The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My starter seems to be inactive

ekah's picture

My starter seems to be inactive


I'm new here and new to bread making. What a great site you have.

I have recently made two starters simultaneously based on Sourdough Baking - The Basics ( - one without commercial yeast, and another one with a small amount of active dry yeast.

The one I started with commercial yeast has been doing well. I've been feeding it regularly, and it looks happy. I've even made Ciabatta Poolish version from Peter Reinhart's BBA with this starter.

However, the one I started naturally seems to be dormant or inactive. It was doing well after about a week, so I fed it with fresh flour and water. Now, it isn't doing anything, and there is no more foam nor bubbling either. Before I fed it, there was a thin layer of "hooch", but now it appears as if the flour and water have separated completely with all of the water content on top. The flour at the bottom looks flat.  The "hooch" now has a greyish tint. I am unsure of what to do next. 

I should also mention that my kitchen was on the cool side, at around 65 F, when I made both starters.

Should I restart from scratch? Thank you in advance for any tip.





Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

It's probably okay. 65 degrees will definitely slow things down, but not feeding it for a week (did I interpret that right?) will slow things down even more. The good news it that lactobacilli sometimes produce black pigments, so the greyish tint is probably a good sign. Continuing from here, you should feed it once a day, preferably with a whole grain flour---wheat or rye, doesn't matter. Hopefully you'll see some activity within a few days.

ekah's picture

Thank you Debra. I feel encouraged after reading your post. I will try your suggestion and keep at it.

clazar123's picture

If my cultures are sluggish, I will try to keep them warmer for a period of time. The top of the refrigerator is consistently about 70-75F range even tho my house is in the 65F range. They definitely like it warmer.

If you keep them warmer, they also need more consistent feeding. SInce I bake every weekend, I feed them once or twice a day with 25g warm water and 25 g flour.This helps build the volume I need for the next bake. If I need more volume, I increase it.

SO, stir in the hooch (the liquid on top),start feeding a small amount twice a day and keep it a little warmer.

ekah's picture

Thank you clazar for the additional info. I will try that if I see that it's not doing much.

Whats For Breakfast's picture
Whats For Breakfast

As Anna posted pretty much on the subject I was needing guidance on, here I am. So, having slavishly followed the daily feeding instructions, the fact that my house is less than 60F for the majority of the day is the reason why the starter doesn't seem to be getting anywhere? Presumably, before the advent of heating, folk still made sourdough? Am I simply going to have to wait much longer for the yeasts to work (as a good example, if making standard yeasted bread, it takes three hours not one to prove)? I can put the container over the radiators for the times when the heating is on but given that's only two short bursts a day, will that help? Oh, and I have the 'hooch' referred to above so I am assuming that something is happening at least...

(a lot of questions, I know, but the answers will be much appreciated!)

LeadDog's picture

Presumably, before the advent of heating, folk still made sourdough?

Yes they did.  I have a book on Alaskan Sourdough and it that book the author said the sourdough was kept near the stove to keep it from feezing.  The cool temprature is just going to slow the microbial activive down so yes it will take longer.  Putting the starter next to the radiator will help.  I think I remember reading about the miners in the gold rush keeping it next to their body to keep it warm.  The hooch is alcohol that the yeast has made.  You can stir the hooch back into the starter or throw it away.  The hooch is also a sign that the yeast need to be fed.

Whats For Breakfast's picture
Whats For Breakfast

thanks! It's fascinating (in a very geeky way), a lot of the books imply that this is hugely precise and scientific and in some ways it is but, as many have said on here- sourdough can't read and much of it also intuition. I shall persist!

ekah's picture

Thank you LeadDog for the info. It's much appreciated.

The hooch is alcohol that the yeast has made.

This is also how the beer is made, isn't it?  :-)


It's fascinating (in a very geeky way)

Haha. My thoughts exactly. It's great. My husband called me a "geek" the other day when I talked about starters and pre-ferments.

Whats For Breakfast's picture
Whats For Breakfast

... so trying not to give up, putting the starter somewhere warmer (when there is somewhere warmer), feeding it when either it bubbles or there's sign of 'hooch', twice so far. Given that the Day 1/2/3 theory bears no relation at all to what's going on as it's so slow, how should I know when the starter is ready to use? (please re-direct me to whichever thread already covers this, by all means).

cdnDough's picture

Another tip is to try using bottled spring water.  This is quite a common question and I'm sure you'll find an overwhelming number of threads if you search the site.  Here's a couple of threads with some useful suggestions and a good outcome.

clazar123's picture

You will see plenty of activity but only when you see that it is producing a rise do you know that it is getting close to being ready. When it can double it's rise after a feeding, it is ready to rise bread. SOmetimes I make sure it can do this for a few feedings before I use it.


1.Make a note of the level of the culture in the jar by marking it with a piece of tape (that is why a clear glass jar works best-and it should hold at least a quart).

2.Feed it twice a day.Put it in a warm place.I generally feed mine 25 g flour/25 g water per feeding.I have 3 cultures in quart jars(about half-full) and end up using about 1/2 to 1 c starter per loaf of bread made.Different cultures-different flavors.

3.See where it rises to for the next couple hours and mark the highest rise.

4.If it is able to double the height-it is ready.

5. Take out what you need for a bake and feed the leftover to start building bulk up for the next bake.

6.If you won't be baking within a day or so, then feed and put in refrigerator right away

7.When you are ready to bake,take it out a day or so ahead of time,feed twice a day and keep warm til it rises double and is ready.

8.If you are refrigerating for more than a week, you may need to feed once a week and put it right back in refrigerator to keep it alive,( tho I do know people that keep a "mother" culture in the refrig and never feed it til they are ready to use it. It can go a long time between feedings but I think they are taking a chance of losing their culture.)

9.. Then when you want to use it, you may need to feed/keep warm for a few days before it can rise itself double, so some planning ahead is required. I always took mine out on Wed and baked on Friday night or Saturday.SOmetimes it was ready Thursday and I just kept a 12 hr feeding schedule-sometimes it took til Saturday afternoon-just depends-remember it is a living thing-not totally predictable.

Being a living thing, it may take a while to "mature" as a working culture. I've found that sometimes a new culture will have different flavors or characteristics over the first few months-some good/some not. I sometimes use a little commercial yeast to give it a boost if I am time constricted-not much-1/4 to 1/2 tsp per loaf.

These are things I've learned over the last 6 months so I am by no means a long-experienced expert. BUt if you bake every week,you learn a lot and this forum has also been tremendously informative.

Learn by doing-even bricks can taste good toasted :) or as bread crumbs.



Whats For Breakfast's picture
Whats For Breakfast

Ok, I have what by your description and instruction clazari123 is a functioning starter. Hurrah! I am intending to try to bake with it tomorrow. 'citing! (in bread geek terms :) )

dsidwell's picture

Howdy all,

The last few times I've made sourdough bread, gluten strands have had a difficult time forming. I've kneaded in a Bosch mixer, and then by hand. it seems fairly stretchy, but as soon as it rises, the gluten strands break down. When I finally bake the loaves, the tops of the bread is all lumpy from breaking down.

Any ideas? Thanks!