The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

another starter problem. Mine only likes pineapple water.

mikeofaustin's picture

another starter problem. Mine only likes pineapple water.

1st starter. So I've got a white flour starter (14 days old today) that I've been building for some time now. It smells good, with the occaional 'berry smell'. When I feed, I'll keep half old starter (stirred well) and half white flour, with spring water. Well, I will only see about 30 percent rise. But everytime I use pineapple juice instead of water to re-feed, it will double in volume at around the 7 hour mark. If I go back to plain spring water, it only raises 30%. Strangely enough, I don't get any 'houch' from this starter.

2nd starter is a spelt flour starter (7 days old), re-fed with a mixer of 3 parts spelt to 1 part white flour, and again, I remove half, and remix it to full again. Same dang thing happens as with 1st starter... only 30% rises, but I do get a top layer of houch on this one though. 1st 2 days, the smell was that of fecal matter, but has since gone to 'sour' smell, or 'gym socks' smell.

3rd starter is of whole wheat (7 days old). Same dang thing as first two (30% rise), but houch forms near the bottom of the jar.

In all starters; I use glass jars with a loose plastic cover. I use a chop-stick to stir (never any metal). I've tried spring water from ozarks, and also purified water (switched to spring water half-way through). I can ONLY get a double rise with pineapple juice (water thats been soaking in pinnaple pieces). Viscosity is probably around a little stiffer than pancake batter, but not much. Temperature in home goes between 85 to 77 degrees depending on time of day.

edit: I'm using HEB's name brand unbleached wheat and white, the spelt comes from oregon. I picked up some 'King Arthur organic wheat' the other day and am wondering if this wheat will be any different. Because, I assume there's yeast in all the starters due to the rising... not sure why KA's yeast would be any different/stronger. I guess I have no choice but to start a 4th starter.


Here are some thoughts;

1). Perhaps, I'm not pouring enough 'old' starter out? Meaning, I should perhaps only keep a small quantity of old starter and the majority should be new 'food'? I've seen mentioned half-n-half method alot of places. rarely do I see 'tablespoon' method.

2). A couple times, after I've seen the starter 'fall', I would pour out houch, and refeed, perhaps 12 hours between feedings. Not sure if this would hurt anything. But mostely I'll stick to 24 hour feeds.

I just can't understand. Things work great when I use the pineapple water. The spring water is kept sealed and at room temp.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

You know it already! Welcome to the site by the way!  I think you are slowly starving your #1 starter by keeping too much old starter and not giving it enough flour for 24 hours. Then it goes crazy with the pineapple calorie bomb. Try one part (tablespoon) starter to 3 or 4 parts water and 5 parts flour and see what happens. :)

#2 starter is still young but also might like more food. Should be phasing out juice by now and using water only.

Hooch on the bottom of whole wheat starter? Someone pitch in here....please!  

Mini O

mikeofaustin's picture

I was just writting an 'update' to the original when your email popped up...


This is what I found from researching this site all day long (and didn't do anything at work today ;)-

It appears as thought you are correct. I am feeding it at 2:1:1, when it should be 1:2:2 at the very least. Tonight, I will try a 1:4:4 feeding as see what happens.

FWIW, I set a webcam up the last few days to 'watch it' at work, and it's been pretty reliably peaking around the 6-7 hour mark (albeit only 30%).


Thanks mini-oven.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

seem to be related.  If you give only half your beasties food, then the other are starving and turning into hooch.   Glad to be of service.  Looks like you're developing a taste for the Fresh Loaf...     Have fun feeding the "beasties."

Mini O

bwraith's picture

Hi mikeofaustin,

I agree very much with MiniOven. You're right that just doubling the starter is a commonly suggested approach, but if you check some of the well accepted authorities like Peter Reinhart or Glezer, the recommended feeding ratios for maintenance of a starter are higher, like 1:2:2 or 1:4:4, and they mention that it isn't a recommended to use below about a tripling of the weight of your starter when you feed it. You are only doubling the weight with your current feeding routine.

The variations used for starter maintenance are endless, and rising isn't even necessarily always the right measure of activity, especially for  a very watery consistency. If you are maintaining a thinner, more liquid starter, then it won't necessarily rise much. It just bubbles a lot and develops a froth instead of rising the way a firm or paste starter might. In fact, your starter may be perfectly fine, even though I wouldn't recommend you feed it only 2:1:1 as a permanent routine.

