5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost

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If your sourdough starter is a little sluggish, it might need a boost to get it consistently doubling. Perhaps it’s been a little neglected and needs a refresh or perhaps it’s just not performing as you’d like it to. Here are 5 ways to strengthen a sourdough starter.

Sourdough starters are fairly resilient collections of yeast and bacteria. Once mature, they will generally suffer through a bit of neglect – but sometimes it can be a bit of a struggle to get them to mature. If you have had no luck troubleshooting your starter, it might be time to look at ways to give your sourdough starter a boost!

How Does A Mature Sourdough Starter Behave?

A sourdough starter that has “matured” will consistently double it’s volume around 4-6 hours after it’s fed. It will have bubbles on the side of the jar, as well as breaking on the top.

strengthen sourdough starter - mature rye starter
A mature rye based sourdough starter – it will look spongy as it doubles its volume.

The million dollar question everyone asks is “when will my sourdough starter be ready to bake with”? And there’s no single answer – it can take 7 days, it can take 4 weeks. As a rule of thumb, most will be starting to be ready around 14 days – but even then it is still very young and has some growing to do! Patience really is the key to becoming a good sourdough baker!

There is more information on how to know when your starter is ready to bake with here.

5 Tips to Strengthen Your Sourdough Starter

These tips will work to strengthen your sourdough starter if:

  • your starter has been a bit neglected (left in the fridge unfed a bit too long) or you’ve skipped a few too many feeds on the counter;
  • you’ve been growing your sourdough starter for a few weeks and it’s just not doubling consistently;
  • your starter is constantly smelling like nail polish remover, even after a feed.

Boost Your Sourdough Starter With Oxygen

One of the easiest ways to strengthen your sourdough starter is to make sure it’s getting enough oxygen. You can do this by:

  • making sure you don’t have the lid screwed tightly on your jar – just cover with a piece of paper towel or coffee filter secured with an elastic band.
  • stir your starter in between feedings – try stirring it twice in between feedings and really give it a chance to get oxygen into the mix. This will help to activate your starter without too much effort.

Feed Your Sourdough Starter Superfood

If you have created your sourdough starter from a white, processed flour, it will really benefit from having a boost of rye flour. Rye flour is like a superfood to your sourdough starter and it will help to strengthen it fairly fast. In fact, rye flour starters perform notoriously well. Rye flour will help to make your starter more sour.

To boost your sourdough starter with rye flour, substitute half your normal flour with rye flour at each feeding for a few days and you should see a noticeable difference in your starter’s activity level.

Freshly milled whole wheat flour is also very beneficial to your starter if you have access to it.

Feed Your Starter More Often

It’s as simple as it sounds. If your starter is sluggish and not behaving as you’d like, feed it more often – even up to 3 times a day if you really want to get it going. Remember you need to discard half each time you feed your starter.

Feeding it 3 times a day isn’t usually necessary for more than about 2 days – after that you should go back to once or twice a day.

If your starter continually produces hooch, it’s a sign that it’s hungry. It may mean that you need to increase the amount you’re feeding it, rather than the regularity. Try doubling the amounts of water and flour you are feeding your starter each time.

Keep Your Starter At A Lower Hydration

If your sourdough starter seems to be a little thin, it can be hard to see if it’s actually bubbling as the bubbles will escape. A thinner starter will also not have the big bubbles on the side of your jar. In order to strengthen your sourdough starter try and give it flour only for one or two feeds. This will make the mixture stiffer.

If your starter is quite runny, it should be easy to stir the extra flour into the mixture. If it seems a little stiff, it will loosen up as it eats and ferments the flour.

Once you’ve done one or two feeds of flour only, your starter should be thick enough and you can go back to normal feedings of flour and water.

A sourdough starter kept at a lower hydration will be quite thick and spongy. You’ll need to use a spoon to get it out of the jar as it won’t be “pourable”.

If you’re concerned that feeding your starter flour only will upset it’s ratio – don’t be. If you need your starter to be at 100% hydration for a recipe, you can make it that. Once your starter is back on track, just put a tablespoon or so in a jar and then feed it equal parts flour and water – you’ll then have a 100% hydration starter.

Totally Refresh Your Starter

If you are really seeing no consistent activity from your starter, you can give it a complete refresh. This will generally get your starter going again after a period of neglect or even overfeeding.

  1. Put 10g of your starter into a clean jar (you can discard the rest).
  2. Feed this 10g of starter with 25g of flour and 25g of water and stir in really well, remembering you want as much oxygen in the mix as possible.
  3. Cover loosely and leave for around 6 hours. By this stage you should see some bubbling starting to happen.
  4. After 6 hours, add another 25g flour and 25g of water, stirring really well to get that oxygen into the mix. Cover again and leave for another 6 hours.
  5. After 6 hours, discard approx half your mix so there’s 50g left in the jar and feed as per normal (I recommend 50g of flour and 50g of water) – you’ll be able to feed normally from now on, discarding half each time.

Want to know 10 things that will help you improve your sourdough baking? You’ll find all the best tips here.

Ready to bake your first loaf of bread? You’ll find a great recipe for simple sourdough here.

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