The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2

Pineapple juice is a simple solution to a problem that many people encounter while trying to start a sourdough seed culture from scratch. Oftentimes, a new culture will appear to start off very strong, only to die a day or two later. The early expansion is caused by a prolific gas-producing bacterium which many mistake for yeast. Pineapple juice can be added to flour instead of water at the beginning, to insure against unwanted bacteria and the problems they leave in their wake. It doesn't change the end result, but it does seem to keep things on the track to finish on time. Part 1 tells the story of where the pineapple remedy comes from and how it was conceived. The rest of the story probes deeper into how it all works. But first, here is a recap of the key patterns revealed by notes and data collected during experimental trials:

  • When starters expanded significantly on the second day, a period of stillness followed, and the appearance of yeast was delayed.
  • Gas-producing bacteria stopped growing when the pH dropped to 4.5, but yeast growth didn't begin until the pH fell to around 3.5, accounting for the period of stillness.
  • Lowering the pH in the initial mixture, by adding ascorbic acid or by replacing the water with pineapple juice, kept gas-producing bacteria from growing and brought about a more timely and predictable result.

But it wasn't enough just to find a fix. The problem-solving efforts of my team were creating a buzz which we hadn't anticipated and this thing, like the seed cultures we were creating, was taking on a life of its own. Some were jumping to premature conclusions, and speculation seemed to be spreading as fact. It made me very uncomfortable, because I'd rather be dispelling myths than adding to them. I wanted to find some real answers, and find them fast, so I started making phone calls. I found two local labs that could help me out. One had the capability to identify leuconostocs, and the other to detect lactobacilli and other bacteria of interest. I submitted samples of a day two starter during the big expansion. Both labs found that there were three organisms growing. But there were no lactobacilli or yeasts found, which supports what I observed time after time on microscopic examination. My gas-producer was identified as Leuconostoc citreum. At the time, I couldn't find much information specific to this organism, although it seems to share many characteristics with other Leuconostoc species found in foods. Most will not grow below pH 4.8, and this one doesn't appear to be an exception.

Until recently, I could only theorize that the Leuconostoc may actively hinder the process, because the pattern supports it, and because it's not uncommon for microorganisms to produce substances which inhibit competitors. But in updating this article, a new search of the scientific literature finally uncovered the piece of the puzzle I was looking for. Who would have thought the answers would be found in kimchi and sake? It turns out that kimchi fermentation has a lot in common with sourdough development, and mirrors the early days of the seed culture process. Leuconostoc citreum plays a dominant role in the early and mid-phases of fermentation where it causes a slow and prolonged drop in pH, and retards the growth of other lactic acid bacteria.[1] In a study on sake fermentation, Leuconostoc citreum was found to produce bacteriocins (bacterially-produced antibiotic proteins) which inhibit the growth of similar lactic acid bacteria (i.e., lactobacilli).[2] It appears that these bacteriocins linger for a time even after the organism stops growing, although their effect is diluted through successive feeding. A dosage effect would explain nicely the apparent relationship between the vigor with which this bacterium flairs up initially, and the number of days the starter remains still afterward. The higher the rise, the longer it seems to take to recover.

In addition to Leuconostoc citreum, there was also a large amount of Aerococcus viridans. The first lab I visited found Leuconostoc to be in the greatest quantity, but Aerococcus was multiplying so fast that it soon passed the Leuconostoc in number. That is important, and could very well have contributed to the delayed progress. Even though Aerococcus doesn't produce gas, and so was not responsible for any of the expansion, it is not much of an acid producer either. So while it was using up a large share of the available sugars, it was not helping the pH to fall. Aerococcus is an occasional spoilage organism in unpasteurized milk, which is the extent of information that I have found on its involvement in foods. Its lower limit is not given in my reference books, but since pineapple juice seems to keep it at bay, I suspect that it must be in the same ballpark with leuconostocs. I'm still not sure how big a part each of these organisms plays in slowing the progress of a seed culture, but lowering the pH at the outset seems to be a blanket fix.

I mentioned in Part 1 that some of the bacteria were flipping, twirling and zipping around under the microscope. Those were Enterobacter cloacae. Enterobacter produces gas, but since it was present in only a scant amount compared to the others, I think it safe to say that the Leuconostoc was responsible for the majority of it. However, Enterobacter contributes to an unpleasant odor, as do Aerococcus and Leuconostoc. Because some people report a very stinky smell and others not as much, I'd have to say that even among starters that grow Leuconostoc, not all necessarily have the same combination of bacteria. There are others that can grow as well. Results vary from flour to flour and year to year, because the number and species of microorganisms are influenced by conditions relating to weather and grain crop production.[3] I wish I could have all the organisms identified at every stage, but there aren't any laboratories in my area that are equipped to identify wild yeasts or sourdough bacteria. And even if they could, the cost would be prohibitive. I was fortunate to be in a position to have two of the organisms identified as a professional courtesy.

With the additional information, and having watched the drama unfold under the microscope, I started seeing the seed culture process not as good guys out-competing bad or gradually increasing in number, but as a natural succession of microorganisms that pave the way for "the good guys" in the way that they transform their environment. There are bacteria in flour that prefer the more neutral pH of freshly mixed flour and water (like Leuconostoc and company). They are the first to start growing, some producing acids as by-products. This lowers the pH, and other bacteria begin to grow; they produce their acids, lowering the pH even more. It soon becomes too acidic for the first batch and they stop growing. One group slows down and drops out as the next is picking up and taking off. Each has its time, and each lays the groundwork for the next. It's much more like a relay than a microbial free-for-all. The baton is passed to the next group in line as conditions become suitable for them. The acidity increases a bit more with each pass, and the more acid-loving bacteria can eventually take over. The appearance of yeast seems to be tied in some way to low pH---maybe directly, maybe indirectly, but the correlation shows that it isn't random in the way that "catching" yeast from the air would be, or their gradually increasing in number.

