5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (2024)

If your sourdough starter is a little sluggish, it might need a boost to get it consistently doubling.

Perhaps it's been a little neglected and needs a refresh or perhaps it's just not performing as you'd like it to.

Here are 5 ways to strengthen a sourdough starter.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (1)

Sourdough starters are fairly resilient collections of yeast and bacteria.

Once mature, they will generally suffer through a bit of neglect - but sometimes it can be a bit of a struggle to get them to mature.

If you have had no luck troubleshooting your starter, it might be time to look at ways to give your sourdough starter a boost!

How Does A Mature Sourdough Starter Behave?

A sourdough starter that has "matured" will consistently double it's volume around 4-6 hours after it's fed.

It will have bubbles on the side of the jar, as well as breaking on the top.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (2)

The million dollar question everyone asks is "when will my sourdough starter be ready to bake with"?

And there's no single answer - it can take 7 days, it can take 4 weeks.

As a rule of thumb, most will be starting to be ready around 14 days - but even then it is still very young and has some growing to do!

Patience really is the key to becoming a good sourdough baker!

There is more information on how to know when your starter is ready to bake with here. And if you're wondering how your sourdough starter rises and falls, then you can learn about the science of sourdough starters here.

5 Tips to Strengthen Your Sourdough Starter

These tips will work to strengthen your sourdough starter if:

  • your starter has been a bit neglected (left in the fridge unfed a bit too long) or you've skipped a few too many feeds on the counter;
  • you've been growing your sourdough starter for a few weeks and it's just not doubling consistently;
  • your starter is constantly smelling like nail polish remover, even after a feed.

Boost Your Sourdough Starter With Oxygen

One of the easiest ways to strengthen your sourdough starter is to make sure it's getting enough oxygen. You can do this by:

  • making sure you don't have the lid screwed tightly on your jar - just cover with a piece of paper towel or coffee filter secured with an elastic band.
  • stir your starter in between feedings - try stirring it twice in between feedings and really give it a chance to get oxygen into the mix.

    This will help to activate your starter without too much effort.

Feed Your Sourdough Starter Superfood

If you have created your sourdough starter from a white, processed flour, it will really benefit from having a boost of rye flour.

Rye flour is like a superfood to your sourdough starter and it will help to strengthen it fairly fast. In fact, rye flour starters perform notoriously well.

Rye flour will help to make your starter more sour.

To boost your sourdough starter with rye flour, substitute half your normal flour with rye flour at each feeding for a few days and you should see a noticeable difference in your starter's activity level.

Freshly milled whole wheat flour is also very beneficial to your starter if you have access to it. For more information on feeding your sourdough starters different flours, check out this guide.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (3)

Keep Your Sourdough Starter Warm

Temperature is so important when establishing a sourdough starter, and also when trying to strengthen a weak sourdough starter. A sourdough starter that is being kept in cooler temperatures (below 70F/21C) will not colonise and thrive as well as a starter that is kept above 75F/24C).

You'll find over 20 ideas to keep your sourdough starter warm here.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (4)

Feed Your Starter More Often

It's as simple as it sounds. If your starter is sluggish and not behaving as you'd like, feed it more often - even up to 3 times a day if you really want to get it going.

Remember you need to discard half each time you feed your starter.

Feeding it 3 times a day isn't usually necessary for more than about 2 days - after that you should go back to once or twice a day (or you will risk overfeeding your starter).

If your starter continually produces hooch, it's a sign that it's hungry. It may mean that you need to increase the amount you're feeding it, rather than the regularity.

Try doubling the amounts of water and flour you are feeding your starter each time - so feeding at a 1:2:2 ratio.

Keep Your Starter At A Lower Hydration

If your sourdough starter seems to be a little thin, it can be hard to see if it's actually bubbling as the bubbles will escape.

A thinner starter will also not have the big bubbles on the side of your jar.

