The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Soaker Ingredient Hydration Percents -- Some Data

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Soaker Ingredient Hydration Percents -- Some Data

I really like to use soakers but it can be a pain to try to get the final dough hydration right when playing around with different soaker ingredient combinations and ratios. The problem, as I see it, is that the water absorption of soaker ingredients can vary drastically depending on the ingredient. So what I wanted to do was parameterize the hydration levels of the various ingredients.  I decided to do some tests to see if I could get some reasonably accurate hydration percents for the ingredients and avoid a lot of trial and error.  

So the first thing I did was measure out a known weight of an ingredient. Then I'd put it in a great excess of water (both room temp and boiling) so that I know it would get fully hydrated.  I let them soak overnight. Then the next day I put each soaker mix in some cheesecloth and squeeze out as much of the water as I could.  Then I weighed that again (minus the cheesecloth) and that gave me the supposed weight of water absorbed, and the hydration percent.  What I found was this seemed to work pretty well with some ingredients like most seeds but was a bit dicey when it came to ingredients that made a goo like oatmeal and flaxseeds.  So, I wasn't too sure how accurate that was but it gave me a baseline to work with for the next step.

The next step required some subjectivity like when we make hydration adjustments to a dough. So I got some store brand whole wheat for the tests.  I made three small batches of dough.  One was the control with no soaker and a known hydration.  I chose 67% because it was stiff enough to get a good feel for its hydration.  For the two soakers (room temp and boiling) I used the first cut hydration level to calculate the water needed for the soaker to get fully hydrated and also added another 100% water to make sure they would be. So, I had the supposed free water amount with the soaker.  Then I could adjust the amount of water I put in the dough (without the soaker) such that at the end I should have the right final hydration.  Now, I figured that the first cut soaker hydration percents were really too high and that there would be more free water than the hydration said.  What that would mean is that when I mixed the soaker in with the dough it would be too loose -- at least I hoped that.  It turns out, in many cases, that was true.  So then I could add flour to the dough until I got the same hydration feel as the control dough. I had weighed an excessive amount of flour before and after so I knew how much flour I added.  Then it was a simple calculation to determine the amount of real free water in the soaker and the real hydration % of the ingredient.  So, I had to adjust the hydration percents down for many ingredients except the hard seeds.  

Now in making a real loaf, I could know how much water the ingredient would absorb and then add 100% more to the soaker to make sure it got fully hydrated.  So finally, that told me how much to decrease the water I added to the final dough (because of the excess water I added to the soaker).  The nice thing about it is that you can use any combination of grains, meals, seeds, etc. and still get pretty close.  Of course, some final adjustments may still be needed -- just like with different flours, but in my experience, they aren't that significant. The breads I've made using soakers and this method seem to be pretty close. I haven't made real bread loaves with all these so if anyone tries something and finds it off, I'd appreciate the info.

I have a spreadsheet that does the calculations for all this and will be posting it here as soon as I get a help video done but here's the data. 

IngredientWater Temp% Hydration
BarleyRoom Temp138%
Barley FlakesRoom Temp125%
Barley FlakesBoiling200%
BuckwheatRoom Temp88%
Chia SeedsRoom Temp237%
Chia SeedsBoiling276%
Coarse CornmealRoom Temp58%
Coarse CornmealBoiling173%
Cracked WheatRoom Temp178%
Cracked WheatBoiling225%
FlaxseedsRoom Temp130%
MilletRoom Temp48%
Oat GroatsRoom Temp60%
Oat GroatsBoiling85%
Oats, RolledRoom Temp90%
Oats, RolledBoiling206%
Oats, Steel CutRoom Temp70%
Oats, Steel CutBoiling104%
Pumpkin SeedsRoom Temp38%
Pumpkin SeedsBoiling48%
QuinoaRoom Temp78%
Rye ChopsRoom Temp65%
Rye ChopsBoiling154%
Sesame SeedsRoom Temp58%
Sesame SeedsBoiling68%
Sunflower SeedsRoom Temp80%
Sunflower SeedsBoiling80%
TeffRoom Temp72%
Wheat BranRoom Temp96%
Wheat BranBoiling168%
Wheat FlakesRoom Temp100%
Wheat FlakesBoiling180%
clazar123's picture

THis was a LOT of experimentation! I often use recipes as "suggestions" and add all kinds of seeds/different flours/cracked grains to a dough and have always had to adjust the hydration by adding either water or flour. That is not always ideal.

I do not see ground flax on the list-an ingredient I often use. The whole seeds do not exhibit a great deal of absorption (which is why I do not like to use them) but I know that ground flax forms a gel so it might rival chia in its hydration properties.

