FAQ - Starter Strengthening | The Sourdough Journey (2024)

A sourdough starter is a living organism and it periodically goes through changes where it can weaken over time. This is perfectly normal. Also, if you feed your starter a new type of flour, or perhaps during the change of seasons, you will see your starter strength change over time.

One of the critically important skills for you to learn as a sourdough baker is to learn how to read and strengthen starter.

Check out the videos below for detailed instruction on how to identify a weak, acidic starter, and how to remediate it.

Your starter will go through a natural cycle after every feeding. The following chart illustrates SevenStages of the Starter Feeding Cycle. See the video in the section below for examples of what a starter looks like at each of these stages.

In general, a strong starter should double in volume after a 1:1:1 feeding in about 4-6 hours at a temperature of approximately 75F/24C.

The rising time of a starter is significantly influenced by temperature. Many people mistake a weak starter for simply a cold starter. A very strong starter will rise slowly at low temperature, but it will rise rapidly at a warm temperature. A weak starter will not rise rapidly at either cool or warm temperatures.

The type of flour used in your starter and the hydration percentage can also impact how much of a rise your starter will display. Low protein flours, like all-purpose flour, will not rise as much as higher protein flours.

Here is an example of what a strong starter looks like. This starter is 50% bread flour and 50% whole wheat. It is 100% hydration, and it was about six months old at the time this video was produced.

To strengthen your starter, you need to understand the biology of what is happening, and you need to be able “read” your starter to understand when its yeast population is at its peak. Then use a combination of feeding ratios and feeding intervals to strengthen your starter. See videos below for examples.

There are three techniques for strengthening a weak starter:

  1. Change the feeding interval
  2. Change the feeding ratio
  3. Change the type of flour

Please note, by changing the temperature of your starter you can change the speed of the rise, but this is not necessarily changing the strength of the starter. Fermentation is temperature sensitive, and by increasing temperature you can create the illusion of stronger starter because it will rise faster. But a faster rise due to temperature change alone is not indicative of a change in starter strength.

To accurately measure the change in your starter’s strength, you must ensure that you are measuring your starter’s behavior at the same temperature.Warm starters will always rise faster than cool starters, but that does not mean the starter is stronger (it is just warmer!)

Changing the feeding interval, or frequency, is the single most important tool in strengthening a starter.

By simply catching your starter near its peak and refeeding at that time, you can significantly strengthen a weak starter. If you discard and feed at peak, you are carrying over the largest concentration of yeast cells possible in your carryover starter for the next feeding.

By using a technique known as “Peak-to-Peak” feeding, you should ignore the clock and feed your starter shortly after it peaks. By doing this three or four times in a row, you can substantially grow your yeast population and strengthen your starter.

The video “How to Strengthen a Weak Starter” describes the “Peak-to-Peak” feeding method.

The feeding ratio (e.g., 1:1:1 or 1:2:2) does not directly impact the strength of a starter. You cannot increase a starter strength by feeding it more food. You cannot force-feed a starter. In fact, if you are discarding at each feeding, then trying to force-feed your starter can actually weaken it, if you are discarding before your starter has peaked.

Discarding and refeeding a weak starter before it peaks, makes it weaker.

The feeding ratio is a technique used to strengthen your starter by simply controlling the timing of when your starter peaks. Your starter will strengthen by feeding it as close to peak as possible, but if your starter is peaking while you are sleeping or at work, for example, then you are not strengthening it. By changing the feeding ratio, you can elongate the duration of time required for the starter to peak. If this enables you to catch your starter closer to peak then the feeding ratio is contributing to the strengthening regimen, but not by actually changing the strength biologically or chemically because you cannot force feed a starter by giving it more food than it needs.

FAQ - Starter Strengthening | The Sourdough Journey (2024)

FAQs

How can I improve the strength of my sourdough starter? ›

By using a technique known as “Peak-to-Peak” feeding, you should ignore the clock and feed your starter shortly after it peaks. By doing this three or four times in a row, you can substantially grow your yeast population and strengthen your starter.

Why is my sourdough starter not getting stronger? ›

Most commonly, the issue here has to do with temperature (which is very important). If your sourdough starter is kept at a low temp, even 70°F (21°C), it will slow fermentation activity and appear to be sluggish, taking longer to rise and progress through the typical signs of fermentation. The solution: keep it warm.

Does sourdough starter get stronger over time? ›

For most bakers, the answer is a clear no. Maurizio Leo, author of the award-winning bread cookbook The Perfect Loaf, still uses the first starter he ever made; it's now 12 years old. And while he's sentimental about that starter, he says its age doesn't really impact his bread.

How do I know if my sourdough starter is strong enough? ›

Typical signs your starter is ripe and ready to be used:
  1. Some rise.
  2. Bubbles on top and at the sides.
  3. A sour aroma.
  4. Loosening in consistency.
May 16, 2024

Should I stir my sourdough 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.

How do you revive a sluggish sourdough starter? ›

A sourdough starter kept in the refrigerator is revived by feeding. If the starter has been in the fridge for a week or less, I'll take about 60 grams of it (equal parts by weight of water and flour) and add 60 grams of 100F water and 60 grams of plain flour. The new fed starter is about room temperature after mixing.

Can you overfeed a starter? ›

Premature discarding and overfeeding will weaken your starter and elongate the process. Don't discard and re-feed a weak starter before it shows increasing bubble activity or height from the previous feeding. If you don't see more bubbles or a faster rise each day, skip a feeding, and give it more time.

Can you put too much starter in sourdough bread? ›

If you have too much starter compared to the additional flour and water you're adding, your hungry starter consumes all the nutrients and then it's not as bubbly.

What is the oldest living sourdough starter? ›

The World's 'Oldest' Sourdough Starter Was Made With 4,500-Year-Old Yeast. There's no bread quite like sourdough. In addition to being tasty as a sandwich bread, delicious as sourdough croutons, and even great just toasted with butter, sourdough's production process is decidedly unlike other breads.

Should sourdough starter have big or small bubbles? ›

As long as your starter is doubling (or even tripling) in a timely manner after being fed, the size of the bubbles don't really matter too much. What you're looking for is activity and fermentation. Bubbles of any kind are an indication that this is happening inside your jar.

Can I use my starter if it doesn't float? ›

The sourdough float test involves taking a scoop of unstirred sourdough starter and dropping it into a glass of water to see if it floats. It's said that if it floats, your sourdough starter is ready to bake with. If it sinks, it's not ready.

Should sourdough starter be thick or runny? ›

Does it matter if my starter is thick or thin, you ask? Nope! Thick and thin starters are both full of wild yeasts and bacteria which is what your bread is begging for. The viscosity of your starter is really just a personal preference because thick and thin starters will both make bread.

Why is my sourdough so weak? ›

The truth is, the activity of your sourdough starter can vary from week to week, depending on the humidity, temperature, how often and how much you feed your starter. During the winter months, when the temperature is cooler, the sourdough slows down and does not feed as ravenously.

Can I add sugar to my starter? ›

After reading years ago that browning (aka Maillard reaction) could be encouraged by using a sweet stiff levain, that is what I've done: the night before mixing an enriched dough, I feed some of my sourdough starter with sugar, flour, and relatively less water.

Can I boost my sourdough starter with yeast? ›

A true sourdough starter relies on the natural yeasts and bacteria present in the flour and the environment. Adding commercial yeast to the mix may speed up the fermentation process, but it won't produce the same complex flavors and textures that come from a naturally fermented starter.

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