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Question about different flour blends in your starter

sourtrout's picture

Question about different flour blends in your starter

So I'm STILL not having my starter do its job and double but I had a minor breakthrough the other day when I was fed up and I just fed it 1:1:1 but used organic whole grain rye flour. 

(I had been using organic AP for the feeds, ---this starter was created using 100% whole wheat for the first 2 feeds then switched to the AP.)


When I fed it with organic rye, it doubled easily, then again I fed it rye and again it doubled. I went back to white, and on the next post-feed it -almost- doubled, then I fed it with white again and its looking, so far, 2 hours in, like it isn't going to double----this is how its been for months now.


I'm thinking there's some nutrient or already existing population of yeast in the organic whole wheat rye I was using, and I'm thinking maybe I'll start doing a 50/50 blend of rye and AP and see if that does the trick.


I have two considerations:

1) does anyone here bake using a starter that has several flowers mixed in? What are the pros or cons of this? If I want to make a whole wheat loaf using white bread and whole wheat flour, is using a starter that is 50/50 rye/AP going to have any bad flavors? I know the answer is already no--when I used to bake when I had a strong starter (years ago) I'd add a handful of rye flour to enhance complexity in my white loaves, so if its getting rye character from the starter I figure I'm good to go--I just want to know other peoples experiences.


2) Up to this point, it is clear to me I've never manifested a 'strong' starter, they are always created then die slowly, or exist in a pitiful state of producing a few bubbles and maybe 1/4" of rise after a feed, no matter how much/little they're fed. I understand that after weeks, a newly created starter is more durable, strong and hearty. I'm wondering, its the O.C.D. in me to want what I can't have--if I nurse up a strong starter using the whole grain rye and feed it for 2-3 weeks, anyone think that at that point switching to white AP flour will result in the same pattern I've seen so far (which to reiterate, is a diminishing rise with each feed eventually ending up in no rise). Or maybe, just maybe, building up a starter using just rye for 2-3 weeks, with consistent full rises, after switching to AP it will flourish as it should?


Lastly, and this has been on my mind since the whole wheat rye moment, what in the flour i'm using is causing my starters to choke out and die? Is it that the yeast isn't able to consume something? Does the flour alter the PH too much? The AP I use will rise if I use commercial yeast, so it has nutrients..I'm always very confused and frustrated by this..



littlelisa's picture

Hi Sourtrout

I'm going to leave the mixing-flours question for someone else, but on question 2:
!could be wrong, but it sounds to me like you're overfeeding this thing, and rushing to feed it too often. How frequently are you feeding it? 

At each refreshment, we take a small bit of the yeast community and outnumber it with a whole lot of food and water. We need to leave it to exhaust that supply, so the jar is full of a hungry load of yeast, not just a tiny bit of yeast and all the food they haven't had a chance to eat yet. 

Rye starter does double faster. Liquid starter also doubles faster than stiff starter. It doesn't matter. You don't want to rush in there the second it starts growing. Leave it to do its thing for at least 8-12 hours. If not 24. If you rush in and feed again too fast, you are basically continuously diluting a diminishing population of yeast, and outnumbering it with food. That's why it would gradually come to a standstill. 


sourtrout's picture

Lisa, thank you but this simply is not the case. For example, I had a starter which was following my usual pattern of rising after each feed, maybe every 12 hours. This particular starter on its final feed rose just a tiny bit, it would have been a 10% rise after 12 hours. Because I was so fed up I just left it. It sat on my counter for 2 whole days AFTER this 12 hour interval where I was hoping for it to double. Even after 2 days + 12 hours after a proper 1:1:1 feed, it didn't rise any more. 

I'm wondering if its the flour I'm using--but that would be strange because at this point I've tried 3 separate white flours, all of them just fine in quality. 

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Wholegrain Rye flour at 100% hydration will be much thicker than AP flour at 100% hydration.

Try dropping the AP flour to 80% hydration and see what happens.

