Is My Sourdough Starter Dead?

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“I think I killed my starter!”

How many millions of sourdough bakers have uttered those devastating words? The starter you coaxed to life, watched grow, then used to bake many delectable loaves — dead. And all because you stashed it in the back of the fridge and forgot to feed it for a few weeks (or maybe even months).

My starter’s name is Vitale

Maybe you’ve been away or just been busy, and now you’d like to get back into baking with your sourdough starter – but it’s been forgotten at the back of the fridge and now looks like something that grew in a swamp.

Never fear. Unless there’s visible mold on your sourdough starter, it will be able to be revived!

You will be glad to know that sourdough starters are hard to kill!

It’s unlikely that your sourdough starter has gone bad!

Even if your starter looks like this! A thick black layer of liquid on top?

After 2 months of no feeding

Maybe there is some old starter on the sides of the jar that looks a bit darker than it should and the smell … like nail polish remover or paint thinner!

Believe it or not – this sourdough starter hasn’t gone bad and can be saved!

You might think you’ve killed your starter, but it’s hard to kill organisms that want to live as badly as these wild yeast and bacteria.

What’s This Black Liquid?

The most common issue that arises from forgetting about your starter in the fridge for a long time is that it generally develops hooch.

Sourdough Hooch

Unlike the hooch that forms when your starter is left out, the hooch that forms over extended periods in the refrigerator is often dark purple or even black and looks vile.

The thing is, as long as there is no visible mold on the surface of the hooch – or the sides of your jar – your starter will be fine.

Hooch is just a sign that your starter is starving. This makes sense given that she’s been forgotten about in the back of the fridge!

Your forgotten sourdough starter will more than likely smell bad too.
Maybe Iike acetone or nail polish remover – or even worse. But don’t stress – this smell is also a sign that your yeast and bacteria are hungry.

A note about mold:

If you do see some fuzzy green or black mold on the sides of the jar or even on top of the hooch – you must toss the starter entirely. Mold is non-negotiable, and the spores will have penetrated the entire starter.

You don’t want to consume mold!

How To Revive An Old Sourdough Starter

To restore your sourdough starter to her former glory, you need to do the following:

• Pour off as much of the dark hooch as you can.

• Discard most of the starter (you can either remove it from the jar or place some of the starter into a clean jar). You can see how much I removed in the photo below.

~20g – 30g after discard

• Feed the remaining starter with 100g of flour and 100g of water. Let it sit out at room temp for around 12 hours.

• Discard 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. If it doesn’t, repeat step 4 every 12 hours.

A day in the life of my starter

The above process gives your neglected sourdough starter a giant feed (if you measured it would be somewhere around 1:5:5. (If you’re serious about baking, you need to buy a scale.)

You need to give your poor starving yeast a nice big feed to refresh them and get them back to their usual happy selves.

Depending on how mature your starter was when you placed it into the fridge, one or two feeds should be enough to get it back.

But if your starter is still sluggish after 2 feeds, don’t stress, just feed again and you will start to see some action.

Tips: Reviving Your Sourdough Starter

You can see that even when your sourdough starter looks like something from the swamp, it can almost always be revived. Here are my best tips for quickly reviving your sourdough starter back to optimal health:

• Pour off the hooch when it’s been stored for a long time. Many people say to stir it in – and this is fine if it’s “fresh” hooch. But if it’s been in the fridge for a few months, I recommend pouring it off.

• Add the water to your jar first, and give it a good shake to move the wild yeast around. Then add the flour and stir. This will super boost your old sourdough starter.

• Once your sourdough starter is doubling and smelling healthy, dehydrate a portion of it so you never get caught out again.

• Remember to feed your sourdough starter regularly – even if it’s in the fridge – to ensure that you don’t end up with another swamp monster.

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