For what it’s worth, #1 thing I’ve learned is that it usually looks worse than it is, and that the smell of the starter is a major indicator. I’ve put together a quick list of what’s worked for me + tips from the pros, check them out!
- Use a jar with a wide mouth so it is easy to feed and clean
- Plan ahead, some refrigerated starter can take a few feedings to activate
- A healthy starter is fed often, try to feed it every two weeks
- What does a healthy starter smell like?
Sweet, yeasty, and slightly sour.
- Why is the starter not bubbly? If you don’t see bubbles in 4-8 hours, it may need shorter feeding times and/or at a higher frequency.
- Why discard the starter? The old starter has little sugar and starch left and should be discarded before introducing new “food” to feed the yeast and bacteria. This will promote a healthy ecosystem in your starter jar.
- You may find a stinky aroma from an unfed starter (I mean dirty socks or back alley), it could have gone bad from either a bacterial or mold infection, highly recommend throw it out and start over.
- If you see a layer of dark fuzzy stuff on the surface, it is most likely mold. I have had success saving the starter by carefully removing ALL the mold without contaminating the undisrupted starter underneath. Refresh in a new vessel several times.
- Sour or astringent smelling liquid on top– this is the alcohol from fermentation, discard and refresh with a feeding.
- “Oops I froze my starter!” No sweat, just thaw and refresh with a feeding or two.
Sourdough starters are stronger and more resilient than you think.
Just in a few days, you should have a lively levain ready for your next baking adventure!
Check out this post for a bit of history and how to build your own Sourdough Starter from scratch.