Sourdough Starter Bubbling But Not Rising

Have you ever been excited about your sourdough starter bubbling and ready to bake, only to see that it won’t rise? This can be really discouraging for a home baker. You might have put in all the hard work of caring for, feeding, and coaxing your precious starter into life but seeing too little rise after hours of preparation is heartbreaking. If this sounds like something you’re all too familiar with, then this post is for you because we’ll uncover the mysterious answers behind why your sourdough isn’t rising so you can get back to baking delicious bread.

Top 4 Reasons Your Sourdough Starter is Not Rising But Still Bubbles

  1. The temperature of the starter is too hot or too cold.
  2. Incorrect feeding schedule (too frequent or not frequent enough).
  3. Flour type used for feeding your starter.
  4. Contamination of your starter.

We’ll go into each of these reasons in depth below.

1. Temperature of sourdough starter

When I first began getting into sourdough in the spring of 2020 this was the #1 thing that I got wrong. I didn’t realize it at the time but we keep our home a bit cooler than is ideal for the yeast and bacteria that live in the starter to thrive. As a result, my early efforts to grow a healthy, vibrant, rising starter always failed.

Sourdough starter needs a warm and stable environment to thrive. As I found out, if the temperature is too cold, the starter may not be able to rise properly. Keep your starter in a warm spot, ideally between 70-80°F (21-27°C). In cooler temperatures, it’s a good idea to use a proofing box or put the starter in the oven with the light on to keep it warm. When I discovered this problem for myself I initially kept the starter in my oven with the light on which did the trick, and as I realized my newfound sourdough hobby was becoming a full-blown obsession I went ahead and splurged on a Brod & Taylor Proofer that allows me to set the temperature precisely.

2. Incorrect feeding schedule

Whether you are a novice baker or already passionate about making sourdough, having a consistent schedule for feeding your sourdough starter is key to ensuring it rises properly when baking. Yeast and bacteria need a consistent supply of food to remain active and healthy. If you are not feeding your sourdough starter often enough or if you are feeding it too much, it may not be rising properly. A good feeding schedule is typically once a day or every 12 hours, depending on the recipe and your preference.

The difficulty with finding the perfect feeding schedule is that every starter is different. The environment (temperature and humidity) will speed up or slow down the rate at which the yeast and bacteria consume the nutrients in the flour you feed your starter, so there’s no one size fits all recommendation that every baker can follow.

3. Flour type used for feeding your starter

Furthermore, different flours have different nutrient profiles. Whole wheat, bread, and all-purpose flour will have different amounts of nutrients for your starter to consume, and even different brands of the same type of flour will vary greatly. The all-purpose flour I use may have way fewer nutrients than the all-purpose flour that you use.

4. Contamination of sourdough starter

If a starter becomes contaminated, it needs to be discarded and replaced immediately in order to prevent further issues. It’s wise to think ahead and ensure all your sourdough tools are kept clean and separate from anything else you might be handling in the kitchen. Taking these precautions will do wonders for preventing contamination and making sure that you get delicious results every time.

Here are some reasons why your starter can become contaminated:

  1. Using unclean equipment: If you don’t properly clean your utensils, jars, and mixing bowls before using them to make or feed your sourdough starter, you risk introducing unwanted bacteria or mold.
  2. Exposure to air and surfaces: Sourdough starters are susceptible to airborne bacteria and mold spores, which can contaminate your starter if you leave it uncovered or let it come into contact with unclean surfaces.
  3. Using tap water: Tap water can contain chlorine, which can harm the beneficial bacteria in your sourdough starter. Chlorinated water can also introduce unwanted bacteria and other contaminants.
  4. Adding fruits or vegetables: Some fruits and vegetables have natural yeasts on their skins, which can be beneficial to sourdough starters. However, if you don’t properly wash or sanitize the produce before adding it to your starter, you risk introducing unwanted bacteria or mold.
  5. Sharing starter: If you receive a sourdough starter from someone else, you’re also taking on any bacteria or mold that may be present in their kitchen or on their utensils. Similarly, if you share your starter with someone else, you could be introducing new bacteria or mold into your own starter.

The above reasons may all seem like Hygiene 101 but I’m surprised how often I see home cooks troubleshooting their starter and realize they’re using unclean spoons or doing things like adding fruit to the mix. Keep it simple, keep it clean, and you can easily avoid contamination of your starter. And don’t forget to check out the rest of our sourdough starter tips and tricks.

How to revive a sourdough starter when it refuses to bubble

To recap how to fix your starter that won’t rise:

  1. Feed your starter regularly: Start by feeding your starter regularly, ideally twice a day. This will help to provide the starter with enough food and encourage the growth of yeast and bacteria.
  2. Use warm water: When feeding your starter, use warm water, around 80-85°F (26-29°C). This will help to create an ideal environment for the growth of yeast and bacteria.
  3. Use a mix of flours: Try using a mix of flours, such as whole wheat, rye, and bread flour. This will help to provide your starter with a variety of nutrients that it needs to thrive.
  4. Wait patiently: Give your starter time to come back to life. It may take a few days or even a week for your starter to start bubbling again.
  5. Consider adding a small amount of commercial yeast: If your starter still doesn’t show any signs of life after several days, you may consider adding a small amount of commercial yeast to give it a boost. However, this should only be a last resort and should not be relied on regularly.
  6. Keep your starter at a consistent temperature: It’s essential to keep your starter at a consistent temperature throughout the day. This will help to create a stable environment for the yeast and bacteria to grow.

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