In the late fall/early winter of 2004, I was coaching a group of women on Cookstalk, Taunton's Fine Cooking forum, and I noticed something else. My starters sort of liquefy the day before yeast starts to grow. Gluten disappears, which shows the work of proteolytic enzymes. At first I thought it signaled the appearance of lactobacilli and their proteases. But now I think it was simply an indicator that the pH had dropped low enough to activate aspartic proteinases, pH-sensitive enzymes abundant in wheat.[4] Because I prefer to seed a new culture with whole grain flour for at least three days, there are more cereal enzymes present than in a starter fed with white flour (most of them are removed with bran in the milling process). But either way, it is a good sign of Lactobacillus activity, whether by production of bacterial proteases or by the organism's effect on pH and activation of cereal proteases.

The starters were developing a little more slowly this time around, which inspired me to describe the different stages that a new culture transitions through, rather than try and pin it to a time frame. Room temperature is different from one kitchen to the next, as well as season to season. Sometimes rye flour finishes faster, sometimes whole wheat is faster. Sometimes a culture doesn't start producing its own acid for the first two days instead of one. Because this process involves variable live cultures under variable conditions, it doesn't always work in a prescribed number of days, but it follows a predictable pattern. While this has been a discovery process for me, it is not a new discovery:

"There has been nice work done in Rudi Vogel's lab on the microflora of a freshly started sourdough: first, there are enterobacteria (Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Enterobacter), highly undesirable organisms that stink terribly. Then there are homofermentative lactobacilli (good lactic acid producers, but they don't produce gas or acetic acid), then acid-tolerant, heterofermentative lactobacilli that make lactic and acetic acid, as well as CO2. I think this took about forty-eight hours at 30ºC in Vogel's study. The stink at the beginning does not matter as the organisms will be diluted out or die eventually. No L. sanfranciscensis appears by forty-eight hours, though: these will occur only after repeated refreshments. Peter Stolz told me that it takes about two weeks of repeated inoculations to get a good 'sanfranciscensis' sourdough."[5]

That paragraph didn't have any special significance for me until I had gotten to this point. But when I read it again, I had one of those aha moments. Not only did this describe a succession, but it filled in some of the blanks, and I could see clearly how all these microorganisms related to the four phases I had defined. Here is the updated version marrying the two. You don't need a microscope for this, because there are outward signs which serve as useful indicators of progress.

The First Phase:
For the first day or so, nothing really happens that is detectable to the human senses. It doesn't taste any tangier or develop bubbles. It remains looking much the same as when it was mixed, except a little lighter in color if an acid was used, and a little darker if not. While nothing appears to be happening, the first wave of bacteria (determined by pH and the microflora in the flour) are waking up, sensing their new environment and preparing to grow. This phase usually lasts about one day, sometimes two.

The Second Phase:
The starter will begin producing its own acid and develop a tangy taste (although it might be difficult to distinguish from pineapple juice). Lactic acid bacteria are actively growing at this point. When using only water, this phase represents two waves of microbes---first Leuconostoc and associates, followed by homofermentative lactobacilli and possibly other lactic acid bacteria. By controlling the pH, you can by-pass the leuconostocs and other "highly undesirable organisms that stink terribly," and skip to the second wave. It will get bubbly and expand only if the pH is not low enough to prevent growth of gassy bacteria, otherwise there won't be much to see. There probably won't be much gluten degradation, and it may smell a little different, but it shouldn't smell particularly foul unless started with plain water. This phase can last one to three days or more. If it is going to get hung up anywhere, this is the place it usually happens, especially if it is put on a white flour diet too soon. If after three days in this phase, it still doesn't become more sour and show signs of progress, the best thing to do is switch back to whole grain flour. Whole grain has a much higher microbial count to re-seed the culture and get it moving again. If that doesn't do it, skip a feeding or two to allow the acidity to build.

The Third Phase:
The starter will become very tart like lemon juice---an indication of more acid production by more acid-tolerant bacteria. The gluten may disappear and tiny bubbles become more noticeable. These are signs that heterofermentative lactobacilli have picked up the baton. Once a starter becomes really sour, it usually transitions into phase four within a day or two. Note that lactic acid doesn't have much aroma, and so smell is not a reliable way to judge the level of sourness. If it gets stuck here for 48 hours or more, make sure there's still enough whole grain in the mix and give it more time between refreshments.

The Fourth Phase:
Yeast start to grow and populate the starter relatively quickly at this point. It will expand with gas bubbles all over and begin to take on the yeasty smell of bread or beer.

This pattern suggests that wild yeasts are activated by low pH. Or perhaps the activator is something else produced by lactobacilli, but it happens predictably at this point for me, as long as the whole grain flour has not been diluted out. There may be some variation among wild yeasts as to the exact pH or activating substance. I have been unable to find the answer in scientific literature, and my contact at Lallemand did not know. I have only found studies done with cultivated strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which don't seem to require much more than a fermentable sugar (and may explain why seed cultures take off much quicker in a bakery environment where baker's yeast is everywhere). The most useful information I have found on the subject is this, about microbial spores in general:

"Although spores are metabolically dormant and can remain in this state for many years, if given the proper stimulus they can return to active metabolism within minutes through the process of spore germination. A spore population will often initiate germination more rapidly and completely if activated prior to addition of a germinant. However, the requirement for activation varies widely among spores of different species. A number of agents cause spore activation, including low pH and many chemicals... The initiation of spore germination in different species can be triggered by a wide variety of compounds, including nucleosides, amino acids, sugars, salts, DPA, and long-chain alkylamines, although within a species the requirements are more specific. The precise mechanism whereby these compounds trigger spore germination is not clear."[6]

What this means is that for dormant cells to return to active growth (germinate), they need to break dormancy (activate) which is initiated by different things for different species. In the case of these wild sourdough yeasts, if all they needed were food or oxygen, which are there from the get-go, then they would start growing immediately. The fact that they don't, is probably why many people think they need to be caught from the air, or that large quantities of flour must be used to round up enough of them. There are enough dormant cells present even in relatively small quantities of whole grain flour, but it's like a game of Simon Says. You can try to coax them into growing, with food and all the things you may fancy to be good for actively growing yeast. But they're not active. They are dormant, and will remain so until they receive the right message from their surroundings. Compare this to the plant seed that sits in soil all winter long, waiting until spring to sprout, when conditions are most favorable. Is it a survival mechanism? I don't know, but waiting for the pH to drop does increase the likelihood that the yeast will wake up in the company of lactobacilli, with which they seem to share a complex and mutually beneficial relationship. It is also important to point out here that active sourdough yeasts thrive in a much wider pH range than what appears to be required for activation of dormant cells. The point to keep in mind is that active and dormant cells are physiologically and metabolically different, and so their needs are different.

