Has my starter gone bad?

Hi There!  I am new here.  I went online because I was trying to find out if my starter has gone bad.  I made it about a a month ago and it use to make all the bubbles and stuff.  I made my first 2 loafs... they were ok... nothing great but I'm pretty sure my starter wasn't the problem. (At least I don't think so...)  But for about a week when I feed the starter it just never has those active bubbles anymore.  I just read here to pour off the liquid, so I've done that and I'm off to buy more rye flour.  But I was wondering if I am doing this in vein?  Thank you! I love learning about all of this.

6 comments

Hello Shelby Hannah,

A few more details, like how much and what type of flour are you feeding with and how often?  How much water are you adding?  What temperature are you keeping it at?  The liquid you are pouring off - how long does it take to appear? Is it clear or coloured?  Does your starter have any smell?  How strong is it and what does the smell remind you of?  And anything else you think of that might be useful or significant.

I assume you have read SourDom's beginners blogs on this site.  If you haven't, then you should - just follow the link at the top right of the page.

Above all, don't despair.  If the worst comes to worst you can always start again from scratch but it is surprising how the most neglected of cultures can be coaxed back to life with little more than a few regular feeds.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

I find that one week is too long. My starter stays very lively when it is fed at least twice a week - when it is kept in the fridge. When I keep it on the counter for a few days, I feed it twice a day, unless the kitchen is very cold overnight during the middle of the winter.

Sheryl at 108 breads

I seem to be suffering the same fate as Shelby. I've been following the Paul Hollywood recipe and after I have discarded half the starter and added more flour and water it's just remained a still liquid. I'll leave it a few more days and see what happens. :s

Hello,

I just began a starter a few days ago. It seems to be going well. But I used an organic sprouted wheat flour only and no rye flour. Wondering if that is ok.

also, I have not poured off any when adding more water and flour to the starter. It is also not runny, kind of thick mixture, like doughy...not sure if that is how it is suppose to be but it has a nice smell to it.

I am winging it ;)

Hello humbleena,

There are a couple of reasons for discarding when developing a starter. 

The first is to keep the volume that you have under control.  Unless you are a commercial bakery, you just don't want gallons of the stuff.

The next is that you want to keep a reasonable ratio of new food to the established flora.  In other words they need to be well fed and if you don't get rid of some you have to add more food which only increases the volume problem.  You might have seen some methods where the amount of culture doubles at each feeding.  That would very quickly get out of hand if you didn't discard.

Another possible reason is to get rid of waste products that could be undesirable for establishing the balanced blend of yeasts and bacteria that give you a stable culture that is able to resist contamination by moulds and other nasties.

You might find that as your culture develops that it goes through phases of high activity, low activity, smelling good, smelling a bit off (often an acetone like smell) but the main thing is not to panic and press on.  It is only if it gets really disgusting for more than a few days or get s really mouldy that you might need to regroup and start again.

If you haven't already, have a read of SourDom's beginners blogs on this site for a good primer into all things sourdough for beginners.

Good luck with your projects,

Farinam

I'm very new to sourdough myself (only maybe a month into it). So I have a lot to learn myself, but one thing that I have learned through my job (which is growing and maintaining a large mass of bacteria culture - hince my user name), is that any type of culture love a steady environment. If you change its environment abruptly you could make the environment too friendly to other microbes that could out compete the yeast and lactobactillus. For example if you change from 1 part starter/1 part food to 1 part starter/2 part food you may just have created an environment that the good bugs were not ready for but the bad bugs was just sitting waiting for and thus over grow and out compete the yeast.  So be careful and it you want to change the feeding ratios build up to the desired ratio slowly over the course of 2 days.

When maintaining my first sourdough starter (It was one started by active dry yeast), it stayed very active for about two weeks.  I was feeding it twice a day at room temp., with a feeding of:

1 part by volume starter

1 part by volume tap water

2 parts by volume plain bread flour

(I like a thick starter so I can see it double in size easier, and I use volume for now because I don't have a scale YET)

From the first few days till then it had a nice fresh beer smell to it, never developed a hooche, and even developed what seemed like a nice aged wiskey aroma but not as strong, However I missed a feeding, and it seemed to slow down and then within 2 days it was at a dead halt.  Still I don't know all the factors that contributed to it almost dying.  But during this time I would feed it and what would first start out as a wet stringy dough-like consistency would almost liquify, and the smell reminded me of wet dirty gym socks.

I kept on feeding (religiously) and researched things that might have happened.  I first looked at well maybe the pH shifted and the wrong bugs were growing so i tried a little pinapple juice. It rose a little at first and then nothing. As I continued to research I read how that an overly acidic environment may cause gluten to be broken down, and thus I realized that I was going in the wrong direction with trying to revive the starter.  So I suspected that it could be too acidic. So in order to balance the pH I doubled my feeding for one or two feedings (1 part starter, 2 part water, 4 parts flour), and gave it some time.  I also changed from tap water to bottled spring water, because working for municiple water I noticed during that time a slight uptick in Chlorine levels in the water.

As a side note for anyone using tap water, be careful there is a possibility that it could kill your starter if the levels are high enough.  Here where I live service water has to be kept at a concentration range of 0.2 ppm (0.2 mg/L) to 4.0 ppm (4.0 mg/L) and has to keep above an average of 1.0 ppm.  So water suppliers have a large range that they can play with, which 4.0 may give an unpleasant taste and smell to your water will not hurt anyone, however it will be a detriment to microbes.  So I would recommend if your chlorine concentration is above a 1.75 ppm switch to spring water.

I also changed the way I was mixing at first I was stirring my starter into my water until it was almost desolved before I would add feed flour. 

I changed all this within a few days, because I was frantic to fix the problem. After about a week of "dead" starter I was at the point of about to throw it out and start again (literally I said to my wife I will give it one more day and if nothing I am starting over). I even asked God for some help.  That evening I saw some bubbles at the bottom of my container and thus I fed it again and again. And now its more lively than before and smells like fresh beer again and am going to make some fresh bread this weekend with it.

What I came away from this is I needed to be patient with the starter, because it is sometimes slow to react. And like what I have to do at work be careful doing more that one change at a time because you could be adding to the problem rather than fixing it.  Take a step back and ask "what could be going on?"

Now like I said I am ignorant of a lot and still need to learn and need some help.  So If anyone see's anything that I done/ am doing wrong please tell me because I would like to avoid that again, because there was so much about that instance that I don't understand even though I have a good working understanding of microbiology.