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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


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


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Without the benefit of being able to observe it first-hand, it's impossible to say with any real certainty. In my experience, people new to sourdough have often misread what they were seeing and assigned it to the wrong cause, having latched onto one factor of the process as being more critical than it is. Or simply interpreting verbal descriptions differently when there is not yet a proper frame of reference to draw from. That is one of the many reasons you'll see different advice given to different people. A redirection of focus tailored to the individual --- not meant to be a one-size-fits-all.

The exact feeding ratio and increase in volume isn't as important as how those things are affecting your breads. Are your breads too high in acid? Too low/bland? Are you happy with the flavor and leavening potential (even if you don't yet have the skills for lofty, open-crumb loaves)? What is coming out of the oven?

Jupiter's picture

You're right, at 1:7:7 and then 1:9:9, 12 hour feeds, even though the starter seemed active it didn't raise a loaf at all. Multiple total failures. So I'm back to 1:1:1 twice a day and will do as you say and change based on the flavour and leavening of the final bread. Thank you!

Regarding the issue of actual rise level of the starter, I see people referring to a healthy active starter rising 2x or even 3x up the jar (assuming a straight sided jar of course), with the implication that we should all be "aiming" for a 3x rise. But would I be correct in thinking that at 100% hydration, the actual visual level of rise probably has more to do with the flour itself - i.e. protein content, the way it was milled, etc? And therefore not to worry too much about trying to achieve a 3x rise? Thanks :)

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Regarding the issue of actual rise level of the starter, I see people referring to a healthy active starter rising 2x or even 3x up the jar 

But those starters are being held at higher temperatures than yours. Yes, the rise is partly dependent on the gluten-forming protein content of the flour, but it's equally dependent on how fast CO2 is being generated as explained to Akito below. At 18C, growth and metabolism are slower. Yours may or may not ever reach those heights. And that's okay if it's working well by other measures. The rise height is just one thing we look at, but it's not necessarily the same for every starter. We tend to start there when assessing starters because it's the easiest and most obvious thing to see, measure and time. Everything else is more subjective, and that's where communication breaks down :)

Jupiter's picture

Thats great, thanks again!

Have you thought about writing an ebook? Trevor J Wilsons "Open Crumb Mastery" seems to be very popular in this community, i've just read it myself and it's fantastic. He wrote, edited and published it himself. You could write a sort of companion ebook about starter care and maintenance and make a few dollars from it, plus avoid having to repeat yourself so many times in this forum.

I've tried to read through as many of your posts here as possible but theres a lot of repetition because people ask similar questions, and the information is quite scattered. Trevor's book is very highly regarded with online bakers and i reckon you could make something just as informative and popular if you wanted to.

Anyway, just a thought!

AkitoTakagi's picture

Hi Debra,

I'm so glad I read about all this, I followed all your instruction and my whole wheat is doing great right now.

I'd like to ask for advices about my white starter. I created new white starter split from my whole wheat starter on 20'th Oct 2020 (ten days ago). At first it rose double and after second feed with all bread flour, it didn't rise (my feed ratio is 1.1.1 on 12 hours feeding cycle with 100%hydration) and I asked in the forum for help and I'm so grateful I got my answers and it brought my starter to life.

I was suggested to stir my white starter every 12 hours and see if it runny or not, and keep observing. And then it eventually rose and I fed it once with 1.1.1 for 24 hours, stirring every 12 hours and observing its consistency. It's suggested that this will increase the % of microorganisms in relation to the entire mass, thus making it stronger by carrying more yeast and lab in the next feeding. I also agreed about this, and I think this is right since I'll be diluting too much of my yeast and lab if it's still new starter, am I wrong about this?

It's been rising to double in about 12 hours, sometimes more. No more than double, I never get triple, but I stir every 12 hours and then it rises again to double, which is 4x rise if I sum the first initial rise and the second rise after stirring. Is there anything wrong? or just my starter is too young? or my bread flour is not good enough? (though some local famous baker also use this brand to feed theirs and it's fine)

People's starter seems to triple or more, and it triples in a very short amount of time (say in 4-5 hours it's already doubled or tripled) and what surprises me is they feed it higher ratio like at 1.5.5 and compared to mine it's pretty far away ,lol.


