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How to troubleshoot your Sourdough Starter

With the popularity of Sourdough in recent years, many people have decided to start their own sourdough starter. Inevitably, there will be some minor issues that can lead to research. Unfortunately, there is a lot of different ideas and opinions on sourdough that can cause confusion and maybe cause a person to give up on sourdough all together! Today, I want to teach you how to troubleshoot your sourdough starter so you can be successful and enjoy your sourdough journey!

When you first start a sourdough starter, there are so many questions and variables. For instance, what type of flour are you going to use? How warm is the room your starter will be in? What type of water are you feeding it? The list goes on. But realistically, sourdough starter is simply a mixture of flour and water that is allowed to sit and ferment.

This fermentation process is what results in the growth of yeast and good bacteria. When the yeast and bacteria are in the right ratios, the starter will build carbon dioxide in the bread dough you prepare causing the rise.

loaf of artisan bread on a striped blue kitchen towel

Why Sourdough?

Sourdough is a process of fermenting your bread dough with a sourdough starter. This process breaks down the gluten and proteins that can sometimes be hard to digest for gluten sensitive people. In order to get the most benefits of the fermentation process, you need to let your dough ferment for at least 12-24 hours.

As you can see, the process of sourdough can be very helpful for many people. If you’ve never made a sourdough starter https://therosehomestead.com/how-to-make-a-sourdough-starter/ it’s easy and fairly quick to do. The great news is that once you have an active starter, as long as you maintain it, it will last for as long as you want it. There are starters that have been handed down through generations!

Now, let’s start troubleshooting problems with your sourdough starter!

stretching and folding sourdough bread dough in a large pink bowl

My starter isn’t active anymore.

The first problem you may encounter is that the starter may get bubbly on day 2 or 3, but then is seems to stop being active.

This is actually pretty common and usually corrects itself within a few days with consistent feeding.

If, for some reason, the starter doesn’t take off in a few days, try adding a few raisins to the starter until it starts getting active. You can remove them after the starter takes off. This little trick usually gets things going!

My starter stinks!

I get a lot of comments and questions about the starter having a foul odor. This is very common and is completely normal!

As the good bacteria and yeast build in your starter and kill out any bad bacteria, there may be an off putting odor to your starter.

As the days go on, this odor will change. When the good bacteria and yeast are at the right levels, your starter will have a pleasant, yeasty smell!

My starter has a layer of liquid on top.

When a starter gets hungry, it will develop a liquid on top called the “hooch”. This is completely normal and is a sign for you to feed your starter.

You don’t have to feed it right away. If you store your starter in the fridge, it will be fine for quite a while before you need to feed it.

You will want to feed it before making bread if it is hungry, though.

How can I tell if my starter is ready to use?

I get this question so often. It’s so exciting to see your starter bubbly and active. The first thing we all want to do is make some bread!

It’s hard to give an exact way to tell. Some people say that if the starter floats, it’s ready. However, my starter rarely floats, yet works very well.

I suggest that the first few weeks you make things like pancakes, biscuits, crackers, or a hybrid bread using a bit of instant yeast. This will give you time to build up the starter by feeding it several times before you go for a loaf of artisan sourdough bread.

After that, I always say, just go for it! The worst thing that can happen is the bread doesn’t rise well, but, it will still be edible and you can make croutons or bread crumbs with it if you want.

I hope these troubleshooting steps will help you on your sourdough journey. Head over to my YouTube channel and check out my Sourdough playlist for more! https://www.youtube.com/c/TheRoseHomestead

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  1. I have been through the “German” engineering style of making a starter. My ex-Basque Sheepherder Dad laughed at me. Do what Mary says… Simple easy and fun…

  2. I can’t sign up for your newsletter. I get an error message and tells me to contact you directly. This is the only way I seem to be able to 🙂

    1. I’m not sure what is going on. I reached out to my mail provider and let you know when it is fixed. Thanks for letting me know!

  3. My family moved a year ago to a new place. I cannot get a sourdough starter to be healthy here!!! I had healthy sourdough at my old house. At the old house I used city water filtered with a Berkey and fresh ground spelt or unbleached all purpose flour to feed it. I tried the same thing at our new house, the only difference is I filter the well water using the Berkey. Do you have any thoughts? I have even bought Spring water from the store and just cannot start a healthy starter. I followed your process, but mine is still not at all bubbly or rising on day 6.

    1. I think a lot of the science of the starter is the amount of yeast and bacteria in the air of your home, more specifically of your kitchen. Sometimes, I believe there just isn’t a good amount of yeast in the air. In these cases, I recommend putting 2-3 raisins in the starter to “jumpstart” it, so to speak. The raisins have a good amount of food for the starter and will get it up and going. Once it gets good and active, remove the raisins and it will be fine. I hope that helps!

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