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Sourdough Starter Not Rising?

Struggling cause your sourdough starter isn't rising? I'll walk you through the troubleshooting process.

Making your own sourdough starter is not for the faint of heart!

There's a steep learning curve, and the process requires patience and skill.

But when you finally have that bubbly starter ready to go, the rewards are worth every minute that went into creating it. Sourdough baking is an art form - creating something from nothing but flour, water, and your own two hands is incredibly gratifying!

This guide to sourdough starter rising is dedicated to learning curves.

Ripe sourdough starter in a mason jar.
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Tips + Tricks

No. 1 --> If you need a great sourdough starter recipe, I have you covered! My easy recipe harnesses the power of commercial yeast to get your project off the ground and can help minimize some of your rising concerns!

No. 2 --> If you're looking for great sourdough bread recipes, I have a great collection of those too - cinnamon raisin sourdough, jalapeno cheddar sourdough, same day sourdough, pumpkin sourdough and more!

No. 3 --> Need more information on sourdough discard? Learn what to do with sourdough discard, how to store it, and some sourdough discard recipes; like sourdough pasta, sourdough brownies, and even sourdough discard cookies!

What Is A Sourdough Starter?

Before we get too far into the discussion of sourdough starter problems, I think it's important to examine exactly what a sourdough starter is.

An active sourdough starter is a living, fermented mixture of flour and water that contains wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. It serves as the natural leavening agent for sourdough bread and other sourdough-based baked goods, giving them their characteristic tangy flavor and chewy texture.

The wild yeasts and bacteria present in the starter work together to ferment the sugars in the flour, producing carbon dioxide gas and organic acids. The carbon dioxide gas causes the dough to rise, while the organic acids contribute to the distinct sour flavor and help improve the texture and shelf life of the bread.

Maintaining a sourdough starter involves regular feedings and discarding to keep it healthy and active. With proper care, a sourdough starter can last indefinitely, providing you with a continuous supply of natural leavening for your sourdough baking endeavors.

Overhead view of starter in a jar with sourdough in a banneton.

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Why Does A Starter Rise?

The rising action in your starter, and subsequent bread, is a bi-product of the fermentation process. As the yeasts in your starter consume the simple sugars in the flour, they release CO2 gas and that gas is trapped within the gluten network causing the starter to rise, making the bubbles we all know and love.

Why Would A Starter Not Rise?

There are a number of reasons that a sourdough starter doesn't rise and here are the most common:

Age

Young sourdough starters may not be ready to rise to the occasion! This is especially true if you make your starter the long way versus a quick sourdough starter.

Immature sourdough starters lack the strength to leaven bread and that is evident in their behaviour within the sourdough starter jar.

Solution: Keep up feeding and discarding and when the starter is mature enough, it will begin to show signs of rising, usually in a few days.

Sourdough starter full of bubbles and air pockets after feeding.

Temperature

The living culture that is your sourdough starter has an optimal temperature range in which it does it's best work! These yeast and bacteria love an environment around 70 - 80f, luckily for us, this is right around room temperature.

Although fermentation happens at lower temperatures, the rate at which that fermentation is drastically reduced. This is why we store fermented hot sauces, vegetables, and kombucha in the fridge - to keep the culture alive but slow it's action.

Too warm an environment, around 90f+, will increase the rate of activity in your starter, meaning the microbes will consume the available feed much more quickly than anticipated - so you'll have to feed more often. Temperatures of 140F will kill the yeast in your starter and prolonged exposure to temperatures above 120F will harm your starter.

If your starter seems sluggish, it could be that the temperature isn't right. Too cool and it will be slow to rise, too warm and you might be missing the rise!

Solution: Try to find an environment more suited to your starter. If your kitchen is cool, place it in a warm place, like the top of the fridge. If your kitchen is warm, place it in a cool corner.

Sourdough starter jar.

Hydration

I prefer to maintain a 100% hydration starter, which means they have equal portions of water and flour, by weight. Each feed sees me adding 50g starter, 50g water, and 50g flour to maintain my 100% hydration ratio.

Higher hydration starters are less likely to show signs of proper rise, due to the thinner consistency. If you choose to run a thinner starter, you may experience lots of bubbles on top of the starter without significant rise. As long as your starter can leaven bread dough, it's healthy enough and you can keep rolling with what works.

Lower hydration starters are thicker and more able to hold carbon dioxide bubbles within their network.

Solution: Change your starter feeding ratio to 1:1:1 to decrease the hydration.

A container of sourdough starter with slide marks.

Feeding Habits

If your feeding ratios are correct, 1:1:1 starter:water:flour, and your starter still isn't behaving, then it's time to examine your feeding habits.

Sourdough starter needs to be feed once it rises and then falls. Most bakers simplify this process by feeding their starter every 24 hours or so. I have a routine in which I feed my starter while my coffee is brewing each morning!

If the starter isn't fed and maintained as required it can be weakened and struggle to rise after feedings and result in flat loaves. A hungry starter is a weak starter, it's important to feed your starter regularly.

Solution: Ensure that you're feeding your starter regularly.

Adding flour to the starter,

Flour

Believe it or not, the rise in your starter depends, too, on the flour you're using!

Strong white bread flour has a higher protein content than other types of flour. This results in a more active and bubbly starter, as well as a higher rise in the finished bread.

On the other hand, flours with lower protein content, such as all purpose flour, some whole wheat flours, or rye flour, may produce a denser and less voluminous starter, and then bread, due to their weaker gluten structure.

It's important to choose the right type of flour for your sourdough starter and bread-making, taking into consideration the desired flavor, texture, and rise. Experimenting with different flour types and blends can lead to unique and delicious sourdough creations!

Solution: Don't be alarmed if different flour based starters behave differently, as long as you are caring for them appropriately.

Rye sourdough starter in a mason jar.
Rye flour sourdough starter

Timing

This one is the frustrating one. It could be that you're doing all the things right, but you've got chronically bad timing and never actually see the rise!

This is easy to miss the signs of the rise if you're feeding your starter before work or bed, and you'll be away from it for several hours.

Solution: Watch for other signs like slide marks on the jar and a change in texture.

A container of sourdough starter with slide marks.
slide marks visible on the side of the jar.

Bad Starter

Worst case scenario, you've got a bad starter.

If your starter smells so awful that you can't stand it, it's a goner. If your starter changes color throughout without a change in flour, it's gotta go. If you see any signs of mold; pink, orange, blue, black, green, or other, it's goodbye Earl.

Solution: If you have a bad starter, there's no bouncing back. It's time to start fresh and make a new sourdough starter or revive one of your sourdough starter backups.

More Sourdough Guides:

Thoughts From The Crave Kitchen

There are a number of factors that can affect the rising behavior of your sourdough starter including age, temperature, hydration levels, feeding habits, flour type and timing. With patience and practice you can identify and address any issues with your starter! With the right care, your starter will be strong enough to rise beautifully every time.

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Share Your Thoughts

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Bo

Thursday 28th of September 2023

Whole wheat bread flour does not have lower protein content than white bread flour.

Ally

Thursday 28th of September 2023

Hey Bo, Whole wheat flour usually ranges from 11 - 14% while white bread flour is usually between 13-14%. So I guess it would be more true to say that some whole wheat flour has lower protein content than bread flour. I will adjust that, thanks for pointing it out :)

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