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Could it be the Chloramines?

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DannyDC's picture
DannyDC

Could it be the Chloramines?

Hello All,

This is my first post and my first natural yeast starter. I spent a good few hours reading all the posts to make sure I had a good understanding of what to do before I began. I was excited about the idea of making my own natural yeast starter, but unfortunately, it has not turned out as I had hoped. It has been a full week now since I began, and I have yet to get a rise out of my starter. Below I will explain in detail the process that I used.

Thursday- The beginning

I decided to begin my starter with canned pineapple juice in an attempt to prevent bacteria formation that causes false starts for many people. I thought I was playing it safe, but perhaps I should have stuck with plain old water. I also used Arrowhead Mills stone milled organic wheat flour. I used 1/4 cup pineapple juice and slightly less than 1/2 cup flour. I eyeballed the flour measurement, but I did spoon the flour into the cup rather than use the dipping-into-the-bag method.

Friday-

Morning. No activity in the starter. I scooped out 3/4 of the starter and repeated the same process as the day before (1/4 cup pineapple juice and a scant 1/2 cup of wheat flour). I mixed the juice in first, stirred vigorously, added the flour, and stirred vigorously

Mid afternoon vigorous stir.

Evening. Same steps as morning (keep 1/4 of previous starter, 1/4 cup pineapple juice and a scant 1/2 cup of wheat flour)

Saturday-

Morning. I saw a few tiny bubbles, but not enough to declare life yet. I had exhausted my supply of pineapple juice, so I switched to water. Everything else remained the same (1/4 cup water and a scant 1/2 cup of wheat flour)

Mid afternoon vigorous stir.

Evening. I saw more bubbles, so I switched to feeding it with white flour (1/4 cup of water and a scant 1/2 cup of white flour). I stirred the starter before bed.

Sunday-

Morning. I saw the same amount of bubbles as the night before. I did everything as before (keep 1/4 starter, add 1/4 cup water and a scant 1/2 cup white flower).

Mid afternoon vigorous stir.

Evening. It still had the same amount of bubbles as Saturday evening, so I thought something must be slowing its progress. I thought it could be the temperature (which is 70-75 degrees at my place), so I placed the starter near the vent of my computer for gentle heating. I have an electric oven that has no light inside, so using the oven as a way to warm it was out. I kept the rest of the process the same. I also stirred the starter before bed.

Monday-

Morning. I was pleased to notice that the bubbles were a little bit larger, but unfortunately there was no rise. I repeated the usual process (keep 1/4 starter, add 1/4 cup water and a scant 1/2 cup white flower), but this time I placed it on a heating pad that I use for my muscles after a long run. It was on the low setting (90 degrees) and auto-shuts off after 45 minutes.

At the mid-afternoon vigorous stir I noticed a tiny amount of hooch. There were a few bubbles on the top about the size of small peas, but otherwise no rise.

Evening. There were a few small bubbles, but otherwise less activity than at the mid-afternoon stir. I repeated the usual process (keep 1/4 starter, add 1/4 cup water and a scant 1/2 cup white flower) and placed it back on the heating pad on the low setting. When I went to bed, I turned the heating pad back on and stirred.

Tuesday-

Morning. Small pea sized bubbles and a tiny amount of hooch. I repeated the usual process (keep 1/4 starter, add 1/4 cup water and a scant 1/2 cup white flower) and placed it back on the heating pad on the low setting.

Mid-afternoon stir. Same pea sized bubbles with a tiny amount of hooch but still no rise at all.

Evening. I decided that perhaps I wasn’t feeding it enough or maybe I wasn’t specific enough on the measurements, so I got out my kitchen scale. I kept 2 tablespoons of the starter and added 3 oz of water and 3 oz of white flour. I placed the starter back on the heating pad and stirred before I went to bed.

Wednesday- Today

Morning. Still the same old pea sized bubbles but no hooch. I repeated the process that I did the night before with adding 3 oz of water and 3 oz of white flour to 2 tablespoons of starter.

So this is where I am today. I still have not gotten a rise out of the starter that I began a week ago. The batter smells lightly sour and yeasty, but it is a pretty light smell. Then I thought today, perhaps it is the water? I checked out the chloramine levels in the District of Columbia (where I live) and the water authority says that they vary between 3-3.7 milligrams per liter of water. I will try bottled water today and see if that helps. Can anyone think of anything else that I might be doing wrong? I’m hoping that I won’t have to give up on this starter.


Thanks for all your advice guys!

