The sourdough starter is the heart and soul of a great bread baking operation. It’s what feeds your oven, it makes your dough rise, and it gives you that wonderful tangy flavor in your loaves.
It also takes care of itself for long periods of time without much intervention on your part. This means you can forget about it, leave it alone, and not worry about it until you need to feed it again. This is why sourdough starters are so popular with bakers; they give you all this amazing quality control at no cost!
It can be tricky to store your sourdough starter properly, but if you do it right, you will have a happy, healthy starter for years to come.
Don’t worry: we will help you understand how to keep your starter alive and well, as well as how to make sure you don’t end up with mold or other nasty surprises when you use it.
In this article, we are going to be looking at everything you need to know about sourdough starters, including how to make your own starter, and the best way to use it in bread baking.
So let’s get started!
What Is A Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter is a living organism that ferments flour and water into a leavened bread product. It is used to create the flavor of a loaf of bread, which can be made with any type of flour (wheat, rye, barley, etc.).
The process of making sourdough starters is to mix together flour, water, and yeast (or sourdough culture) in order to create an environment for the growth of wild yeasts and bacteria. This mixture is then left undisturbed at room temperature until it has doubled in size.
Once this occurs, it is transferred to a larger container, where it will continue to grow and ferment. The fermentation process creates acidity in the dough, giving a tangy taste to the bread.
The term “sourdough” refers to the fact that this fermented dough has an acidic, tangy flavor. The acidity of the dough is due to lactic-acid producing bacteria (Lactobacillus) which are naturally present in the flour used to make the starter. These bacteria feed on sugars found in the flour, creating carbon dioxide gas as they do so.
Carbon dioxide causes bubbles to form in the dough, resulting in air pockets within the finished loaf. These air pockets give rise to the characteristic crumb structure of a good loaf of bread.
Sourdough Starter Names
It has become a tradition for the creator of some sourdough starter to give a name to their homemade product. This practice began when people were first learning how to make sourdough starters. In those days, it was not uncommon to call them simply “starter” or “mother.”
Today, many people use funny names for their sourdough starters. This is because the product is, technically, alive, and people tend to keep them in their homes for long periods of time. You will even need to ‘feed’ your starter, therefore you could consider this form to be a new pet.
If you have become the new, proud parent of a sourdough starter, it wouldn’t be outlandish for you to give it a name. Over the years, people have come up with some pretty creative names for their sourdough starters.
Some examples of these names include:
- Bready Mercury
- Edgar Allen Dough
- Albus Dumbledough
- Issac Gluten
- Danny Doughvito
Why not have a little fun and get creative while coming up with a name for your sourdough starter? After all, this product may in your life for a while. Might as well get familiar with it, and give it its own name.
What Is Hooch In Sourdough Starter?
Hooch is a byproduct of the fermentation process that takes place in sourdough starters.
As mentioned above, during the fermentation process, lactic-acid producing organisms such as Lactobacillus species consume carbohydrates from the flour and produce carbon dioxide gas.
During the fermentation process, some of the carbon dioxides escapes into the surrounding atmosphere, leaving behind some leftover residual gases.
These gases can build up inside a jar containing a sourdough starter over time. If there isn’t enough ventilation, the gases can eventually escape through the lid of the jar. This escaping gas produces a sweet odor similar to that of maple syrup. It’s called “hooch” and can be smelled throughout your kitchen.
This hooch is harmless, but if you’re sensitive to smells, you might want to open the jar periodically to let out any remaining gases.
The color of the hooch will indicate whether or not the sourdough starter has been active recently. When the starter is inactive, the hooch will turn brownish-red. On the other hand, when the starter is active, the hooch produced will be white.
If the starter has gone bad, then the hooch will be black, or a particularly dark color. In this case, you should discard the starter immediately.
Best Container For Sourdough Starter
If you have created your own sourdough starter, or you are thinking about making some, you may be wondering how you are supposed to store the product.
In order to maintain the quality of your starter, it is important to keep it away from heat and moisture. For example, if you are using a glass container, don’t put the jar in direct sunlight. Also, avoid storing your starter in areas where the temperature fluctuates widely.
You should also try to keep your starter away from other foods. Some people like to mix their starter with milk before feeding it each day. However, others believe that mixing with milk prevents the starter from developing properly.
Another option is to use a plastic container instead of glass. Plastic containers do not conduct heat quite as well as glass does, so they won’t affect the quality of your starter nearly as much.
