The Cultured Guru School of Fermentation

Why is My Sourdough Starter Not Rising? How to Fix a Flat Starter

Are you wondering “why is my sourdough starter not rising?” Let’s explore the three most common reasons why your sourdough starter might not rise and provide practical solutions to get your starter back on track.

Why is my sourdough starter not rising?—The three likely reasons your sourdough starter is not rising and how to fix it.

Sourdough bread has been a baking staple for centuries. Central to its creation is the sourdough starter – a living culture of flour and water that includes wild yeast and bacteria from your flour.

However, many novice and experienced bakers often encounter a common problem: their sourdough starter is not rising. This issue can be perplexing and frustrating, especially when eagerly anticipating a beautiful loaf of homemade sourdough bread.

But fear not! In most cases, you can quickly resolve this problem. Let’s explore the three most common reasons why your sourdough starter might not rise and provide practical solutions to get your starter back on track.

The Starter is Not Thick Enough

Problem Overview: A sourdough starter’s consistency is crucial. If your starter is too thin or watery, it may lack the necessary structure to trap gases produced by yeast and bacteria, resulting in a starter that doesn’t rise as it should. I often compare the ideal consistency to cookie dough or sticky bread dough, a thickness that can support gas retention and promote rising.

Solution: Adjusting the Flour-to-Water Ratio

  • Step 1: Increase Flour Proportion – Begin by altering your feeding ratio. If you’re currently using a 1:1:1 ratio (starter:water: flour by weight), try shifting to a 1:1:2 ratio, incrementally increasing the flour quantity.
  • Step 2: Consistency Check – After each feed, observe your starter. Look for a consistency resembling a thick batter or sticky bread dough.
  • Step 3: Regular Observation – Continue to observe your starter over the subsequent few feeds; increase the ratio slightly as needed until you consistently achieve the desired thickness and see visible rising.

Using Too Much Discard When Feeding the Starter

Problem Overview: The balance of old starter (discard) to fresh flour and water is critical. Using too much discard can overwhelm the fresh ingredients, leading to an overly acidic environment that hinders yeast activity and, subsequently, the starter’s ability to rise.

Solution: Adjusting the Proportion of Discard

  • Step 1: Reduce Discard Proportion – Aim for a feeding ratio where fresh flour and water outweigh the discard. A common approach is using a small amount of starter, such as 25-50 grams, with larger amounts of fresh flour and water.
  • Step 2: Monitor Acid Levels – Observe your starter after adjusting the feeding ratios. A healthy starter will smell slightly tangy, but it shouldn’t be overwhelmingly sour or vinegary.
  • Step 3: Consistent Feeding Schedule – Establish and maintain a consistent feeding schedule, as erratic feeding can lead to imbalances in the starter’s microbial community.

The Temperature Is Too Cold

Problem Overview: Temperature plays a significant role in sourdough starter activity. Yeast and bacteria are less active in colder environments, leading to slower fermentation and less gas production. This reduced activity can cause the starter to rise very slowly or not at all. If it’s winter and you just started asking yourself “why is my sourdough starter not rising?” then temperature is probably the culprit.

Solution: Finding the Ideal Temperature

  • Step 1: Increase Ambient Temperature – Find a warmer spot in your kitchen, such as near the oven (but not on it), on top of the refrigerator, or inside a turned-off oven with the light on.
  • Step 2: Use Warm Water for Feeding – When feeding your starter, use water that’s slightly warmer than room temperature to help kickstart the fermentation process.
  • Step 3: Insulation – Consider insulating your starter if you can’t find a consistently warm spot. Wrapping the jar in a towel or placing it in a small cooler can help maintain a more consistent temperature.

Why is My Sourdough Starter Not Rising?

A non-rising sourdough starter can be frustrating, but it’s often a fixable issue.

By adjusting the thickness of your starter, balancing the amount of discard used during feeding, and ensuring an optimal fermentation temperature, you can revive your starter and pave the way for delicious sourdough bread. Remember, sourdough baking is as much an art as a science; each starter is unique and may require some personalized care.

Happy baking!

A Healthy Starter is Just the Beginning. Learn how to bake the best sourdough in our online course!

Enrolling in our online courses is a great choice if you are just getting started fermenting foods and drinks at home! We teach you how to ferment the most delicious foods and drinks at home and how to get it right on the very first try.