In order to strengthen your sourdough starter try and give it flour only for one or two feeds. This will make the mixture stiffer.

If your starter is quite runny, it should be easy to stir the extra flour into the mixture. If it seems a little stiff, it will loosen up as it eats and ferments the flour.

Once you've done one or two feeds of flour only, your starter should be thick enough and you can go back to normal feedings of flour and water. You should also notice your sourdough starter has larger bubbles.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (5)

If you're concerned that feeding your starter flour only will upset it's ratio - don't be. If you need your starter to be at 100% hydration for a recipe, you can make it that.

Once your starter is back on track, just put a tablespoon or so in a jar and then feed it equal parts flour and water - you'll then have a 100% hydration starter.

Totally Refresh Your Starter

If you are really seeing no consistent activity from your starter, you can give it a complete refresh. This will generally get your starter going again after a period of neglect or even overfeeding.

  1. Put 10g of your starter into a clean jar (you can discard the rest).
  2. Feed this 10g of starter with 25g of flour and 25g of water and stir in really well, remembering you want as much oxygen in the mix as possible.
  3. Cover loosely and leave for around 6 hours. By this stage you should see some bubbling starting to happen.
  4. After 6 hours, add another 25g flour and 25g of water, stirring really well to get that oxygen into the mix. Cover again and leave for another 6 hours.
  5. After 6 hours, discard approx half your mix so there's 50g left in the jar and feed as per normal (I recommend 50g of flour and 50g of water) - you'll be able to feed normally from now on, discarding half each time.
5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (6)

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I add sugar to my sourdough starter?

You can but there really is no need to. Sugar will give the yeast more to feed off, however this will not necessarily strengthen your sourdough starter. I would keep the sugar to add to your loaves - unless you are trying to create a sweet sourdough starter.

Why is my sourdough starter bubbling but not rising?

In the first few weeks of creating a sourdough starter, it is possible that your starter will bubble, but not actually rise (as in double). This is fine in the early stages of sourdough starter establishment. It just means that the bacteria in your jar are fighting it out for supremacy. Once the good bacteria win the fight, you'll see that your starter begins to double. It's very normal for a sourdough starter to bubble, but not rise, for a number of days in the early stages. Just keep going.

Should I stir my sourdough starter?

Absolutely. As mentioned above, stirring is a fantastic way to get oxygen into your sourdough starter which is essential for its growth.

Should I add pineapple juice to my sourdough starter?

No! There is absolutely no need to add pineapple juice to your sourdough starter. This will change the acidity in the jar. Just stick to flour and water (along with the tips in the post above).

Can you feed a sourdough starter different flours?

Yes you can. It's a good idea to add rye to give your starter a boost (if you think it needs it). If you are swapping flours (like swapping from all purpose to whole wheat or vice versa) understand that your sourdough starter may go through a little dormant period while it adjusts to the new food source. It will recover, but it might take a few days. Unless you are unhappy with your sourdough starter's progress, it's generally better to stick to the same flour for each feed to maintain a consistent starter.

Will the water I feed my sourdough starter make a difference?

Absolutely - the quality of the water you feed your sourdough starter is very important. You should avoid distilled, reverse osmosis and chlorinated water. You'll find a full guide to the right water for sourdough starter here.

Further Reading

  • Need a name for your sourdough starter? You'll find over 101 suggestions here.
  • A strong starter can help you to get a more open crumb sourdough bread.
  • Ready to bake your first loaf of bread? You'll find a great recipe for simple sourdough here.
5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (2024)


How to give sourdough starter a boost? ›

10. How do I make my sourdough starter more active?
  1. Keep your starter warm, 74-76°F (23-24°C) or warmer.
  2. Use more whole grains in each feeding.
  3. Feed your starter when it's ripe (not too early, and not too late)
  4. Don't place it into the refrigerator.
Jun 6, 2022

How do you increase sourdough strength? ›

Performing stretches and folds is a dough-strengthening technique performed at a set interval on bread dough during bulk fermentation. Each set typically calls for four stretches and four folds, one in each cardinal direction (North, South, East, and West).

