Sourdough bread on rack

Bread & Sourdough

Sourdough Starter Not Rising

Whether you have a sourdough starter that’s been passed down for generations in your family or you have a new starter that you’re making from scratch, it can be incredibly frustrating if it isn’t rising.

Sourdough starters are a complex substance with many different factors that can affect their development. In fact, sourdough starters are so complex that scientists are still researching to learn more about how they work.

It should come as no surprise that a variety of elements can prevent your sourdough starter from rising. Often it can be one small thing that goes wrong that can throw the whole thing off. Fortunately, you can troubleshoot your starter to figure out what’s keeping it from rising and fix the situation. Read on to learn how to get your sourdough starter to rise. 

Why Is My Sourdough Starter Not Rising and How to Fix It?

Before you can solve the issue of your sourdough starter not rising, you need to figure out what is causing the problem, as that will guide you toward your solution. Since starters can be finicky, several factors can cause a problem. Read on to figure out why is my sourdough starter not rising?

Not Enough Feeding

If your sourdough isn’t rising, you may not be feeding it enough. Even if you’re following a recipe, they don’t always consider all factors, such as the climate. Try feeding your sourdough more than the usual amount. Also, try feeding it more often. As you gradually increase the amount and frequency of feedings, your sourdough starter will start to mature.

Flour Issues

The type of flour you use is essential. Using low-quality flour will yield low-quality results. Most bakers suggest using bread flour made with rye for the best results. You can also try organic flour.

Additionally, it would be best if you didn’t switch up the types of flour you use. Once you’ve chosen a kind of flour, stick with it during each feeding. If you want to try a new type of flour, it’s best to begin a new starter.

Water Problems

Even water can affect whether your starter will rise. If you’ve been using tap water or even filtered water, it could be causing problems. These waters contain different chemicals like chlorine that could yield mixed results. Try switching to bottled water and see if that makes a difference.

Ratio

While the ratio of starter, flour, and water found in your recipe is usually pretty accurate, if your sourdough starter fails to rise, it may need a boost. You may need to adjust your ratio, at least for a few days, until your starter is rising correctly.

To switch up the ratio, you’ll need to increase the amount of flour while keeping the water and starter the same. This increase will allow for faster growth and should give your starter a boost. Once it’s rising normally, you can go back to your original ratios.

Temperature

One issue is temperature. Sourdough starter prefers a warmer climate to rise, and if it’s too cold, it may fail to rise. You should aim for a spot that is between 76 to 80 degrees F. As your house likely isn’t this warm, you may have to take measures to keep your starter warm.

You may have a room or window in your house that gets a lot of sunlight that can make it warmer. A seed mat can keep it warm, or you can put a small fleece hat, towel, or blanket around the jar. A heating lamp or a mug warmer can be helpful as well.

Fluctuating Starter

You may have a starter that rises in the first few days and looks great. You may get excited that everything is going so well, only for things to fall flat. You may be ready to throw out your starter and begin again, but it’s best to wait a few days.

It’s common for a sourdough starter to fluctuate, especially when it’s in its early stages. You may notice it getting a little more active right after feedings and then settle down for a few days. Give your starter time to mature. Remember that it can take a couple of weeks or even longer for your starter to reach full maturity.

Starter Doesn’t Rise Between Feedings

You may be feeding your sourdough as instructed but are still seeing little activity between each feeding. It’s essential to stay the course and continue with regular feedings. Give your sourdough time, and it’ll eventually mature.

Ideally, there should be a fair bit of growth between feedings. The starter should usually double. If it’s not growing this much, then it’s definitely not ready to be used in bread. You can try adding more starter at your feedings to give it a boost.

Liquid on Top

You may notice some liquid floating on top of your starter. This liquid is called the hooch, and it’s a signal that your starter needs to be fed more. Simply up your feedings and consider adding in some rye flour to get things going.

Wrong Type of Bacteria

Your starter may attract the wrong types of bacteria, leading to strange smells and a starter that doesn’t rise. While there’s no way to deter the harmful bacteria, following these best practice tips can help you attract the types of bacteria you want.

Time

One of the most significant factors surrounding starter rising is time. While you may be anxious for it to rise so you can get to baking your bread, starters take time to grow. While some starters may rise within the first few days, others can take up to two weeks before rising. If it seems like you’re doing everything else right, then you may need to be patient and wait.

Mold

In some cases, your sourdough starter will become moldy. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to be done for moldy sourdough starters. It’s simply not safe to consume. You’ll have to throw the starter out and begin with fresh ingredients. It’s essential to check that you’re using fresh flour to prevent mold.