This pattern of growth is not unique to the formula in the Bread Baker's Apprentice. I have seen the same progression, in whole or in part, with all the starter formulas I've tried. And it doesn't really matter how much flour you start with. In fact this can be done with very small quantities of flour. All else being equal, it proceeds just as fast with a teaspoon as it does with a pound. Procedures that call for two or three feedings per day, or large refreshments before yeast are active, can actually get in the way of the process. Overfeeding unnecessarily dilutes the acid, which slows the drop in pH, and keeps it from moving through the succession of microorganisms in the timeliest manner. But while it can take up to two weeks or more this way, with Mother Nature as the driving force, things do fall in line eventually. It's just a question of when. Three to five days is about all it really takes to reach the yeast activation stage at average room temperature, somewhat longer if Leuconostoc and associates grow. The strategy is quite different from reviving a neglected starter, which is likely to have an overabundance of acid, and a large population of yeast and sourdough bacteria, however sluggish they may be.

So, what can we do instead to facilitate the process? Start by providing conditions for the first two to three days which are favorable to lactic acid bacteria. A warm spot if you can easily manage one (but not too much higher than 80ºF), and a reasonably high hydration (at least 100%). Use pineapple juice if you like, to bypass the first round of bacteria. (Or use water if you prefer, and don't mind the odors and delay.) Feed with whole grain flour until yeast are actively growing, not for the wider spectrum of sugars it may offer, but for its higher numbers of yeast and lactic acid bacteria to seed each phase in its turn. Don't feed too much or too frequently, so as to allow the acids to accumulate and the pH to fall more rapidly. The ideal feeding quantity and frequency would depend on the temperature, hydration, and how fast the pH is falling. However, I usually recommend once a day at room temperature, simply because it is the easiest to manage, it works, and the daily manipulation helps to keep mold from getting started. Mold is the biggest stumbling block for procedures in which a young mixture is allowed to sit idle for two or three days at a time. Turning surface mold spores into the center by re-kneading or stirring and scraping down the sides daily, is the best way to get around it. Mold is not inhibited by low pH or pineapple juice, and anti-mold properties don't fully develop until sourdough is well established.

While you don't actually need a formula to do this, no article on making sourdough starter would be complete without one. This procedure was designed with simplicity in mind, to be efficient, effective, and to minimize waste. It was developed with the participation of four willing and very patient women whom I worked with online---DJ Anderson, Karen Rolfe, Deanna Schneider and the still-anonymous 'lorian,' whose plea for help is what renewed the quest to find a better way. I learned a great deal from the feedback they and others gave me as we worked out the kinks, and this formula is a tribute to them.

There is nothing magic about the two tablespoons of measure used throughout the first three days. Equal weights didn't provide a high enough ratio of acid to flour to suit me, and equal volumes did. Two tablespoons is enough to mix easily without being overly wasteful (and just happens to be the volume of an eighth-cup coffee scoop, which is what I kept on the counter next to the flour and seed culture for quick, easy feeding). If you insist on weighing, make it about 15 gm flour and 30 gm juice. These first few days don't really benefit from being particularly fussy with odd or precise measuring, so make it easy on yourself. Keep it simple, and let Mother Nature do the rest.

Day 1: mix...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour* (wheat or rye)
2 tablespoons pineapple juice, orange juice, or apple cider

Day 2: add...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
2 tablespoons juice or cider

Day 3: add...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
2 tablespoons juice or cider

Day 4: (and once daily until it starts to expand and smell yeasty), mix . . .
2 oz. of the starter (1/4 cup after stirring down -- discard the rest)
1 oz. whole grain flour* (scant 1/4 cup)
1 oz. water (2 tablespoons)

* Organic is not a requirement, nor does it need to be freshly ground.

On average, yeast begin to grow on day 3 or 4 in the warmer months, and on day 4 or 5 during colder times of the year, but results vary by circumstance. Feed once a day, taking care not to leave mold-promoting residue clinging to the sides or lid of your bowl or container, and refer back to the different phases to track progress---particularly if it gets stuck in second phase or shows no progress for 3 or more days. Once you have yeast growing (but not before), you can and should step up the feeding to two or three times a day, and/or give it bigger refreshments. Before yeast, don't feed too much; after yeast, don't feed too little. You can feed the starter/seed culture whatever you would like at this point. White flour, either bread or a strong unbleached all-purpose like King Arthur or a Canadian brand will turn it into a general-purpose white sourdough starter. Feed it rye flour if you want a rye sour, or whole wheat, if you want to make 100% whole wheat breads. If you're new to sourdough, a white starter is the best place to start.

This is the point at which I generally defer to the sourdough experts. There are several good books on sourdough which address the topic of starter maintenance and how to use it in bread. There are many different approaches. Just keep in mind that the first days of the seed culture process have nothing to do with developing flavor or even fostering the most desirable species. The object is simply to move through the succession and get the starter up and running. The fine-tuning begins there. Once yeast are growing well, choose the hydration, temperature and feeding routine that suits you, and the populations will shift in response to the flour and conditions that you set up for maintenance.