                                                    Yeast / Lift   <----->   Bacteria / Acidity 

Flour:                          100% White / low ash  <----->  100% Whole Grain / high ash

Temperature:                                        Cool  <----->  Warm

Feeding:                 Smaller / More Frequent  <----->  Larger / Less Frequent

This is very informative, thanks Debra. I also read about you in the forum if it need to be refreshed more often, dont you think it will be diluted too much? Because I also tried back then, I fed higher ratio and it slowed down drastically, so drastic, and when it comes to people's starter, theirs are so amazing, fed at high ratio and rises more than triple in short amount of time.

and about shifting the balance to favor the yeast, I'm so interested in this, since my other intention other than baking sourdough is baking other type of bread (kinda like asian japanese style, white loaf or sweet buns which is fluffy and very soft and it needs its max rise potential). I want to experiment to get the flavor and its health benefits.

Any advice to make my white starter get going and triple within short amount of time Debra? Or maybe I should wait until it's mature enough so it can do this? If time is the answer then I'll gladly wait and take care my starter. Or perhaps I need to throw some part whole wheat to my white starter? (but it scares me, because I had bad experiments with mixing flour already, my starter seems to hate changing flour, lol, and somehow I want pure white starter). 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Akito,

I will have to take this one piece at a time, because I don't have time to answer it all today.

At first it rose double and after second feed with all bread flour, it didn't rise

If it stops rising entirely, it means the yeast have stopped growing and you're back in phase 2 or 3 again. It can happen. Feed accordingly by dropping back to small (day 4) feeds with the new flour, no more than once daily until it starts rising again. If you want to go more than a day, that's generally okay when not rising, but feed at least every third day This allows the acidity to build up again. If you're not feeding you do need to stir every day to keep mold from growing.

I was suggested to stir my white starter every 12 hours and see if it runny or not, and keep observing. And then it eventually rose

That's fine. Runny is the sign that the pH is getting low enough to get yeast going again.

I fed it once with 1.1.1 for 24 hours, stirring every 12 hours and observing its consistency. It's suggested that this will increase the % of microorganisms in relation to the entire mass, thus making it stronger by carrying more yeast and lab in the next feeding.

Not necessarily, or at least not all the populations equally. It will definitely favor bacteria.

I'll be diluting too much of my yeast and lab if it's still new starter

Not necessarily. You'll only be diluting the yeast if they aren't reproducing, or you're feeding before the starter has peaked. But when they are healthy and vigorous, they repopulate pretty quickly. The way to get them their most healthy and vigorous is to keep them active.

How do you eat an elephant?
Getting back to the elephant
Factors affecting the length of the phases
Factors affecting the phases, cont.

It's been rising to double in about 12 hours, sometimes more. No more than double, I never get triple, but I stir every 12 hours and then it rises again to double, which is 4x rise if I sum the first initial rise and the second rise after stirring.

The rises aren't additive in that way. The height of the rise is about the rate of gas production (and gas-holding ability of the flour-water paste). As long as it is at the peak, that shows the rate of CO2 production is high enough to hold it there (and with gas bubbling through it, it is self-stirring). Faster gas and stronger paste mean higher rise, but the combination has a physical limit --- yours seems to be double volume in your current regimen. When the gas slows, or the paste breaks down and can't hold the gas, the starter starts receding. But gas is still being produced by the yeast. By stirring you're deflating the paste. But because gas is still being produced by the yeast, the paste will re-inflate. However, by 12 hours, the bacteria have ramped up and are growing faster than yeast. If you keep stirring without feeding, you give bacteria the leg up. It doesn't sound like that is what you are wanting. Too many bacteria will have a slowing effect on the yeast.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

my starter is too young? or my bread flour is not good enough? (though some local famous baker also use this brand to feed theirs and it's fine)

If the flour is known to give high rises at the same hydration and temperature that you are using, then your starter is probably not in the same balance, or the yeast not the same, or they're not in optimal shape. Starters are all a little different. You were stirring instead of feeding even after you got compatible yeast growing on the white flour, no? And if I remember right, your temperature is also high. Both things promote bacteria. As I talked about last time, too many bacteria will have a depressing effect on the yeast. Not feeding yeast frequently enough to keep them active will also lead to slower metabolism and gas production. And slow gas means less rise.

People's starter seems to triple or more, and it triples in a very short amount of time (say in 4-5 hours it's already doubled or tripled) and what surprises me is they feed it higher ratio like at 1.5.5 and compared to mine it's pretty far away.

Starters are all different.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

if it need to be refreshed more often, dont you think it will be diluted too much?

