HOW TO FEED YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER
I’ve written a detailed post with pictures and clear instructions on creating a sourdough starter in 7 easy steps.
What kind of water should I use to feed my sourdough starter?
Regular drinking water from the tap is just fine. Fill up a large container and let it sit on the counter overnight before using it to allow any chlorine in your tap water to dissipate.
Should I cover my sourdough starter?
I like to keep mine covered loosely to keep anything from falling inside the jar and to keep the starter from drying out. The lid does not have to be airtight. I loosely place a glass lid on top, but it’s not sealed shut.
My sourdough starter gets a clear, thin liquid that smells like alcohol on top. Should I throw it out?
You can either discard this liquid (or “hooch,” as it’s commonly called) or stir it back into the culture. I typically stir it all in together. This can be a sign you’re not feeding your starter often enough.
REVIVING A HIBERNATING STARTER
A sourdough starter that has gone into hibernation or does not appear to have much life, may be able to be revived. A culture may look lifeless, but on the microscopic level there may be life, so the starter can be recovered with a little extra TLC.
Feeding a sourdough starter and maintaining it at home is easy and rewarding, no commercial yeast packets required. This post will show you how to feed a sourdough starter is and here is where to buy!
What kind of container should I use for my sourdough starter?
You can use just about anything. I like to use clear glass containers to observe the sides and bottom, and these Weck jars are my favorite. They have a glass lid that rests on top just in case too much pressure builds up inside the jar from fermentation. Canning glass jars are also a perfect choice.
In your starter guide, you say to use whole-grain rye flour. Can I use something else?
I call for whole-grain rye flour when creating a starter because the additional nutrients in rye flour help speed up the process. You can certainly use whole wheat flour or even white (sifted) flour if you’d like, but I find rye flour to be the most effective flour at the beginning. If you don’t have rye flour, then whole wheat works!
Can my sourdough starter be above (or below) 100% hydration?
Of course. When it’s significantly hot and dry here in the summer, and the flour seems to need more water, I’ll increase my hydration to 105% or higher as required. You can adjust the amount of water you use at each refreshment so the mixture displays the desired viscosity. As the humidity level in your environment changes, adjust the hydration up and down by 5% to compensate.
How can I adjust my sourdough starter feeding schedule around my work schedule?
For a very in-depth discussion on how to maintain your starter in the fridge during the week and use it to bake on the weekend, head over to my Weekend Baking Schedule guide! Additionally, see the previous question for what “tools” you can utilize to speed up or slow down your starter’s fermentation rate.
Stiff sourdough levain (or starter, they’re the same thing!).
My starter doesn’t seem as strong as yours (fewer bubbles, slow rise, etc. What’s wrong?
If you’ve just created your starter, give it time to ripen. With consistent, predictable refreshments, you will “train” your starter into strength, and it will display the same signs of strong fermentation each day. Temperature is also incredibly important here: keeping your starter relatively warm (I prefer 76-80°F/24-26°C) will encourage increased activity.
When is my starter strong enough and ready to bake with?
Once you see predictable signs of fermentation (rise, bubbles, a transformation in aroma from sweet to sour, etc.) each day, it should be strong enough for baking. When creating a starter from scratch, you might see a spur of activity at the beginning of the process, but you want consistent signs of fermentation day after day before it’s strong enough to use for leavening. Typically, when creating a new starter, this is after 5-8 days.
I hate throwing away excess sourdough starter after feeding. What can I do with the discard?
Cook or bake with it! You can use leftover starter into banana bread, waffles, pancakes, tea cakes, muffins, pizza, cookies, and so on. If you want to use less flour overall, check out my guide to maintaining a smaller sourdough starter. Aside from using sourdough discard in other foods, I will almost always compost any leftovers, only using the trash as a last resort.
Storing a sourdough starter for the long term.
How often do you change or clean your sourdough starter container?
Use the same jar daily and keep it as clean as possible. During a feeding, discard part of your starter per usual and then scrape down as much residual starter as possible, reincorporating it back into the mixture. Then wipe the top and sides of the jar with a towel to remove any remaining liquid. If you can get the top half reasonably clean, that’s good enough. The bottom half of the jar will most likely be covered when your starter rises during the day, anyway.