One more thing I have found is that with regular feeding at room temperature, new starters seem to improve and get more fragrant right around the two week mark. Maybe this coincides with the appearance of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis mentioned previously, or another highly adapted sourdough species. A Fifth Phase, and beyond? Obviously, there is still more to learn.   -Debra Wink

References

1. Choi, In-Kwon, Seok-Ho  Jung, Bong-Joon Kim, Sae-Young Park, Jeongho Kim, and Hong-Ui Han. 2003. Novel Leuconostoc citreum starter culture system for the fermentation of kimchi, a fermented cabbage product. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  84:247-253.

2. Kurose, N., T. Asano, S. Kawakita, and S. Tarumi. 2004. Isolation and characterization of psychotrophic Leuconostoc citreum isolated from rice koji. Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi 82:183-190.

3. Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains, p. 135. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

4. Katina, Kati. 2005. Sourdough: a tool for the improved flavour, texture and shelf-life of wheat bread, p. 23.VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

5. Wing, Daniel, and Alan Scott. 1999. Baker's Resource: Sourdough Microbiology, p. 231. The bread Builders. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT.

6. Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Spores and Their Significance, p. 50. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

7. Arendt, Elke K., Liam A.M. Ryan, and Fabio Dal Bello. 2007. Impact of sourdough on the texture of bread. Food Microbiology 24:165-174.

------------------------

This article was first published in Bread Lines, a publication of The Bread Bakers Guild of America.
Vol. 16, Issue 2, June 2008.

Related Links:
  The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1 | The Fresh Loaf
  Lactic Acid Fermentation in Sourdough | The Fresh Loaf 
  Basic Procedure for Making Sourdough Starter | Cooks Talk

Comments

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

After the weekend: Still no rising or really any bubbles that I can see. I skipped feeding on Friday, fed it 2:1:1 on Saturday, then skipped feeding on Sunday and again this morning (still stirring and scraping on days that I skip feeding). It tastes tart but not extremely so, and the texture is still thick like pancake batter. I'm going to stay the course with every 2nd / 3rd day feedings but is there anything else I should be looking for to indicate how to proceed? Today is 2 weeks since I originally started this attempt.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Unfortunately, Mother Nature moves at her own pace. Since it's not getting sour enough, let's stretch the time between feeds even more. And if it doesn't get more sour and progress in 3-4 days from your last feed try a different whole wheat flour, preferably one that is organic. Now that glyphosate is being used on our legumes and grains more and more to dry them for harvest (and it is antimicrobial) I no longer have as much confidence in the non-organic flours for this process. When you don't know who grew it, or how, it's a question mark. I've never had any problem with Bob's Red Mill in the past, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it now, but it won't hurt to try another. Sometimes that kicks it in gear.

How is the temperature?

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Sounds like a plan, I'll give it another day and see if I can locate an organic whole wheat flour. The temperature is good, we've had our AC set to 78 for a while now (and it's actually been > 100 for several days where I am outside).

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

I do have some Organic whole grain rye flour, would it work to use some of that for a one-off feeding? Or should I look to stick with wheat flour?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Yes. Whole rye is great too. Just bear in mind that because it is gluten-poor, it will look different with rye in the mix and may not liquify so much. But that's okay.

And if you want to scale back down next feeding from the 24-oz jar (6 oz starter), other good alternatives are an 8-oz regular jelly jar (for 2 oz refreshed starter), or any tall narrow drinking glass 12- or 16-oz (3 or 4 oz starter, respectively) with a small plate or saucer on top. Volume doesn't matter as much as proportion --- a general theme with sourdough :)

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Switched and fed using the organic whole rye on Monday, still no luck. I've also got another attempt that I started using Orange Juice with this method that seems to be stuck in the same spot (very tart, but no yeast growth). That one is on day 8, while the original is around 15-16 (I forget now exactly when I started it). I've got them both in pint glasses now, since it's easier for a smaller amount.

I recognize that it can take time and plan on staying the course, but at the same time since both seem to be stuck in roughly the same phase (tart and thinner, not completely liquid, not growing yeast), I'm wondering if there is some other environmental factor that is inhibiting yeast growth. I'm using bottled water, so I don't think there's anything to worry about there. Is there something common I should look out for that might prevent progressing to the actual yeast phase?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Flour, water, temperature, time, container. I think that covers all the usual suspects. Water, temperature and container seem good, but the new flour addition may want more time. I'd keep up daily stirring, but stop feeding and see how it goes for a few more days. If you get to 7 days without feeding and still nothing, we could try adding a stronger acid to force the pH downward. It's riskier without a way to measure the pH, but since starters can easily be split in two to preserve half (and provide a control), it's not that much of a sacrifice to experiment :) 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Do you have a means to control temperature around 85-90F? Keeping it a bit warmer will help the bacterial succession progress faster. I would be very careful not to let it go much higher than that, and only for 24 hours or so, because it's too warm for good yeast growth. But it might help get you over this hurdle.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

I don't think I have a precise temperature control at that level. I could attempt to put it in the oven with the light on (a tip I've seen in several different spots), but it wouldn't be exact. I followed the suggestion and stirred every day but didn't feed for a week, and there wasn't really any change. The only thing I noticed today was that there was a slight off / gym sock smell (mild, not strong at all). I refreshed again 2:1:1 with the organic Rye I have, but I'm open to trying various experiments to see if I can get something to stick. You mentioned adding an acid to up the pH, I do have some citric acid powder that I could use, if that's an option.

I'm also considering starting some others fresh with different flour / water sources and running them side-by-side to have some experiments that can be easily compared with one another. My only concern is having enough containers for everything :)

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I'm happy to hear you're still at it :)  Let's see what happens with today's feeding. By 7 days, resources that yeast will need are probably depleted, and the fresh addition may spur something. Stick with the organic rye, and go back to the daily feeding for now. Maybe there's still something that needs flushing out, or maybe there's a key part of the succession that's missing. If you have any other organic whole grain flours or flakes in the house, you could try adding those into the rye to expand the variety of microbes in the mix. Probiotics for starters :)

I have citric acid powder, whole rye flour, and pH strips on hand, so I'll do some mixing later today to come up with a safe ratio. Citric is pretty strong, but I've used it before to good results.

