5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (2024)

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.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (1)

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.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (2)

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. And if you're wondering how your sourdough starter rises and falls, then you can learn about the science of sourdough starters 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 and can help to increase the wild yeast in your sourdough starter. For more information on feeding your sourdough starters different flours, check out this guide.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (3)

Keep Your Sourdough Starter Warm

Temperature is so important when establishing a sourdough starter, and also when trying to strengthen a weak sourdough starter. A sourdough starter that is being kept in cooler temperatures (below 70F/21C) will not colonise and thrive as well as a starter that is kept above 75F/24C).

You'll find over 20 ideas to keep your sourdough starter warm here.

5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (4)

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 (or you will risk overfeeding your starter).

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 - so feeding at a 1:2:2 ratio.

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. You should also notice your sourdough starter has larger bubbles.

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

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.
5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (6)

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I add sugar to my sourdough starter?

You can but there really is no need to. Sugar will give the yeast more to feed off, however this will not necessarily strengthen your sourdough starter. I would keep the sugar to add to your loaves - unless you are trying to create a sweet sourdough starter.

Why is my sourdough starter bubbling but not rising?

In the first few weeks of creating a sourdough starter, it is possible that your starter will bubble, but not actually rise (as in double). This is fine in the early stages of sourdough starter establishment. It just means that the bacteria in your jar are fighting it out for supremacy. Once the good bacteria win the fight, you'll see that your starter begins to double. It's very normal for a sourdough starter to bubble, but not rise, for a number of days in the early stages. Just keep going.

Should I stir my sourdough starter?

Absolutely. As mentioned above, stirring is a fantastic way to get oxygen into your sourdough starter which is essential for its growth.

Should I add pineapple juice to my sourdough starter?

No! There is absolutely no need to add pineapple juice to your sourdough starter. This will change the acidity in the jar. Just stick to flour and water (along with the tips in the post above).

Can you feed a sourdough starter different flours?

Yes you can. It's a good idea to add rye to give your starter a boost (if you think it needs it). If you are swapping flours (like swapping from all purpose to whole wheat or vice versa) understand that your sourdough starter may go through a little dormant period while it adjusts to the new food source. It will recover, but it might take a few days. Unless you are unhappy with your sourdough starter's progress, it's generally better to stick to the same flour for each feed to maintain a consistent starter.

Will the water I feed my sourdough starter make a difference?

Absolutely - the quality of the water you feed your sourdough starter is very important. You should avoid distilled, reverse osmosis and chlorinated water. You'll find a full guide to the right water for sourdough starter here.

Further Reading

  • Need a name for your sourdough starter? You'll find over 101 suggestions here.
  • A strong starter can help you to get a more open crumb sourdough bread.
  • Ready to bake your first loaf of bread? You'll find a great recipe for simple sourdough here.
5 Ways To Strengthen A Sourdough Starter: Give Your Starter A Boost (2024)


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

Another tip is to add some sugar or honey to the dough, as this will also help the yeast become more active. Keep the dough and starter in a warm environment, between 70° and 90° is ideal. To ensure it rises at its quickest rate. With these tips, you'll be sure to get your sourdough starter rising quickly!

How can I give my sourdough starter a boost? ›

10. How do I make my sourdough starter more active?
  1. Keep your starter warm, 74-76°F (23-24°C) or warmer.
  2. Use more whole grains in each feeding.
  3. Feed your starter when it's ripe (not too early, and not too late)
  4. Don't place it into the refrigerator.
Jun 6, 2022

How to make sourdough stronger? ›

Here are my best tips for increasing the sourness of your sourdough bread.
  1. Use more whole grain flours across the sourdough process.
  2. Oxygenate your starter.
  3. Feed starter less and keep the hooch.
  4. Use a stiff starter.
  5. Add starter after peak.
  6. Ferment the dough longer and at cooler temperature (using less starter)
Jun 10, 2020

How to make starter rise faster? ›

Another tip is to add some sugar or honey to the dough, as this will also help the yeast become more active. Keep the dough and starter in a warm environment, between 70° and 90° is ideal. To ensure it rises at its quickest rate. With these tips, you'll be sure to get your sourdough starter rising quickly!

How do you revive a weak sourdough starter? ›

Take 50g of starter from the jar and feed it another 100g of flour and 100g of water. Leave the starter for around 12 hours. After this second feeding it should double. If it does then it's ready to use.

Can I boost my sourdough starter with sugar? ›

The yeast and bacteria in your sourdough starter actually feed off the sugar from the starches in the flour. They essentially don't need any extra food. In fact, while adding sugar to the dough may provide "fast food" for your sourdough yeast, this quick food source is unlikely to provide any protein.

How to fix a sluggish sourdough starter? ›

My starter is sluggish (taking too long to double)
  1. Feed at a lower hydration. ...
  2. Feed more often. ...
  3. Keep it warmer. ...
  4. Feed it all white flour.
Apr 17, 2023

How do you revive a slow starter? ›

You can try to revive it by pulverizing it and adding water, then feeding it on a regular schedule. But if it doesn't respond at all (no growth, no bubbles) after three or four days of twice-a-day feedings, you might as well start over.

Why is my sourdough starter barely rising? ›

Try reducing the water in your next feeding and see if you have different results. Also, the type of flour you are using can impede the rise of your starter. All-Purpose flour, for example, will not rise as robustly as a blend of bread flour and whole wheat flour.

How to awaken sourdough starter? ›

How to Revive Your Sourdough Starter From The Refrigerator. To revive, take your jar out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for an hour or two to warm up. The mixture may or may not be bubbly like mine below, but either way, stir it so everything is reincorporated.

How to get bubbly sourdough starter? ›

Here are the best ways get bigger bubbles in your sourdough starter: Lower the hydration of your sourdough starter. Feed your starter 20% less water than flour (for example, feed 50g of sourdough starter with 50g of flour and 40g of water.

How to fix runny sourdough starter? ›

If your starter is too runny, it maybe that you need to increase the ratio. A ratio of 1:2:2 can work - so you'd double the flour and water. Alternatively, if your starter is very runny, a 1:2:1 ratio could be used. This would mean that for 50g of starter, you'd feed it 100g of flour and 50g of water.

How do you feed a sluggish sourdough starter? ›

And larger feedings encourage yeast activity. I do this by putting 2 TBSP (60 grams) of the slow starter in a clean stainless steel bowl, whisking in 1/4 cup (60 grams) of water, and then whisking in 1/2 cup (60 grams) of the plainest white flour I can find.

How do you feed a starving sourdough starter? ›

Feed the Starter– Stir room temperature starter, then discard all but 100g (1/2 cup) of starter. Use a kitchen scale to measure 100g (1/2 cup) of water and 100g (1 scant cup) of flour. Stir into the starter until completely mixed.

How do you enrich sourdough starter? ›

Combine flour, water, and levain in a 2:2:1 ratio, aiming for a DDT of 78˚F. Cover and let sit at room temperature until doubled in volume, which should take 4 to 6h with a healthy starter. Move to the fridge for up to 14 days and repeat.

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