Starter turned to water...


I'm just getting started in sourdough, although I've been making bread pretty much my whole life. I've done "sourdough" before, but always with a starter that included some commercial yeast to get it going. A couple days ago I attempted a wild yeast starter, using equal parts (by weight) of organic flour and bottled (not distilled) water. It was a thick, sticky, dough-like consistency. It stayed that way until today. I fed it yesterday afternoon, and it was still thick and sticky. When I went to feed it this morning it was completely watery. It hadn't separated at all, but it poured just like it was milk. I tossed half of it, and fed it. Since then it shows no sign of rising, and isn't thick. Do I start over, or keep feeding it? I've never seen anything like this! Where did all that flour go???


Thanks for the advice!


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Muff 2010 October 26

And see what happens. It definitely should show activity, or it's just wallpaper paste. Sometimes starters just don't start and you have to start your starter all over. But I think you may have fed it too soon: if it wasn't active feeding it would actually slow it down, or stall it completely.

For capturing a native starter I understand nothing beats rye flour, or a blend of rye and wheat flour. Try 1/4 cup rye, 1/4 cup wheat flour, and 1/2 cup unchlorinated water. Put it in a clean (to avoid molds)  2 cup container, loosely cover, and wait a couple of days.

Doesn't always work but has for me on occassion.

More experienced sourdoughs will have better advice. I'd listen to them if I were you. :-)

Good luck,


Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 October 26

I think that sounds like good advice Muff (from me not an expert). 

If I recall when I created my starter, I fed it every 12 hours and it did include some rye flour, which I eventually "fed out" of it as was recommended to me at the time.  It is still alive and kicking 2 years later. 

It has gotten a bit poorly a couple of times, and I always give it a bit of rye/wholemeal for a bit of a spa treatment - it just loves it!

Keep at it Dorean - it will eventually spring to life.

Optionparty's picture
Optionparty 2010 October 27

Enzymes break down the Starch chain (flour) into Sugars (C6H12O6)
and with a small amount of Oxygen (O2) the action of yeast yields
Alcohol (C2H5OH), Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Energy.

C6H12O6 + O2 < Yeast > C2H5OH + CO2 + Energy

The Sugar (C6H12O6) and 6 Oxygen molecules (6O2), the action of yeast yields
6 Carbon Dioxide molecules (6CO2) and 6 Water molecules (6H2O) and Energy.

C6H12O6 + 6O2 < Yeast > 6CO2 + 6H2O + Energy

The addition of Oxygen results in more (x6) Carbon Dioxide (bubbles)
a wetter dough (Water) and no Alcohol.

So it's enzyme at work.

A good tutorial web site to read for further information


Dorean 2010 October 27

I appreciate all the advice! The link was especially helpful. It looks like my flour must have had too much alpha-amylase, as described in the article. Since there has been no sign of life since the liquidification (is that a word?) happened, I tossed that batch and started again, using a different flour this time. We'll see how this one goes!


Thanks again for the advice and information!



molifemo 2010 November 3


A few days ago, my 3 days old starter had silmilar problem.  There was no rise and air pockets.  It just had very tiny bubbles a lot on the surface and as you described, it turned into a thin batter .   Now I have fixed this problem by warming up the culture a little . At higher temperature,  I could see yeasts grow vigorously and the culture start to rise. Finally the culture has back to something like wet dough from thin batter. 


However, I got same problem again with my new 1 day old starter which was mixed with rye and white flour.  Again, I let the culture stand at warmer temperature  as waiting for any changes... 


I know don't why this happens. The room temperature here is around 22~ 23 C.  Is this temperature too low for yeasts ?     Or I might have lost a feeding time....cause rye flour makes a culture grow faster...



Dorean 2010 November 9

Thanks, Carl. The technical information is very helpful! Besides the baking and sourdough, my husband and I are planning on trying our first batch of all grain beer (we've been using part grain and part malt extract syrup) so this information is doubly interesting to me!

Optionparty's picture
Optionparty 2010 November 10

Beer is often referred to as "Liquid Bread", and there is a reason.
A baker and a brewer both try to extract the best flavors from the grains.
A baker can use slow fermentation, giving enzymes time to enhance flavor.
A brewer steeps the mash, holding a specific temperature for a specific time,
then advancing to the next temperature/time, controling each enzymes activity
and the development of flavor.

The branched starch chain (amylopectin) needs a debranching enzyme,
if it is to be broken down, since amylase enzyme activity stops at the branch molecule.
Beer makers learned of this some years ago, and found alpha-galactosidase enzyme
could do the debranching. This is called “Light Beer” (lighter in carbohydrates).
This same debranching enzyme alpha-galatoaidase is packaged under the name of “Beano”.

“Beano” supplies people with this debranched enzyme to assist in digestion of
branched carbohydrates, such as found in Beans, Broccoli, etc. reducing gas.

Time, temperature, and acid levels effect enzyme activity on starch.
Excess breakdown of starch to sugar could completely liquefy the mixture.
The graph in my earlier post is from
The site has lots of information.

Sugars are used by Yeast to produce carbon dioxide. Browning is caramelized sugars.