As to oven light bulbs, monitor closely. They vary widely, and I can tell you my oven with just the light on will climb slowly to over 100F within a few hours. And since the extra time didn't help, higher temperature may not either. If you're still in the upper 70's, I think that's good enough.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Sounds like a plan! I didn't notice any significant rising since yesterday, but there were a few, very small, bubbles, so there are at least some signs of activity :) I'll keep going with the daily 2:1:1 feeding and if you've got a citric acid solution that would drop the pH I'll give that an experiment as well. Thanks again for all the help!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Are these new bubbles a change/increase from what you've been seeing? Tiny bubbles (other than the ones you introduce through mixing or stirring) with no obvious expansion, are what heterofermentative lactobacilli create. They follow the homofermentative LAB of phase 2, ushering in phase 3. It's not yeast yet, but it is encouraging.

And if that is the case then you probably won't need to add any acid, but if you want to split and try one with, one without, I achieved a pH between 3.5 and 4.0 with 1/4 tsp pure citric acid in 25 g whole rye flour. You should only acidify the new flour. A little more water wouldn't hurt --- I forgot how stiff a whole rye starter is at 100% hydration.

I'm crossing my fingers for you :)

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

I do think they are an increase, yes. I've occasionally seen small bubbles, but looking at it just now there seem to be a lot more tiny bubbles than I have noticed in the past. Good to have an idea where it likely is in the process. I'll still give the citric acid a shot, I'm interested in anything that might be helpful and I'd just be discarding it anyway :) I'll report back any new developments!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hopefully, you're finally over the stuck-in-second-phase hurdle. Is it getting even more tart than before?

I'm watching two samples that I mixed up yesterday to work out the pH. One was 1/8 t. citric acid per 25 g of the whole rye flour (pH 4), and the other 1/4 t. (pH >3.5). I had to double up (200%) on the water to be able to get a pH reading, as 100% was just too dry. But I liked the consistency better for this process. It flows, making tiny fermentation bubbles easier to see. Plus, a looser consistency is better for LAB. Already there are differences between them. The pH 4 has a more floury/paste-y smell to it, and the 3.5 smells lighter and "brighter."

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Things seem to be progressing, there are definitely lots of small / tiny bubbles in both the original and the acidified starters :) Interestingly, I tasted the original one today and it tasted less tart than it had been in the past, but more pleasantly so. Not exactly sure how to describe it best, but it tasted brighter even setting aside the level of tartness.

I'll follow the advice in the article and look to potentially skip a feeding for a day or two if it isn't progressing towards the yeast phase.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Tartness goes away quickly and pH starts climbing back into the more usual range once yeast join in, so let's hope that's what you're witnessing. I would not skip feedings at this point, especially after that mega-dose of acid. It doesn't take long to do its job turning on yeast, but low pH is inhibitory to bacteria. Continuing the small feeds will gradually flush that out and give the LAB some latitude to grow. You should know within 48 hours whether or not you have active yeast. I'm optimistic :)

As for my little testers, there was slight expansion in the 3.5 today (day 2), with a slight fluffy appearance and tiny, tiny bubbles when I stirred it. I wouldn't have noticed expansion except that it is sitting next to the 4.0, and I could see the difference in their levels. The 4.0 had a slight lightness to it too, just not quite as much. (In hindsight, I should have marked their starting levels.) That one, which smelled floury/pasty yesterday, smells clean and bright like the 3.5 today. The control had the most expansion, it at least doubled, but with the familiar dark funky smell of the false start, very different from the other two. I am refreshing them every 24 hours at 3:2:1 (swf) with organic whole rye flour and bottled water. Should know more in the next 24 hours.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

I'll stay the course, I'm hopeful as well given the change in activity. Did you only do the acid addition on the first day? And refreshing now with just starter / water / flour and no more acid?

You've got me interested to try my own set of experiments from scratch once I get something stable!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Thank you so much for playing along with this. We are in uncharted waters now, and so your feedback is very helpful. I've been here before, activating yeast with citric acid, but for various reasons never went farther with it. Yes, acid only the one time. Sorry, I should have given you more direction, but we're making this up as we go ;)  And you still have the unacidified one as backup, so it's all good.

So far here, it looks like slow and steady will win the race. Last evening I gave the testers their second refreshment (after the initial mix), so they are now more than halfway through day 3. And the 4.0 (1/8 tsp) is pulling out ahead, while >3.5 (1/4 tsp) seems to be lagging way behind and smelling floury like the 4.0 did two days ago. 4.0 is bubbly and yeasty, and I think I'll feed it 1:1:1 with AP today and see how it responds. Will continue rye feedings for the 3.5 and see if it rallies.

So here's what I suspect at this point. 4.0 skipped at least to phase 3, but still gave the heterofermenters some space to grow. 3.5 skipped right to phase 4 and activated yeast; without LAB to accompany them, they aren't doing as well. But wherever they each landed, both skipped phase 2 entirely. Fortunately, you had LAB in yours already, and the equivalent of 1/8 tsp for the total flour (unless you fed with that more than once -- my fault).

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

For the acid experiment, I did do it two days in a row, so that may have impacted it—I should have clarified before doing the second one! Regardless, today both the acidified and control cultures were about the same: A good number of small-to-tiny bubbles but no expansion (which I assume means no yeast activation yet). I also have a whole wheat one I started a week later using your method with orange juice, and that one seems to be just transitioning into phase 3, I'm seeing a few small bubbles but not a lot yet.

Given that everything about this process has taken quite a bit longer than expected in my environment, for now I suspect I should just stay the course and continue with the daily feedings. Depending on how many I want to keep going at once, I may try out a from-scratch one with citric acid as an additional test, though I may also wait until I get some traction on one of the existing cultures :)

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Unless by some chance it's rising now, I think you can scrap the citric acid one. This exercise has given me some insight into why I wasn't satisfied enough to pursue the citric acid before. I had gotten yeast growth on day two back then too, but I commented in my article that it wasn't as vigorous as I like to see it.