Truth Serum's picture
Truth Serum

I often use a mix of flours in my starter. It works fine.

Danni3ll3's picture

just like I did when I first started using sourdough. Now my starter gets fed whatever I have on hand and often that is simply AP flour. If I have left over whole grain flour or bran, that’s what it gets.

When I make a Levain for bread, then I use the bran I sifted from the whole grain flour I milled as well as some that sifted flour. If I am short for any reason, I add AP flour.

My starter almost doubles at the final build and will sit there for several hours. As long as it is full of bubbles, I use it even though technically, it hasn’t doubled. I still get great bread!

I found that adjusting my fermentation and proofing times had a much bigger effect on the results of my bread than making sure my starter doubled.  Don’t misinterpret this though, it is still crucial that your starter is lively and I try to feed mine at least a couple of times before building the final Levain. Oh, mine lives in the fridge. 

sourtrout's picture

I assure you, I'd bet all my savings that if I fed my 100% whole grain rye starter AP flour, it would appear dead and lifeless--that is to say zero rise--after the 4th feed. I did that 2 days ago, and I'm looking at the results as we speak. 


When I switch to AP flour, or any white flour so far, the starter rises less and less, no matter how many hours or DAYS its left to ferment, until it no longer rises.


Is it the flour? Is it the environment? I really don't know, but what a weird coincidence if every white flour I've used to this point couldn't inhabit sourdough. 


I'm not sure if I should just go with 100% rye, which isn't really what I want, or continue to try to get others to adapt to AP/Bread flour...

Danni3ll3's picture

is adaptable because it is a combo of 3 different starters one of which was fed AP flour. I never really thought about it’s origins before and how it would affect its performance. I just know that it’s happy being fed whatever. It does rise a lot less with bran or whole grain flour and I attribute that to the Levain being thicker when I use those ingredients. Thicker starters don’t rise quite as high as more liquid ones although really liquids ones may not rise at all, just produce a bunch of bubbles. 

Have you thought of making a starter from scratch out of your AP flour and then adding it to your rye starter for some versatility?

sourtrout's picture

That's my next try, to manifest a starter only using white flour, I'm also going to skip the pineapple juice, which I was stuck on for awhile.

Tonight I'm also going to split my 100% rye and try feeding the remaining discard a new brand of organic AP flour. I don't see how this could be, but maybe it really turns out all the white flours I've tried haven't been hospitable for sourdough. 

This has got me thinking a lot the last few days, because the truth is that now that I have a 100% whole rye starter that doubles, that's actually a breakthrough. It makes me wonder why?


Is there certain yeast strains that thrive on whole wheat rye, but can't function using AP wheat flour? Is my whole wheat rye so full of yeast in its dry state, that I'm not even feeding a starter but rather waking up dried yeast at each feed? 


If your suggestion is accurate, and I hope it is, that would suggest there's some yeast that thrive on white flour, and some thrive on whole wheat, but that doesn't mean they can multi-thrive..

Danni3ll3's picture

I do know that there are a multitude of different yeasts out there and maybe you are right that some prefer certain flours. Hopefully someone who is more versed than I in this, will be able to give you some definite answers. 

One thing though is your comment about not feeding a starter but just waking up dried yeast at each feed... I don’t think that is happening. You really do have a live colony of yeast you are feeding. 

It takes time for that colony to become mature and established. Now that has happened, your starter is now behaving in a predictable manner. 

As to your potential new AP starter, I really recommend doing the pineapple juice thing for the first two or 3 days. It drops the pH to a level more hospitable to the good bacteria and you often skip the stinky stage, at least that’s what happened when I did it. Then switch to plain filtered or bottled water for your feeds. Don’t use tap water unless you are on a well and have untreated water. Chlorine does a good job killing sourdough when it is first trying to get going. I make it a rule to use filtered water at all times when making sourdough bread. The littles beasties seem much happier and happy beasties equal amazing bread which equals happy baker! ?

sourtrout's picture

I use reverse osmosis water I buy at a grocery store, then I boil it because trying to create a starter has made me paranoid...