This may be more information than you wanted, but it's just the engineer in me.



Dorean 2010 November 10

Your discussion of beer making and its relation to bread making is timely. This last weekend I was approached about making bread for a wild game dinner for a local homebrew club. The idea is to include the "spent grain" into bread to accompany the beer. It would be easy to just add it in "as is" after the malting stage, but I'd like to figure out if it's possible to grind it up and actually incorporate the flavors into the actual dough. I googled the topic and found lots of people talking about just stirring it whole into the dough. I've never even read about anyone trying to remove the hulls! Ew! I wouldn't put the grain through my grain mill, but just "grind" it in a blender.


In light of the enzyme activity you talked about, now I wonder if this would work. I don't have experience brewing all-grain beer, and have only seen it done once, so my knowledge is fairly limited. The time I saw it done they soaked the grain at 155 degrees for an hour, drained the liquid off, and discarded the grain. After that treatment, what effect would it have on the starches and enzymes in the dough if part of it was spent grain?


And by the way, I love the technical information you shared. I don't just like to know IF something works, I like to know WHY it works. Thanks for taking the time to educate me! I'm afraid my BS in elementary education isn't much help in this area. Now, if I needed to use a dill pickle as a lightbulb, I could do that!

Optionparty's picture
Optionparty 2010 November 10

As an educator, you may enjoy this explanation.

A unique idea to introduce young people and kids to Bread Baking.

As a side note,
uncooked Pineapple Juice contains Enzymes that tenderize meat.
(Google "pineapple meat tenderizer")
I have heard that production workers of fresh pineapple can lose their fingerprints.
Cooking breaks down the enzymes, so canning will destroy them.

155F would have gelatinized flour, (like when thickening gravy)
but I would think as a grain the starch is locked inside.
Cracking the grain should expose flavor.

Be sure to report back with your results.


Dorean 2010 November 10

That's interesting about the pineapple. I remember as a kid hearing you couldn't use fresh pineapple in Jello, but canned was ok, and that never made sense to me. Now it does. I look forward to exploring the links. They look interesting!

Optionparty's picture
Optionparty 2010 November 20

I have not forgotten this thread. Your mention of beer and mash related to bread making.
This brought to mind a book "Whole Grain Breads" by Peter Reinhart he uses a mashing stage.

Page 54 gives some information on a technique. What's nice is you don't need to buy the book.


Dorean 2010 November 20

Thanks, Carl. This is great information. I can't use the recipe in the link you posted because it doesn't include a couple of the pages in the middle of the recipe, but I think I have the general idea. I've come across recipes like this on the internet, but by the title I had no idea what it meant, so I'll look those up.

Millciti's picture
Millciti 2010 November 20

Wow Carl - I have been looking for more information on gelatinized flour I forgot to look at brewing microbiology.  I have been experimenting with pre-gelatinizing part of the whole grains in my breads.  I am getting ready to write up a blog on my experiments - maybe after the Holidays. But I have been looking for more tech on the subject.  Thanks for all the links - I will have to check them out.

Dorean - What seems to be hard to understand for many who are making their first starter is the process of developing the starter.

1st day - fermentation starts - everything looks promising

2nd day Loads of different microbic flora are growing in your starter (many undesirable) Many new to sourdough think that this is when they should start baking... Don't even consider it!!  

3rd - 7th Days -  Depending on the ambient temperature, and how potent your wild yeast and Lactic acid bacteria are, you may see little or even no aerobic activity. Do not quit even though you think you made a mistake or your starter just died for some reason.  Your starter is not dead, just working hard and not producing much CO2. 

You may notice slowly that the odor of the starter may be getting a little bit better - although lactic acid does not have a very sour odor.  If you continue to reduce the microbic load (discard) and feed the desirable microbes exactly what they want, you will achieve what you want.  The LAB and wild yeast will gain strength in the starter forming a symbiotic relationship and will create the acid environment that kills off the harmful microbes.  And Voila you will see a dramatic increase in aerobic activity.

At Day 7 - 10 The starter should double in just a few hours after feeding it.  You will also notice a difference in the odor of the starter.  You will be the proud owner of a natural "sourdough" starter.  

The reason that the pineapple works to speed up the process is found here in this great article from Deb Wink on the fresh loaf :

Also you will want part two... 

One last thing - make sure that your flour is not too old - and I really recommend using organic flours or at least some organic flour for developing a new starter - and rye is very important. 






Optionparty's picture
Optionparty 2010 November 21

A good educational article addressing scalded flour

I have only tried 6% scalded flour in my “Poolish”.
I microwaved 3 parts water(18%) to 160F, then mixed in 1 part flour (6%).
When I was sure it had cooled, I added enough flour to start my poolish.

If Scalding temperature is to high, it will destroy the enzymes in the flour you scald.
That is why I added non gelatinized flour after it had cooled replaced any enzymes lost.
Peter Reinhart increases the amount of pre-ferment in the final dough
to prevent late enzyme attacts on the starches. (while baking, reducing gumminess)  Page 55

Tastes good, but it does add more steps to bread making.



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