The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Ack! Chloramines!

  • Pin It
Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Ack! Chloramines!

I made an innocent query to our city about how the water was treated.  The water is not softened, but the public works manager said, "After being initially disinfected with chlorine, state water [yes, Morro Bay is on state water] adds enough ammonia to form chrloramines. Chlorine is a stronger disinfectant but tends to dissipate quicker than chloramines and can also lead to the formation of 'disinfection by-products' if free chlorine is left in contact with the water for extended periods of time. these by-products are undesirable. Chloramines are a more persistent disinfectant than chlorine alone and with the time and distance the water travels to get to Morro Bay and the desire to reduce the formation of by-products, it is the material of choice."

I did a quick search of chloramine references in The Fresh Loaf threads and find it to be particularly undesirable with sourdoughs.  No wonder.  Per the above description, they kill all the little beasties they encounter, including the delicate wild yeastie beasties.

The TFL references I found suggest that one switch to spring water.  But the "spring water" I was using turned out to be questionable, giving me the same dough problems as my reverse osmosis (100% pure) water.

My choices of water are reverse osmosis (no chloramines, I assume), Culligan-soft tap water(with chloramines), city-processed-but-not-softened city water (with chloramines), and whatever I can find at the grocery store.

Maybe someone out there can advise me.  I could see if I could find a different "spring water" at the grocery store.  I could take my reverse osmosis water and do whatever Mike Avery is doing to harden his water a little bit.  I could give up on sourdough.  Any other ideas?

Rosalie

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

All of the reports I've had on chloramines have been from people who didn't know which end of whisk to hold on to.

 

I am somewhat afraid that my request will lead to you wasting time, but could you try to start a starter in your water and let us know what happens? If you already have, could you share your methods and results? A lot of sourdough home comes from people sharing their experiences with me, and me sharing their experiences with others. And... that's a lot of TFL too.

 

With regards to the chloramines, I'll suggest you check with your R/O vendor. Some filters and R/O setups do more than others with regards to chlorine and chloramines.

 

As to the water, I got a note from the AIB and he suggested Calcium Sulphate, which is an ingredient in plaster of paris and is gypsum. And a lawn treatment too. It's safe. So, I guess tomorrow I have to get some and compare bread with plain water, epsom salts and calcium sulphate.

 

I'm hoping to bake tomorrow, but I'm having "issues". We think the contractor is coming by to finish re-doing out bathroom and finish the other stuff he didn't do right. However, I'm not gonna bet on it. So, I'll try to bake and see what happens. Results to follow...

Mike

 

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Okay, Mike, I'll give it a whirl.  I just pulled a couple of loaves of sourdough, made with inside tap water, from the oven.  This is the most success I've had with sourdough in a long time, maybe ever.  My big problem with sourdough has been ambient temperature, not water.  So my concerns may be premature.  BTW, this starter was begun with the bottled spring water.

Perhaps what I could do is do parallel starters, one with tap water and one with rev os.  Whatever I do to the one I do to the other, side by side.

And thanks for the implied compliment - that I know which end of the whisk to hold onto.

Rosalie

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Well, Mike, it's been a couple of weeks.  I've been plotting my experiment and have only just now begun.  Nothing to report yet, but I'm taking extensive notes.  I'll blog whatever happens, presumably beginning in about a week.  I'm following (more or less) your starter instructions at http://www.sourdoughhome.com/startermyway.html using my home-ground whole wheat.

I've got three starters going because I thought the deck water was unsoftened, but now I'm not so sure.  I took several samples into Culligan for hardness testing, and the main thing I learned was that my water softener needed maintenance because it wasn't working.  (Also, the Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water turned out to have a hardness of 124ppm, so I don't know what my problem was.)  The softener has been fixed and I'm going to take samples in again and see if they can do chloramine testing too.  But I hear from different sources that the city water quality changes due to various circumstances, so the most consistent water will be my reverse osmosis water.

According to my research, RO water generally has a minimum of chloramines.  (Aquarium owners don't want chlorine or chloramines either!)  So if it turns out that the RO starter is the only successful one, the next question will be whether we have to worry about the chloramines when we make bread.  I guess I'd have to direct my experiments in that direction, but I haven't done very well with sourdough bread to date so I don't know what I'll learn.

Well, it's time for the next feeding.  See you later.

Rosalie

suave's picture
suave

why not use distilled water?  Most supermarkets have it.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

The minerals normally found in water are very important to the development of bread dough.  Distilled water has no minerals in it, and it makes way soft dough.

 

Bottled "spring water" is often sourced from city tap water and has all the same stuff in it you're trying to avoid. 

 

So... I hope Rosalie will try the experiment.

 

Mike

 

suave's picture
suave

Really, I'm interested. Calcium, magnesium from residual hardness?  Sodium and potassium fom the water plant softening process? Iron from the pipes?  But I would imagine that the flour itself has reasonably high content of these.  I probably should hit my sourdough book collection, and find out if there's anything there on this matter.

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

You sound like a doubter.  All I can say is that early on in my use of the reverse osmosis water, I realized that the dough was not right (a "liquid" surface, not just sticky).  So I'd say that the minerals that may be on the flour are not enough.

