The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

I think my starter died

frogdog's picture

I think my starter died

Finally got my starter going.  Baked three loaves that turned out pretty good for a first time effort.  Had about 1 cup starter left.  Added 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour.  After about 24 hours it looks like it is dead.  No bubbles, no foam.  Dead.  I left out on the sink covered with cling wrap.  Thoughts anyone?

trevor.james's picture

I'd try adding more water and flour.  If you go with a recipe such as Peter Reinhart's Mother Starter refresher (p. 42 of Artisan Breads Every Day) ... he calls for 2 3/4 cups of flour and 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of water per 3/4 cup of starter.  Since you have 1 cup you could up the flour a bit - I'd try adding some more flour and water and see what happens.  Let it sit at room temp for 4-8 hours and you should get some activity.

Try that and let us know what happens.

-Trevor James

LindyD's picture

A half a cup of flour to feed a full cup of starter is woefully insufficient.  I don't know what hydration you are keeping it, but it needs to be fed more flour.

frogdog's picture

Thanks, will try more flour

miglenka2000's picture

I find that folding in air (by stirring) helps encourage my starter when it gets sluggish. Good luck.

althetrainer's picture

You probably want to use more flour and water.  When I feed my starter I always use at least 1:1:1 starter:flour:water ratio.  If I want a lower hydration level starter I use less water but at least the equal amount of flour to starter.  If, increasing amount of flour & water doesn't  seem to help you may want to try force feeding it for a couple of days.

My starter did something similar to me once.  For no particular reasons it seemed to die on me while I house sat for my friend.  My husband didn't know how to feed the starter so I brought it with me.  Good thing I did or I would accuse my husband of killing it LOL Anyways, I ended up force feeding the starter (fed it 2 - 3 times a day) and put 3 - 4 raisins into the starter and let it do its thing.  After 36 hours, my starter became bubbbly and smelled like starter again.   Hope yours will do the same.

Best of luck!


labgrrl's picture

Most of the flora involved in sourdough aren't going to "die" unless you leave it for months, or dehydrate it completely, and all of them aren't going to die then.

What's more likely is that they've crashed...

What that means is that without enough food, and without enough air, they've stopped growing logarithmically and have gone down to what, if they were cancer cells or bacteria growing in a culture dish, we'd call "lag phase." Think of it as sleeping...

Try this:

Measure out however much starter you've got left. Add to it an equal amount of flour, and half the amount of water. (So, for a cup of starter you'd add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.)

Place it in a mixer, and mix at lowest speed for about 5 minutes. Or whisk it to heck. You've got a lot of dead flora in there with the live ones, and you need to make the food and air accessible to whatever hasn't died...try to make sure it's not more than 2 inches deep...

Then cover it with a tea towel, or something else that it can breathe through, not plastic wrap, and let it sit out for 12-24 hours. 

You should start to see some minor activity then...maybe even nothing more than a couple of bubbles on the top, or a matrix (web-like appearance) when you stir it.)

At that point, you're going to want to feed it once a day for a couple of days, splitting off about half the volume each time... (This is to bring the pH up a little. Like you want some lactic acid for the tang, too much lactic acid tells your flora (yeast, Lactobacilius Sanfrancisci, thermophilus, etc) to shut down)

To speed the starter up, you can add some sugar (or raisins, or juice) but that's going to tend to make the yeasts (including the yeasts on the raisins) bloom, making more EtOH (hooch, booze) and more acetic acid, again, potentially telling your flora that there isn't enough food for them here and starting the whole shut down cycle again... Remember that sourdough starter is a symbiotic mix of bacteria and fungi, each with special needs....

Lastly, if you have access to a sterile (but not dry) incubator, or a yogurt maker, plopping the whole starter+flour+water into the yogurt maker for 4-6 hours will bring any starter back to life... seriously, even if you've starved them for MONTHS.

This is how people like me end up with 2, 3 year old starter in our fridges that is vigourous as heck. :)

Remember that in brewing, yogurt making, etc, unless you boil the heck out of the product the flora is still alive, even if "sleeping," even a lot of breads still have residual live yeasts and bacteria after baking, that's why you can make some starters from bread pieces.)

I hope I didn't get too technical on you. :)

Oh... And there is always a possibility when you knock a starter down (via starving it, not letting it breathe,etc.) that you end up with lots of yeast (fungi) and not enough bacteria, adding sugar will often cause this (you end up with lots of bubbles, not a lot of tang.) Adding a malt powder (or even water you've sprouted barley in) will prevent this....

evyenyios's picture

Good Job Labgrrl. thanks. I have a book, "Secrets of a Jewish Baker" which i bought from King Arthur's Flour.  Very good family info. 

houstonwong's picture

I know this is an old thread, but sounds like something I did: I think I may have instigated a shutdown. Labgrrl, maybe you could shed come light?

My previously active starter "died" when I left it on the counter (75-78F temp) for about 36 hours/48 hours or so (I had the flu and couldn't be bothered feeding it). For the next 2 weeks, I tried feeding it once a day, twice a day, at 1:1:1 / 1:2:2 / 1:3:3, with kind words / threats of physical violence / voodoo sacrifices etc...

It's been over 2 weeks and no rise. At best there are a half dozen bubbles on the surface after 12 hours.

Tonight I'll try feeding it like you stated and cover with a cloth instead of saran wrap. Could you tell me if the cloth needs to be wet? I'm just afraid of either drying out the starter or allowing bad bacteria in.





HMerlitti's picture


You comment about the 2" deep interstests me.   Why did you specify 2".  ??????

labgrrl's picture

It's actually based on nothing more than my experience about how most starter will form layers if you leave it alone in a clear container. I keep it at about 4 inches in my fridge, and the top half always seems to be more vigourous than the bottom.

So that's experience, not so much science. :)

So glad frogdog's starter came back to life!

When I have more bread than we can eat I dehydrate it and put it in the blender for the best breadcrumbs ever (for meatloaf, topping mac and cheese, whatever.) I've heard of people dehydrating extra starter and pulsing the hard chunks back into flour, which is how "sourdough flavor" is made for non-sourdough recipes, but it scares me...I'm afraid I'll end up ruining the dehydrator's solid food trays.  My extra starter either gets used or goes into the composter, where I have this delusion it's speeding up my compost. :)

We don't throw out anything. I put the crumbs in a mason jar and seal with a jar sealer and they keep for a bajillion years (okay, several months.)




frogdog's picture

It came back to life.  I fed it a couple times and it is now so big it is taking over the kitchen.  I will now have to get rid of some and put it in the frig.   I hate throwing some away, but I don't know anyone that I could share with.  The two of us are still trying to eat all of the three loaves I made yesterday. 

Salilah's picture

It said on the news (BBC) this morning (in an awful piece "celebrating" the Chorleywood Bread Process) that something like 35% of bread is thrown away - so don't beat yourself up!  I keep reassuring my other half that we don't have to finish all of every loaf - we can't! - and that it's all about learning...