Sourdough Starter Troubleshooting: Tips When Things Go Wrong and Helps for Success.
Many of us have seen multiple pictures of happy appearing and bubbly active sourdough starters, but we may not have seen what it looks like when things go wrong, and your starter becomes moldy or spoiled. What can you do to prevent this?
It is important to share the triumphs and challenges, so that those on this journey, can learn, and grow from our own experiences.
Here are my Top 3 Tips for troubleshooting and keeping your starter healthy.
1. Consistency is Key: Feed regularly and routinely.
Whatever schedule you choose, it is so important, to stick with it, and to do it regularly. Whether, you decide to keep your starter outside and unrefrigerated on your countertop or in a cabinet, or you would like to keep it in the fridge, you should feed and tend to your starter regularly. If your feeding once daily, twice daily, every 3 days, or every week, do it consistently. In doing this, you help to keep up the health of the organisms you are growing, and reduce the potential for the overtaking of unwanted microbes, that can destroy your starter.
Your starter needs to have a good balance of lactobacillus bacteria, and yeast, the most common yeast being, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (but there are potentially several others). It also needs to maintain, a suitable, pH that supports the growth of these good microbes, more so, in the acidic zone (fluctuating at times between 3.5-5. This acidic environment, helps to deter the invasion of microbes, that are not wanted.
2. Temperature Control: It Should Not Be Kept at the Extremes
Starters work best between 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If too cold (under 70 degrees Fahrenheit), the starter, may not flourish as greatly, and if too hot, it can be harmed and destroyed. For example temps over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, can lead to culture destruction. So keeping your starter, in an appropriate temperature stable place, is very important and key. Keep a monitoring of how your stater, is doing, based on the base you decide to house it. If it is not doing as well, consider relocating it to a more temperature-controlled location, especially if you have temperature swings based on your living location.
3. Neglecting the Sourdough Starter: Leading to Prolonged Periods of Starvation/"Hunger": Hooch Development
Life can sometimes, get busy, especially, when you are taking care of your family. However, try your best to keep your sourdough starter, well fed, and cared for. Think of it as a little "pet", with needs, and foundational requirements, in order to live and thrive. If you have left your starter unfed for too long, it will use up it's food resources, potentially become weaker, and then become susceptible to the overtaking of mold or other undesirable microbes.
Some of us may have seen a layer of liquid at the top of our starter, if we let it go too long without a feeding, and this liquid is called "hooch", and it is the alcohol layer that forms, from the fermentation of yeast, after they have used up their food resources. This indicates to us, that it is "hungry", and due for a feeding. So, get that starter fed as soon as you can, and try to keep up a routine, with the avoidance of prolonged neglect.
If you feel it is too much to keep up with daily feedings, you can also store you starter in the fridge, and provide feedings at least every 3 to 4 days, or every week, depending on the starter you are using. Gluten free starters often require more feedings, while regular wheat containing grains may require less. You can test our your starter, and take a note of its activity. I have found that each of my starters, have different needs.
I hope this was helpful for you, and I encourage you to try your hand at your own homemade sourdough starter. You can check out the resources, I have here on my web site to get you started.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
I'd love to help you get started. You can also view my videos via my website here, or on my You Tube channel "Sustainable Sourdough + Grains". Check out my video below, on my 3 troubleshooting tips for a failed sourdough starter.
All the Best On Your Journey!
Dr. Monique Adu, ("Lifelong Whole Grain, and Sourdough Enthusiast")
In order to use my whole grains, to gain access to this extra nutrition, I really enjoy and find value in using my NutriMill Grain Mill. It is a long lasting invaluable long-term investment, in transforming my wheatberries, into the flour that I need to make all of my delicious baked goods. You can view the NutriMill Grain Mill offerings, using my link below.
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