-Danny

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Try switching to bread flour instead of white flour and add some rye to the mix. I think you should increase the amount of flour you are feeding it, move it off the heating pad, and don't stir it. My sourdough refreshes as nicely at 60-65F as it does in warmer temps.

I take it that you draw the water from your tap then allow it to sit overnight before you are using it? That will allow the chlorine to dissipate.

And welcome to TFL!

mikeofaustin's picture
mikeofaustin

Yes, do take it off the heating pad.  Leave at room temp.  I would also only 'feed' it on a 24 hours basis, not morning and night.  

   On the stirring... I've always been told to stir very well (this counters what the above poster says).   Also, I would stir it very well, before you 'save part of the old starter'.

 
Keep an old milk jug (rinsed out of course), and let the water sit in it. Use that water for your feedings. This is so the clorine can evaporate if any is present.  Also, if you water tastes good, I would think you're o.k.  My friend a few blocks down the street from me is apparently on a separate water supply because her water tastes gross.
 

...FWIW, it took mine about 2.5 weeks before it would 'double'.  Just keep at it.  Also, it took about 2 months before the flavor was right... (perhaps bacteria was present).  I kept mine for about 6 months before I decided I didn't care for sourdough all that much.

 
Anticipation is the hardest of the whole thing.

LindyD's picture
LindyD

On the stirring... I've always been told to stir very well (this counters what the above poster says).

I do stir my starter very well when refreshing it, but leave it undisturbed until the next refreshment. Sorry if my comment was confusing.

Like Mike, I found the sourdough flavor improved with age. Unlike Mike, I love all things sourdough!
SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

It very well could be the chloramines in the water. There are two ways of purifying water--Chlorine or Chloramine. Chlorine will dissipate upon standing several hours. Chloramine will not dissipate and it can wreak havoc with a starter. Do get some bottled water to use, and also if you can get some rye flour that would be beneficial as well.

Stirring the starter frequently is a good thing. It discourages mold growth. Don't feed the starter twice a day until it is actively growing. At this early stage you are just diluting the few yeast cells before they get a good growth going. Good luck, and don't give up!

Tacomagic's picture
Tacomagic

It's hard to say whether or not Chloromines greatly affect the speed of a starter.  A small three way sample test I did with my tap, filtered (Britta carbon), and bottled water showed that the difference between viable starting times was not terribly different, with filtered water performing the best, and tab water perferming the worst, but all three comming to viability (first true double in 6 hours) within 48 hours of each other.  Due to the sample size, no significance could be established.  This was a trial test as a way of working out the methodology for a more in-depth test I've been planning.

Milage may vary based on which strains of Yeast are native to your area and just how much chloromine you have in your water (my tap weighs in at around 1.6ppm, which is around half the strength of your water). No idea why the britta filter came out on top of this trail, since filtering is not supposed to be able to remove chloromine; maybe I have some yeast growing in my filter or something *shrug*.

Also, if the pinapple juice you were using was a bit too acidic, you might have stalled both bacteria and yeast growth (beyond a certain point, even Yeast can't live in low PH environments).  I think you might have slightly more luck if you go with a 50% dilution of pinapple juice when/if you use it.  The 'ideal' PH for sourdough starters is around 4.5-5.5 (depending on which strains you're growing).  Canned pinapple juice has a PH that ranges around 2.8-3.6.  Most yeast cultures won't grow, or only grow very slowly, once the PH of the starter dives below 4.0, so the possibility of stalling your culture using undiluted pinapple juice is a concern.  If you dilute it down 50%, you'll end up with a PH closer to 5.0.  The actual PH of the mixture will be higher or lower based on the normal PH of the water you use to dilute, the actual PH of the juice, and the "loading" effect of the flour.

I haven't tested the effects of flours yet, but rye seems to be very popular and I've had success using it in conjunction with unbleached white.

Best of luck,
Taco

P.S. And because everyone expects me to mention it: Potato water.

Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?

DannyDC's picture
DannyDC

Thanks everyone for your feedback.  I am going to try the bottled water and see if it makes a difference.  I have varied everything else and there is no visible improvement in the starter.  I am highly suspicious of DC water.  It doesn’t have the greatest taste and the chloramine levels are just shy of the EPA limit of 4 ppm (or mg/L) at 3.7 ppm.  And that chloramine is in addition to the chlorine that they already treat the water with.  I will try the rye flower and the bottled water for a little while and let you guys know if it solves the problem.  I wonder if there is anyone else here from the District of Columbia who has also tried to create a starter with DC tap water?