No, because you feed after it has peaked, showing that the yeast population has rebounded. If it has not started to recede slightly by feeding time, then don't give it so much. If it is still rising, skip a feeding, and then feed less the next time. Feed more if it has started falling well before feeding time.

Because I also tried back then, I fed higher ratio and it slowed down drastically, so drastic, and when it comes to people's starter, theirs are so amazing, fed at high ratio and rises more than triple in short amount of time.

You're in a different place now. Back then, switching flours seemed to make the yeast go to sleep. But yeast (possibly different ones) have emerged that are growing on the white flour you're now feeding it, while getting along with the other microorganisms that are growing alongside. Keeping them well-fed with the same flour they are clearly growing on will increase their vigor. Not feeding them enough may make them more sluggish.

Any advice to make my white starter get going and triple within short amount of time ...  Or perhaps I need to throw some part whole wheat to my white starter? ...  I want pure white starter. 

Don't let it collapse too much too often. And if you want a white starter, don't add whole wheat. Feed it adequately and consistently, and within a few weeks you'll find out what it's capable of and what it's character will be. But that may or may not look like someone else's.

My best,

AkitoTakagi's picture

Thank you so so much Debra... I'm so amazed, I read all of them from the top to bottom and all the comments. I am so fascinated with your work. It's becoming very clear to me now, though I still have some questions in some aspects.

Yes I really want to favor the yeast over the lab. As I mentioned with 1.1.1 feeding it usually takes so long to just double or barely double (in about 12 hours). I think it's becoming more slower than ever, last time it did not even reach double.


After reading your explanation (I think my mistake is I feed it before it has peaked), I finally decided to feed 20gr starter + 10gr water + 10gr flour. It started to become more active, rising faster, and kept doubling in 12 hours, last night it rose almost to 2.5x in 12 hours. I managed to get the temp roughly around 26 C.


I have been still using this 2.1.1 ratio for maybe 4 days until now, feeding it in 12 hours cycle, and not even once it has fallen / deflated. Maybe it'll be more vigorous as it matures and I'll increase the feeding ratio if it starts falling slightly as your instruction.


This is where I'm still a bit confused, why does it still holding its rise in 12 hours with only just 2.1.1 (considering that this is a very small ratio for feeding, isn't it?). Though it will fall if I smack on the bottom of my glass jar.


I understand all of your explanation in your research. But I have some difficulties understanding the relation of dilution factor and generations. I know how to calculate dilution factor, if I use 2:1:1 ratio, it means I have 2x dilution factor, and that equals to 1 generation. The higher number the generation means it needs more time in lag phase, am I correct?

But the question is, what does it mean to have higher number in generation? Does it affect the quality of the starter or maybe it's affecting the % of bugs population in the starter? Does having higher number in generation mean it's a greater starter?


*a little question again (>.<) sorry if it's too much but you're the only one I'm gonna follow now. It's about time to store my whole wheat starter in the fridge (I've been raising it in room temp for a couple weeks, and it's so stable and healthy). What do you say about the right time to store it? After I feed it, do I let it ferment until it peaks and then toss it in the fridge? Or do I feed it and let it ferment until it rises a bit, say about 1.3x rise and toss it in the fridge? I read too many version about how to store in fridge.

One guy says if you let it peaks and then store in fridge, it will be much faster to become more active once you take it out from fridge compared with ferment until 1.3x then store in fridge (it's said that using this 1.3x version, your starter will be less active when you take it out from the fridge)

Thank you so much as always Debra.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

 I really want to favor the yeast over the lab

I recommend reducing the hydration. Soft enough to knead easily, but firm enough to be non-sticky. Probably in the 50-60% hydration range, but you'll have to go by feel. It should rise to a nice smooth, rounded dome, and when it flattens off and becomes bumpy or uneven, its ready to use or to refresh.

if I use 2:1:1 ratio, it means I have 2x dilution factor, and that equals to 1 generation. The higher number the generation means it needs more time in lag phase, am I correct?

Yes, but it also generally means, faster metabolism and growth rate in the exponential phase. Faster growth and metabolism in yeast is how you get the higher rise.

What do you say about the right time to store it? 

This is where you need to let logic prevail. There isn't a singularly right way to prepare for storage, because your intentions need to factor into it. For example, if you want your starter ready to go from the fridge 2 or 3 days from now, you should probably let it peak before parking it in cold storage. If you don't intend to make bread for a month or more, then you would be better to put it in the fridge soon after feeding, and not let it burn through its food beforehand. If you like to bake every weekend, then something in between those two extremes might work better for you. If your plans change, and you decide to bake sooner than you prepared for, you can get it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temp to finish rising before refreshing again.