I'm getting okay rising with the one I continue to feed. Not stellar, but adequate at this point in the process. Yesterday, after a 1:1:1 feed with AP 16 hours into day 3, it more than doubled in 8 hours before starting to recede. I was going to feed it at that point, until I tasted it. There was no sour, no tang at all. Just blandness. I gave it until this morning to see if it would sour up. Nada. If any LAB have tried to grow, the citric acid has effectively wiped them out. I have no doubt it will sour up eventually, but I don't know how long that will take. With my established starter, after a long refrigerated nap it sometimes takes more than a week to get the sour back. With this, the citric acid needs to be flushed out first.

This all makes sense, because citric acid is used as a preservative. It's in hummingbird nectar to keep it from spoiling, and there's instructions on the back of my bottle:  "It can be used to reduce spoilage in sprouting by adding 1 tsp per qt. of soak & rinse water." So, this is not the answer for a starter that is already in progress unless you activate yeast in a separate one, and add just a tiny bit of it into your already sour one. That's just a possible but untested workaround.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Makes sense, thanks for the update! It isn't rising or anything, nor is it particularly further along than the non-acidified one, so I agree that probably wasn't the solution. I'm still getting small bubbles slowly building up in the original starter (generally they haven't been prominent before I go to sleep, but then are there when I go to feed in the morning). I might split it tomorrow so that I can have another to leave a little longer between refreshers to have an idea if that moves things along better.

Despite everything seeming to take 5x as long as "expected", I'm hopeful at least that once I get some yeast activated I'll have some good flavor developed already, given how long it has been growing.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

So still no appreciable rise from either of the cultures, but some small updates: The acidified starter is actually now showing a little bit more activity than the baseline one. Specifically, it's making a few slightly larger bubbles. It's also still very tart, even after several days of refreshments, so it seems that the bacteria are still around. I split some off and fed it 1:1:1 with Organic Whole Wheat yesterday. Today that one also didn't have noticeable rise, but did have some larger bubbles than either of the other two.

The baseline starter still hasn't progressed beyond tiny bubbles.

So right now I've got 3 experiments:

Basic starter that I've been working on for ~1 month: Tart with a lot of tiny bubbles after a day

Acidified starter (split from the basic and fed with citric acid twice): Tart with a lot of tiny bubbles and a few small bubbles

Whole wheat starter (split from the acidified and fed 1:1:1 with WW): Tart with a few medium bubbles in addition to the smaller bubbles

 

My question is: What's the best way to tell when a starter transitions to phase 4? Is it noticing an actual rise? I ask because the article seems to indicate that once you switch into Phase 4 you should be feeding it more often, as opposed to less (and with a higher ratio of new flour to existing starter). So I'd like to know if / when I should start to do that to make sure there is enough food for the newly growing yeast.

Thanks!

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

(Copied from a previous comment, in case it doesn't notify because I replied to myself)

So still no appreciable rise from either of the cultures, but some small updates: The acidified starter is actually now showing a little bit more activity than the baseline one. Specifically, it's making a few slightly larger bubbles. It's also still very tart, even after several days of refreshments, so it seems that the bacteria are still around. I split some off and fed it 1:1:1 with Organic Whole Wheat yesterday. Today that one also didn't have noticeable rise, but did have some larger bubbles than either of the other two.

The baseline starter still hasn't progressed beyond tiny bubbles.

So right now I've got 3 experiments:

Basic starter that I've been working on for ~1 month: Tart with a lot of tiny bubbles after a day

Acidified starter (split from the basic and fed with citric acid twice): Tart with a lot of tiny bubbles and a few small bubbles

Whole wheat starter (split from the acidified and fed 1:1:1 with WW): Tart with a few medium bubbles in addition to the smaller bubbles

 

My question is: What's the best way to tell when a starter transitions to phase 4? Is it noticing an actual rise? I ask because the article seems to indicate that once you switch into Phase 4 you should be feeding it more often, as opposed to less (and with a higher ratio of new flour to existing starter). So I'd like to know if / when I should start to do that to make sure there is enough food for the newly growing yeast.

Thanks!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I was wondering how it was going :)  Yes, when yeast are growing it will start rising. Until you see that, I'd stick to 2:1:1 feeds. When you see some rise, try 1:1:1 after it peaks and starts to fall. If that goes well, you can proceed to twice a day feedings.

My citric acid tester actually did start to produce some tang on day 4 from the initial mix. By then the acid was reduced to 1/60 of the initial concentration. It was still rising, but not very lively. I haven't been attentive to it since then to see how quickly it might turn around, or figure out what the best feeding protocol would be coming at it from that direction. It could be that the LAB still have to go through some sort of succession.

I'm hoping you have a starter soon; you've waited long enough!

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

I'll keep up with the higher starter ratio for now, keeping an eye out for rising. I'm hoping so too!

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

How much rise should I be looking for with the 2:1:1 feeding? I marked the level yesterday and today I saw a bit of rise, maybe 5-10% if I had to eyeball it. Given the lower feeding ratio, am I just looking for any expansion, or should it be able to grow significantly?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

0-5% is hard to interpret because I think the starter swells ever so slightly as the flour absorbs water. But that is something I notice within an hour or two after mixing, only if I've settled the newly mixed starter nice and flat and marked the level. Otherwise it's not noticeable. LAB might also produce that kind of rise over a longer time period. However 10% would be a promising sign. If it is yeast, there will be more rise with the next feed. 2:1:1 will be okay until you are sure.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

since yesterday?

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Definitely progress. I noticed about 20-25% growth yesterday, and around the same today. There are also lots of bubbles and when I scoop it out to refresh a web-like structure inside. So I think there’s at least some amount of yeast growing, just not strong enough to double / triple in volume yet.