However, since plastic doesn’t conduct heat as well as glass, you’ll need to make sure that you provide adequate ventilation when using this type of container.
The best way to store your sourdough starter is to use a food storage container. These types of containers allow air to circulate around your starter and help prevent mold growth. They also allow you to easily transport your starter from one location to another.
When purchasing a food storage container, look for one that has an airtight seal. You should also look for a container that will fit comfortably on top of your refrigerator shelf.
In addition, consider buying a container that has a tight-fitting lid. A loose lid allows oxygen to enter the container, which can lead to mold growth.
When selecting a container, make sure that it is large enough to hold all of the ingredients necessary to feed your starter. The volume of the container must equal at least twice the amount of starter you plan to create.
Once you’ve selected the right container, make sure that you label it clearly. Include the date that you started the starter. Store your starter in a cool, dry place. Make sure that the area where you store your starter is free of dust and dirt.
Can You Send Sourdough Starter Through the Mail?
Some people make sourdough starter for another person, giving it as a gift. However, if the creator of the sourdough starter lives a considerable distance away from the person they would like to gift it to, it can be difficult to hand it over.
So, can you send sourdough starter through the mail? Yes, you can!
As long as the starter has not been exposed to fresh air, and is kept in a sealed container, it will not become damaged. A popular option is to place the starter into an airtight, ziplock bag, and then wrap it with some paper for extra protection. Others say that it is best to dry the starter out before mailing.
How To Take Care Of Sourdough Starter
If you have never made a sourdough starter before, or you are completely unsure what it even is, you may be confused by some of the things we have mentioned so far in this article. For example, we have mentioned that you will need to ‘feed’ the starter, as well as take care of it.
A sourdough starter contains yeast and bacteria. As a result, the starter needs to be fed regularly to ensure that it continues to grow and develop. Once the starter reaches its peak, it is time to discard it. This means that you need to take care of your starter properly, including feeding it often and taking proper measures to keep it clean.
Here are some ways for you to properly take care of your sourdough starter.
Keeping A Sourdough Starter Journal
You may want to keep a sourdough starter journal to track the progress of your starter. It’s important to note that a sourdough starter is a living organism, and therefore it can change throughout the course of the year.
For starters that are being used to bake bread, you can simply record the changes in the recipe you are using. If you are making sourdough starters just for fun, you can record the changes in the flavor of the starter each week.
We recommend keeping a sourdough starter log because it helps you remember how to care for your starter, and it makes it easier to determine when to stop feeding your starter.
How To Feed Sourdough Starter
You should be feeding your sourdough starter every day. Some people prefer to feed their starter once a day, while others prefer to feed it several times a day. There are pros and cons to both methods.
The first method involves feeding your starter only once per day.
In order to do this, you will need to remove about 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the starter and mix it back together with flour, water, and salt. Then, add more flour, water, and sugar until you reach your desired consistency.
This method works great if you plan on baking with your starter within one to two days. When you use this method, however, you risk having too much starter left at the end of the feeding period. In other words, there is no way to know exactly how much starter you will have after the feeding process.
The second method involves feeding your starter multiple times per day.
To do this, you will want to remove about 1/2 cup (120 ml) of the starter from the container and add new flour, water, and/or sugar. Then, return the mixture to the container. You should repeat these steps daily.
The advantage of this method is that you will always have enough starters to make sure that you don’t run out. However, you will also have to wait longer between feeding periods.
In addition, the amount of starter that you remove from the container will depend on the size of the container. Therefore, you might not have enough starters to make a loaf of bread.
When you choose to use either of these methods, it is best to start small and work up to larger amounts. We suggest starting with 1/4 cup (30 g), and then gradually increasing the amount over time.
What If You Forget To Feed The Sourdough Starter?
If you are a particularly forgetful person, you may find that you will forget to feed the sourdough starter every so often.
The best thing to do in these scenarios is to place the starter in the refrigerator: this will slow down the fermentation rate by a considerable amount. By doing this, you will not need to feed the starter every day. This tip will be very helpful for those who find it difficult to remember to feed it every day.
If you are pretty forgetful, you may find it easier to set an alarm every day to remind you to feed your sourdough starter.
How To Strengthen Sourdough Starter
To strengthen your sourdough starter, you will need to increase its acidity level.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to add vinegar or lemon juice to the starter. This is because they contain acetic acid, which increases the acidity levels of the starter. The sourdough starter needs acidity to survive. If the acidity level gets too low, the yeast will die off and the sourdough starter will stop working.