LindyD's picture
LindyD

I wonder if there is anyone else here from the District of Columbia who has also tried to create a starter with DC tap water?

I'm far away from DC, Danny, but I did find Best Buns Bread Co. in your city, which offers sourdough loaves among others.

They claim "Our natural starters contain only flour and filtered water. Our bread is baked directly on the hearth of our Tibiletti oven."

ETA: Their website notes bakery tours are offered.

DannyDC's picture
DannyDC

Thanks for the tip!  The bakery looks wonderful.  The bakery is located in Virginia, which is on a different water system from the District.  Everything does look quite yummy there, and perhaps they know some bakers accross the river in the District who may know more about the effect of the water here on starters.  Unfortunately there's no metro stop near the bakery, but it looks like it's worth taking the bike out there sometime soon.

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Last May, I became upset when I learned that there were chloramines in my tap water.  Mike Avery asked me to do an experiment and make a starter with the water and see what happened.  I made three starters, one with the supposedly chloramine water.  Or maybe it was two.  I was hampered by the inablility to get good info on my water content and a water softener that turned out not to be working.  Anyway, I had no problems making any of the starters.  The first of the following links documents my distress, and the second my experiment.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/6975/ack-chloramines

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/7195/starter-experiment-presumably-chloraminetainted-water

Rosalie

Davo's picture
Davo

I started a starter with my chlorinated tap water, no problem. If it's bubbling, something is happening. I gather that with any starter, the lactobacillus zoom off and leave the yeast behind, and they usually take a few weeks to catch up. The yeast  is inhibited by the acidity. That's for any mix, let alone one which starts off with an acidic environment. Potato water is supposed to be yeast heaven, so maybe that suggestion (made already) will do the trick. As well, I read that rye flours generally carry a broad range of yeasts, so I made my mix with 50% rye flour.

My starter made OK bread after a single week, but it really got going to raise bread well after a few more weeks...

So I suspect it's just a matter of time. Also, I reckon you might notice more "rise" if you thicken up your mix. I don't really measure my starter hydration exactly but notice when it's a bit thinner some of the bubbles seem to get to the surface and burst - that's some of your "rise" that's disappearing into thin air... In this case, it would seem to me that it doesn't matter if it doubles or not, so long as it's very active.

KosherBaker's picture
KosherBaker

Hi Danny.

I found it to be more beneficial to my starter to only feed it once every 24 hours during the first three days of its life. That seems to give plenty of time to the "good guys" to kill the "bad guys" in your starter. And the starter takes on a rather distinct stinky cheese smell during those three days. Also I used bottled water throughout. On day four I switched to organic white flour, ( I statred with Organic Rye and not Whole Wheat like you, but it should work the same) and started to tighten up the starter consistency. Because as Davo above stated starter that has a consistency of pancake batter will not have enough "Legs" to stand up and double. This isn't a problem mind you. You can keep a wet starter like this and bake with it. Nancy Silverton is a proponent of just such a starter, with the high hydration like this. Starters like this tend to be very hungry and very active, and in the professional bakery, where it is used daily, that makes a lot of sense. Most of us here bake once a week though and are forced to refrigerate our starters. So we maintain much lower hydration (drier) starters. Pretty much like dough. Starters like this will double indeed.

From your description of the starter smell and behavior, it sounds to me like you are ready to bake a test loaf with it. Grab your favorite sourdough recipe and make your first loaf with it. The flavor should be very very mild but the levening should already be there.

Good Luck.

Rudy

DannyDC's picture
DannyDC

Based on what everyone has recommended, I made a few changes.  I definitely switched to bottled water since I am now convinced that DC water can kill anything.  Since I'm well over a week into my starter, I am using a 50/50 mix of AP and organic rye.  I also decided to mix my starter extra thick to find out if it is rising at all.  I think I got a 20% increase in height over last night so that is encouraging.  There aren't any large bubbles anymore, there are lots of tiny ones that I can see through the wall of the container measuring about 1-3 milimeters in size.  Even if there is no rise, I am very pleased with the current smell.  It definitely has a cheesey smell to it, indicating lots of lactobacilli making lots of lactic acid.  I'm seeing more activity, just slow progress.  I am going to try my first test bread over the holiday on Monday.  It's definitely a lesson in patience.  =+)

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Hi Danny and welcome to TFL.

