Troubleshoots With Your Sourdough Starter And How to Fix It

The smell of freshly baked sourdough bread is something to look forward to. It’s tastier and has a finer texture compared to bread made with store-bought instant yeast

However, it’s not just something that artisan bakers can make in local bakeries. 

If you have a little time on your hands, you can make wonderfully crusty sourdough bread at home with the help of a simple sourdough starter. Plus, it comes in handy in situations when there is no yeast available in grocery stores, as we have witnessed in the past year.

A sourdough starter, also called wild yeast, is a live culture made of flour and water. It sounds simple, with only two ingredients, and yet, it doesn’t work every single time. No worries because it takes some technique and practice to get it right every time.

If you’re experiencing troubles with your sourdough starter and want to know how to fix it, continue reading this article. 

Why Won’t Your Sourdough Starter Rise?

If your sour sourdough starter isn’t rising, chances are, you’re doing something wrong. But don’t worry as you don’t need to throw it away just yet. 

If your sourdough culture won’t rise and you’ve been feeding it regularly, perhaps you aren’t giving it enough time to reproduce. If this is the case, you should leave it for a few days and wait until you see some activity. Only then should you continue feeding your starter. 

On the other hand, if your starter was bubbly at one point but then all of a sudden it stopped, you could not be feeding your starter enough.

However, there are a few other factors that may impact the rising of your sourdough starter: temperature and ingredients. It is important to understand these in order to know what has gone wrong with your sourdough starter and how to fix it.

It could be that the temperature is to low for the starter to rise or that you used too much or too little flour. It could really be anything. To understand this problem better and to troubleshoot the stater, read the rest of the article.

What is the Ideal Temperature

Temperature plays a crucial role in the development of your sourdough starter. If you keep your starter in the fridge, it will rise more slowly and require fewer feeding times. If you keep it at room temperature such as the kitchen counter, you may have to feed it a couple of times a day!

An ideal temperature is around 22 degrees Celsius where it’s warm enough for the starter to develop. However, if you live in a hot and humid climate, note that it may be much hotter than that so your starter might rise and develop much quicker and hence, require more feeding. 

If you’re making sourdough starter in the winter and your kitchen is not that warm, you can wrap the jar with the starter in a kitchen cloth to keep it warm.

What Ingredients Should You Use

When making a sourdough starter, you require two ingredients only: flour and water. Use equal parts of water and flour and mix it together. However, not all ingredients are equally efficient so you should pay attention to that. 

You should preferably use filtered or bottled water for the starter. Similarly, it is best if you use unbleached whole wheat flour or a mix of that and all-purpose flour. Most of us usually keep all-purpose flour at hand in our kitchens and it is perfectly fine to use it for the starter. However, in whole wheat flours, the bran and germs have not been stripped so there’s more “food” for the wild yeasts developing in the starter.

Using all-purpose flour only may mean that it will take a bit longer for your starter to develop well. You can also use rye flour if you have it at hand. 

How Much Should You Feed Your Starter

Mixing up the starter is the easy part but the feeding might be a little trickier as you need to be punctual and make sure the starter gets enough “food”. However, every baker has their own method for feeding the starter. It’s something you develop with time and as long as it works, it’s fine.

You should feed your starter 2 times a day, unless you keep it in the fridge. In that case, once a week is enough. Some bakers feed their starter once a day even if it is stored at room temperature. Like we said, everyone has a slightly different method.

 As far as quantities, you will need to use a kitchen scale or at least some measuring cups for this. But basically, you add the same quantities of water and flour while discarding part of the starter first. 

After you discard part of the starter (about 30g), you add another 30g of flour and 30g of water. The quantities depend on the initial weight of your starter so again, some sort of a measuring tool is necessary here.

What Type of Flour Should You Feed It

For the feeding, you should stick to the same type of flour you used initially to make the mixture. If you used all-purpose flour only or mixed with whole wheat flour, then continue to use that. If you used bread flour or rye flour to make the starter, use the same flour for the feeding. 

Can You Overfeed a Sourdough Starter

Yes, it is possible to overfeed the starter. Every time you feed the starter, the population of natural bacteria is reduced. If you feed the starter too often, the population of microorganisms will completely vanish until all that’s left is flour and water.

