starter gone bad

hi this is the first time that i have been on this site. i have a chance to get my hands on  a starter that was origanily started in irland in the mid 1800's. my grand mother got a hold of it oh forty years ago or so and she just adds to it. my problem is that i don't want to take it until i can keep a starter. every time i make a starter and and i put some back to rebuild by the time i go to use it again it has gone bad. how do i keep this from happening? if anyone has an answer please help before i kill another starter.

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TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 April 28
What a bit of sourdough cowboys history your starter has!

Not trying to sound smart...but are you sure your starter has gone bad? By bad, do you mean it smells or has gone mouldy? It isn't that easy to kill off a starter, if 1) your jar/container is clean to begin with, and 2) you keep it in the fridge in between long feeds.

If you're inheriting a jar, why don't you start with one tsp of the starter with 100g water and 100g flour (or less) to see how it goes? Keep the rest 'safe' in the fridge. It may need a few feeds before you see it bubbly and healthy depending on the state of the starter at the point you got it.

All the best!

F1IPF10P 2008 May 1
thanks tp for the help what i meant buy going bad is it iethewr gets a brown liquid or a green liquid on top after it has settled in the fridge for awhile. now i'm in the military so it can go six months before feedings is that bad?
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 May 1
The liquid layer is called hooch. It happens from settling; the wetter the starter, the more hooch you see. Mine is brown/grey. Don't worry about it...I'd pour off the hooch, and dig a spoonful of the starter near the bottom to refresh.

6 months without a feed may be stretching things a bit, but, I've a feeling it'll survive, if the jar and the environment is clean. My starter is still ok if I don't feed them for 3 mths...haven't tried longer than that.

Other methods include spreading it on foil and drying it, then breaking it up into pieces or make it into powder. Keep it in the freezer for insurance.
celia's picture
celia 2008 May 3

Drying some out and storing it in the fridge is a great idea, but I haven't had much luck with freezing.  How cool to have so much history behind your starter !
Danubian's picture
Danubian 2008 May 6
it mostly destroys endemic yeast cells since ice crystals form in the cell plasma and rupture the cell wall. In the case of lactics, after being frozen, need to be raised in temperature above a threshold - I have a vague memory its 41'C but I'll check it since I'm not sure now and get back to you - otherwise they don't fully recover. Of course, freeze drying with commercial equipment designed for the purpose is somewhat different but in a home situation it's not worth the headache.

Better not to freeze and realise there's a need to maintain your starter. Besides these flora are always available from your grain and fruit and can be grown and harvested for baking anytime.
SourDom 2008 May 6
I have certainly dried starter and later reconstituted. I don't have much experience with resuscitating frozen starter, but I always assumed that it would work.

If you dry your starter and store in an air-tight bag, my guess is that it would keep for a long time. In particular I suspect that the yeast would be just fine, since their spores are extremely hardy. I don't know if lactobacilli would survive a long time in dried form.

But if they survive when frozen, you could store some starter dried, and some frozen - then combine when resuscitating starter...??

Raindear 2008 May 7
We originally used a spelt/rye sourdough starter recipe from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, but found the bread turned out a little dense.  So recently we started making a sourdough with more white flour, which obviously makes a much lighter bread.  However, our starter seems to be growing more and more sour!  It smells very vinegary and tastes pretty sour too.  Is a REALLY sour bread still healthy? 
SourDom 2008 May 8

your post raises a couple of questions
1. Why is your starter becoming so sour?
The sourness of your starter relates to the by products of bacteria in the starter. Those products will build up with time. So if you are leaving your starter for a long time between refreshes it will be more sour. Alternatively, if the temperature is warm, the bacteria will be more active, and will produce those byproducts faster. Finally, if there are a lot of bacteria (and byproducts) still hanging around at the start of a refreshment, then the starter will be more sour.
So, if your starter is too sour you can
  • have a shorter interval between refreshing your starter and using it (eg 12 hours instead of 24, or 8 hours instead of 12)
  • keep your starter at a cooler temperature
  • discard more starter when you refresh (you only need a teaspoon or less of old starter when you refresh)
(the flour that you use will also influence the sourness - rye flour in starter and dough will usually increase sourness, as will retarding the dough - putting it in the fridge for part of the rising)

2. Is the resulting bread healthy?
I have no reason to think that a very sour starter would be unhealthy. The lactobacilli in sourdough tend to make the risk of dangerous bacterial contamination low, and the long hot baking tends to kill bacteria off anyway.
The main question is the flavour that you are after in your bread

Danubian's picture
Danubian 2008 May 8
Dom has given you some good advice.

But just to add, here's a general principle; the higher the TA - a measure of acid volume - and the lower the pH - a measure of acid intensity (lower values mean increase in acid intensity - corresponds to a reduction in bread volume, and needless to say influences the appearance, mouthfeel, flavour and aroma etc.

In respect to the health benefits of "REALLY sour bread"; I'm not able to point you to a scientific paper off the top of my head but from my reading the increased TA and lower pH of sourdough bread generally compared to conventional bread is one of the factors that make it suitable for diabetics. The increased prescence of acid correlates to slower conversion of the starch to monosaccharides as acid slows enzyme activity.
Raindear 2008 May 9
Dom and Danubian,

Thanks a lot!  Your comments were very informative.  We refresh every 24 to 48 hours, so that may be the problem. 
skayc1's picture
skayc1 2011 January 18

over the Christmas holiday I got snowed in at my mom's house. My starter went bad, instead of having the hooch on top it looked dryish and white, and no longer smelled yeasty, it stunk like mold had taken over. I'm now trying to revive it and get it back to smelling yeasty. Should I scrub the whole batch and start over? or can my starter be fixed?

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