The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter gone bad?

kimmchieee's picture

Starter gone bad?

Hello! I am still new to sourdough starters and I fed my starter for about 5 days and then placed it in the fridge. After like 3 days in the fridge, I saw some discoloration. (refer to picture for reference). Is this the orange tint that indicates it's bad or is it still fine?

BaniJP's picture

It should be fine, probably some dried spots or accumulated bran. If you wanna be sure, continue with a piece of unaffected starter.

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Hi, Kim!


If it was me, I think I would, at the very least, scrape the orange bits out with a clean/sanitized spoon.  With it being a relatively new starter, my big worry would be that it’s not yet mature enough for beneficial bacteria to be able to properly fend off molds, mildews, and fungi.  Worst case scenario, toss it out and start a new one, and you’ve only lost about a week.


Also, a 5 day old starter, regardless of what so many “instructional” videos claim, is much too young to be ready to refrigerate.  As a newly made starter matures, it goes through a process whereby bacteria that are present on grains that have been milled into flour (technically, bacteria  are present on all things) become active and start to produce byproducts which alter the chemical composition of the starter.  In the beginning, these bacteria are very undesirable (some can potentially make you very sick).  These undesirable bacteria are what causes the “false rise” around day 2-3, which is usually accompanied by a foul-ish odor.  As these bacteria feed, their byproducts cause the mix to become more acidic.  As the acidity increases, something new happens: other, less unpleasant, bacteria start to become active.  And these new bacteria follow the same pattern as the others, consuming nutrients from the mix and creating byproducts, and in the process causing the mix to continue to become even more acidic.


Eventually, the mix becomes acidic enough that those initial (potentially harmful) bacteria can no longer survive in the environment that has been created.  By this point, most starters have a runny consistency, and may have small bubbles that float to the surface. But the mix has still not become acidic enough yet for wild yeasts to have become fully active.  For that to happen, the mix needs still more time to develop the right strains of lactic acid producing bacteria, at which point the acidity of the starter will finally fall into the range where wild yeasts can become active and survive.  Once the wild yeasts and lactic acid producing bacteria are thriving, they create a symbiotic relationship which regulates the starter’s environment and keeps other unwanted microorganisms (bad bacteria, molds, mildews, fungi, etc.) at bay.


Long story short, putting your starter in the fridge slows ALL activity.  If your starter was not fully mature prior to refrigeration, it’s going to take ages to reach the point where it can reliably prevent mold from taking root.  And of course, if it can’t prevent mold growth, it won’t prevent mold growth.


So, your best scenario will be to pull it out of the fridge and keep it at room temperature.  Follow a feeding / stirring schedule, but pay close attention to the signs your starter is giving you, and change your routine when necessary.  If the instructions you’ve been following have you using amounts of flour and water larger than 10 or 20 grams, it’s time to revamp your process.  With each feeding, carry over 10g of starter, feed it with 10g of flour and 10g of water (this will reduce the amount of flour your starter is consuming, and the amount of starter you have to discard).  The goal is to create a starter that has a high population density of yeasts and lactic acid bacteria, and you can do that just as easily with 10 grams as you can with a half cup.  Once it reaches the point where it reliably doubles (or more) in bulk within 6 to 8 hours, you’ll be ready to bake bread with it.  This may take up to three or four weeks.  Once it’s ready to bake with, you can easily scale up the amount of starter you need.

Lastly, keep us posted on how it’s going, and if you have any questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to share them.  We’ll be here with you every step of the way.