Several weeks ago I posted this article, to better familiarize you all with starters and *hopefully* show that creating and owning a starter is fun, rewarding, and not nearly as difficult as it may seem at face value. Since posting I’ve been getting a lot of troubleshooting questions on Instagram and I wanted to put all the answers in one place to make life a little easier for you all. If you have a question that isn’t answered below drop it in the comments or shoot me a note on IG and I’ll get it added for you!
A few things to note:
- A mature sourdough starter is a workhorse. It will be difficult to kill and easier to revive. I have forgotten my starter for over a month and brought it back to peak activity in a handful of feedings.
- If you see any orange or pink streaks or tinges to your starter throw it out.
- If you see mold, throw it out.
‘Nothing is happening.’
Your starter is like a toddler. It’s developing and hitting milestones at its own rate. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but there are common factors: time, temperature, flour type, flour to water ratio, frequency.
Unless you have subjected your starter to very high (think oven) temperatures, something is happening. If you have an immature starter or have recently increased feeds it may seem like your starter isn’t doing anything, but this is simply because your starter needs to catch up to the amount of food available. Keep your starter in a warm place (cold will slow down the yeast) and skip feeding for a few days. Wait until there is a little water separated on top (a sign your starter is hungry) and give it a small feeding: 50 g starter, 50 g flour, 50 g water. Wait until it shows signs of activity before feeding again.
‘Do I need to add sugar to reactive my starter?’
Adding sugar to a starter is a big ‘no-no’ within the sourdough community. Because a starter is a SCOBY, or a Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast, you want to be sure you don’t add in an additional factor that could upset that balance. Sugar will alter the acidity of your starter and could result in a microbial imbalance. The beauty of a starter is this unadulterated, natural leavening agent. Adding sugar to rush the process is counterproductive in the long-term. (This goes for adding commercial yeast or honey as well).
‘My starter smells weird…’
Your starter is fermenting, it will smell a little different than most of what’s in your kitchen. There are very few ‘red flag’ smells when it comes to starters. If it smells acidic, vinegary, like acetone, or sweaty, your starter needs to be fed. This happens to my fridge starters if I forget to feed them for 2-3 weeks. I put it on a regular feeding schedule (once a day) for 3-4 days until it starts smelling like its normal self: fresh, fruity, yeasty.
‘What should I store my starter in?’
A glass jar (my personal favorite), food-safe plastic, or a crock are the most popular options. Personally, I love a glass jar because it makes seeing the activity much easier as you can see bubbles forming on the sides.
‘Does it need to be stored in an airtight jar?’
Airtight or not is a personal preference. Personally, because a starter is an active community of wild yeast and bacteria in the air, I like to leave the jar loosely covered when it’s on the counter. When I’m long-term storing my starter in the fridge I will screw the lid on completely.
‘My starter has dark brown liquid on top of it. Is it dead?’
Nope! It’s just hungry. Hooch, that dark brown liquid (sometimes grey or black), is an indicator that your starter needs to be fed. Pour the hooch off and feed the starter as you normally would.
‘What do I do if there’s mold in my starter?’
You throw it out and start over. We don’t mess around with mold. Mold can have microscopic threads that weave throughout your entire jar of starter, meaning that just because you scrape out what you can see doesn’t mean that the mold is gone.
‘Can I feed my starter gluten-free flour?’
No. Unless you have a GF starter you will need to feed it flour that contains gluten. A good rule of thumb is to feed your starter what it’s origin flour is. This is a rule you can definitely break, but most sourdough enthusiasts (myself included) suggest keeping the feeding flour the same.
‘My starter was super active, but now it seems like nothing is happening.’
With a new starter, there is an adjustment period around the time that you begin two-a-day feeds, in order to mature it. As long as you are discarding half the starter with each feeding you are developing the yeast in your starter (it may just take a few days to see activity). Don’t be discouraged! Patience in the name of the game.