The thing about the pineapple juice is that I'm wondering (could be paranoia) if this is sort of like the yeasts we were just talking about--different yeasts that can consume different forms of sugar or environments they can exist in (AP flour vs. whole wheat flour). What if using pineapple juice supports certain yeasts which prey on the easy fructose of the pineapple, but the yeasts that would feed on the starchy sugars in the flour don't get a fair shot? That's why I'm skeptical of the pineapple method. I acknowledge I have no evidence, and not even a really valid opinion (even in my opinion!) on this matter.

I've created starters using the pineapple, and so far, up until 100% whole wheat rye, they've all disappointed me.

Danni3ll3's picture

Did you know this:

”World Health Organization Issues Reverse Osmosis Water Warning. Just about everyone knows that Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems excel at removing water impurities, but few are aware that they also remove the beneficial minerals. In fact, the reverse osmosis process removes 92-99% of beneficial calcium and magnesium.”

Healthy bacterial cultures need those minerals! Use the pineapple juice and use non-chlorinated water that still has its minerals. 

Danni3ll3's picture

of us have used the pineapple method and have it work the first time for your assumptions to be true. All the pineapple juice does is lower the pH so that the good bacteria establishes itself more quickly. You can skip it but be prepared for a stinky and longer process. Using the pineapple method, I baked bread with my starter when it was 10 days old. 

sourtrout's picture

I appreciate the info on the water, I know it reduces the minerals, but heres the thing--I also used bottled mineral water, actually bought 3 1gallon bottles when I was trying to create starters, I actually only switched to RO water a few days ago. So, I've tried bottled mineral water, the premium kind... Still no white starter.

Danni3ll3's picture

Are you talking nicely to it or cursing it out each morning? Cause it won’t grow in a negative atmosphere! ? Just sort of joking here but there has to be something happening that your starter isn’t happy with AP flour. Are you using Unbleached flour? What kind of temperature are you keeping it at? Sorry if you already posted those details but I can’t remember if you did. 

sourtrout's picture

I'm not using bleached flour. I've tried 2 (tonight makes 3) kinds, King Arthur AP, one called Life Essentials (some generic store brand) and tongiht I tried Bob's Red Mill Organic AP--it's been 'feeding' for one hour now on a 1:1:1 that started as my 100% rye starter. We'll see how it looks in a few hours (actually I know it WILL rise this time, maybe even double, its the feedings after this one that, if follows pattern, will rise less, less less less less less..)


I keep it at 'room temp' which is in the 70s-low 80s. I sleep with the AC on which keeps it in the mid 70s, lets say 74*F, wake up feed my starter no later than 8am, leave for work and turn A/C OFF. When I come home, any time between 530-6, my house is hot. Not too hot, maybe 80*F, so between 8-6, its maybe 77*F in my house, give or take. Once home I turn the AC on, and feed the starter between 8-9pm, depeneding on when I get to that point in my evening. 

So thats 12 hours give or take between feedings. Let me take a moment here and let you know that over many attempts now, I've tried 24 hour feed intervals, 18 hour feed intervals, all kinds, so please don't fixate on the 12 hours. On the semi-successful attempts, I've fed when it looked 'hungry.'


The thing is, now with the rye, it seems like that is doing fine, so the temp is working for it. I've tried warming the water, but usually use room temperature water. I also kept it in the microwave with the door cracked so the bulb warms it up; this made for a noticeably warmer environment but the results (not good) were the same.

I know sourdough isn't necessarily 'easy,' but it shouldn't be this hard. 

Danni3ll3's picture

Try 1:2:2 or even 1:3:3 for your subsequent feedings. Maybe the 1:1:1 isn’t holding it through for the 12 hours. 

And the room temp sounds fine to me. 