Happy baking :)

AkitoTakagi's picture

Hi Debra, thank you so much for everything, it's like a puzzle at first, there are some missing pieces, incorrect pattern and you complete them for me. Glad for everything, I really do thank you. Both whole wheat and white one are doing well. I really appreciate all your help and I can't say this enough but thank you!

Have a great days always!

Akito :)))

Jupiter's picture

Hi Debra, I just wanted to share a quick update with you, I was storing my starter at 18C and increasing dilution more and more to try and catch the peak. first was 1:5:5, 2x a day, then 1:7:7, then 1:9:9. You warned me off doing this but the starter was still rising vigorously... until it didn't. Not long after going to 1:9:9 it died completely. I've had it on life support in the BICU for the last week or so at 2:1:1 as per your suggestion but its too late. I guess I just diluted all the yeast out and there was none left... Long story short I should have listened to you!

So I've started a brand new starter, but also kept the existing one at 2:1:1, 1x a day (as if it were a brand new starter) and after about 5 days of nothing it's finally getting some bubbles. It will be very interesting to see the performance and flavour of this revived starter vs the new one, because the old one was still going sour without bubbles, so i think there was still bacteria activity even when there was no yeast.

You were right, I was wrong, and I humbly beg forgiveness from the sourdough gods!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Sometimes we have to learn the hard way ;)

This is one of those cases where communication breaks down, because we aren't assessing things like sourness and vigor from the same level of experience. But you'll get there if you keep at it.

Best wishes

Cliff's picture

ans still    this wealth of information   is  every bit as relevant as it was in '09.  I pass it along whenever any one asks about  beginning a culture.

Thanks Dr Wink.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

And thank you, Cliff. Glad it is still useful.

Happy Holidays :)

(No Dr in front of my name though)

Jupiter's picture

Hi Debra, can you please let us know your thoughts on freezing starter? I tried it myself with a ripe offshoot of my starter, and it seemed to completely kill it (thawed and fed right away, but no rise at all, even after a couple of feeds). Some other websites say you can freeze but it could take up to a week after thawing, with daily feeds, to "re awaken it". This to me seems like you're just spending a week creating a new starter from scratch. Would be intersted to know where you stand. Thanks!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Ice crystals are very damaging to cells, and home style frost-free freezers aren't the best for preserving microbial cultures. I tried freezing sourdough once and got the same result you did. I think if it takes more than 2 days to come back to life, there's a good chance you're just creating a new starter. 

Rob1's picture

Hello Debra

is there a way to easily identify the growth of LAB population (heterofermentative) vs. Yeast population?

Both LAB and Yeasts produces CO2 and live in low Ph environments but I suppose that the expansion of my sourdough starter is due to the CO2 produced by LAB instead of Yeasts..

Is there a "test" to verify if Saccaromyces or Candida are really growing?



Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Rob,

LAB don't typically provide a lot of expansion (except in the early stages of new starter creation when the pH is high), so if you're seeing 10% rise or more every time you feed it (more than 3 days in a row), you almost certainly have yeast. There are a lot of conditions that go along with that generalization of course --- hydration, enzyme activity and gluten quality of the flour, temperature, overall feeding regimen, etc. Whether in the initial stages of the starter creation process or firmly in the maintenance phase. Starters can appear sluggish or out of balance for any of a number of reasons.

Beyond its behavior, you can smell it and taste it to check for yeasty aroma or excessive sourness. Or look at it under a microscope if you know someone with access to one. If active yeast are present, they're pretty easy to spot. Bottom line is that the answer lies in the overall pattern of things and where you are in the process.

My best,

Rob1's picture

Hello Debra

thank you very much for the answer, you are precious.

I think I have completely understood the "dynamics" of my starter, thanks to your information in this blog!

I'm so grateful to you.




Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Thank you, and Happy New Year :)

Jupiter's picture

Hi Debra and others, I wanted to post an update here to show how amazing my starter is and to give a huge show of appreciation to Debra for her amazing work on this forum.
About a year ago, I started my starter using The Pineapple Method. It worked well, but I wanted to learn more, so I basically went through this entire thread (and the Part 1 thread) and tried to digest every piece of information that Debra had written down. I noted that she likes to feed her starters 3 times a day, but I wanted to see what I could do with 2x, to try and bring the time commitment a bit more under control.

