Whole wheat vs. white?


 A majority of the sourdough recipes I stumble across deal with starters raised on white flour or a combo of white and rye flour. Call me a snob, but I try to avoid white breads when I can and prefer whole wheat. So, I've been raising my sourdough starter on whole wheat flour instead. He's been very healthy, grows well, and does a great job in baking. However, I'm wondering exactly how much of the chemistry is doing to be different by this flour substitution. In other words, is there going to be a noticeable difference in crumb, texture, or baking time based on the fact that there is no white flour in my dough? Is there any major difference in the gluten formation and content? Thanks!


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Muff 2010 August 14

I think you're on the right track, and if it's working just keep at it!

As for the chemistry, well, I shouldn't pretend to know what's going on in that incredibly complex, interwoven, and multi-interdependent world of cereal chemistry. But that's never stopped me before ...

To try to answer your questions directly, I doubt that the crumb, texture, or baking time will be affected by the fact that you are using whole wheat flour rather than white flour. Note that ww flour has everything in it that white flour has, plus a little. What the ww has that the white lacks is a modest percentage of the total amount of the flour, and none of it, so far I can imagine, would get in the way of what the sour needs to do. It might be worth upping the percentage of sour starter in your doughs if they aren't moving well, but it doesn't sound like that's your problem.

Good luck,


Jonny782 2010 September 2

As I understand it, white has more gluten does it not?  in which case the white flour improves the stretchiness and risability / lightness. 

a.j.m's picture
a.j.m 2010 December 30

 This is an older thread.. but.. I'll add my comment, that I have two starters in regular use, one fed exclusively on whole wheat and one on unbleached all-purpose plus say 20% of whole wheat.  (These are grocery-store flours, not organic, have vitamins and conditioners added.)  Both starters were captured wild.  They are wet (100%) starters.


The whole wheat one is very vigorous and easily doubles or better in a few hours.  Also it doubles in the fridge in about three days, despite the cold.  I make a 20% whole-wheat loaf, often with ground flax and honey, from this.


The all-purpose one is very sluggish and difficult to use. It never doubles while being rebuilt from the fridge: I'll rebuild it a couple of times from fridge-cold and it finally gets little bubbles and rises about 60% at most.  It gets pretty sour.  It will double the (white flour plain sourdough) bread I make with it ok, but it takes a long time (8 hours bulk + 8 hours final).


The improved structure of the white flour is certainly observable, compared to the whole wheat dough.  But its swings and roundabouts, because the white flour starter is so very unenthusiastic.  Sometimes I use rye flour with it and make a rye bread -- in this case it rises much better.  I believe that the problem is the grocery-store white flour, which (I suppose) is too sparse, or dry, or refined, or processed, or something, to appeal to my wild yeast culture. 


If you have a vigorous starter successfully fed mostly with white flour -- what exactly kind of flour do you use?  If commercially labeled, what ingredients are on the label?

A Winters 2017 June 8

Ancient thread, but my experience is the opposite!  I developed a starter (Hattie) with rye and whole wheat that has been exclusively fed freshly ground whole hard white wheat flour.  Bread rises well, but usually in the longer range of recipes.  The taste is always more sour and flavorful.  Some members of the family don't like sandwich bread with that much flavor.  

I never thought to try getting a different starter going to compare, but my daughter decided she wanted to make bread like her mom while she was away at college. While her roomies offered to give her a commercial yeast packet, she opted to get a starter going instead.  As she only had white flour, that's what she used.  At the end of the term, she brought home "Alfred" and the loaf of bread she made with it.  Her brother immediately said it tasted like store-brought, meaning it didn't have any of the characteristic flavor of sourdough.  I have made sandwich bread quite a few times now, using mainly Alfred.  The bread is always mild--so much so I like to throw in a bit of Hattie just for flavor.  The bread tends to rise more quickly too.  I now use Hattie exclusively for artisan-style breads and Alfred for the sandwich loaves.

Alfred was created and is maintained with unbleached white all-purpose flour from Lehi Roller Mills in Utah.  It is the Peacock label.  Sorry, I don't know how available this is outside Utah, but Lehi Roller Mills is a favorite around here.

george mavro 2020 May 3

Hi there,

I have the same situation, whole wheat starter extremely vigorous doubles in a couple hours, AP flour starter less vigorous but still works and that's what i've been using in my breads the thinking being that if i'm making a loaf that's 60% white AP the white starter will find its usual food and create better rise. I'm curious if i use the wheat starter on the same majority white dough, will it lag in rise bc im essentially suddenly changing it's good source? 

Jigsaw 2010 December 31
I use gp non bleached mostly. My starter will sometimes come close to doubling in the fridge, mostly not though. (at 35 degrees F). However once it has been taken out it reacts like a pissed off Bruce Banner. I only need to feed it twice before making dough; once the day it is removed and the morning of the next day, just enough to make enough to have some left over to store. If I want pancakes too I'll feed it three times. I don't keep my flour in the package so I'll post what the label says next time I buy some. -- James
joshuacronemeyer 2011 January 7

 I have a starter that started off on a very carefully controlled diet of organic whole wheat with a bit of organic rye, but in the past 6 months it has moved with me across continents, countries and states.  I have been feeding it whatever flour I could get my hands on: white, wholemeal, mixtures, organic and conventional.  I was surprised how it really seems to make no difference what I feed it.  It just goes and goes.  Of course the different flours have a big impact on the resulting bread, but as to the sourdough culture itself... it seems to perform well no matter what kind of flour I feed it.

a.j.m's picture
a.j.m 2011 January 7

By contrast, this starter I have here (the "white" one) will not rise by more than 1/2 when fed on equal weight of unbleached white flour and water.  It can more than double if I feed it at 2:1 flour:water, or if I make dough from it, but it takes a long time (24 hours altogether) and it gets too sour for me.


I've tried feeding this starter on, twice daily for two weeks, to see if it would behave better, but it never does.  It rises 50% in about six hours, and then falls, and is sour and goopy.


The starter's cousin is fed on whole wheat flour exclusively, and rises like gang-busters, and makes lovely bread.  

joshuacronemeyer 2011 January 8

 Maybe the white flour you are using isn't strong enough, not enough protein to promote gluten formation? What kind of white flour are you using?

a.j.m's picture
a.j.m 2011 January 8

Maybe.  I've used three different brands of "all-purpose flour" from local (Ontario) grocery stores.  All are "fortified", as I believe is required here for white flour, with ascorbic acid, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, and iron.  Two were "conditioned" with amylase and one of those also with azodicarbonamide, which is legal in Canada.  The third only has the vitamins.  None of them make made much difference to the observations, although the one with azo performed the worst.  (I cannot understand why that is allowed to be labeled "unbleached", but that's another story.)


It may be that I should use a "bread flour", though before I started sourdoughs (couple of years ago), and for the whole-wheat starter still, I use the above flours and it's fine.  

a.j.m's picture
a.j.m 2011 January 29

For anyone's interest: after the last post I started again from scratch, hoping to encourage a yeast that likes organic unbleached white wheat.   That would be 21 days ago, during which time I've fed at 100% hydration every 12 to 36 hours and used up about 1 Kg of flour.  Typical behaviour during that time has been 24 hours of rising to no more than 25%, followed by dropping back to zero with a pungent and familiar smell of acetone.  Also very very sour.



Wll, in the last 12 hours though it seems finally to have got on the ball: 70% rise in 24 hours, much less acetone smell, and today after feeding and a few hours' fermentation, a hopeful and intriguing fruity smell, more like my delicious whole-wheat starter (which does not like to be fed white flour).


Conclusion: patience is a virtue.


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