However, if you decide to add vinegar or lemon to your sourdough starter instead of using commercial yeast, you must be careful when adding the vinegar. You can only add vinegar or lemon to the sourdough starter once.
After that, you cannot add any additional liquid to the starter. Also, be sure to keep the sourdough starter in a warm environment. It should ideally be kept in a room temperature area where it does not get cold.
You can also try adding salt to your sourdough starters. Salt has been used as a natural preservative in various cultures throughout history. In fact, some people believe that salt was the first food that humans ate. In order to use salt as a preservative in your sourdough starter, you will need to add it directly into the starter.
You can also use molasses, honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or even yoghurt to strengthen your sourdough starters’ acidity level. These ingredients all contain carbohydrates that will provide energy to the bacteria present in the sourdough starter.
When the bacteria consume these carbs, they produce lactic acid, which helps to create a more acidic environment within the sourdough starter’s culture.
For starters that are already strong, simply adding some extra sugar can help them get stronger. If you put a little bit of sugar into a starter that has been sitting around for a while, you will notice that it starts fermenting much faster than usual.
This is because the sugars have already started breaking down into alcohol. As the alcohol breaks down, it releases carbon dioxide and other gases that make the starter bubble up.
It is important to note that all of these methods take time to work properly. For example, if you add vinegar to your sourdough, it will start fermenting immediately. However, it could take several days before the starter becomes noticeably stronger.
The same goes with the addition of salt. Adding it to the starter will cause it to become more acidic almost instantly, but it will take longer for the starter to actually become stronger.
How To Properly Store Sourdough Starter
If you want to store your sourdough starter for later use, you will need to transfer it to an airtight container such as a glass jar. Make sure that the lid of the jar is tightly sealed so that no oxygen enters the jar. This is because oxygen kills off the yeast present in the sourdough starter.
The best place to store your sourdough starter is in a cool, dark place. Ideally, the storage location should be somewhere between 50°F and 70°F (10°C and 20°C). This is because sourdough starters thrive at temperatures between 60°F and 75°F (15°C-24°C).
At lower temperatures, the yeasts tend to grow slower, and at higher temperatures, they tend to die off.
It is important to remember that this temperature range is just a guideline. If you live in a warmer climate, then you may have to adjust your starter’s temperature accordingly.
Also, do not let your sourdough starter sit in direct sunlight. Instead, store the starter in a shaded area away from windows. This will prevent the starter from drying out and losing its strength.
Finally, you will want to check on your sourdough starter every day. You should see bubbles rising through the mixture when you stir it: this means that there is still plenty of yeast in the starter.
It does not mean that your starter is ready to bake bread though. If you see the bubbles stop appearing after a couple of days, it is probably safe to assume that your starter is finished.
If you plan on storing your sourdough starter over the winter months, it is a good idea to keep it in the refrigerator rather than leaving it outside. Even though most people think that cold weather slows down yeast growth, this is not true.
In fact, many types of yeast prefer colder environments. Therefore, storing your starter in the fridge will ensure that it stays alive throughout the entire winter season.
When Is Sourdough Starter Ready?
It is important to know exactly when a sourdough starter is ready to use so that you do not waste it by starting a new one too early.
Here are some guidelines to ensure that you get the most out of your starter:
The Ideal Consistency Of Sourdough Starter
When your sourdough starter is ready, it should have a consistency similar to that of pancake batter. That means that it should be thick enough to pour out of the container easily, yet still able to hold its shape after being poured.
If your starter looks like a thin pancake batter, then it is probably not ready yet. On the other hand, if your starter is thicker than pancake batter, then you may want to wait until it gets thinner before trying to use it.
A sourdough starter should not be foamy: foam indicates that there is too much air in the starter. This makes it difficult to mix thoroughly, and also prevents the starter from getting stronger over time.
If you can still see bubbles rising from the top of the dough after dropping it on the bread, the sourdough starter needs to sit for another hour or two before baking.
The Ideal Texture Of Sourdough Starter
The texture of the sourdough starter should be smooth and slightly sticky. It should also feel moist and dense, rather than dry or crumbly.
If your sourdough starter feels dry, it might need to rest for at least an hour before using it.
This allows the flour to absorb moisture from the starter. If there is a dry crust over the top, this is usually caused by the lack of water in the starter. You can remedy this problem by adding more water to the starter. Alternatively, you can let the starter sit overnight to allow the yeast to break down any remaining starches.