You may need to be patient after you switch to 1:2:2 or 1:4:4 feedings (that's by weight, by the way, like 10 grams of old starter to 20 grams of water and 20 grams of flour). By maintaining the starter with very low feeding ratios, you may have different organisms in the culture than the ones that would establish themselves when you maintain at higher feeding ratios. So, you may find that you don't get the desired indications of activity right away feeding at 1:2:2 or 1:4:4. It might take 5-10 days to stabilize. I doubt it will take that long, but I guess I'm saying that you can't assume there is a problem with your 1:2:2 feeding or 1:4:4 feeding until you've given it a few days to stabilize.

Due to changing the ratio to 1:4:4, you may want to try stirring into the feedings for a day or two a small percentage of whole rye or whole wheat, similar to what you would do if starting a starter from scratch.

It might help to have an example for reference. I've been maintaining my starter recently by taking 5 grams of old starter and adding 22 grams of water and 28 grams of KA AP flour to it. It rises by double in about 5-6 hours at 75F and continues to rise for a while after that. It eventually peaks after about 8-9 hours. I feed it every 12 hours normally, but if I leave it for 24 hours at room temperature between feedings I haven't discovered any problems. At the hydration I'm using, it is a very thick but barely stirrable paste, which makes it easy to work with. As a thick paste, it rises well, yet is easy to feed by just adding flour and water and stirring.


Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

Is agreers even a word?

Anyway, I used to feed my starter by keeping half, then feeding it 1:1:1, starter:flour:water.   I got mediocre and variable results.

I've since changed to keeping 1oz of old starter and adding 2oz of flour and 2oz of water, then adding flour until it resembles sticky French bread dough.  This has consistently provided me excellent results and I have left it unfed for up to 3 weeks.  One feeding and it's back to normal again.

So yes, I throw out 4/5 of my old starter and then quadruple it.  The results have been remarkable.  I've never had to use juice or helpers of any sort.


ehanner's picture

If I understand you correctly your WW starter is generating hooch on the bottom. Usually that's a bad thing and an indication of Leuconostoc (sp), which smells horrible. If you go to the feeding schedule mentioned above it should clear out in a few days. I wouldn't bake anything to eat however while you are getting bottom hooch.


mikeofaustin's picture

Yes, houch on bottom of WW starter. it doesn't smell bad, in fact, it really doesnt have a smell at all. I'll keep feeding with 1:2:2: and see what happens. It does double, however, in about 6 hours. I use 100% hydration when I feed (by weight).

Also for what it's worth, for the last few day's I've been on a 1:2:2 feed with the white and it's shown favorable improvement. It doubles in about 6 hours, and triples in about 12 (it 'tripled' all down the front of my cabinet's this morning ;-) Also has a definate wine smell. NO houch at all forms in the white.

Another thing that seemed to make a difference, despite my 'vigourous' mixing with my chop-stick, there just isn't enough surface area for a chop-stick to do any good. I now use a stainless fork, and it seems to do alot better at airation.

I tossed out the spelt starter because it was more of an exercise in desperation than anthing else... since my other white starter to show promise.

I went to Bed bath and beyond to buy a scale for a more accurate hydration means. While there, I saw a pasta maker and couldn't resist. Lot's of fun that thing is.


I'll keep you informed.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven


mikeofaustin's picture

I't been about a week since I've began the new and improved feeding method, and I no longer get any houche, and I get double and almost triple rises in around 7-8 hours, with a very wine / berry smell from the container(s) (both white and a WW).

Things I've learned along the way...

1). Airate, airate, airate. I noticed the biggest change just by doing this. I was using a chopstick, now I use a fork (actually, I have a fork in the end of my cordless drill, and airation is sooo simple and thorough).

2). Ratio. I was (ignorantly) feeding it a 2:1:1. (starter:flour:water). I now feed with 1:4:4 and get double volume around 7 hours.


Now, it's off to create my loaf... and to research the timing (retarding) of the preferment so that it will be ready around an opening in my schedual. I'm fairly busy and I might have to retard as long as 36 hours (is this possible?).


-thanks to all who helped. It was getting rather stressfull for a while there.


bwraith's picture

What I usually do is mix a levain (sponge, sourdough starter, biga naturale, etc., I mean a natural leaven preferment) so that it rises by double sometime the previous day or maybe over the course of the night. Then, you can refrigerate the levain and use it for at least a day or two afterward in a dough. Ideally, you would remove it from the refrigerator an hour or so before it will be mixed in the dough to let it warm up and become more active again,  but I often use a levain straight out of the refrigerator. It may be useful in that case to use somewhat warm water, up to around 80-85F, to help bring the ingredients in the final dough up to room temperature.

