The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Weird behavior with White Flour

AndreHolz's picture

Weird behavior with White Flour


I'm three months in my sourdough journey and this forum helped me a lot. Today I decided to join in and see if anyone can shed some light on a trouble that is keeping me from moving forward. I don’t know what to do anymore.

The Problem:

Long story short, my starters don't seem to accept white flour.

I do a lot of experimenting with offshoots, maintaining tests for weeks, and they all follow the same dreadful path: the whiter they get, the less active they become. 

They get sluggish (24h to peak) and never raise any more than 30% (normally about 10%). They end up with very tiny bubbles and are a bit liquidy on the top, even with drier feedings (50% hydration).

 This is the best raise I could get from a white starter. 1:2 / 60% hydration / 22h peak at 26°C/78°F :


With whole wheat, things are very different. I get them to peak within 9h and they usually raise to about double the volume (never more). But when they go into dough with some portion of white flour, they are not reliable.

These are two different samples made with my healthiest starter, 12h after inoculation. Left is 3 parts AP to 1 part WW at 60% hydration, Right is 3 parts WW to 1 part AP at 68% hydration. Texture at the start was like mashed potatoes on both. At the end, the left one was runny:


 My Starters:

Right now I have two cultures going: 

  • A 3 months old “Whole” starter that I keep healthy, always fed with good doses of whole wheat (75% WW / 25% AP)

  • A 1 month old “White” starter that I made with pineapple juice + organic WW and gradually shifted to 100% white flour within the first week of yeast activity.

The starters currently live in my kitchen, inside a cabinet heated by a lamp. The temperature is somewhat consistent throughout the day at 26°C/78°F. 

I feed “Whole” 1:4 with 75% hydration (5g starter + 15g WW + 5g AP + 15g water) twice a day and it takes about 10h to peak.

I feed “White” 1:2 with 60% hydration (10g starter + 20g White flour + 12g water) once a day and it takes 22h to peak.


Things I have already tried:

Changing Flour

I’ve already experimented with 7 different brands of white flour. In Brazil almost everything is 10% protein Type 1 (AP). There is no strong or bread flour. However, last week I did manage to find a [very expensive btw] 14% protein Type 00 italian imported flour. I am experimenting with it right now but sadly it did not make much difference after 3 days.

Changing Feedings

I tried feeding more regularly: 1:2 twice a day for some days. I tried starving a culture for 4 days and feeding it back on schedule, as I saw someone suggest here. Both did not produce better results.

Changing Water

I use bottled mineral spring water. I have tried boiled tap water, filtered tap water and boiled spring water. No difference.

Adding Honey (!)

Something interesting happened here. Adding a drop of honey in the mixture made it much faster and bubblier. Also, for the first time I saw a white starter double in size. If I maintain the honey, this behavior continues. If I cut back on the honey, the starter goes back to where it was (not much raise) within 2 or 3 feedings.

This reaction to honey made me wonder if the cultures I am starting lack some sort of sugar production to feed the yeast. 


I really want to make bread with larger portions of white flour since the ones I made with whole wheat turned out to be very heavy and chewy. I am still learning the process but I feel this issue with white flour got me stuck and makes me want to quit everything :/


Hopefully someone can provide some insight on the issue..


trancer's picture

Hi There,


Based on the temps you've provided, it does seem quite strange.  Have you considered trying a 90% white / 10% wholemeal?  This will largely be a white starter but it may give it enough 'food' to get a better level activity?  I would try getting to a 100% hydration 90%/10% and see how that works out.

Do you have access to Rye flour?  If so, perhaps try making the 10% Rye instead of wholemeal, with a feeding ratio of 1:2:2  Starter:Flour:Water. 

You may find it easier to premix the starter flour (e.g. get 180g of white and 20g of Wholemeal / Rye) then you don't have to worry about measuring it all out in fine detail when you make the starter.

Sorry if you've tried something like this already... I've only been baking 3 months myself so not sure what else to suggest. 

Good luck! In the brief time I've been baking i've found that the most important factor to a good loaf is a strong starter which is added to the dough right at its peak!

That Italian flour... Is it made by Caputo?  Their stuff is pretty good, we get it here in Australia.


AndreHolz's picture

Hi Trancer, thanks for the reply!

From my experience, that wholemeal portion does help a little, but not enough to make it double volume. For that to happen I need to increase whole wheat as much as 60%.

I haven't tried working with Rye, I've never seen it. I'll keep an eye out for that, if I can I'll definitely give it a try.

The italian brand is 5 Stagioni, and I believe I can find Caputo too. Only problem is a kilogram of them costs 10x the regular flour price!

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Something that I found which helped get my starter to be more active and faster rising is to give it a stir.  The idea behind stirring is that yeast colonies are somewhat immobile, and can only access the food sources in their immediate vicinity.  When a starter has peaked, what is happening is that the yeast cultures have consumed all the food that they can reach.  If you stir your starter after it has peaked, you are redistributing both the yeast colonies and any uneaten food sources.  You should get a second rise out of it, but more importantly you will be increasing the population density of your yeast colonies.  With your next feeding you will be carrying over a larger inoculation of yeasts.  Repeat this process for a day or three, and you should see an improvement in how much rise you get, and in how quickly that rise happens.


Using some whole wheat flour in your starter will boost the enzyme activity, but once the yeast colonies have strengthened enough they should be up to the task of keeping things going with smaller amounts of whole wheat added.  Theoretically, once it’s going strong you should be able to continue on with the less expensive white flour, saving the pricey Italian stuff for baking your loaves.

idaveindy's picture

White flour needs to be malted so that there are enzymes to convert starch to sugar.

Italian white flour (generally) has no malt or enzymes added.

whole wheat flour has natural enzymes in the bran to do the work of converting starch to sugar for the yeast to eat.

white flour has no bran, so it has virtually no naturally occurring enzymes.

Look at the _official_ "ingredients list" on the side or back of the package of white flour. if you do not see "malted barley flour" or "malted wheat flour" or "amylase" or "enzymes" then it won't have anything to convert starch to sugar.  

this is why adding honey worked, as honey is sugar for the yeast.

so, look to buy white flour with malted barley/wheat, or amylase, or "enzymes".  Or you could buy "diastatic malt powder" and add it. But I do not know how much.


Another possibility is to always use _some_ whole wheat to feed your starter, even if your bread does not have WW as an ingredient. Maybe try 1/3 WW and 2/3 white, to get some enzymes in there.


If your Brazilian flour is bleached or has potassium bromate, that could interfere with the starter too. Look for unbleached and not-bromated.

good luck.

AndreHolz's picture

Hey idaveindy, thanks for the reply

Interesting, I didn't know about the added malt. I've been looking at a lot of nutrition facts and ingredients lately, and from what I can find, every brand produces pure wheat with added iron and folic acid. Once I found one which contained bleaching agents and steered away from it. I'll see if I can find malted flour to add to it.

I've seen a lot of "bread improver" products at the market, and they include enzymes as well as a bunch of other chemical substances, including dry yeast.. I guess that kind of defeats the purpose of making sourdough bread with only flour and water.

I know a lot of people make it work only with white flour and water, even here in Brazil with the brands we have. I wonder what's wrong with the cultures I started..

Benito's picture

In terms of the diastatic malt I would start at 0.5% and then work up from there.  I usually add 0.5% to my bread recipes.