Starter goes haywire!

Hugo's picture

Hi! I had a relatively active sourdough culture for the last 2 weeks, but then 2 days ago I’ve modified the way I feed it and it’s become extremely active. I feed it and leave it in the pantry at room temperature, and less than 2 hours later it bubbles a LOT and overflows (more than 3x the initial volume). I’ve captured this culture on whole-wheat bread flour, which is very heavy. Now I’ve modified the food mix to 1/3 whole wheat, 1/3 whole rye and 1/3 sifted organic flour. I’m wondering if this level of activity is normal, or if it can be detrimental to bread production. The smell got a bit more complex but it’s pleasant. My latest attempt at sourdough bread ended with no oven spring and a loaf that’s flatter than usual, altough it had a nice amount of bubbles and the taste was great.

149 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2013 March 11

Hi Hugo,

It is possible that the new blend of flours has introduced some new species that have given the activity a boost (rye is often seen as a tonic for tired starters) and things might settle down after a few more feeding cycles.

The other thing is, your container looks relatively tall and narrow and the wall effect will increase the height to which the 'froth' will support itself.  So you could try a larger diameter jar to see if that limits the height of the rise as well.

Good luck with your projects,


Electricboots 2013 March 11

Hi Hugo,

You seem to be having as many problems as I had at the start!  My inclination would be to take just 1 tbsp from the crazy jar and use it to start a fresh jar (wider jar type as suggested by Farinam) with your new flour mix to see if it adapts and settles down after a few feeds. If it comes good you could replace the overactive one. Also if your hydration is wetter than 100% maybe reducing the water amount would make it more solid so the gas can escape gently without it rising up excessively.

Good luck!

Head Baker 2013 March 11

Hi Hugo, 

maybe you should not mix the flour for the sourdough. I would never put rye and white ( wheat) flour together in the sourdough culture as they work differently. 

if you dont use it you can keep it in the fridge, the fermentation will slow down put you will still get teh bubbles. 

for me, in sumemrtime or hot temperature i always ut the sourdough in the cooler, in the winter or colder days i leave it outside where it is warm.

you can also make a more stiff sourdough with a 100% flour and 50 to 55% water ratio. it is  much easier to handle, and the result will be more or less the same ...i dont think a not every day bread eater taste a different :) I used to make that sourdough in Middle east when i was working with no trained bakery staff so  it was  much easier for them to handle :)

and for refreshing or feeding i use  onluy 30 % of old starter mixed with the flour and water 

too much sourdough in the dough can break down your gluten. i would not put more than 30% on the total flour in a dough.if it is flat and running wide  i think your gluten break down from too much sourdough, i had that problem before as i had a weak flour from the mill. 

good luck anyway :) and yes  a bigger jar  would help as well :)) 


Hugo's picture
Hugo 2013 March 12

I thought it would be a good idea to feed my starter with the same flour I use for my bread (e.g. sifted whole wheat flour and rye flour), although my recipes vary each time (I like adding some spelt, for instance). So, what would be a good choice to keep my culture alive and thriving? The mix is still hyperactive today. I’ve reduced hydration but the jar overflowed anyway. My next batch of bread will be in 2-3 days.

Thanks for all the advices.


Electricboots 2013 March 13

Hi Hugo,

I have eventually composted every starter that was not fed exclusively on 100% organic wholemeal rye flour! It has been explained to me that you need to have organic to avoid any fungicide residues that could weaken the natural yeasts etc, the wholemeal is needed to provide the correct range of nutrients to keep the fermenting population happy, and the rye has the right type of gluten to avoid that thin stringy sludge that seems to appear whenever I try to make a secondary white wheat starter from a spoonful of my rye starter. It is OK the first 1 or 2 feeds but goes downhill quickly after that with wheat flour.  My rye starter is kept in the fridge except leading up to a bake and never looks other than like an aerated chocolate mousse.

When I want to make a mixed flour bread with matching starter I normally use the converted starter after the second feed from the initial spoon of rye starter then either use it all or compost the remainder. I got this idea from one of Farinam's posts and it works really well for me.


Hugo's picture
Hugo 2013 March 13

Well so far I’ve used only unbleached organic flour, as well as bottled water, and my starter seems to have some stability (in terms of smell and reactivity). I’ve noticed that it seems happier with rye than with whole wheat flour so yes, rye seems to be the logical choice as a culture medium. Which reminds me, I haven’t fed my starter culture tonight (it’s in the pantry, crying. or something like that.) One thing I definitely need to do, is to control the hydration. No more random mixes, I’ll make sure the flour and water have the same weight. Thanks for all the advices! I’ll cook my next loaf in 2 days, and we’ll see the result then! In the mean-time, I’ll create a "dry" backup of my culture, it looks like a safe move.


SlackerJohn 2013 March 14

What's wrong with a very active starter?

This site has many more moans about inactivity, than activity!

Why not keep it in the fridge between bakes?

Get it out before you want to bake, feed it and let 'er rip!



Hugo's picture
Hugo 2013 March 15

I understand that complaining about a hyperactive starter may seem odd. My initial worry was that the starter really seemed to "eat up" all its food in a very short time, and then fall down fast and starve. But since the smell was constantly good (green apple smell with something more complex), it seems that the culture was doing okay.

I have made the mix a little stickier, and with some patience I’m now getting better results. Yesterday I have started a rye sponge at 100% hydration and this morning it was absolutely perfect, with even bubbles and about 2.5x the initial volume. I’m currently preparing a loaf with this mix, following farinam’s basic timetable, so we’ll see how it ends up. I’ll store my starter in the fridge this week-end, after a second loaf maybe.

Thanks again for the useful comments.


Sourdough craze 2013 March 15

I am new at sourdough baking although I have made a few loaves, one whigh was the first  one with this new starter came out fairly well. The starter is from the Oregon Trnail strand which you can get for free for just sending a self addressed stamped envelope  or a dollar donation. I had no problem getting the starter to bubble or to rise a nice sponge.  But after adding the flour and letting it rise it does not have enough structure. My recipe is  1 cup starter, 1 cup water, mix to combine, 2 cups flour for the sponge. After the sponge has doubled  (about 8 to 10 hours) I add 1/2 cup water and 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt shape the dough into a ball after stretch kneading a few times. Then let it rise in a cast iron pan. This is where it tends to spread out  and not up enough. I use a cast iron Dutch oven to bake for half an hour then remove cover to brown about 15 minutes. I really would like to bake the bread on the cooking stone I have. Pizza pie stone. But I fear the bread will flatten out even more as ther are no side walls. Can anyone help me with this. Or maybe I need a more active starter. I bake at 450 degrees 30 minutes.


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