from Sourdough International which I thought I could use for making 100% whole wheat bread. I have now learned from SI that it is not intended for whole wheat. My question is can any starter be activated by feeding 100% WW and then used for baking WW bread?

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

as long as its a gluten grain. My starter has been through changes. Started off 100% Rye, been fed Spelt, Khorasan, Einkorn and we're back to 100% Rye again. When you use a starter it doesn't have to necessarily match the flour you're using for the bread except if you're making a pre-ferment.

If my starter is rye and i'm doing a recipe for spelt, but i'm only using a small amount of starter for the recipe, then sometimes I keep it as rye and just use that.

If the recipe calls for a pre-ferment (i.e. a much larger amount) then i'd take a small amount of my rye starter and feed it Spelt flour for the pre-ferment.

Or a few days beforehand you could build up some spelt starter from a small amount of rye starter so by the time you bake with it it'll be 100% spelt.

The ball is in your court. Never heard of a starter that's not meant for another grain. starter is just a culture of yeast and bacteria cultivated from flour and water mixed together.

Ramsay49's picture
Ramsay49

Your response makes sense to me, but I am a rookie when it comes to sourdiugh cultures. I bought what was decribed as a New Zealand culture which is purported to be good for novice bakers. I was later told it was not intended for whole wheat, and that I should use the South African culture which was particularly good with whole wheat.

So your thought is that if any viable culture is properly fed and maintained with whole wheat flour that it should perform well when baking whole wheat loaves-correct?

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

It sounds like you are being advised by a used car salesman.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I have made starters in the U.S. and in South Africa.  None of them cared a whit what they were fed; AP flour, bread flour, rye flour, whole wheat flour, you name it.  It's hard to believe that a starter begun in New Zealand would be constrained fo a specific flour type.

Some qualifications are in order.  First, if you suddenly switch the starter from one variety of flour to another, it may take a few feeding cycles to adjust to the new type of flour.  I can't say that I've encountered any real problems whenever I have done this.  Second, the particular yeasts and bacteria in your New Zealand flour may produce flavors that (someone thinks) aren't as enjoyable with whole wheat flour.  Then again, you may think the resulting bread is absolutely delicious.  Were I you, I would make some whole-wheat bread with the starter just to see how it behaves and how it tastes. 

Paul

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

Everyone's Starter is unique. Everyone's Starter will have different qualities and tastes. Every Starter in New Zealand will be different, so what's a New Zealand Starter? Or a South African one? The Yeasts and Bacteria are cultivated from the flour itself. The 3 ingredients to make Starter is Flour, Water & Time. They are pretty easy to make from scratch. Although daunting at first when being a novice, once you've got the know how it becomes quite simple. I managed very well in the end with help from this forum. Loads of people here to guide you through it and ask questions to.

Ramsay49's picture
Ramsay49

Thanks for the advice

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

I have found that SDI is long on precise directions that are both wrong and irrational. Their starters (all shipped dry) tend to be pretty highly contaminated and have proven difficult to start (and get the described properties - which may be there in the original but I don't trust their processes).

I would suggest getting a little fresh starter from somebody who lives close to you, or buying a bit of wet starter from King Arthur. Even in the summer it arrives in good shape and is easy to activate. After a couple of days you are good to go.

As for alternate flours, I fully agree with the comments above (except that I am not convinced that gluten is actually required to propagate a starter I think it just needs damaged starch for the enzymes to work on and produce maltose, glucose, and some glucofructans).  A good starter will grow to about 200x the original weight in 24 hrs on your 80°F counter in the summer time (0.2g starter, 13g water, 15g flour, stir, cover, let sit on the counter out of the sun). From there, you can blow it up as much as you need to make a batch of bread using any flour you choose. At dilutions greater than about 1:100 it takes about one additional doubling time to get things going but there is still so much active biology going on (~10E7/gm LAB) that there is almost no chance that you will become contaminated with something other than what you started with.

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

You may be right but it's my understanding that for a Starter to be viable it has to come from a grain that has the potential to become leavened. But this is purely my own logic. You mention that the Starter will "grow about 200x the Original Weight..." which is, in effect, leavening of which gluten is playing a major role.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

If it were, nobody would be baking with gluten-free sourdough starters.  However, it isn't and people do.

Gluten provides much of the structure in doughs made with gluten-containing flours.  It traps the gases produced by the leavener of choice, whether commercial yeast, sourdough, baking powder, or other.  Gluten is not itself a leavener.

The sourdough bacteria and yeasts feed on sugars in the flour, which are produced by the actions of naturally-occurring or added enzymes breaking down starches in the flour.

Hope that helps.

Paul

Ramsay49's picture
Ramsay49

Good stuff. Thanks, folks.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

In the lab, there is often no flour of any kind involved in the propagation of starter cultures. You use what is known as "defined media" which is a chemical soup designed to support the metabolism of the particular LAB and/or yeast you are dealing with. 

The 200x comment refers to numerical density and not volume; in general you get growth to some volume that is limited by the hydration of the mixture (and does depend on the gluten content) followed by collapse and then re-inflation which stabilizes and finally declines exponentially as the gas production declines in parallel with food availability.

Since I had not tried using a gluten-free flour as the basis for refreshing a starter culture, I mixed up an experiment last night from rice flour (1g starter, 13g water, 15g rice flour), which this morning smells quite acid.  Later today I will dilute it and check the pH to see if it actually goes to completion at the same place it does when using wheat flour (pH ~3.6).

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

After 20 hrs, the pH of the rice-flour-based starter is 3.66 so the prediction holds up. At 16 hrs the pH was about 3.9 so it is still active.  I can see layers where the CO2 has pushed the rice flour up before the gas broke through and escaped.  It now looks somewhat layered but in no way has the character of the wheat-flour-based starter (refreshed an hour earlier) which has risen and fallen and still exudes some residual activity but has pretty much consumed all of the available sugars.