Why doesn’t the sourdough starter float test work?
The float test is a good general indicator for when a starter or levain has significant fermentation, but I find it is not 100% reliable in testing for when a starter is ready for use. It can lead to false positives, but, as I discuss below, when your starter makeup is not with a majority of white flour at a moderate to high hydration, it will also rarely float, even if your starter is ripe. Instead of using the float test, I look for signs of strong fermentation and ripeness.
Do I have to make a levain or can I use part of my sourdough starter?
It’s always an option to use your starter instead of making a levain. But, for most recipes, I prefer making a levain so I can control the flour going into the levain, the ripening timeline, and when I use it to mix into a dough—all of this without having to adjust my continually maintained sourdough starter.
For example, I might make a levain with all white flour and use it before being overly ripe for my cinnamon rolls. This will help to ensure the end rolls will not have an overly sour flavor.
Why doesn’t the “float test” ever work with my sourdough starter?
When the hydration of your starter or levain is sufficiently low, the “float test”1 becomes less accurate and, in most cases, doesn’t ever pass.
Instead of using the float test, observe the actual culture and its progress. You want to see a slightly domed top to the levain with lots and lots of bubbles at the sides (see the picture before this section). You’ll see and smell significant fermentative activity if you peel back the top. These are signs that your levain is ripe enough to use in your final dough mix.
I’ve been following your starter creation guide, but nothing is happening. What’s wrong?
Halfway through refreshment interval
How to tell when your sourdough starter is ready to bake with. What does it look like and how to know when you can officially start making bread.
Have you been working on getting your sourdough starter ready to bake bread with? Are you anxious to make your first loaf?
One of the biggest questions when making your own sourdough bread is knowing when you can officially start making bread.
Before you dive in and start, here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure that your starter is ready to be turned into delicious sourdough bread.
I think my sourdough starter died. Is it dead?
It’s normal to see a lapse of activity at some point when first creating a sourdough starter—this is normal. The initial proliferation of action at the beginning of creating a starter is from a different type of bacteria in your mixture that will eventually be replaced by the kind we are looking for (lactic acid bacteria). Keep feeding, and discarding, as I outline in my creation guide. Eventually, your mixture will slowly become more and more acidic (low pH), killing off other bacteria and allowing the beneficial yeasts and bacteria we are looking for to take hold.
Sourdough is a living thing, reacting to changes in its environment and sometimes you’re going to need to troubleshoot sourdough. Usually, minor adjustments to feeding frequency or temperature will keep a sourdough starter healthy and active. However, there are a few situations that might require some extra care.
FEED ROOM TEMPERATURE SOURDOUGH STARTER DAILY
If you bake frequently, maintain your sourdough starter at room temperature and feed 2-3 times daily, as described above. Most starters generally require feeding every 8-12 hours, depending on the temperature in the culturing area.
Keep in mind that some starters are naturally fast proofers, like our Rye Sourdough Starter, so would require more frequent feedings.
When maintained at room temperature and fed daily, your sourdough starter will always be ready to use for baking. Use the starter to prepare bread dough within 3-4 hours of being fed, to ensure the starter is at its peak of activity.
3 Ways to Tell a Sourdough Starter is Active
There are three things you can look for to tell if your starter is active and ready to bake with.
Is It Rising?
Is your sourdough starter rising at all?
One of the biggest clues your starter is ready to bake with is how much it is rising.
Typically it needs to double in size.
How long that takes is based on lot’s of different factors but can be anywhere from 6-12 hours.
Once your starter is double or tripling in size after a feeding is the best way to tell its ready to bake bread.
The photo below shows what a starter looks like before a feeding and then again 6 hours later. If your starter is not doing this, it is not ready.
The temperature and atmosphere can make a difference as well.
In the summer my starter is ready in 6 hours, but in the winter months it can take 8-10.
TROUBLESHOOTING A SLUGGISH STARTER
A healthy sourdough starter should be bubbly and active. The organisms in the sourdough culture are feeding off the flour and creating gases (bubbles). After feeding, bubbling action should be visible within 4 to 12 hours.
If a sourdough starter is not bubbly, it may require more frequent feedings. If feeding every 12 hours, increase to feeding every 8-10 hours, to make sure the culture is getting enough food.