Rosalie

edh's picture
edh

Not! I had a horrible time just over a year ago because of chloramines in our town water. I'd had a very successful starter (made from sourdolady's instructions) for a couple of months but, as the weather warmed up, and we started boiling off sap in our kitchen, I failed to understand the connection between warmer temps and more active yeasties. To my embarrassment I proceeded to starve my starter to death.

Not to be put off, and having had the experience of creating a lively starter so easily, I simply tried again. And again. And again. After about 6 tries I started getting a little panicky; the starter would do fine until I stopped using pineapple juice, then all signs of impending life would quickly disappear. Again with the embarrassment; after way too long I tried again, using spring water imported from a friend's house from out of town. Success! That starter is still with me, rising bread like crazy (except when I do something wrong...). It is carefully fed with whatever flour is available, but only using spring water hauled in from out of town. When I run out of that I usually buy whatever is cheapest at the grocery. I'd probably be fine using tap water at certain times of the year, like during cold weather, but I honestly don't want to have to track what the water company is doing at what time of year! It's easier just to lug the water.

Chloramines are definitely a real problem, in sufficient concentrations (there are times when running water in the kitchen sink makes the kitchen smell like a swimming pool).

I'm intrigued by the discussions of hard vs soft water that have been going on here. I'm not sure that our water is strongly one or the other here, though I've wondered if it's a bit on the soft side. I'll be interested to see what you all come up with.

edh

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

in the kitchen?  I make syrup every year and couldn't imagine boiling it off inside my house.  Doesn't that impart huge amounts of water into the house?  How much syrup are we talking?  Maple, I take it?

_______________________________________________________

Redundancy is your friend, so is redundancy

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

edh commented:

I'm intrigued by the discussions of hard vs soft water that have been going on here. I'm not sure that our water is strongly one or the other here, though I've wondered if it's a bit on the soft side. I'll be interested to see what you all come up with.

 

The easiest way to answer that question is to call your local water department, tell them you're a baker or brewer and you need information about the water's hardness.  You may be transferred around a few times, but every city I've lived in has been happy to tell me what their water is like,

 

Mike

 

suave's picture
suave

My town has annual water quality reports for the past 10 years or so online, the town I moved from used to mail these reports to all residents.  So this information is by no means a secret.

dougal's picture
dougal

Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be any problem with my local tapwater...

 

BUT - it occurs to me that "starting a starter", where you are beginning the process, is going to be the time that you need to be most paranoid about what gets into the culture.

Once you have an active and symbiotic population, then you might well get away with more cavalier treatment.

You shouldn't need minerals from the water to nourish the beasties. In the wild, they'd get rainwater, which should be pretty low in minerals, and they'd get the minerals in the bran of the grain. Hence it'd seem reasonable to me to "start the starter" with pure water and wholegrain flour...

Water mineralisation may well be important for the taste of the final bread - but right at the beginning, the aim is just to establish an appropriate culture, rather than fussing about what might happen in the dough and the oven -- if you get that far!

Once one has a live starter culture, one can experiment to see its sensitivity to different spec water for firstly its refreshment, and then in doughmaking. But it would seem rational to tip the odds in one's favour by developing the culture initially in the least threatening environment. Which is going to be with minimal antibacterials and antimicrobials.

 

Having got something going, one could then *divide* it, and while keeping one portion going on the (expensive and tasteless) pure water (whether distilled, demineralised, or whatever) one could try a diet of a different water on the other portion. If that water source kills it, then try again splitting off a new experimental run from some of the pure-water stock for a different experimental diet. But until you know you are properly off and running, keep some on the pure water (even if its dormant at the back of the fridge).

I think of the process of keeping a Sourdough as Darwinian Gardening (©2008 :-)), where you are actually selecting for beasties that like the conditions (food, temperature, hydration, refreshment schedule, acidity, etc) that you are offering. Bearing that concept in mind, I'd expect that it might well be possible to "evolve" one's culture to tolerate the local water, by slowly, slowly mixing in more with every day's refreshment. Pure water today, 95% pure + 5% tap tomorrow, 90% pure + 10% tap the day after, then 85/15 and so on... Strikes me this would be more likely to be successful than an abrupt changeover.

 

If one can smell chlorine, then its in a form that is escaping from the water. Let it! Just fill a bowl with tap water and leave it for several hours. Gardeners often do this with their watering cans... Much of the chlorine disapears by itself. But, AFAIK, the idea of chloramines is to prevent the smell and the escape of chlorine...

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

My (very limited) practice in beginning a starter is to use distilled water and a whole grain flour, on the assumption that I am sidestepping any possible problems with chlorine or chloramine while taking advantage of the maximum number of organisms that could be resident in the flour (compared to white flour, anyway).  So far, it works fine.  I also use distilled water for refreshing and building my starter, again so that I avoid killing off a substantial portion of the organisms that I actually want to thrive. 

