The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

whole wheat starter basics

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LLM777's picture

whole wheat starter basics

I have searched the site and am trying to find basics for making a freshly ground whole wheat starter. What measurements do I use for the water and flour (preferably in cups)? How often do I feed it? When do I refrigerate it? How do I replenish it? Like I said absolute basics =)



hullaf's picture

 LLM777 - (I'm not talking you out of it, honest)  I've tried keeping a whole wheat starter and it's work, though interesting. I've found that if I keep a stiff white flour starter and convert it to whole wheat before I want to bake, it works just as well. Saves in whole wheat flour too. Just this last week I tried from RLB's "Bread Bible" a recipe for sourdough wheat bread with seeds. In this she turns her white starter into a partial whole wheat starter and I liked this better than a totally whole wheat one. The loaves turned out very nice. But, keep on perusing TFL, there are lots of suggestions for a complete whole wheat starter in here.   Anet

paddyboomsticks's picture

But I've had my wholewheat starter for, hmmmm, over six months now and it's never given me any trouble.

I find it hardier than my white starter, requiring less flour to maintain, and it gives a sweeter, maltier flavour to my bread than the more sour white starters I have kept. 

To be honest, I think people get a bit paranoid about starters. In my experience, once you have a healthier one growing you have to really go out of your way to kill it/screw it up. I've had rye starters, white starters, and w/w, and whilst they all have subtle differences in temperament I've never had trouble with any of them...

 Regards to feed, hydration, etc. Follow your heart! Feed it at least once a week, no more than every day. Feed it more if it's a high hydration (90% or more) less if it's lower hydration (60%-70. Just feel it out, no need to get anal with the measurements. 

 I personally prefer a stiffer hydration. For me, a stiffer starter lasts longer between feeds, producing less hooch, and has a more mellow flavour. A wetter starter eats more, chucks out quite a bit of hooch, and has a more classically sour taste. 

 To feed, I simply empty a dollop of my existing starter into a new bottle with more flour and water, stir it up, leave it out for a night, or a night and a day if it's cold, and then back in the fridge till next week. But you can use the same bottle if you want.

But this is just me, it's very much horses for courses. Experiment, and see what works for you!

tteddy's picture

I am cultivating my first whole wheat started and have made on loaf of sandwich bread with it.... but when I went to feed it today I thought the hooch looked a little darker and kind of off compared to my white flower starter. Is this normal? Should I be concerned?  I washed the jar with boiling water before placing the starter in it.


LLM777's picture

That is the same thing that happened to me, hooch too dark and no activity. Maybe someone will comment.

clazar123's picture

How long had it been since the last feeding?Where was it kept?On the counter or in the refrigerator?

Do you feed it at least once a day or possibly more if you keep it out at room temp?

Do you discard and feed?

Also, the color from red wheat does color the hootch.

More info is needed in order to help you.

And for the original poster-starting a WW starter is the same as starting an AP, except it can get hungry faster and may need more of a feeding schedule.

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

I started my WW starter from my rye starter.  I have never had a problem as far a looks and smell but it gets left on the counter and fed twice a day 50g water 40g starter 40 gram WW flour.  After about a week I made a 100% WW loaf and it was nasty. It came out flat and so sour you could not eat it.  It was so bad I feed some of this bread to my dogs ...they gobbled it down...then puked it know it's bad if a dog can't stomach it.  Given more time this starter has really mellowed and producing some nice bread.  I read somewhere that a new starter should not be refriderated for the first month to get a fully developed starter. I'm no expert but I agree with that due to the changes that I observed durring the first month of feedings.

Just my 2 pennies


tteddy's picture

I started it on the counter for about 4 days until It got good and foamy and had a sour smell to it then I put it in the refrigerator. While on the counter I fed it once a day, then as I do with my regular sourdough starter I was feeding it once a week. I stir in the hooch and then discard about half of the started; then add in 1/2 cup flower and 1/2 cup water. I have sense discarded the starter (I was worried about what else was growing in their). I plan on starting a new batch here soon


clazar123's picture

Your starter was just getting started at 4 days.When you refirgerated it, it probably died.