Additionally, if your starter feels very wet, it is probably not quite ready yet.
This means that the flour has absorbed too much liquid from the starter, which causes the dough to rise quickly. To avoid this, you can either discard excess liquid from the starter or place the starter in a smaller container, such as a mason jar.
You can tell whether or not the starter has reached the right consistency by gently stirring it. When stirred, the mixture should form a softball that does not stick to the sides of the bowl. If your starter does not reach this stage, keep mixing it every few hours until it reaches the correct consistency.
Alternatively, you can test the consistency of your starter by taking a small amount of it and rolling it into a ball between your palms. If the ball sticks together, then it is ready to use. Otherwise, continue testing it every hour or so until it reaches the desired consistency.
The Ideal Scent Of Sourdough Starter
Depending on your sourdough starter, the smell will be different for each person. Some starters smell like freshly baked bread, while others smell like beer or wine. However, all sourdough starters should have a pleasant aroma when they are first mixed.
If your starter smells bad, it could be because it has been sitting around too long or because it is no longer active. In these cases, you can add some fresh flour to make sure that the starter is still alive.
However, if your starter smells good even though it hasn’t been used for several days, it’s likely that you just have a strong-smelling batch of starter. This is perfectly fine!
In fact, having a strong-smelling starter is often desirable. Strong-smelling starters produce more flavorful bread, although many people prefer their bread without the extra scent.
If the starter smells like cheese, it may have gone rancid. You can fix this issue by removing any moldy bits from the surface of the starter, and then discarding the starter entirely. If it smells like yoghurt, it may contain lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus) that cause off flavors in the finished product.
In some cases, the starter may even smell like garbage. If this has happened, the reason for the odor is most likely due to improper sanitation. It is also possible that the starter was contaminated with harmful bacteria.
To prevent this, simply wash your hands before using the starter. Additionally, you can sterilize your containers by boiling them for 10 minutes in a large pot filled with water.
The Ideal Color Of Sourdough Starter
The color of your starter depends on what type of bread you would like to create. If you want a light, airy loaf, you will need white or light colored flours. Conversely, dark flours yield dense loaves.
A healthy sourdough starter should appear yellowish-brown in color. If your starter looks black or gray, it probably contains dead yeast cells. In addition, if your starter appears sticky rather than loose and crumbly, it may contain an excessive amount of sugar.
If there are streaks of pink or orange in the starter, it means that the starter has become infected with bacteria. The presence of bacteria indicates that the starter has lost its ability to ferment properly. To avoid bacterial infection, always maintain proper sanitation.
In general, the starter’s color should never exceed a deep golden brown. If this is the case, you will need to discard the entire starter and start over.
Signs Of Bad Sourdough Starter
It is very important to be able to tell if your sourdough starter has gone bad, and is unusable. If this is the case, you will need to start over again.
Fortunately, there are signs that indicate if your starter has become “off”. The following symptoms indicate that your starter may need replacing:
The Sourdough Starter Has A Foul Odor
As we previously mentioned, your sourdough starter should have a pleasant odor, but if it doesn’t, it probably needs replacing. You can easily tell whether your starter has gone bad by smelling it. A sourdough starter that smells like rotten eggs, fish, or other foul odors, you will need to replace it immediately.
If your starter does not smell at all, it means that it has died out completely. At this point, you will want to discard your starter and begin again.
The Sourdough Starter Looks Cloudy Or Thickened
A thick starter indicates that your starter contains yeast cells. These cells feed on sugar molecules found in flour, which produces carbon dioxide as waste gas. When an excessive number of yeast cells are present in your starter, the fermentation process becomes slower, resulting in a thicker mixture.
If the starter looks cloudy, it means that the liquid part of the starter has fermented into alcohol. As a result, the starter has lost its ability to ferment the dough.
The Sourdough Starter Looks A Funny Color
The color of your sourdough starter should be yellowish-white. The hooch may look greenish or brownish, depending on how old it is. If it looks like it has turned black or a dark color, it means that the sourdough starter needs to be fed, or replaced.
If the sourdough starter contains streaks of pink or orange, this usually indicates that the starter has become infected with bacteria. To remedy this problem, you should discard the entire starter and start over.
The Sourdough Starter Does Not Rise Well
This symptom is caused when the amount of gluten in the sourdough starter is too low. Gluten is the protein component in wheat flour that gives bread dough its elasticity and structure. In order to make good bread, the sourdough starter must contain enough gluten.