Once I'm actually making a dough, I'll switch to tap water; on the assumption that I have a large enough mass of starter with its attendant organisms to successfully inoculate the dough in spite of losing some portion of the organisms to chlorine poisoning.  Dunno if that's sound science but it seems to be working for me, so far.

Adequate mineralization of the tap water isn't a problem locally; replacing water heaters every few years is. 

Paul

edh's picture
edh

Good point, Mike! It never occurred to me to just ask the water company (are you seeing a pattern here?). It's a small town, with a small water company, so there won't be any transferring; there's only one guy there. On the other hand, the spring water we're bringing in tastes so much better, I'll probably never go back to tap...

Mkelly27; we only have 6 trees, and they're Norway Maples, not sugar, so we produce a wopping 2 gallons on a good year! Most of the evaporation happens on the woodstove in the living room, and simply provides welcome humidity in an overly dry house. There are usually a few days though, when the sap flow gets ahead of us, that we speed things up on the kitchen stove. Walls get a bit drippy then! If it's fairly warm out we also take it out and cook it on the gas grill. Mostly just do it for the fun of it, and nostalgia...

edh

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

I see two issues here being confused.

The first is the presence or absence of chloramines, which affects the wild beasties in sourdough.

The second is the presence or absence of minerals, which affects the texture of any bread dough.

Rosalie

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

The question becomes how do you cope with chloramines.  And does that cause a new set of problems?

 

If you are using distilled water or running water than an RO setup, then you get rid  of the minerals.  Which DO make a difference.  How much of a difference?

 

I'm running a bake test and adding .03 grams per loaf of epsom salts made a big difference.  I'm still narrowing down the correct dosage.  And wondering how to check my tap water... I have a feeling I'm on a bucking horse trying to shoot  a moving target.

 

Mike

 

dougal's picture
dougal

The mineralisation is likely to affect the bread.

 

I'm not quite so sure that its important to the initial "capture" of the sourdough flora. By which I mean the "growing on" of the good beasties to make an "active" culture instead of a flat flour/water batter or paste.

There is likely to be a 'buffering' affect from bicarbonates, but I can't see that as being essential to the *development* of the culture. It seems to me to be more likely to impact the *use* of the culture.

Hence it would seem sensible to me that those in a 'poor quality' water area should consider *creating* their culture with 'pure' water (despite the lack of minerals), and then 'wean' it onto a more convenient (and mineralised) supply...

 

 

Mike, as regards an aiming system for your experimental shots into the dark, you might find these two pages of interest - they relate to different water mineralisations for beer brewing. And knowing the close relationship between beer and bread, it ought to be of interest, maybe even of use!

Having visited the (then) Guinness brewery in London, I was surprised to learn that they adjusted their London (and IIRC Dublin) water supplies to match the mineralisation of Burton-upon-Trent (the traditional Midlands heart of English brewing).

Nevertheless here are the links! (And note the difference of opinion as to what the Burton analysis really is)

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/user/wsawdon/www/water.html

http://www.howtobrew.com/section3/chapter15-2.html

The first link also has a table showing the ppm impact of "1 gram per {US} gallon" of common substances.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Thanks for the links.  I had seen them before but hadn't seen the ppm table at the bottom of the first one.  It lets me know I'm close on my way of adjusting the mineralization.

 

As to the starter, as always, it's hard to say.  One thing I encourage people to look for when they are starting starters is whether or not the starter will rise to at least twice its size between feedings.  A few things will interfere with this.  One is too liquid a starter, which doesn't have enough strength to rise.  A lot of people cross this barrier when they stop feeding their staster 1 part of water to 1 part of flour by volume.  That's around 125% hydration, and is too wet.

 

Similarly, if someone has very soft water, that could be an issue.  The starter is softer than the nominal hydration would suggest.  Still, as you point out, that probably not impact the growth of the culture, but rather our ability to determine what is happening in it.

 

Mike

 

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

Mike Avery on April 22, 2008 wrote:
I'm running a bake test and adding .03 grams per loaf of epsom salts made a big difference.

I have high regard for your experience and opinions, but I though ppl here were talking about minerals (plural) in water for bread dough (or sourdough starters). Epsom salt is just one mineral - magnesium sulfate.

As long as you're mineralizing water, what about food grade gypsum (calcium sulfate) or refined nigari (magnesium chloride)? Or anything else, for that matter...

Color me confused re your baking test. Can you elaborate?

 

beachbirdie's picture
beachbirdie

I'd be interested in learning where to buy food-grade chemicals for hardening water; not just for baking, but for general health.

We use reverse osmosis water for drinking and cooking because we wish to avoid the fluoride added to our drinking water. Even without purification, the local tapwater is quite lacking in minerals.

 

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Mike Avery has a thread on naturally ultra-soft water at http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/6871/just-softie.  You can follow his travails there.  I don't know how successful he's been.  I do know that my Culligan-softened water is being quite successful in all my breads.  I don't know how "healthful" it is - and maybe I should cut back on my added salt.

Rosalie

ehanner's picture
ehanner

It would be interesting to know how the bakers in Burton-upon-Trent deal with the water and what kinds of bread are popular there. The dissolved solids are so high there it must have some impact on the breads.

Eric