I also noticed that despite the structure, it was also very liquid, if I tilted the jar it would flow back and forth.

Any suggestions for how to strengthen the yeast / confirm that it’s strong enough to bake with?

Thanks for all the help!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I wouldn't try to bake with it just yet, because it's still sluggish, and might be very acidic, but it is the sign to increase feeding. Have you done a 1:1:1 yet? If not, try that this evening, and if it rises overnight, feed again in the morning. Hopefully we can get you baking by next weekend --- you sure do deserve it!

:)

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

I’ve been doing 1:1:1 on one of the cultures, yeah. That’s actually the one that seems to be responding the most. Should I try to bump up to twice a day? Or prefer looking to increase the food ratio? If I’m aiming for feeding multiple times per day, is there something specific I should look for to indicate it’s ready for another feeding?

So far the growth has seemed to mostly happen overnight (after feeding in the morning), but the bubbles definitely show up earlier.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Given that it is so slow and the peak isn't very high, I wouldn't even worry about waiting for it to flatten out and recede right now. Or to double. If it has risen noticeably by 12 hours and still tastes tangy, feed it. If it rises and produces tang in the 12 hours after that, feed it again. Hopefully you'll see a higher rise. Try that at 1:1:1 a few times, and if it's already falling by 12 hours after two or three feeding cycles, increase the ratio and see how it responds. If at any time it stops rising or producing tang, give it more time to catch up before feeding again. This could be a fragile time, so take it one feeding cycle at a time.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Sounds great, I'll give that a go and see how it responds!

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

After a few cycles of twice-per-day feeding, I'm not seeing significant growth in 12 hours (there's some, but still in the 10-25% range). It _is_ keeping the tanginess by the 12 hour mark, so that's good. Should I wait for it to actually start rising significantly before increasing the ratio? Regardless, I plan to stay the course for a few more days, just wanted to update how things are progressing.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

What's the consistency like after 12 hours, and how tangy is it? Also, what flour do you have it on right now?

Oh, and what is its average temperature these days?

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

I have 2 cultures that have gone through the process so far: 1 with organic whole rye and one with organic whole wheat. After 12 hours, the Rye is thick and scoopable, but with the sponge-like texture from all the air pockets. The wheat is much more liquid (if I tilt the glass its in, I can see it flowing around and it flows off the spoon), but still thick and somewhat spongey.

I also just started a 3rd this morning with 80/20 Unbleached AP / Whole Wheat flour (which is what I'd like the end result to use), thinking that AP flour tends to absorb less water and be a little more fluid at the same hydration.

Average temperature is still in the high 70's, we actually had a heat wave last week so it was probably a little more, but with the air on it's pretty consistent.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I wish I could see them in person to have all the sensory data, but the virtual thing stands in the way of that, so at this point, we have to keep some things in mind:

  • A 100% hydration rye starter is going to be thick and doesn't have the same rising potential as a batter-y wheat one with more gluten to hold on to the gases. The sponge-like texture from all the air pockets sounds pretty good to me at this point. The "only slightly tangy" part may be concerning, but that is also subjective. As long as there is tang there's promise. 
  • The wheat is even harder to get a handle on from your words as the meaning we each give them depends on our own experience. Pictures may be more helpful.

When you say you just started a 3rd, what do you mean by that? Back to the beginning, or change the feed in one of the two you already have going (preferable)?

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Last night, 12 hours after the previous feeding, the Rye starter had shown some rise and was still tangy, so I refreshed it. However, the whole wheat and AP starters had very minimal rise so I left them be until the morning. This morning all 3 had a bit of rise (still in the 20% range at most) and were tangy, so I refreshed all of them.

I can try to get some pictures tonight and/or tomorrow morning, to more clearly show the progression. Knowing that the rye starter isn't likely to rise quite as much as the wheat ones is useful, however, as it's definitely the one showing the most activity (large bubbles even if the rise isn't too significant).

When I started the 3rd (with 80/20 AP / Whole wheat flour), what I did was use some of the discard from the existing whole wheat one and refresh it with the new flour mixture. So it wasn't starting from scratch, but I also still have the existing whole wheat one as well (which I refreshed as normal from all whole wheat flour). However, given that the rye seems to be showing the most promise, it might be worthwhile to start one from the Rye discard instead, to take advantage of the apparently better activity in that culture.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

After the previous day where the Rye was the most active, yesterday it was actually the Whole Wheat that did the best. Last night, 12 hours after refreshing all 3, this was the result: https://i.imgur.com/jzjXobr.jpg (left to right: Rye, Whole Wheat, and AP)

Not too much growth on either the Rye or the AP, but the WW had significant expansion. So I refreshed the WW but left the other two until this morning. After another 12 hours (so 24 hours for Rye and AP, only 12 for WW), this morning I woke up to this: https://i.imgur.com/ujRZmZH.jpg

Still not huge change in the Rye, a little more growth in the AP, but a _lot_ of growth (with big bubbles) in the WW. Also notable: the WW had a yeasty, bread-like smell to it, and a good amount of tang. The AP was tangy as well, but I wasn't able to detect a yeasty smell, and the Rye had some light tang but not significant. I refreshed all 3 and we'll see how today goes, but I'm optimistic!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

It really helps seeing them :)

Let's focus on the ww since it's the one showing the most activity. The flour doesn't look broken down as it would if the acidity were too high, so that's good. And the yeasty scent of bread dough is what you want to smell, so that's great as well.

The bubble structure looks very coarse to me, and the top still has the uneven terrain it started with rather than a smooth dome. Is this flour a coarse grind --- does it feel grainy when you rub a pinch between your fingertips, or does it feel like a fine powder?

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

The flour I've been using for that one is King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat. Rubbing it between my fingertips it feels grainier than AP flour, and even slightly grainier than some non-organic WW flour I have on hand as well. But I'm not familiar enough with flours in general to know whether it's coarse grind, or just more coarse than what I'm comparing with.