Can I boost my sourdough starter with sugar? ›

The yeast and bacteria in your sourdough starter actually feed off the sugar from the starches in the flour. They essentially don't need any extra food. In fact, while adding sugar to the dough may provide "fast food" for your sourdough yeast, this quick food source is unlikely to provide any protein.

Can I boost my sourdough starter with yeast? ›

If you do want to add a pinch of yeast to your sourdough starter, I highly recommend just using a tiny pinch. This will be plenty. I also recommend keeping your starter on the stiffer side. The increased activity that comes from the commercial yeast will tend to make your sourdough starter too runny.

Can I add sugar to my starter? ›

It is used mainly in sweet dough. in order to reduce or eliminate sourness. Adding sugar to the starter creates osmotic stress.

Why is my sourdough so weak? ›

First take a look at your feeding ratio. The 1:1:1 ratio is pretty standard, but it's too watery. And a thing watery starter isn't as strong which means your rise won't be as good.

Is strong flour good for sourdough starter? ›

Cotswold Strong White Bread Flour is a popular option of making sourdough because of the flour's versatility and protein level.

What is the best strong flour for sourdough? ›

Sourdough Flours - The best flour for making Sourdough
  • Matthews Cotswold Churchill Strong White Bakers Flour 16kg. ...
  • Matthews Cotswold Organic Premium Wholemeal Flour. ...
  • Matthews Cotswold Organic Stoneground Wholemeal Bread Flour 1.5kg, 4.5kg & 7.5kg. ...
  • Matthews Cotswold Organic Strong White Bread Flour 1.5kg, 4.5kg & 7.5kg.

How do you fix a weak sourdough starter? ›

In order to strengthen your sourdough starter try and give it flour only for one or two feeds. This will make the mixture stiffer. If your starter is quite runny, it should be easy to stir the extra flour into the mixture. If it seems a little stiff, it will loosen up as it eats and ferments the flour.

What does an overfed sourdough starter look like? ›

An overfed starter can be too diluted and it will be very watery. Your workers are there, they are just overwhelmed with too much food and water. When this happens, first leave it out in the warmth overnight. In the morning discard all but a tablespoon of starter and feed it.

What is the fastest way to activate a sourdough starter? ›

Place your starter in a warm spot to rise and activate, ideally 75-80 F. Temperature is really important. The warmer it is, the faster it will rise. Your starter is active when it shows the following signs: doubles in size, small and large bubbles appear, has a spongey or fluffy texture and exhibits a pleasant aroma.

Should I stir my starter between feedings? ›

It is important that you stir the sourdough starter every day in the morning and in the evening. Feed the starter. Add 60 g flour and 60 g lukewarm water, stir well to combine, and let sit out for 24 hours.

What happens when you add baking soda to sourdough starter? ›

Using baking soda in sourdough recipes

Baking soda is added to react with the acids that result from the reaction of the yeast. This forms gas, which makes the batter lighter. If too much baking soda is added, the product may taste bitter and will be quite brown when baked.

What is the secret to a good sourdough starter? ›

Over the years, I've found keeping the mixture warm at around 80°F (26°C), and high hydration (100% water to flour in baker's percentages) helps get things started. In addition, while not mandatory, using certain flour also helps increase the chances a starter will take hold quickly (see below).

How to help a sluggish sourdough starter? ›

When your starter slows down, or loses its characteristic taste, you need to reduce its acidity and revitalize it. Dilution reduces acidity. And larger feedings encourage yeast activity.

How do you feed a starving sourdough starter? ›

Feed with flour and water

Feed the 113g saved starter with equal parts (by weight) unbleached all-purpose flour (56g) and water (56g). Usually, you'd feed with cool or room temperature water. But since your starter has been in the fridge, warm (not hot) tap water will help get things going.

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