When the sourdough starter fails to exhibit the anticipated signs of fermentation, numerous factors come into play, ranging from inadequate feeding and unsuitable environmental conditions to potential contamination.
If your starter does not grow after you feed it, it can be a disheartening experience. There might not be any bubbles at all. There may be a slight expansion. Maybe it separates into layers of sludge and water.
In all these cases, the odds are not in your favor if you’re hoping to make scrumptious lofty bread using your starter after eight hours of feeding.
How do you handle this dead starter? First, let’s look at some basics about starter health. Afterward, we’ll discuss what else might be happening and how it can be fixed.
Do you ever have days when you are just ravenous?
It is possible for starters to be ravenous as well. Your starter might need a few extra feedings to boost yeast development if it was bubbly and happy at one point and now it’s not rising.
Feed your starter 2x a day, assuming you understand the effects of temperature and ingredients on its growth.
You may also need to feed your starter several times at room temperature if it’s been stored in the refrigerator. Patience is key!
Reasons For Sourdough Starter Not Bubbling
Several factors can contribute to a sourdough starter not bubbling, which is essential for the fermentation process. Here are some common reasons your sourdough starter might not be bubbling:
If you haven’t been feeding your starter regularly or haven’t used the right proportions of flour and water, it might not be getting the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Sourdough starters thrive in a warm environment, ideally between 75°F to 85°F (24°C to 29°C). If the temperature is too low, the fermentation process might slow down, leading to a lack of bubbling.
If your sourdough starter has been contaminated with unwanted bacteria or mold, it might not ferment properly, leading to a lack of activity and bubbling.
Chlorinated water can sometimes hinder the fermentation process, so using filtered or bottled water might help.
If your starter is relatively new, it might take a few more days to become fully active and start producing bubbles. Patience is crucial in the initial stages.
Starter Hydration Level
If the hydration level of your starter is off, it might affect the fermentation process. Ensure you are following the correct hydration guidelines for your recipe.
To troubleshoot your sourdough starter, consider the following steps:
Feed It Regularly
Discard a portion of your starter and feed it with fresh flour and water at regular intervals.
Keep It Warm
Place your starter in a warm spot, such as the top of the refrigerator or near the oven, to maintain the optimal temperature.
Use Clean Utensils
Make sure all the utensils and containers you use for your starter are thoroughly clean to prevent contamination.
Check Your Water
If you suspect your water might be affecting the starter, try using filtered or bottled water.
By paying attention to these factors and making the necessary adjustments, you can help your sourdough starter become active and bubbly again.
Reviving A Sluggish Or Dead Starter
Here are a few things you should be doing to ensure your starter thrives:
Your container should be covered loosely with a lid (this isn’t because air is needed for the starter, but rather because a tightly sealed container may explode due to air pressure within it).
A jar, bowl, or pyrex that has not been overly sanitized with soap residue (glass is somewhat preferable to plastic since it maintains scratch- and contaminant-free easier)
Water that is unchlorinated, filtered or bottled (not reverse osmosis or well water treated with chemicals). The flour should not be bleached, self-rising, or cake flour.
Whenever you’ve made a mistake in one of the above bullet points, simply modify that part of your process. Continue to read the instructions below because they may help you get your starter to thrive sooner.
It may be necessary to adjust timing, hydration, and temperature of your starter care if you’re already doing all of the above.
Timing And Temperature
You may need to give the starter time for all the feedings to be metabolized by the microbes. Most often, this is the case when the environment is cold (AC below 70°F, kitchens in the winter).
After 12-24 hours of feeding, if your starter has barely bubbled or not bubbled at all, stir it again and let it sit for a day or two.
See if bubbles appear after feeding again. Locate a spot in your house with a temperature over 70F but under 85F if possible.
Depending on the location, a hot appliance, radiator, lamp, enclosed box with boiling water nearby, or oven with light could be used.
If you fail to give your starter any food for a long period of time, it will run out before you can give it its next feeding.
In most cases, this occurs when your kitchen is too hot or when you don’t feed the starter enough. Relative to the existing starter, add a small amount of water and flour.
The microbes are likely metabolizing your feedings quickly if you see bubbles, but your starter looks deflated or has liquid “hootch” on top by the next feeding.
It may be a good idea to feed them sooner in that case. It’s also possible to use cooler water or fresher flour when you feed.
After each feeding, your starter might be bubbly, but it won’t expand or expands barely.
For a greater microbial population to flourish, several rounds of peaking and feeding at room temperature may be necessary.
It could also be that the starter’s consistency is too thin, so bubbles pop rather than accumulate.
Why Doesn’t My Sourdough Starter Have Big Bubbles?
Healthy starters do not require large bubbles. In feedings, bubbles reflect the type of flour used. A white flour that is high in protein will often produce larger bubbles than a whole grain flour that has a smaller ability to trap gas.
- To better trap CO2 and see expansion in the starter, it is often helpful to thicken the starter a bit.
- Put all but 50g of starter in a discard jar at your next feeding.
- To that, add 50g starter, 50g water, and 60g flour.
- A spatula can be used to clean the jar’s sides after thoroughly mixing.
Watch what happens over several hours and a few days after you mark the level on your jar with a rubber band. Stir the starter vigorously every 12 hours if you don’t see any expansion. As soon as it starts expanding, do not stir it.
Eventually, your starter will expand, but it may take more than a day. Feed it only when it becomes “hungry.” This means the top of the starter flattens or streaks on the sides, indicating a small rise and fall.
You should assess if the starter has barely expanded or if it has come close to doubling. When feeding the starter 50g water and 60g flour, do not discard the flour (to promote lowering the pH).
For the latter scenario, discard down to only 50g starter and continue feeding. Continue doing this until the starter falls before doubling.
Now you can use the starter to bake. The ideal time for doubling is less than eight hours. Baking with starter will take longer, but you can still use it.
Try these troubleshooting tips for three to four days, and if your starter still doesn’t work, you might need to get help from a seasoned baker.
You can also post on forums for help. If you would like help from the community of home bakers, upload photos and explain what you have been doing.
You shouldn’t feed it if it doesn’t respond. In layman’s terms, it means the yeasts aren’t consuming (if they exist at all), so you shouldn’t feed them until they are hungry and ready to produce gas. There is a possibility that bacteria consume the food without releasing CO2.