Check the temperature in the culturing area. Sourdough likes a temperature between 70°F and 85ºF, around the clock. To make adjustments in cold or warm weather, try the tips in these articles:
How Old Is the Starter?
Sourdough starters can really take some time to take off. But the time is worth it!
Once your starter is alive and active, it can literally last a lifetime.
Learn how to properly care for and feed your starter so it can last forever.
If your starter is more than a week old it can safely be added to other baked goods when accompanied with things like baking powder or baking soda.
The first 7 days, the discard needs to be thrown out, but after that, it can be added to all kinds of recipes.
Get my list of sourdough discard recipes and start putting it to work!
If your starter is less than 10 days old, there is a good chance it’s not yet ready for bread. Keep discarding and feeding on a regular schedule.
If you have been at it for 3-4 weeks and still not seeing any sign of rising, there are some things you can do. Get all my tips to troubleshoot your sourdough starter.
Can I refrigerate my sourdough starter?
I have successfully refrigerated my starter many times, typically when I’m going out of town on vacation for a few weeks or won’t be baking for a while (rare!). To prepare for the fridge, I will wait until the starter needs a refreshment, discard all but 20g of ripe starter, and then refresh it with 100g flour and 80g water (I like the culture to be a bit on the stiff/dry side). After refreshing, let it sit on the counter for 1 hour, then toss it into the fridge. I will usually use the same Weck jars for this, and the cover will be loosely placed on top so nothing can fall in, but excess gasses can escape.
When I want to bake again, I will remove my starter from the fridge, let it ferment on the counter for a few hours, and then feed it as I would normally. I will do this a few days before I plan to bake to get the culture back up to strength.
See my post on storing a sourdough starter for tips on keeping it in the fridge or other methods for longer periods.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN FEEDING A SOURDOUGH STARTER
- If you have purchased one of our many dehydrated sourdough cultures for sale, please visit our video on activating your sourdough starter or consult the instructions included with your starter.
- Once your starter is activated, it requires regular sourdough starter feeding to keep it healthy. This video and article will tell you how!
Our Sourdough Guide book provides the steps and ratios you need to start your sourdough starter. Start learning how to feed the Sourdough starter, care for it, and use it to make delicious sourdough bread. Click to download our Sourdough Guide book today!
Your sourdough starter is a mixture of yeasts and suitable bacteria that co-exist to leaven and flavor bread dough. I’ve been maintaining my starter for over ten years now, regularly feeding it twice a day, every day, and the process is so familiar I don’t even think about it anymore. But it’s nothing mystical or magical, my sourdough starter is a culture I give nourishment (flour and water), and in return, it happily does work for me without even realizing it. But many uncertainties can arise along with its maintenance, and this frequently asked sourdough starter questions post is here to help.
I’ve been compiling this list of starter questions for almost as long as this website has been around. Each time I receive an email or comment asking a question about what I do in a particular situation, I’ve saved it and added the most commonly asked questions below.
If you’ve arrived here before you have a starter, it might be worthwhile to have a read-through to internalize some of these questions and answers. Then head to my guide to creating a sourdough starter and get started.
How many times should I feed my sourdough starter each day?
This question is very temperature and flour-dependent. If the ambient temperature in your kitchen is on the warmer side, 75-80°F (23-26°C), then you’ll find your starter ferments much faster than if it were cooler (less than 75°F/23°C). Likewise, you’ll see higher fermentation rates if you use a large percentage of whole grains in your refreshment.
I prefer to feed my starter twice daily to keep it healthy and ready to bake at any moment. But then again, I bake very, very frequently. If temperatures are not overly high, I recommend a single daily feeding. If your starter falls significantly in its jar, looks broken down and loose, and smells like harsh vinegar or paint, try using a smaller percentage of ripe starter at each feeding. You can also find a cooler spot in your kitchen or use colder water to feed.
Why does my sourdough starter take a long time to ripen?
Several factors play into the fermentation vigor of your starter, and the most important one is temperature. Try to find a warm spot in your kitchen to keep your starter, or use more lukewarm water to feed it. Shoot for 76°F – 80°F (24-26°C) ambient temperature for increased fermentation activity. Maintaining a stable temperature is important, and if there’s one thing I like to focus on with my starter, it’s temperature.