Originally I thought the recipes using pineapple juice or orange juice were wacko till it was discovered that wild yeast really likes vitamin C.  That and the fact that vitamin C also does a fair job at ridding water of chloramine convinced me that there was something to the madness after all.  The best discovery was the use of organic flour which has the naturally occuring sourdough pathogens neatly packaged right there in the flour (imagine that!).  Long into short it isn't that mysterious any longer.  Just learning the ropes via an understanding of the basics gives one the confidence to forge on ahead and make the bread of the gods..., right hear on Earth no less!...,

Wild-Yeast

yves's picture
yves

Can you site your sources about Vitamin-c? Ive seen material that says that vitamin-c is a gluten-enhancer in low-doses, but ive not seen anything that says that yeast likes vitamin-c, at least no more than it likes any acidic environment.

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Vitamin C enhances sourdough yeast growth. Interestingly enough it has a negative effect on bread yeast.  I was also somewhat of a skeptic till I surveyed commercially produced sourdough bread (San Francisco area) and found it as an ingredient in all.  I now use it too.  Further research resulted in the following two references:

Sugihara/Kline/Miller, Microorganism of the San Francisco Sour Dough Bread Process, Applied Microbiology, Mar. 1971, 458

Gänzle et al., Modeling of growth of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and Candida milleri in response to process parameters of the sourdough fermentation, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, July 1998

Wild-Yeast

Davo's picture
Davo

Some interesting comments on sourdough and Vitamin C, here:

http://sourdough.com/blog/johnd/requiem-sourdough

ellenpowell's picture
ellenpowell

Chlorine is fast becoming a thing of the past as a disinfectant in municipal water supply distribution systems as more and more public water systems are switching over to a chemical called chloramine that is made out of chlorine and ammonia. This is due to a new EPA rule, and we are jumping from the frying pan into the fire on this one.

We are People Concerned About Chloramine here in VT, where our water district switched from chlorine to chloramine in 4/2006. To date we have 297 people in our water district who have reported to us that they are suffering from health effects since the chloramine went in. 50 - 60 of those sufferers got better when they stopped all exposure to their chloraminated tap water (at great expense and inconvenience). Not one person didn't get better whoc removed his or herself from exposure.

To learn about symptoms, learn about our experience, and and get information, go to our website vce.org/chloramine. You can also check out Citizens Concerned About Chloramine's website, www.chloramine.org. They are in the San Francisco Bay area. They have roughly 500 people who have reported symptoms from the chloraminated tap water.

The people suffering from symptoms here in VT and there in CA share the same symptoms, as well as do people we have heard from via our websites from over a dozen other states, Canada and Scotland.

If you don't already have chloramine in your water, ASK YOUR WATER DISTRICT IF THEY HAVE ANY PLANS TO SWITCH TO CHLORAMINE. If they do, get educated- and quick. It's much easier to keep it out than to get it out of the water. You may want to check out a citizen group in the Harrisburg PA area who has successfully kept chloramine from going into their water for a year:  www.chloramineinfocenter.net

If you do live with chloraminated municipal water and suffer from respiratory, skin, and/or digestive problems as well as fatigue that don't seem to go away, you may want to consider stopping exposure to your tap water for a little while (a week or two) and see if your condition improves. This means replacing tap water with bottled spring water (don't buy "filtered" water, which could be bottled chloraminated munIcipal water- chloramine cannot be removed by conventional carbon filters).

Use spring water for:

*bathing (or consider showering/bathing in non-chloraminated water if you have that option)
*cooking, including making coffee, tea, juice from concentrate, ice cubes
*laundry (some people cannot tolerate chloramine residual on their clothes or sheets/pillowcases)
*washing dishes
*brushing teeth
*eating out (restaurants in chloraminated waters districts are overwhelmingly likely to have chloramine-laced food and water).
*eating processed foods, soda pop, etc. that may have been processed with chloraminated water.
*in your humidifier

Susan's picture
Susan

Could you pitch in here and tell us what water you actually use for your sourdough? Inquiring minds want to know what the pros do when making hundreds of loaves every day.

Thanks for your input.

Susan from San Diego

mcs's picture
mcs

If your definition of a pro baker is someone who sells baked stuff for a living, then I loosely fall into that description.  If it's selling hundreds of loaves a day, then I do not. 

Anyway, back when I was working at a bakery selling hundreds of loaves a day, we just used tap water from a munincipal system in Rutland, Vermont.  Now I use our well water which is very high in minerals - and we don't have a softener. 
-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

Susan's picture
Susan

...I'd get SOMETHING wrong in posing that question! Mea culpa. Of course you are a real professional baker! Just look at that beautiful bakery you have, and the gorgeous breads you produce. Thanks for the input. How about us both listening to some SRV today, it's good music to knead by.

Susan from San Diego