As well, you are right! Sourdough shouldn’t be hard. I have become quite lackadaisical with mine. It lives in the fridge where I occasionally take it out and add to it leftover Levain, bran or flour and just enough water to make it quite thick. If I remember, I let it grow a few hours on the counter before putting it back in the fridge. I do that every few weeks or even after a couple of months. 

When I want to make bread, I take a spoonful of it out and give it about the same amount of water and a couple of spoonfuls of flour or bran... whatever is handy. I want it fairly thick. I let it sit 8 to 12 hours and then add more flour and water. The consistency is that of thick pancake batter. If there is time, I’ll repeat but otherwise, I’ll build my final Levain.

There again, I don’t necessarily follow a strict pattern or rule. If I want it to rise overnight, I use cold water and a cool spot (last baking session, the Levain spent the night outside) or if I want a young Levain, I use warm water and a warm spot. I try not to throw out any Levain so I figure things out to make just a tad more than I need as some always stick to the walls of the container. I do weigh amounts for the last build but for waking up the starter, sometimes I weigh, often I don’t. It’s like a pet! Feed it enough but not too much and it will be fine!

I really hope that you can figure this out and that you can relax and enjoy making bread rather than stressing over the starter. (Although the next thing you will obsess over will be the oven spring and the openness of the crumb. Been there, done that, still doing it although I had a bit of a break through recently) ?

leslieruf's picture

Like Danni said, it shouldn’t be this hard.  my suggestion backs up Danni.  Do a 1:2:2 or even 1:3:3 then leave it without feeding until it has peaked.  Maybe just stir it if it doesn’t peak within 10-12 hours, maybe do a 50:50 rye:AP mix.  Try putting your starter somewhere a little cooler in case it is getting a bit too warm during the day. hope something you change will work. 


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

if you are feeling overload, scream!

ok, other ideas.... if temps drop to and below 74°F at night, I would skip the evening feeds, wait until morning when the temps will rise during the day... or this translates into...feed more when the culture will warm up and less flour  before it cools down.  (That's also the refrigerator concept only more extreme in the fridge.)

The bit about feeding 1:1:1 and always having less activity until it appears to have flat lined can mean the feeds are not in tune with the starter. Either too small or too big. Tasting the starter for blandness can help out a lot when deciding.  As yeast pop builds so will the demand for food and the strength of the byproducts will also increase as food is used up.  If the culture tastes bland, don't give it more food.  If you want to check for gas (that's really what we want) then put a sandwich bag over the starter, squeeze out the air and fix tightly with a rubber band.  The gas should fill the bag if activity is going on. 

Also a trick,  Mad at the starter?  Cover and stick some of that frustrating starter into the fridge for a few days or even a week.  Enjoy not thinking about it.  Then come back to it by letting isn't sit out at room temp (still covered) for a few hours.  Taste and then feed, taste again and see what happens?  Sometimes this is a great "kick in the pants" to encourage synchronization of the little beasties.


Redjacketswamp's picture


If you want a white starter you probably have 2 options:

  1. Begin a new starter 
  2. Selective breading program (to develop any yeasts you have that work with white flours)

Its a simple matter of:

  • Split the starter so you are running multiple versions.  
  • Select most vigorous to continue for the next feeding (discard the others)
  • Split that most vigorous starter into multiple versions.
  • Repeat the selection process each feeding

in a week or two you hopefully you should have something that works




sourtrout's picture

@ Redjacketswamp


It seems like you may be suggesting what I said is true: that certain yeast strains thrive in whole wheat starters while others thrive in white starters--but that doesn't mean they can carry over. Do you know this to be factual?



Redjacketswamp's picture

I don't have a reference for that fact- it is only an educated assumption.  

I was working from what we know about the different strains of yeasts, their behaviours, and personal experience to offer a workable solution for what you are observing. - and one I have used before.

We know there are different starters with different vigour and flavours.   It stands to reason that part of the variability can include responses to food types.  There are a number of variables that could be influencing your starter but the flour is an obvious place to start.  

(It could be that your particular flour batch has a residue that is negatively affecting the yeast)