Additionally, I turned one of our kitchen cabinets into a proofing box - I lined it with cheap insulation (I cut up a car windscreen sunshade), got a seedling mat and temperature controller from ebay (not expensive at all!), and set it to 25 degrees C. Here is the picture:

Nothing fancy, but it keeps it at 25 degrees all day and night. I picked 25 degrees based on the recommendations in this thread - maybe ideal would be a bit warmer at about 28 degrees, but since I planned to only feed 2x daily, I thought 25 might be a nice compromise. Also in the picture is a little battery powered fan but I wouldn't say this is necessary, I only use it because I already had it for the caravan fridge.

One of the real revelations for me from this thread has been the understanding that you don’t need to keep a large starter – when I feed, I take 3g of ripe starter, mix it with 9g water, then add 9g flour, for a ratio of 1:3:3. Funnily enough my wife got me a sourdough book for xmas and even this supposed expert was feeding his starter 100g each of flour and water each day. What a waste! I cannot recommend highly enough to get a set of .01g digital scales (ebay again, around $20) to keep a tiny starter that you can ramp up when needed for a dough. When using higher ratios like 1:3:3 or 1:4:4, even a tiny stater can be ramped up to a levain in a single feed, or 2 feeds if you’re making a lot of bread.

So my starter has been going great for months, and I was thinking about how so many “experts” online say that a starter should double in volume. Some even say triple! Can this be possible?? So after watching mine rise over the last few months, I decided to measure it. I made a levain for two loaves in the morning, and later that afternoon at around the 9 hour mark when it peaked I made some marks. Then after the next feed (and dough making!) I filled the glass with water to the marks to get a reasonably accurate measurement of volume of expansion. It was just over 4x! Yes that’s a FOUR!

Little bit hard to tell because the glass I used isn’t a perfect cylinder, so that’s why I used a water volume measurement to the various marks. 110ml is the initial mark, then the final mark is 445ml.

Of course it goes without saying, the bread this starter makes is fantastic. I never use more than 10% starter per loaf and my total ferment time which includes 4x stretch+folds plus bench time and shaping is only around 3 hours because its just so damn active. Maybe I should try using 5% starter to give the dough longer to mature… an experiment for another day!

The main issue I’m having now is that in the Aussie summer the temperature in the proof box regularly goes over 25 degrees and I don’t have a way to cool it. But I can work around that easily enough.

Apologies for the long post, I just really wanted to show the nice folks on this forum just how much Deb’s advice has enabled me to make a starter that quadruples and how easy it can be with so little waste. For my non-levain feeds I use tiny little 100ml drinking glasses and this makes 2x daily feeds a breeze in terms of washing and general maintenance.
Thank you so much Debra, if you wrote a book I’d buy it because as far as I’m concerned you are the leading sourdough starter expert on the internet right now!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Thanks Justin, that's quite an endorsement! Happy to hear you found the process that works best for you, and your starter looks healthy and happy. I am at the opposite end of the spectrum right now, being in winter. I'm currently working with a stiff starter at 60% hydration, kept at ambient temp which is 67-70F in the kitchen (19-21C) depending on time of day. And I'm getting about 4x expansion by keeping feeds very small (inoculation very large) --- 8:3:5 (starter:water:flour) 2x/day. Lots of flexibility in sourdough :)

Happy Baking!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I like your ingenuity in utilizing vertical space and a compartment you already have :) The B&T proofer eats up too much counter space, and its power cord is too short to set it up anywhere that's convenient for me.

Benito's picture

You’re so right on the B&T’s power cord Debra.  I have mine on the kitchen floor when it is in use, not the best location but the power cord really limits where you can place it.  I’d also love it to be taller so I could place a rack and have more bowls in there.


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Benny, I've had to put mine on the floor too. I have pulled the table over close enough to the wall outlet on occasion but have to turn the proofer sideways up to the edge and then there's still not enough space in between to get close and maneuver freely. I have also turned a paper waste basket upside down in front of an outlet in my dining room to lift it up a couple feet. Nothing is as good a solution as a longer cord would be though. It is just too restricting.

Benito's picture

Debra, that cable by the way is a standard cord.  You can easily order a long replacement from Amazon if you’d like to 😀

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I was wondering about that, thanks Benney!