Flour selection also plays into the fermentation activity; the more whole grains you use to refresh, the higher the fermentation rate in your culture.
And, of course, the amount of ripe starter you carry over from feeding to feeding plays a significant role. The larger the percentage, the faster your newly refreshed culture will ripen.
All of these variables can be tweaked to speed up, or slow down, the time it takes for your starter to ripen and need a refreshment. My preferred method for changing my starter’s ripening timeline is to adjust the amount of starter I leave in the jar for each refreshment (the carryover). If it’s summertime, I will usually carry over a smaller percentage of ripe starter (15% or so) at each refreshment to slow things down so I can maintain my twice-a-day refreshment schedule. If it’s winter and temperatures are lower, I’ll carry over an increased amount of ripe starter (25% or so) into my next refreshment.
FEED REFRIGERATED SOURDOUGH STARTER ON A WEEKLY BASIS
If you do not bake often, maybe only weekly or monthly, it may be more practical to keep your sourdough starter in the refrigerator, in a tightly closed container, and feed it once per week.
- Remove at least ¼ cup starter from refrigerator. Discard the remaining starter.
- Feed starter with flour and water: If using a scale to measure ingredients, combine equal amounts by weight of starter, water, and flour. For instance, 50 grams starter, 50 grams water, 50 grams flour. If using measuring cups, combine 1 part starter, 1 part water, and a little less than 2 parts flour. For instance, ¼ cup starter,¼ cup water, slightly less than ½ cup flour.
- Cover; let the starter sit for 1-2 hours at room temperature until light and bubbly.
- Put a tight lid on the jar and return to the refrigerator.
- Repeat weekly even when not baking with your sourdough culture.
Preparing Refrigerated Sourdough Starter for Baking
If you’re ready to start making your own bread, Cultures For Health has the best options for all of your sourdough starter needs. From different types of sourdough starters to all of the equipment you need, we’ve got it all for you. You may also try our Sourdough Cultures for Sale.
You need a sourdough starter to make homemade sourdough bread. But there is one keyword in every recipe: active sourdough starter. It’s true that sourdough starters can become inactive or “dead,” and knowing when your sourdough starter is past its prime is critical.
You can tell your sourdough is bread if it does not respond to feeding, i.e., there is no bubbling when you add flour and lukewarm water to the mix. It may also give off a pungent, unpleasant odor or become discolored with mold.
A sourdough starter that has been in temps above 140F is irreversibly dead.
Hello, everyone! My name is Michelle, and my mom is a big fan of sourdough bread. She uses it for everything, from grilled cheese sandwiches to her handy morning breakfast toast. Her love of sourdough pushed me to start surprising her with homemade loaves, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
Let’s discuss how to know whether or not your sourdough starter is dead (and what to do about it).
- 4 Ways to Know if Your Sourdough Starter is Dead
- Final Words
Using a “dead” sourdough starter is going to render disappointing results. That said, it’s imperative to know when your sourdough starter is past its prime. The good news is that there are four primary indicators of inactive sourdough, so you don’t have to fear a saddening loaf of bread.
Unresponsive to Feedings
Sourdough starters need to be fed regularly in order to stay alive (typically every 12 hours). When fed, the starter will cause fermentation activity, which appears like bubbling and rising.
Go ahead and feed your sourdough starter as usual. If nothing happens, it might be dead.
But don’t panic just yet! You can possibly fix your sourdough starter. Try feeding your starter and placing it in a warmer environment. Continue to feed it regularly for the next few days. If it starts to react, it was simply placed in too cold of an environment.
If you still notice zero activity, your sourdough starter is officially “dead.” Time to start from scratch!
Want an easier way to check if your sourdough starter is active or not? Give it a whiff. A healthy sourdough starter should have a strong yet pleasant smell. There will likely be hints of alcohol and vinegar in the mix.
If you take the smell of your sourdough starter and need to gasp for air, it’s gone bad. A dying sourdough starter will give off a highly unpleasant aroma. Some say it resembles that of old cheese or vomit.
However, don’t let the smell fool you completely. This sourdough starter can still be saved. In this case, you may have placed it in too hot of an environment, causing the growth of unwanted bacteria.
