The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough starter troubleshooting

kaleidosoph's picture

Sourdough starter troubleshooting

Hi all,

I have made a sourdough starter from rye flour, also adding some white flour (plain, not bread flour) to feed it, from the River Cottage Bread Book.  It's been very successful, bubbling away nicely, & I made some tasty bread with it (just adding a ladleful with dough already containing active yeast) at three weeks old.  Recently, I've come back to it and found that it has seperated, with a layer of watery liquid on top.  It seems to be fine when I just mix it up, feed it and let it rest again.  I'm just wondering why this has happened.  In the last feeding I added more flour than water to make it thicker, so far so good.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The separation is happening because activity in the starter has fallen off.  Food has been consumed and now low and the wee-beasties in the sourdough culture are saving their energy for when more food magically appears.  

Good that you thickened it.  A thin starter left if this condition too long can trigger the beasties (yeast especially) to go into a state of hibernation or sporing.  Then it would take three days to wake them up (without discarding) to have them active again.  

The liquid is byproducts of fermentation, has a low pH (acid) and basically beer, produced to protect the culture from invasion from competing organisms. The separated liquid is a buffer zone.  

You can decide to keep it or pour it off or remove a sample of the underlying culture to inoculate more flour and water.  I tend to do the latter to encourage more yeast activity in the starter, giving it time to peak before using. 

(If the separated liquid is not beery or sour to taste, and more like flour tasting water, then you have a big problem.) 

pjkobulnicky's picture

That's the probem with having an active culture. It is as much bother as having, say, a fish tank. Not a lot of work but a committment to keeping it fed and having its wastes removed.  Or think of it as a houseplant. Like watering the plant, once a week, whether you like it or not, refresh it and toss out the old stuff. If you do this on a schedule then you will always have your starter one simple refreshment away from using it.

kaleidosoph's picture

Thanks very much, I'm still learning about the chemistry behind bread making!  Much appreciated.