Try this to start over:

1. 2 tbsp flour/2-3 tbsp water in a small covered jar (quarter or half pint).Stir and leave on counter-stir once or twice a day.It can be loosely covered with cheesecloth,top or cloth.You just don't want the top to dry out but it does work beeter if there is air exposure.

2. When it starts producing some bubbling-prob noticeable on the edge at first (this might be after 4-7 days-spending on temp in room)-discard half and replace it with 1 tbsp flour/2-3 tbsp water.It should always be a thick pancake batter consistency.Stir in and let it sit on counter.

3. While it is not too active (next day or so)just repeat the discard/feed once a day.Bubbling or even foaming may occur but it is not ready yet! It's becoming more sour.Right now there is a mix of bacteria and yeast. The bacteria are making it a more sour,acid environment and this allows the yeast to really grow.

4.If it becomes more active-do the same thing twice a day.At this little bit of flour it is not too painful to do.Put a rubberband around where you start the level,right after feeding.That way you can see if it is rising and how much.Keep it out on the counter.

5.If it gets really active and starts doubling or tripling, you may want to move it to a pint jar.

6.When you can consistently get it to double/triple after a feeding, it is pretty well established. You have grown enough of a population to think about using it for bread.This may be anywhere from 7-14 days from the start.Keep going until you are ready to bake with it.This helps to really establish the culture.

7. The morning before you want to use it for bread, put a few tablespoons starter in a pint jar, add about 1/4 cup flour, and enough water to make a thick pancake batter consistency. Repeat this in the evening with no discard (about 12 hours later)-you want to build the volume to 1/2-1 cup of active starter.

8.Next morning you should have enough starter for 1-3 loaves of bread. Most of my recipes use 1/2 c per loaf. This now acts as your discard from the culture!

9. To the remains in the pint jar, add a small amount flour/water,let sit for 1 hour and NOW you can refrigerate.Take out 1x/week and feed,set 1 hr,refrigerate .

10.If you are baking every week,take it out the morning before the bake-just like in step 7.Make sure it is active (doubling after a feed) before you use it.

**Make sure it is warm enough in the room (70-75F) when you bring it out of refrig for use next day. If it's too cool in the room, it won't be ready. In winter, I have to make sure it is in a warm spot (top of my refrigerator or under a lightbulb) cause my kitchen is about 60F.Otherwise the yeasties are too sluggish.

Many people measure the flour/water so you have the same amount by weight (50g flour/50 g water) but I didn't see you mention weights in your original post.It is handy to weigh things out so you know what hydration your starter is at. That, indirectly, tells you how much flour and water are being added to your recipe so you can adjust any recipe to use your starter or adjust any of your recipes to use no starter.

If you want to make this a WW or rye starter, just start it with those flours.Sometimes the whole grains and esp rye are much more active and require more feedings. Never let your starter get hungry-esp in the early phases. If hootch forms-it is hungry! And ALWAYS remember to discard.


tteddy's picture


I did this same process with my basic sourdough starter and had some success.  I made a San Fransisco stile dough.  The crumb turned out irregular and airy although, I thought the flavor could have been a little more sour and complex.  On the other hand my WW sourdough sandwich bread had a tight crumb and a delightfully flavor.  I used buttermilk and honey in the WW.  I would like to have a fluffier crumb on the WW, could this be due in part to the starter?  I have another thread on this topic and have received some good suggestions.

I forgot to mention that I stated both the starters off with a little active dry yeast.  should I just let the culture start naturally next time?

clazar123's picture

The natural yeasts are more likely to survive as a starter-in my opinion. It's perhaps similar to the question-how long does a housecat survive in the wild? The commercial yeast is bred to do one thing-be in an ideal environment,rise 1 time and die. The starter, on the other hand, is designed to survive long term in its culture.We then take advantage of its capabilities to raise dough but the culture survives long term-it's sustainable.

So be brave-capture some wild yeast beasts and have fun.

LLM777's picture

Great tips. Thank you so much. I'll work on it this coming week.