To fix, feed your sourdough starter as usual. But change the location, preferably a spot with temperatures around 85F. Give it a few days and check the smell once more. Still impossibly stinky? Start from scratch!
Another significant indicator of a dead sourdough starter is the presence of mold. It may or may not be the typical “fuzzy” mold you’d find on bread, but it will definitely be colorful – and not in a good way!
If you find any interesting colors in your sourdough starter – for example, pink, green, or black – it’s time to toss it. While you can try to bring it back to life by scraping off the moldy portions and adding fresh flour and water, I wouldn’t risk it.
Yeast dies in temperatures above 140F. If your sourdough starter has ever reached this temperature (or higher), you will not be able to fix it. Toss the batch and start anew, but be careful to avoid these incredibly high temps!
A sourdough starter is essential to making homemade sourdough bread. However, it’s incredibly simple to “kill” a sourdough starter, and once dead, you will have to start over and pray that the next batch turns out better.
So, how do you know if the sourdough starter is dead? Read on to find out.
- 5 Signs That Your Sourdough Starter Is Dead
- Can You Save A Dead Sourdough Starter?
- How To Properly Store Sourdough Starter
- Will Tap Water Kill My Starter?
- Can You Take A Break From A Sourdough Starter?
- Final Thoughts
5 Signs That Your Sourdough Starter Is Dead
It Does Not Respond To Regular Feedings
The best way to tell if your sourdough starter is dead is if it does not respond to regular feedings. When you add fresh flour and water to the mix, you should see it come back to life through bubbling.
It Has An Odd Odor
A sourdough starter should have a slightly acidic, pleasant smell.
“If you really want to make a friend, go round someone’s house with a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread!”
– Chris Geiger, Author
On the other hand, if it has an incredibly pungent smell, it’s a clear indication that it has gone bad.
Check out the possible reasons why your sourdough starter smells like nail polish remover here.
There Is Discoloration
A sourdough starter should have the color of porridge.
If you see unusual colors, a lot of unwanted bacteria have grown on its surface. Find out how you can tell if the almond dark expires here.
There Are Visible Molds
Don’t consume sourdough starter with visible molds on it.
You can try to remedy it, but the presence of molds means a lot of bad bacteria, and it’s best to chuck everything at this point.
It Was Exposed To High Heat
A sourdough starter is temperature sensitive. If it has been exposed to a warmer environment beyond 120°F (around 49°C), you could safely assume it is ruined.
But what to do if your sourdough is not holding shape?
Can You Save A Dead Sourdough Starter?
You can try a few tricks to bring your sourdough starter back to life, but reviving it can always be a hit or miss.
The first step is making sure it’s actually dead. You can start by incorporating flour and lukewarm water to see if it responds, and if it does, it might be worth saving.
Find out if you can use bleached flour for sourdough starters here.
How To Properly Store Sourdough Starter
It’s important to know how to store a sourdough starter properly. We recommend glass or plastic containers because the fermentation activity will corrode a metal bowl.
It can be left on the kitchen counter or inside the refrigerator, depending on the frequency of use. If you bake sourdough bread a few times a week, leaving it on the kitchen counter away from heat and direct sunlight is okay.
If you bake more infrequently, it will be better suited inside the refrigerator. Just remember to feed your starter every two weeks to keep it active.
Read: 5 Helpful Ways To Keep Bread From Molding So Fast
Will Tap Water Kill My Starter?
It depends. Some areas have heavily chlorinated tap water, which is unsuitable to use. Leave the tap water inside a jug for a while for the chlorine to evaporate.
On the other hand, you can safely use drinkable tap water.
Can You Take A Break From A Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough starters must be fed daily at room temperature and once a week if left inside the refrigerator.
However, you can take a break from it. Once it has been established (about ten days after you first created it), you can move it inside the fridge after a particularly large feeding, and it will keep for two weeks without feeding.
You will need to feed it for a couple of days before you add it to your bread dough.
How long until the sourdough starter dies?
How do I know if my sourdough starter is not working?
An active sourdough starter should double its growth within four hours of feeding. You can also do the float test, wherein you fill a cup with room temperature water and add a tablespoon of starter. If it floats, it’s ready to go.