As far as the top still having the uneven terrain, would that indicate that it hasn't completed its rise? If so, should I let it grow for longer between refreshment until it does peak, or keep with the twice-daily feeding and use the top as an indicator of strength?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

As coarse as those bubbles look -- and the top -- it doesn't appear to me that there's enough gluten development to rise much higher and smooth out. Finer flours do better in that regard. How about feeding that one a 50/50 mix ww with ap at the next feed and see how it shapes up? Then show me what it looks like tomorrow and we'll go from there. I'd stick with twice-daily for now unless it stops rising at any time.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

That makes sense! I'll try out a 50/50 mix tonight when I feed it again. I was planning to start to build it towards an 80/20 AP/WW mix, since that's makeup I was planning to use for the recipes I have, so that's moving in the right direction anyway. Thanks again for all your help over the last month!

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Last night, after feeding in the morning with WW before your comment, I still got the coarse bubbles, but the top was more domed / smooth than the previous iterations: https://i.imgur.com/fC7VYwm.jpg

I refreshed with 50/50 AP/WW as you suggested, and the result this morning was even more smooth: https://i.imgur.com/p7F82UU.jpg

I refreshed again with 50/50 AP/WW, so we'll see how it progresses. As an anecdote, while scooping out the discard, this mornings was _much_ more stringy and glutenous than I have seen previously, which agrees with your observation about the gluten development with only WW. Anything else I should consider doing? It seems like things are definitely very active and it's primarily about strengthening at this point.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Let's hope you continue to get more and more rise. After the first 50/50 feeding you were still 2/3 whole wheat, so the next couple of feeds will reduce that a little more. If it keeps rising reliably after feeding and getting tangy then go ahead and go to your 80/20 mix. If it gets sour you can start looking for a cooler place to keep it --- 70-75 or so. Not sure about increasing the feeding ratio yet, because I don't want to throw too much at until it gives a clear sign it's ready. I would like to see it form a smooth rounded dome as it rises to at least double before flattening out, getting bumpy or falling.

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

Hi Debra, it's been a busy couple of weeks with work, so I haven't had the time to update on how the starter is going. The 100% WW one is doing very well, rising to double in < 12 hours, even at a 1:3:3 feeding ratio. I'm experimenting with increasing that even a little more today, so we'll see how it goes.

However, when I try to split off some to add more AP flour, it doesn't seem to keep the rise. It's still active for a few days, with lots of bubbles of various sizes, but the rise gets less and less and eventually the bubbles seem to go away entirely. When I split one off, should I drop it back down to a 1:1:1 feeding ratio, since the yeast & bacteria will need to adjust to the new food source? So far I've been keeping it at the same ratio as the WW one that I'm seeding it with, but I'm not sure if that's the best approach. Or should I just be staying the course until it strengthens again with the new flour mixture?

Thanks again!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Chuck, glad to know it's still rising for you.

A few questions on the AP flour. Is there anything in the ingredient list, like malted barley flour, to provide enzyme activity to free up sugars for the microbes to ferment?  What is the consistency like after refreshing --- very loose and pourable or thick and paste-like? What is the brand and type?

Is the starter reaching its peak (done rising) and beginning to recede before you feed it again? If not, then you should drop back to a lower feed ratio. Is it still very warm? Is it very sour?

I hope you'll have time to try it out soon :)

chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

The AP flour is King Arthur Unbleached AP. The ingredients list is: Unbleached Hard Red Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour. For the consistency, do you mean immediately after refreshing, or after refreshing and fermenting? Immediately after, with the 50/50 AP / WW mix I've been doing, it's definitely thick and paste-like. After 12 hours it's definitely more liquid, but also very glutenous and stringy / sticky. It takes a fair amount to get it off of the spoon when I scoop it out.

I'm not sure if it's starting to fall after 12 hours, it hasn't been rising enough to really see streaks on the glass or anything to notice. That said, I suspect it's not, so I'll try out a lower feed ratio and see how it reacts. It has definitely stayed sour.

I'm thinking of trying to bake with the WW one that is rising well, my only concern is that the activity seems to die down when I incorporate different flours, so I'm worried it will react the same way to bread dough and just not rise. I'll give it a shot this weekend, however, and maybe be pleasantly surprised.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Okay, great, KA-AP works well for starters, and is capable of a high rise at 100% hydration. So this is more about what's going on in the culture, and may just be a case of what I call transition syndrome --- i.e., there's a change in maintenance (hydration/flour/seasons/neglect), be it intentional or otherwise, and things go south. Typical symptoms fall into 3 categories. You could see all three of these at the same time, just one, or a combination. It depends on which sub-populations are affected, and each starter is a little different.

Leavening - The starter loses vigor and stops rising partially or completely.

Rheological Changes - The starter becomes kind of gooey and/or clings tenaciously to its container. Dough made with it can become so slack and sticky that taffy comes to mind --- lots of extensibility, very little elasticity, and it takes more effort to get it off your hands.

Smell - A sulfurous odor sometimes accompanies rheological changes.

Changing a maintenance regimen will usually go fine, but once in a while it will upset the ecosystem enough to cause problems. It's a temporary state, and a couple weeks of consistent care generally completes the transition and things are fine again. A culture will adjust and settle into a new balance once the populations have sorted themselves out in the new normal. So as long as there is rise after each feeding, keep going. But if you're losing leavening completely, putting you back at square one, then a more gradual flour swap may be the way to go.

The one that is still rising well, is that the 100% WW or the 50/50 mix with AP?

 
chuckpierce's picture
chuckpierce

That makes sense, and I think I'm seeing a bit of both 1 & 2: It's not rising as much and it's a lot stickier. I haven't noticed any off odors, however.

I am a little concerned about it taking a couple of weeks to re-establish, only because everything I've done with this starter experiment seems to take 5-7x as long as it's "supposed" to :) But I'll stay the course and see how it adapts. Is it still recommended to feed twice a day until it establishes?

The one I have that's rising well is the 100% WW, the 50/50 mix is the one showing the transition problems.

Pages