To determine if your sourdough has enough gluten, try making a loaf of bread from your sourdough starter. If the loaf of bread rises slowly, then you have enough gluten. However, if the loaf of bread sinks quickly, you may need to add more gluten to your starter.
The Sourdough Starter ‘Float Test’
One way to test the strength of your sourdough is to see if it floats. This method works best for starters that have been sitting around for some time.
Simply mix up a small amount of the starter and place it in a glass bowl. Add water until the starter reaches the top of the bowl. Then cover the bowl and let sit overnight. The next day, remove the lid and check to see if the starter has risen above the surface of the water.
If the sourdough starter has risen above the water, this means that the starter still contains active yeast cells. This means that the starter can continue to rise, and is still usable.
On the other hand, if the starter has sunk below the surface of the water, this means there are no active yeast cells left in the starter. This means that the sourdough starter has died, and will not work anymore. It’s also possible that the starter was contaminated by harmful bacteria.
In either case, if the starter sinks, you will need to throw it out and start over.
How To Revive Sourdough Starter
It is possible to revive your sourdough starter if it has stopped rising. You can do this by feeding the starter again.
To feed the starter, simply add 1/2 cup of warm water to each 1/4 cup of starter. Stir well and allow the mixture to rest at room temperature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, feed the starter as usual.
However, if your sourdough starter has gone bad – check the previous entry – it will not be able to come back to life. The starter is revivable if it has only become inactive (not dead).
A “dead” starter is one that has lost all the living organisms that cause fermentation. A dead starter cannot be revived because it has lost all its enzymes and live microorganisms.
You can tell the difference between an inactive starter and a dead starter by looking at the consistency. An inactive starter should look like thick yoghurt or cottage cheese. On the other hand, a dead starter will be very thick and sticky.
How To Make Sourdough Starter More Sour
The sourdough starter should taste sour, hence the name. Some people prefer their sourdough starters to be even sourer than others.
To increase the sourness of your sourdough starter, you can use a variety of ingredients.
Add More Acid To The Sourdough Starter
Acidic foods such as lemons, limes, vinegar, buttermilk, wine, beer, etc., help create acidic conditions in the sourdough environment. These acids kill off any yeast cells present in the starter, which makes the sourdough less likely to produce alcohol when fermented.
Add More Salt To The Sourdough Starter
Salt inhibits the growth of yeast cells, so adding salt to your sourdough starter helps keep it from becoming too sweet. Salt also increases the acidity of the sourdough environment, making it more favorable for yeasts to grow.
Use Different Grains In The Sourdough Starter
Different grains contain different amounts of gluten, proteins, and starches. As these components vary among grains, they affect how much liquid ferments into alcohol during sourdough baking.
For example, rye flour tends to make bread with higher levels of alcohol. In addition, some types of grain have a stronger flavor than others, so using them in your starter may change the overall flavor of your bread.
What Is Sourdough Starter Used For?
So, now that you have your sourdough starter, you may be wondering what you can do with it.
For starters, it is suggested that you use a small amount of sourdough starter to create a loaf of bread. The reason for this is that you will be able to tell if your starter was healthy before you used it. If the bread doesn’t rise properly while it is baking, then you know your starter isn’t doing its job. This will be because of improper feeding and storage methods.
If your starter is healthy and works well, then you can use it to make larger batches of dough. You can either feed it more often or add more water to the mixture each time. This will allow you to make loaves of bread that are larger and have a better texture.
Another way to use your sourdough starter is to bake pies. When you bake pie crusts, there are two main things that need to happen: the dough needs to be tender enough to hold up under pressure, and it has to stay moist. By using a portion of your starter, you can ensure that both of these criteria are met.
There are so many other recipes that can incorporate sourdough starters, including pizza, cookies, pancakes, waffles, muffins, biscuits, rolls, cakes, and more. You will need to find recipes that use sourdough starters that work best for you.
Once you get comfortable with your sourdough starter and learn how to store it correctly, you won’t ever want to go back!
We hope this guide helped answer some questions about the sourdough starters.
It’s easy to make (once you get the hang of it), inexpensive, and versatile. Once you are aware of the signs of a bad sourdough starter, and how to revive it if it goes bad, you will be able to comfortably and easily create your own recipes while using a sourdough starter.
Hopefully, you found our guide useful and would like to share it with others. You should have found all the information you need to know about sourdough starters. We wish you success as you explore the world of sourdough!