When you let a levain only double, it isn't very ripe, i.e. it hasn't yet "peaked" with a "dip" in the middle and certainly not fallen, but it will ripen some more in the refrigerator and when you remove it from the refrigerator in anticipation of mixing it in the dough. I think it's better to refrigerate before the levain becomes as ripe as you might allow it to become if you were letting it rise at room temperature and immediately mixing into a dough.

To adjust the levain rise time to your schedule, you can change the ratio of starter to flour and water in the levain, just as you can change the feeding ratio of your starter when you maintain it. Very roughly speaking you will increase the rise time of your levain or starter by an hour for each halving of the amount of starter, assuming the same temperature for the rise.

Temperature makes a big difference. For a 1:4:4 feeding, my starter would double in roughly 9 hours at 68F, in 7 hours at 72F, and 5.5 hours at 76F, and 4.5 hours at 80F, to give you an idea of the effect of temperature on the rise time of your levain or dough.

You had mentioned that your temperature was fairly warm from 77F up to 85F, if I remember. So, I'm wondering if your white flour starter is still a little sluggish. If you feed it 1:4:4 and it takes 7 hours to double at those temperatures, it seems slower than I would expect. If it is too warm, that could explain it. A good temperature for stabilizing your starter would be somewhere between 75F and 80F, rather than way warmer. It helps to let it rise, peak, and begin to fall before you feed it each time. You can adjust your feeding ratio to make that happen in a cycle that is convenient. I usually feed every 12 hours at 75F using 1:4:4 as a feeding ratio. One thing to check is the consistency of the starter at the point it has doubled. Normally, if the starter is working right, you wouldn't expect it to get runny until it has peaked. At the doubling point, it should still have a fairly elastic gluten structure.

Another explanation for a sluggish rise would be if you aren't using bread or fairly strong AP flour for the feedings. For example, if you use a weaker flour, the starter may be healthy, but you won't get a very good rise because the flour won't tolerate the sourdough culture.

If your starter is still sluggish, you may want to sprinkle in some very fresh whole rye and/or whole wheat flour with each feeding for a few days to hopefully seed your starter with whatever might be missing, if anything. Another possible thing to try is substituting pineapple juice for water for a feeding or two to acidify the culture, if the sluggishness persists.

mikeofaustin's picture

 ... But, I don't think I care for sourdough all that much.

I made two different recipes this weekend. Both had this distinct 'tangy, soury' taste. So I went to the store and bought a sourdough loaf.   Same taste as my loaves.   

     I laughed and thought, "You just spent 4 weeks making this crazy starter, pulling your hair out, and you don't even care for sourdough".  Dang it.

 I do like my french bread though...  that soft, buttery flavor, and none of the tangy taste.

 Am I nuts, or are there others like me. Perhaps a different yeast (not a wild texas yeast) that doesn't have the tangy taste...  but then again, the store bought still had the 'tangy' taste also... perhaps I'm just one of those people that doesn't like sourdough?


I feel like such a trador. 


Susan's picture

You're just you, don't worry about it! You can make your sourdough less sour, tho, by starting a loaf in the morning and finishing it as soon as possible. IOW, no extra-long rises, no retarding in the fridge. And use your starter as soon as it doubles, don't let it hang around and get more sour.

Good luck, and if you end up using commercial yeast that's okay, too. You've learned a lot here. And in seven years you can try sourdough again, 'cause your tastes will have changed!

Susan from San Diego

KipperCat's picture

I've found that the healthier, more well-fed my starter is, the less sour the bread is.  I don't like much of a sour taste either.  My starter at its best smells like bread dough.  I can still get sour bread from it, but I try not to!

mikeofaustin's picture

The starter was way too young to create anything that didn't reak of tang (probably more bacteria than yeast).

My starter is now a little more than a month old (not counting the 'creating' phase), so this past weekend, I created another loaf. I used the starter just before it's peak, 30% starter to flour ratio, fermented at room temp for a couple hours, then overnight in fridge, then cut up in peices to break the chill... doubled in perhaps 5 hours..., punched, formed, proofed at 90 degrees for 3 hours, then baked...   it came out super good.  A LOT less tangy.    Oh, and I also used 2% oil and 2% sugar.


Turns out, I wasn't a trador, I was just ignorant.