You should feed the starter only when it needs to be fed and that is after it peaks and then deflates. This is a sign that the starter needs to be fed.

Tip: Give your starter some time and observe what happens. When it’s all bubbly and well risen, it’s time to feed it again. If you don’t see any bubbles, perhaps your starter just needs more time or a warmer environment. 

What Can Happen if You Feed Your Starter Too Much

As explained above, one thing can happen if you feed your starter too much and that is killing all the natural bacteria. That means you’re back at the beginning with just a mixture of flour and water that is yet to develop into a starter. 

Overfed starter will not be very bubbly and will not rise much because you’ve been pouring too much water and flour so that the remaining bacteria didn’t have time to eat it.

What Can Happen if You Forget to Feed

If you forgot to feed your starter once or twice, it’s not the end of the world because you can recover it. If you only skipped one feeding time, your starter should still be fine so you should continue with the regular feeding routine.

If you skipped several feeding times and your starter stars smelling funny, you can rescue it by simply feeding it. Discard any hooch (liquid containing alcohol produced naturally by yeast present in sourdough starter), feed your starter and leave it to rest. Observe what happens and if bubbles start to form again, that means it’s recovering.

Tip: Set up an alarm to remind you to feed your starter on time.

What Is The Best Flour and Water Ratio

The best flour-water ratio is 1:1. When making the starter, as well as when feeding it, you should use equal parts of flour and water by weight. For every 1 gram of flour, you use 1 gram of water too.

How to Properly Store Your Sourdough Starter

It is best to store your sourdough starter in the fridge. Once the starter is active and bubbly (usually after several days), it’s ready to be transferred to the fridge where the cold temperature will slow down its activity.

You should cover the starter either with a lid or a plastic foil. Some bakers suggest partially covering the starter to allow for air circulation.

What Should You Do if You See Dark, Smelly Liquid on Your Starter

It is not uncommon for a dark, smelly liquid to appear on the surface of sourdough starter. This liquid is actually alcohol produced by the yeast. It is totaly natural so don’t worry. 

When you notice this dark liquid appearing on the surface, it is a sign that the starter is “hungry” and so you should pour off the smelly liquid and then feed it.

Your Sourdough Starter Smells Like Vomit

If you noticed your sourdough smells a little like vomit, do not worry because it is entirely normal, especially in the first several days. It means that bad bacteria has developed which causes the smell. 

In this case, you should discard the top part of the starter and feed it. It should kill the bad bacteria and fix your starter. 

What Should the Starter Smell Like?

In the process of making and maintaining sourdough starter, several distinctive smells may appear. Usually, a starter should smell like yeast or even a bit fruity. 

But depending on the stage it’s in, your starter may smell like cheese or vomit too. If you notice such an unpleasant smell, know that it’s time to feed the starter because bad bacteria have began to develop.

The smell of the starter also depends on what flour you use. Note that in the initial phase of starter, it may smell badly but that is only until the starter settles and gets strong.

What Should You Do if You See Mold Growing on Your Starter?

If blue or green mold starts appearing on the surface of your starter, it may be that you overfed the starter causing the yeast to weaken or the reason might be contamination. It could also be that mold developed because you live in a humid environment. 

Anyway, in this case, our advice is to start over and make a fresh batch of sourdough starter. 

You may also try to save the starter by discarding the moldy parts but be careful. 

You should only try to save this starter if the mold only appeared on the surface and hasn’t penetrated the mixture. After you remove the moldy parts, use a clean utensil and scoop out a little bit of the healthy starter that wasn’t affected by the mold. 

Put the clean starter in a new jar and add equal parts flour and water and leave it to rise. Continue to feed it regularly. 

Why Are There Fruit Flies on My Starter?

It is quite usual for fruit flies to appear on and around the starter, especially if you keep it in the kitchen near a fruit bowl or other food. 

If you noticed fruit flies in your starter, you have two options. You can either discard it or continue feeding the starter. If the starter seems fine (other than the flies)  and doesn’t have any weird odours, it’s perfectly fine so you can keep it. Just consider moving it to a place far from food sources. Also, keep the lid on.

If apart from the flies, you notice smelly odours or even mold, toss it and make a new batch.