Check out these ways in reheating your sourdough bread here.
How long can sourdough starters go without being fed?
It depends on how old the sourdough starter is. If it’s new (less than a month old), it requires daily feeding and wouldn’t survive if it had not been fed for over 24 hours.
However, if you are dealing with a mature starter (around three months old), it can be left unfed for three days at room temperature.
But how long does it take to proof sourdough at room temperature?
How do I know if my sourdough starter is ready?
A good way to know if the sourdough starter has died is its response to feedings. If it does not secrete bubbles and gas, there is a huge chance that it’s gone inactive.
A healthy sourdough starter should smell pleasantly acidic, courtesy of good bacteria. If its scent has you gasping for breath, it has gone bad.
It should also have a lumpy appearance and the color of porridge. A dead sourdough starter will show mold and unusual colors.
Keep the starter alive through daily feedings and storing it in the best environment.
You’ve done it! You’ve created a living batter filled with wild yeast. Now let’s see how to feed & maintain your sourdough starter.
If you haven’t made your starter yet, visit this post to see how to make a sourdough starter from scratch.
Right off the bat I’m going to say that there are a million ways to feed, maintain and use a sourdough starter. In fact, after you’re done reading this post, you should read through my instructions for How to keep a small sourdough starter to see of that method would work better for you.
I am going to outline for you how I maintain my sourdough starters. I tend to have a fairly relaxed attitude towards the process. It works for me and I think my approach can work for you if you don’t bake bread every single day (and even if you do).
But first I’m going to give you all the how’s and why’s and try to answer any questions you might have.
Tips for using and maintaining your sourdough starter
- Since I don’t bake every day, I keep my starters (yes, I have 3) in the refrigerator.
- If I’m making a 2-day recipe (most of mine are) I take the starter out of the refrigerator early in the morning of the day I’m making the dough. If the starter is inactive I feed it right away and it should be ready by early afternoon.
- If I’m making a 1-day recipe, I’ll take the starter out the night before and feed it if it’s inactive. It should be ready to use first thing in the morning.
- When the starter is cold from the refrigerator, I feed the starter using fairly warm water, warmer than body temp. The warm water will jump-start the cold starter.
- If the starter has been fed within the last 2-3 days, and has been refrigerated, you can probably go ahead and use it without feeding.
- If you’re not sure if the starter is active, drop a dollop into a bowl of water to see if it floats. If it does, it’s ready for baking.
- I write all my sourdough recipes to use 8 oz of active starter. After using 8 oz of starter in the recipe, I’m left with 4 oz of starter, exactly the right amount for feeding.
A dollop of the starter should float when it’s ready and active.
Schedule for feeding your sourdough starter
- I take my starter out of the refrigerator once a week for feeding, even if I’m not baking. Although, truth be told, I often go longer than a week between feedings and I haven’t killed it yet.
- Did you know you can dry your sourdough starter? Dried starter can be kept indefinitely.
- After you’ve removed the portion of starter for baking, feed the starter again and leave it at room temperature for 3-4 hours before putting it back in the refrigerator.
To feed your sourdough starter, weigh out 4 oz each of starter, water and flour.
FAQs about feeding & maintaining Sourdough Starter
What if I forget to feed my starter for several weeks?
Honestly, I’ve gone longer than a month without feeding my starter and I haven’t killed it yet. Give it a feeding and see if it wakes up. If it’s alive, keep feeding it until it is reliably doubling in size within 4-5 hours.
Can I use a neglected starter as soon as it’s been fed?
If you go more than about 2 weeks between feedings, you might want to give the starter 2-3 feedings before using. A starter that hasn’t been fed for weeks will be quite sluggish and your dough won’t be as lively.
Can I make dough with cold starter straight from the refrigerator?
If your starter was fed a day or two before, it’s possible to use the starter straight from the refrigerator. Give it a float test to make sure it’s active. The dough may take a little longer to ferment since the temperature of the dough will be colder.
What is that gray liquid on top of my starter, has it died?
It’s called “hooch” and don’t worry, your starter is still alive. Just stir that water back into the starter before feeding. Again, you might need 2 feedings to completely revive the starter since it’s been quite dormant.
