The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Separation

fstephens's picture

Sourdough Separation

Hi everyone!  I've finally gotten the courage to embark on my first sourdough.  I've been using the recipe/feeding schedule from the Bread Bible and it was going wonderfully.  After four days of feeding, I had a nice citrus smell going an a responsive, frothy starter.  Then day 5 happened.  I miscalculated my start date and had to leave my starter during the final feeding.  I left premeasured water and flour and detailed instructions for my boyfriend who, within 3 hours of the allotted feed time, assured me he feed, waited, and refrigerated my starter.  When I got home and checked on my starter I found that it seems to have separated with about 1cm of water floating atop my starter.  Is the separation of water from the starter a common thing? As I've said, I've never made a starter before and I'm planning on trying to make a loaf this weekend.  I just want to know if I can, in good conscience, blame my boyfriend if the loafs come out substandard :)

JMonkey's picture

Probably OK. It might be that you just added more water than you intended. I once decided to convert my starter to 200% hydration, meaning that I had twice as much water to flour by weight. It seperated, just as you described, but made fine bread.
I'd just stir it down, feed it, and once it's bubbling like crazy, bake a loaf or two. Good luck!

breadnerd's picture

I second the "don't worry".  I've had it happen fairly often too, mostly when it's been in the refrigerator longer than I planned.  I either stir it in, or pour it off the top, based entirely on mood, not any scientific reason.  

Robert Compton's picture
Robert Compton

that separation liquid is called 'wort' which would look smell and probably taste much like beer and in essence it is!   From my somewhat limited experience it is quite normal, and I'd dare say an almost required thing to happen.  It shows a 'mature' starter.   Just stir before you use.  I made sourdough today, using the no-knead method, and this was the best bread i've made yet!! and I do mean in my entire life!!  I ate one whole loaf myself:)  

cptvideo's picture

Robert: I'm pretty sure you meant "hooch." Wort is actually the heavenly liquid that's extracted during the barley mash in beer making :)


That liquid that seperates out is actually slightly alcoholic and gained "popularity" as "hooch" during prohibition -- but don't drink it, it will give you a horrid headache :) Just stir it back into the sourdough -- or toss it if you want a thicker culture -- nothing wrong either way.


... and I 3rd the "don't worry" sentiment -- The things typically written on sourdough starters make it sound like everything's gotta be handled... and timed... and fed *very* carefully. The truth is that the stuff is remarkably robust and it want's to turn your flour into great bread. I've neglected mine, without refrigeration for months and had it bounce right back when i decided to start making bread again. I don't recommend neglecting your starter, as it can pick up other contaminants (like those damned fruitflies!), and the flavors that develop can be a bit off until you get everthing back to an active healthy state again. An active, healthy starter is more predictable, stress free, and easer to work with than one that's regularily neglected.



eddmortimer's picture

The separation you encountered is the natural effect of the heavier flour sinking to the bottom and the water staying on top, and it is perfectly natural, just stir it back in. You may find that using a little less water means that this is less likely to happen, but its nothing to worry about. And the person who posted above is right, the sourdough starter is alot more robust than you might think, ive kept one unrefreshed in the fridge for months and it always works, everytime, its just a case of getting those yeasts and bacteria up and running again. If you think about it if yeast can be freeze dried and kept for months why not in a fridge.

Happy baking!