I bake a lot with whole wheat and have learned how to work around its vagaries. The difference in hydration of wheat bran from room temp to boiling is tell-tale on why whole wheat bread made without some form of soak/autolyse/biga tends to form crumbly slices the day after it is baked. The heated, baked bran portion of the WW continues to absorb the moisture from the crumb so by the time it cools, the crumb is actually dried out-the bran particles act as dessicants. Take a bite of that nice WW sandwich and it's in your lap in pieces! WW needs hydration BUT ALSO TIME TO FULLY ABSORB THE WATER.

Thank you for this information. I look forward to seeing the spreadsheet and hearing more about this.

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Yes, it was a lot of experimentation.  At first, I didn't intend to do so many but got started and just kept going.  That's a good point about ground flaxseed.  Maybe I'll do that one as well.  Right now I'm using a whole flaxseed soaker a lot. My favorite recipe currently is a Spelt / Whole Wheat combination with a flaxseed soaker.  I just love the flavor the flaxseeds give the bread.  Flax and Chia seeds are unusual. They both create a thick gel.  As small as Chia seeds are it is amazing how much they transform in a soaker.  One thing I should also mention is that some ingredients seem to have a large content of oils. While technically not water, I read somewhere that oils "hydrate" the dough as well and should be considered the same as water in hydration formulas.  I think this is true. 

When I use whole wheat in a bread, I like to put that it in a substantial pre-ferment (20-30% of total flour). That way the bran gets softened. Spelt seems to not have as hard a bran so I put that in the final dough. I also use sprouted versions of both WW and Spelt.  I'm not sure but I think it gives a bit more open crumb.

ifs201's picture

Thank you so much for this information! I love soaker breads, but the few times I've decided to create my own recipes it has been disastrous. This is terrific guidance. 

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Here's a link to the topic where I list a download link to the spreadsheet

Bread1965's picture

Wow - thank you.

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Some people may have wondered how to use the data I offered for the soaker ingredient hydrations, so I thought I'd provide a manual procedure on how to use it for a recipe.  There are several steps but, if followed, it will give the right amounts.

The key to using a soaker in a recipe is to get the weight of the water for the soaker determined so that the final hydration is what you want. To do that we have to determine how much water will be absorbed by the soaker ingredients.  This requires determining the dry weight of each ingredient and then using the hydration % of each ingredient to get the amount of water absorbed for full hydration.  Now, one could guess the weight of a dry soaker ingredients for the recipe but a method that is more scalable is to base it on a percentage of the total flour weight in the recipe.  Here's the procedure for that method.

  1. Add up all the flour weights in the recipe. This includes the flour in the pre-ferments and the final dough additions.
  2. Decide what percentage of the total flour that you want the dry ingredients in the soaker to have. Example: 12%
  3. Multiply that percentage times the total flour amount. This will give the total dry weight of the soaker ingredients.  Example:  Soaker dry ingredients = 12% of Total flour.  Total flour = 1000 grams (2 loaf recipe).  Total soaker dry ingredients = .12 X 1000 = 120 grams.
  4. If you have more than one soaker ingredient, multiply the percentage of each ingredient times the total dry ingredients grams.  Example: 75% flaxseed, 25% coarse cornmeal.  So: Flax seeds = .75 X 120 = 90 grams.  Cornmeal = .25 X 120 = 30 grams.
  5.  To get the amount of water absorbed by each ingredient multiple the gram amount of each ingredient by the hydration percentage in the table.  Example.  Flaxseeds boiling hydration % is 136% so 1.36 X 90 grams = 122.4 grams of water absorbed.  Cornmeal boiling hydration = 173% so 1.73 X 30 grams = 51.9 grams of water absorbed.
  6. Add up all the water absorbed. Example:  122.4 + 51.9 = 174.3 grams water.  This is the total water required for full hydration of the soaker ingredients.
  7. You'll probably want to add more water to the soaker batch than required to assure it gets full hydrated and has no dry spots.  I usually add 100% more water or two times the water required for full hydration. So I'd soak the dry soaker ingredients in 174.3 + 174.3 grams = 348.6 grams water for overnight hydration. If you want to use less extra (say 75% then it would be 174.3 + (.75 X 174.3 = 130.7 g) = 305 grams.  So we have a soaker batch full hydrated but with extra free water in the soaker.  We'll need to reduce the amount of water added in the final dough by the free water amount so that we get the final hydration we are looking for.  Example:  With 100% extra water, decrease the final dough water by 174.3 grams.  With 75% extra water, decrease the final dough water amount by 130.7 grams.

Using this procedure you should get pretty close to the final hydration you are looking for.  As always, conditions can vary somewhat (i.e. different flours, soaker ingredient variations, etc.) so you may need to make some minor adjustments in the final dough as needed.