Do I have to weigh the ingredients?
To maintain your starter at 100% hydration it is best and most accurate to weigh your ingredients. If you’re just a little bit off every time you feed, eventually, your starter could be thrown out of balance.
What if a recipe calls for less than 8 oz of starter?
No problem, use the amount of starter called for in the recipe. Then weigh out 4 oz of the remaining starter for feeding and discard the rest.
Do I have to discard starter?
If you continually feed the starter without discarding, you’ll end up drowning in starter.
If I go on vacation, do I have to take the starter with me?
Unless you’re going away for an extended time, your starter should be just fine for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. If you’ll be gone really long-term, put the starter into the freezer or dry it. Frozen or dried starter will need several feedings to rejuvenate.
Since you’ve got your starter fed, peruse the entire list of My Best Sourdough Recipes. Have fun!
If you appreciate this detailed information, I’d really appreciate a 5-star review.
- unfed sourdough starter
- all purpose flour
- Weigh 4 oz of your unfed starter into a clean container. Discard the extra starter (see note)4 oz unfed sourdough starter
- Add the flour and water and mix until combined. Set aside at room temperature.4 oz all purpose flour, 4 oz water
- The starter is ready to use when it has doubled in volume and a small spoonful floats when dropped into a bowl of water. This generally takes 4-5 hours but the time can vary based on dough temperature and room temperature.
- If you do not plan to bake with the starter on the day it is fed, refrigerate 3-4 hours after feeding.
- Feed refrigerated starter weekly. If you go longer than a week without feeding, you may want to give the starter two feedings before using.
1 quart glass or plastic container
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Artisan Sourdough Bread Kit
To jump start a starter that looks lifeless:
- Bring a few tablespoons of the hibernating starter to room temperature.
- Feed the starter using 1 part starter to 8 parts flour to 5 parts water.
- For example, if you have 2 tablespoons of starter, use 16 tablespoons of flour (1 cup) and 10 tablespoons (½ cup plus 2 tablespoons) of water.
- Repeat feeding using the above amounts twice a day, at 12-hour intervals, and start each feeding by discarding half of the starter.
- Once the starter is bubbly and active for several feedings, resume a normal feeding schedule.
Now you know how to check whether or not your sourdough starter is dead and how to fix it. If you want to keep learning more about this fun topic, keep reading. I’ve picked out a few questions you might want to know the answers to!
Can you revive a dead sourdough starter?
In some cases, yes, you can revive a dead sourdough starter. Continue to feed it as usual, but make sure it’s in the correct environment. Sourdough starter will perform best in temperatures around 85F. Too hot or too cold temps will wreak havoc on fermentation!
How long until the sourdough starter dies?
It depends on how often you feed it. It could be as little as a few days or a hundred years. In fact, the World Record is 122 years old.
Should I Feed My sourdough starter once or twice a day?
If you plan to use your sourdough starter regularly, you can feed it twice a day. If you’re not using it regularly, you can stash it in the fridge and feed it three or four times a week. That said, it mostly depends on how often you’re using it, but a good feeding schedule is every 12 hours.
Why is my sourdough starter GREY?
Your sourdough starter is likely gray due to the presence of hooch or liquid on the top of your sourdough starter. This excess liquid does not mean your sourdough starter is inactive. It simply means you need to feed it more fresh flour.
If the sourdough starter itself has a gray tint (rather than gray liquid), it may be a sign of mold formation, in which case I would toss it.
One day you will wake up and your starter will just look, feel and act very differently.
It will go from dense and lifeless to light, bubbly and visually looking alive.
Sometimes you will just know that it’s active and ready to bake with. Go with your gut.
If you’re having issues with your sourdough starter and haven’t found help above, post at our member community for help!
Feeding a sourdough starter involves combining starter, flour, and water in a particular ratio to ensure the starter has the “food” it needs to stay healthy and active.
Sourdough starter can be fed either by weight or volume measurements. Feeding by weight is considered more accurate, but feeding by volume is usually more convenient, as most people have measuring cups in the kitchen.
Either method can be used successfully. Be sure to check the instructions included with your starter for the ratios of starter, water, and flour specific to the type of sourdough starter you are using.
