The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

what is killing my starter.

LevaiNation's picture
LevaiNation

what is killing my starter.

I’m not sure about this, 

Ten plus years feeding and baking with this starter. Always healthy and strong. Sometimes it goes dormant in the fridge for a week or two, and when it comes out it only takes two days to get strong enough to leaven dough and make lovely bread. Little by little, it became a side business. 

A couple of days ago it didn’t rise. Normal feeding, normal schedule, very warm days, but it didn’t do the trick. So I got a back up start r from the fridge and tried again.  And again, not a lot of action. Which makes me think.... could there be something suspicious about this new sack of flour? Is my water getting contaminated by something (comes from a tested well)? 

Has anyone heard of some chemical residues from pesticides hurting a sourdough starter? Where I live I have zero access to organic wheat.... super unfortunately. 

Clues?

 

b.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

A starter living on the edge and minimally used can be easily abused.  The problems start out small and then suddenly build up quickly bringIng the starter to a halt.  Maybe it's time to make a new starter.  You could have lost a few colonies of various yeasts and/ or bacteria and now the starter has difficulty returning to its old unique culture.  

Try making a new one but on a small scale.  Start out with just a tablespoon or two of flour and enough water to keep it wet.  Get it nice and warm to boost bacterial growth the first day or two and then give it another spoonful of flour and some water reducing temps to around 26°C for the rest of the week.  A spoonful of flour everyday is enough until the yeasts show up.  Maybe a discard about the 4th or 5th day if the small jar seems crowded. Then see if they react to a double feeding.  You know what to expect from the starter and when you catch that yeast growth spurt, at the right time, you're ready to increase the starter feeds for enough yeast to raise bread dough.  Go for it.  It usually is faster than trying to get a weak starter back on track.   

You could keep feeding the old starter next to the new one, and see if it comes around.  The new one will more likely have faster yeast and demand to be fed sooner when it sorts itself out.

Mini

LevaiNation's picture
LevaiNation

Hmm. The strange thing is that I pinched a back up about a month ago and put it in the fridge in a good container. I have done this before. And since the mid week batch failed me, I started a new mother from that fridge Back up. So it seems weird that both, the current levain, and the dormant one would decide to fail in the same week. Catch my drift?

plus my levains are well exercised. I bake big batches twice a week and feed them regularly and lovingly. I don’t know if that would be considered living on the edge...

still, I will get started on a new new mother. 

Sad though....

:-(

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

was referring to a baking business and not the starter, my bad.  But still if the back up is balking, perhaps the problem is older than you think.  Run thru the starter routine.  Key points are when it is chilled and response time after feeding.  Aromas do tell.  

Temp changes love to wreak havoc with fix maintenance routines, important to be flexible and not overfeeding when cool yet feed plenty when very warm.  Got any dried backups? 

Split the back up you have. Don't discard on one sample but do discard and feed the other sample.  If anything has gone dormant give it a chance to wake up with very small or equal feeding additions.  

David R's picture
David R
  • You don't need or want organic wheat for this reason - it won't make or break your starter. Organic is good because it's the right thing for the world, but not much effect on you or your bread. You might think more "good stuff" grows on organic crops, but the fact is you couldn't stop those yeasts etc from growing even if you wanted to. (Well, not without a lot of time, money, and trouble, anyway.)
  • If your water is home-treated with something, maybe your home system is causing a problem, but I doubt it.

What has changed? Especially, what has changed for the better? Have you made improvements like new methods, a new fridge, etc? New dish detergent?

LevaiNation's picture
LevaiNation

Thanks David. What has changed? I just don’t know. I’m trying to think think think. 

Same flours, same buckets, same detergent. Granted the temps have been ridiculously hot here. Like 98+ f (36 c) but still, that usually causes my levain to get over active instead of the opposit. 

Im really thinking it was a weird batch of flour. And of course I want to get some organic product cause it’s good for the planet and for myself and my costumers, or at least not such an enriched flour. They add a lot of things to our harina here in Costa Rica. 

David R's picture
David R

What did you notice, that makes you think this flour might be different? Maybe it's something you believe is not important.

Organic is not better for the customers at all, except popularity. But popularity is important, and if organic is popular then you should use the excuse to do the right thing while also making money. 🙂

LevaiNation's picture
LevaiNation

We’re gonna have to agree to disagree on the organic front. I believe that the glyphosate heavy pesticides that wheat gets showered with are the main reason why there’s this epidemic of gluten intolerance. 

But that’s a whole other thread. 

 

But yes, in a way, this situation is making me feel like our sourdough starters are the bakers coal mine canaries..... 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

perhaps you got a corn or gluten free flour by accident.  Tie a collapsed bag over the starter and see if you can trap some gas in it. That would tell you if it can raise glutinous dough.  I've  had to feed starters starch sometimes and they love it, they just don't rise at all.  Otherwise they show all the tell tale signs, aroma changes, sourness, bubbles or gas layers in the culture and when combined with wheat flour, they do their job.  

LevaiNation's picture
LevaiNation

I will test it this way! I have to say that yesterday’s batch did rise. Slow and somewhat weak. It doubled in about 7 hours as opposed to the usual tripling in about 5...

So it’s still alive. And I’m not ready to give up on it. 

LevaiNation's picture
LevaiNation

I just wanted to follow up on this “case”. 

I was able to bring back my starter. New sack of flour, a couple of days of double feedings and it came back to a happy rhythm. 

I truly think that there was a funky balance of whatever they add to my flour here in the tropics  I can’t think of any other reason.