Should I Just Start Again on My Starter?

If your sourdough isn’t rising, you may be ready to throw your hands up, throw out the starter, and begin from scratch. In most cases, starting over isn’t a good idea. 

You’ll likely make the same mistakes you made the first time around, and you’ll be back in the same boat. It’s best to first troubleshoot your starter and see if it can be fixed. Many times, the fixes are pretty simple. Only throw out a starter once you’ve gone through all the troubleshooting and have given it ample time to grow.

What Is a Sourdough Starter?

There are many ways to make bread, and one of the most common methods is to use a starter. When making leavened bread, which is a bread that uses a substance like yeast to make it rise, bakers can use a starter or an active or instant yeast as an ingredient.

A starter is made of flour, water, and yeast. While the yeast you purchase at a grocery has yeast added to the mixture, a starter begins with just flour and water. The yeast is airborne and becomes part of the starter over time. While some starters can be ready in a few hours, other starters, such as sourdough starters, can take several days to achieve fermentation.

A starter works by attracting microbes, particularly yeast and a few other types. The microbes eat the sugar found in the flour and water mixture and exhale carbon dioxide, making the resulting bread fluffy and delicious.   

Why Use a Sourdough Starter?

When making leavened bread, starters are considered an old-fashioned method to make the bread rise. Many modern bakers now use active or instant yeast purchased at the grocery store to make the breadmaking process much faster.

So why use a starter instead of the quicker options? Many bakers choose to use a starter instead of other types of yeast to bake bread because it often adds a better texture and a richer depth of taste to the bread. As bakers grow more skilled, they may prefer to use a starter as it provides a new challenge and improves their baking skills.

Other bakers use a starter for nostalgic purposes. They may remember a family member baking bread using a starter and may even have a starter that has been passed down through many generations in their family. These bakers prefer to do things the old-fashioned way. 

How to Get Started With a Sourdough Starter

If you want to create your own sourdough starter, the process is actually relatively easy. You’ll only need flour, water, and a container to keep it in. Ideally, your container will have a lid that can be cracked to allow air to enter when needed. You don’t need to purchase yeast. The yeast is in the flour itself.

Starting out, you’ll want to create a 1:1 ratio of flour to water. This ratio means that if you put in a cup of water, you’ll also need a cup of flour. You can use more or less depending on how much starter you want, but you’ll need to make sure to keep the 1:1 ratio.

Once you have your flour and water in the container, stir them up and cover. You don’t want to use an airtight seal. Instead, cover with a towel or some plastic. Most bakers recommend using a kitchen scale instead of measuring cups, as your measurements will be more accurate. Accuracy is critical when it comes to starters. You should also use a glass or plastic container, not metal.

How to Look After Your Sourdough Starter

Once you’ve created your starter, the wait begins. Keep your starter in a warm place and feed it on schedule. You’ll need to feed it daily and continue to use a 1:1 ratio of flour and water. After a couple of days, you’ll notice that your starter is smelling. It should be a sweet, yeast-like odor. 

Keep an eye on your starter as you feed it. It should be growing steadily, and if it’s not, then it may need more flour. Depending on several factors, like climate, type of flour, and water, your starter may be ready in as few as five days, or it can take up to months.

Once your starter is ready, you can use what you need and throw away the rest. You may also choose to keep your starter going by using some for baking and then adding more flour and water to the original starter to keep it growing. If your starter works well, you may as well keep it going. You can even dry the starter out and store it for later use if you want to keep it for a long time.

How to Know When Your Starter Is Ready for Baking

You’ll know your starter is ready by checking its size, appearance, and consistency. A ripe starter has usually doubled in size. It’s usually thick and white. It may appear fluffy, and there’ll be lots of bubbles. You may notice a small amount of liquid on top and a sweet smell.

You can also do the float test to see if your sourdough starter is ripe. Simply scoop out a small dollop and place it in a glass of water. If you see that it floats, then it’s ready for baking. However, if the sourdough starter sinks, you need to wait longer.

Once your sourdough starter is ready, measure the amount called for in your recipe and get ready to bake. Depending on the type of bread you want to make, you may need to alter your flour to water ratio to get a different taste or texture.

Final Thoughts

If your sourdough starter isn’t rising, don’t despair. Don’t throw it out to start fresh. Just follow our simple troubleshooting steps to see what’s wrong and how to fix the problem. With careful scrutiny, you should be able to figure out what’s preventing your sourdough starter from rising and fix the problem. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying a loaf of delicious bread.