Is my starter battling an unwanted bacteria or fungus?


Hi all. I've been getting lots of useful information here over the past two months since I started baking sourdough bread. (Thank you!) I began my starter from a dried packet from Sourdoughs International, and it went through the 'kinda smelly' stage to something far more pleasant and stable. I've since baked 5 or 6 loaves with it, as well as a couple pizzas and some pancakes. I have a bit of a routine: it comes out of the fridge on Friday evening, I feed it a few times, and make bread dough on either Saturday evening or early Sunday morning. By Sunday evening or Monday morning it's back in the fridge. I typically feed it twice a day, though I'll admit I don't use a scale because I don't have one (I know, I know).

This has been working quite well so far, so much so that I was getting very smug about the whole thing. Then, this previous Friday, I took out the starter and fed it. I can't quite remember if I forgot to cast-off any at that feed or not. There were the beginnings of what I think was hooch on it at the time, but very little, so I stirred it back in. By Saturday morning it was looking somewhat greyish, maybe with a tinge of purple. Strange! I cast-off and re-fed it, and left it be. By the afternoon it was decidedly more grey/purple. It seems to be developing toward the end of the feed, and it seems to be 'growing' from the top down. I tried increasing the frequency of feeds, worried that I was letting it go is quite active in general.

But by Sunday morning it was just getting worse. The photo I've included is from that stage.

I decided to take drastic measures, and follow Ed Wood's suggestions for 'washing' a culture, by massively diluting it, keeping it at roughly 32 degrees for 24 hours, and then feeding it regularly. This was no easy feat, since it's -10 degrees here at the moment and there's no way we're heating the house like that, so we kept it in a soft cooler with a jar of hot water that gave it some heat.

At first it seemed to work! For a whole two feeds it looked like normal, and since last night it's been back at room temperature (roughly 19-21 degrees Celsius). Alas, it is beginning to look greyish again this afternoon.

What do you think? Does it look like something dangerous? I have some foccaccia dough rising at the moment from this morning's cast-offs, but I'm kind of nervous to bake it.

Is there some kind of bacteria or fungus that likes the cool temperature of our house, that is throwing things off balance?

Any suggestions/advice appreciated. A friend has offered to give me some of her starter if I can't recover this one, but I'd like to figure it out if possible.

337 users have voted.


shasta's picture
shasta 2014 November 23

Yes I'm sorry to say it looks bad to me. I would not use it and would start over. You can make a starter form scratch of your own fairly easily. The best method I know of is the "Pineapple Method". 

This link will take you to a great video on how to do this. There are also other videos on caring for a starter and how to dry out some and store it as a backup. With a backup you can get up and going again quickly if something happens to your stock.


Good luck!

bakerman2000 2014 November 30

In a similar vein, I came to ask about the health of my starter. I've been running it for about 3 years now. I keep it in a sealed glass snap-type jar (in the fridge), but I've removed the rubber gasket so it can breathe. I haven't fed it in about 6 months (oops).

I went to take it out the other day, and it had plenty of hooch on top, but also some ugly dark areas in the corners. I scraped a little bit (maybe teaspoon) from the center area which was nice and clean and started to revive it (and dumped the rest). After 4 feeds, it has come back to life beautifully. China-white and tons of bubbles, smells perfect.  I have a no-knead going right now.  Question is, do I have to be worried about any food-poisoning type things from having ignored it for so long? How about botulism? Thanks


shasta's picture
shasta 2014 December 3

Typically I wouldn't think so as long as it looks and smells normal and is active. The baking of the bread should also kill anything if it was still in the starter.

hayley346 2014 December 7

Thanks, shasta, for your feedback (and congrats on the revived starter, bakerman2000!).

I decided around the time I wrote the original post to split the starter into two jars, even though it was still looking a little off, and throw it into the fridge to deal with at a later date. It's been a busy few weeks!

The starter continued to rise in the fridge, and as it began to fall, the purple started to reappear. However: as of a couple days ago, the dormant starter is perfectly white again. Perhaps the cold and/or acidity have only temporarily gotten it under control. I don't know. I'm going to give this starter one more go. I fed it this morning, and if it begins to look purple again by tonight or tomorrow morning, I'll get a new one going. (I probably will regardless, just for kicks.)

I'll report back. Perhaps I'm just in denial, but I thought the disappearance of the purple was an encouraging sign!


shasta's picture
shasta 2014 December 8

Pinkl has always been the color I hear to stay away from but I would be spooked by any color other than the normal color of teh flour I'm using. That being said, I did get some dried starter from Graham a couple years back that he sent to me in California from Tasmania. It had some mold growing in it but I wasn't going to through it out without trying it. I pulld some out that looked clear and proceeded to rehydrate it. I've been using it with no problems since. 

So maybe as a last ditch effort you could dry some out and re hydrate some that looks free of purple coloring.

In any case, good luck.

hayley346 2015 February 22

Hi all,

I thought I'd check in with an update. I thought about trying one more time by drying and restarting some of the the purple squiggle starter but I eventually just tossed it.

About three weeks ago I decided to start my own from scratch. I mixed with water and a combination of rye and all-purpose flours, to see if it would work before trying anything more complicated. Lo and behold, it did! I have yet to make a loaf of bread with it, but I have made some pancakes and a couple pizzas. I think I'll give bread a go in the next few days. It often triples within twelve hours so it seems strong enough. Based on observations from the purple squiggle starter (which seemed to get more purple the colder the atmosphere was), I've been keeping it in the oven with the light on and the door open a crack. It hovers around 75-78 degrees in there and it seems happy enough. I don't love keeping the light on all the time, but it sure as heck is cheaper than heating our uninsulated house!

Thanks for your advice shasta. If this one develops the squiggles at some point, I will have to do some more troubleshooting.



RossMelb 2015 February 28

Hi Hayley

Once you get fungus in your starter it's finished. 

You don't need to feed it more frequently than daily. It needs 24 hours to do its thing.

And if you leave it too long, the yeast and lactobacillis stop growing (they're the goodies) and the fungus takes over (they're the baddies) and once you get fungus you can't get rid of it. So it must go in the bin and you must start over.

I read above that you didn't feed it for 6 months... well... that's too long. 2 weeks is too long...

Good luck!


hayley346 2015 March 1

Hi Ross,

Thanks for the tips! The longest I went without feeding mine was roughly a week (in which time it was in the fridge). I think the 6 months comment was from bakerman2000. Nevertheless, mine did seem to develop a fungus. That one is gone, and the new one is looking good so far. It's about a month old now. I'm going to bake some bread in the next couple of days. Hopefully it goes well!


Post Reply

Already a member? Login