The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A Sourdough Non-Starter

Inkoate's picture

A Sourdough Non-Starter

I know this is a rather common question around these parts, but I'm very new to sourdough, and my seed culture that I've been working on just doesn't seem to be turning into a healthy starter.  I started off from the BBA formula to grow a seed culture, but by day 3, when the culture was supposed to have doubled in bulk, it had not, and but had grown by about half instead.  As instructed, I discarded half and mixed with the prescribed flour and water and fermented for 24 hours.  It again failed to double in bulk, at which point it says to leave it out for another 12 to 24.  I did this, but it never got any larger than the growth by half I mentioned before.

Since then, I've diviated from the BBA book and went to the sourdough FAQ that I've seen posted around here and tried the tablespoon method for reviving a starter.  I've let that ferment for 48 hours now (almost exactly).  The starter has about the consistency of pancake batter now (perhaps a bit wetter), has a ton of bubbles in it, both large and small, and appears frothy on the surface (to me, but then I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be looking for, exactly).  However, it doesn't appear to rise much (if at all) after remixing with flour and water and totally fails the smell test (like whoa does it smell bad, but then I've never been good at describing smells).

What is my next step in attempting to revive this bad boy?  I've read about 1:1:1 ratio feedings (is that by weight or volume?) but also seen people talking about 1:2:2, 1:4:4 and 1:6:6 feedings, and to be honest, there's so much data, especially in the 165 post long thread, that I'm a bit in the tall grass on this one.

Thanks to anyone who can help! 

bwraith's picture


The BBA recipe has a problem described at the bottom of Mike Avery's starting a starter page on his site, but if you just substitute pineapple juice in the first day of the recipe, you should avoid that and other contamination problems. The fact it smells bad isn't a great sign after several days and feedings. I would start over after reading the information in the link above and include acid in the initial culture. Also, whole rye may be better than whole wheat for the initial starter according to some. SourdoLady has a blog on this site where she gives a good starter recipe also.

The sourdough starter faq is good, too. I'm not sure that's the one you're reading. It has particular information about troubleshooting starters that are in their infancy, as opposed to the more general sourdough faq.

The 1:1:1 usually is a weight ratio.

If you avoid the early contamination by adding acid, the rest of the process is usually easier. A gotcha that can make the "rising by double" rule not work even though the culture might be active and able to make bread:

1) Using flour that is too low in protein.

2) Getting into an unbalanced state where the flour breaks down from the acids in the starter before it will rise.

3) Having a little bit wetter culture (like 1:1 by volume).

Most people would not say that a healthy sourdough culture smells bad. Pleasant, tangy, are more typical adjectives. Dark colored streaks or liquid are also usually not a good sign of a healthy culture, although the alcohol called "hooch" that rises to the top after a while has a grayish slightly dark color to it.

I hope some of this helps. Temperature can be very important. Not too hot or too cold is a good choice, like 75F, except the sourdough starter troubleshooting faq above has a 1cup/12hr/85F method that wants temperatures like that.

Good luck with it.


mij.mac's picture

Hi you aren't really reviving it since it was never 'vive' but the instructions for making a starter from scratch over at are faultless. There is no point in me repeating everything here too. The instructions really couldn't be any simpler, you don't have to worry about day 1 or day 2, all of that is all very well if your conditions are the same as the author and the chances are they aren't. In short you sounded like you were doing fine to begin with, you just have to keep going with these things, they do it on their own we only have to feed them and keep them warm. By the way, whole wheat and rye combination is generally agreed to be the best. The only failure I ever had was from rye alone.