If you’re feeding a sourdough starter by weight, the ratio of starter to water to flour is 1:1:1. So If you’re using 50 grams of starter, add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour.
If you want to feed a sourdough starter by volume, the ratio of starter to flower to water is 1:1:1.75. So you would use 1/2 a cup of starter to 1/2 a cup of water to just under a cup of flour.
Sourdough Feeding Instructions
- Measure room temperature starter or remove ¼ cup starter from refrigerator.
- Cover; place in a warm area, 70°-85°F, for 8-12 hours. Repeat steps 1-3 until you have enough starter for your recipe, with a little leftover.
NOTE: A brown liquid layer on top of your starter, called hooch, indicates that the starter is hungry. If hooch forms, pour it off and feed the starter as soon as possible, then feed more frequently going forward.
- When preparing to bake, use the fresh starter within 3-4 hours of being fed, to ensure the starter is at its peak of activity.
- Extra starter may be discarded, stored in the refrigerator, or kept at room temperature and fed again as above. Always retain at least ¼ cup starter to begin your next project.
Is It Light and Bubbly?
In addition to doubling in size, there are visual clues to tell your starter is ready.
If it just looks flat and dense with no bubbles, it’s not time yet.
If your starter is light, full of bubbles and looks alive, this is a really good sign!
When my starter is at its peak, it almost looks like a soft cloud and I can actually see little bubbles forming and popping.
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Instructions for Recovering a Moldy Sourdough Starter
- Remove the mold from the surface.
- Using a clean utensil, remove a small portion of the sourdough that wasn’t near the mold. A tablespoon will suffice.
- Put that tablespoon in a clean container, and feed using the ratio of one part starter to one part water to a scant two parts flour. If measuring ingredients by weight, use equal parts of starter, flour, and water.
- Mix, cover with a breathable lid, and proof for 12 hours.
- Feed the sourdough starter again using the same ratio. Continue to feed for several days and watch carefully for any signs of mold.
- If there are no signs of mold or unpleasant aroma, the starter may be used again for baking or stored in the refrigerator.
Remember that sourdough is a living thing that can be unpredictable. Thankfully it is also a fairly resilient thing that can often be brought to life even after the biggest of trials.
ALCOHOL OR NAIL POLISH AROMA
When a sourdough starter isn’t fed often enough or feedings are skipped, it will begin consuming discarded yeast, as well as its own waste, leading to the unpleasant aroma of alcohol or nail polish remover. The best way to prevent this from happening is to feed the sourdough starter more often.
If increased feedings do not solve the problem, remove 2 tablespoons of starter and feed with ¼ cup water and a ¼-½ cup of flour. When it is time to feed the starter again, resume normal feeding amounts.
Sourdough Float Test
While the float test method is really popular with sourdough bakers it isn’t always accurate.
To do a float test, take a cup of lukewarm water and drop a spoonful of active starter into it. If it floats, it’s ready to bake with.
Do not go by just the float test when determining if your starter is ready. If it’s doubling in size and has a pillowy texture with tons of active bubbles it should be ready.
Now that your starter is alive and active, make your very first loaf of sourdough bread! Get my tips, tricks and recipe.
More Sourdough Starter Tutorials
DEALING WITH MOLD
While mold on a sourdough starter is fairly rare, it does happen from time to time. You can check our sourdough starter for sale to start making sourdough bread. The cause is usually some sort of contamination with food or soap residue or weakened yeast due to a forgotten feeding.
If mold does appear, it may be time to discard the starter and begin again with a new starter, or it may be possible to revive the starter. Exercise good judgment. If the mold is only infecting the surface, reviving the starter may be appropriate. If mold is penetrating the entire starter below the surface, discard and obtain a new starter.
Sourdough starter can die, but it can be fixed unless it’s moldy or in temperatures above 140F. Most of the time, the sourdough starter becomes inactive or “dead” from the wrong temperatures.
Find a spot around 85F and feed your starter regularly to try to bring it back to life, or start with a brand new batch for success.
I have been a lover of sweets since day one. This led me on a self-taught baking journey starting at the age of 13. It’s been over 10 years since the start of my baking adventures, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Now, people rave about my delectable treats, whether it’s a chocolate cake or a strawberry crepe.