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The first time I made a levain, I used all-purpose white flour. This took over a week-two weeks to become active. I recently started a levain using whole wheat flour, and found it to become active much faster from the more nutritious flour.

Now due to covid19 wiping all flour from the shelves I did not have enough to sustain my starter with the usual whole-wheat flour. Since it appeared to be stable and strong, I read that it is possible to use another flour for feedings though it may take time for the starter to acclimate. So, I used the only thing I had: white all-purpose. The starter did not acclimate, and I had to restart everything when I was able to get whole wheat flour.

My question:

If a levain can't use a different type of flour for nutrition and do so effectively, how is it working when used in an actual bread recipe?

Meaning, if it sits stagnant for days when fed all-purpose, why would I expect anything different from a recipe using all-purpose?

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    Sorry, can you clarify what your AP is made of if not wheat? – Spagirl Apr 22 at 14:47
  • @Spagirl white, bleached AP wheat flour (only endosperm used) vs whole wheat flour – JWiley Apr 22 at 14:51
  • I would say that for "actual" bread (I assume sold in bakeries or markets) they eirther use self rising flour without a surdough or a flour that is not AP bleached one. Or they add yeast. – SZCZERZO KŁY Apr 22 at 14:58
  • I've also read about the combination of instant yeast with the levain, but that's outside of this question. – JWiley Apr 22 at 15:00
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    I think you made a typo in the first paragraph where you wrote "started a levain using wheat flour" instead of "whole wheat flour" hence the confusion – Luciano Apr 23 at 14:22
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You can feed your starter with whatever flour you have, keeping in mind the following things:

1) If you want to change flour type you should start with an active, healthy culture (don't start with one that is dormant or low activity). I would feed it at room temperature using the normal flour for a few days and make sure it is robust and active. Your new flour will have different yeast and bacteria strains which will compete with those in your current starter, so expect there to be a period of lower activity while things adjust to your new food. If the starter is not healthy and active enough to begin you could end up with problems like you did.

2) You may need to feed it more often, and you should keep it at room temperature to give it the best chance of a healthy transition.

3) this will change the flavor profile of the bread. The extent to which this happens depends on the type of bread and method you're using.

4) some flours make more robust starters than others. Also, starters with some flours need to be fed more or less often than others. You need to judge the activity of the starter.

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  • More nutritious = whole wheat vs AP. Thanks for the answer, but it doesn't address the difference I'm seeing. Also from what I've read, flour type in your starter doesn't have to match your recipe flour. – JWiley Apr 23 at 12:45
  • @JWiley — you said "more nutritious yeast." I've edited your question to reflect what I think you mean. Also, there was a typo in my answer which made part of it confusing so I fixed that as well. Please let me know if this still doesn't answer your question. – myklbykl Apr 23 at 13:42
  • Thanks again, but I'm really looking for the "why" here. More specifically, why switching to AP from whole-wheat flour to feed my starter basically killed it(0 activity over multiple days, mold grew eventually), and hence why using it in an AP based recipe would have any effect. – JWiley Apr 23 at 23:10
  • @JWiley, OK. I added some info to my answer which hopefully answers your question. – myklbykl Apr 23 at 23:35
  • Thanks, that's useful. I followed the levain recipe to the letter, temperature and all, but I think it just wasn't ready for a full AP transition. My question could benefit from some more specificity around levains' use in recipes too. – JWiley Apr 25 at 22:16

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