It hurts my heart when I hear that people threw out their starters because “they killed it”.
Please read this before you loose all hope on your starter!
There are many reasons why people think they’ve killed their starter. It stops doubling, they can’t get any bubbles, it starts smelling awful, there is a horrible layer of yucky liquid on top, they accidentally mix in something other than water and flour, etc.
Starters are a live culture so that means it is going to “behave” in different ways. Just because it isn’t behaving normally doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
1. Check what you are using.
Bleached flour and chlorinated water can hurt the live cultures in your starter. I know people that have been successful when using either of these, but they tend to have inconsistent results.
Sometimes when switching the type of flour you are using, like going from unbleached all-purpose to whole wheat, that can also cause a disruption in your starter. Try slowly transitioning when moving your starter from one grain to another. (1 part new flour to 2 parts it’s regular flour)
If you must use city chlorinated water. Allow the water to sit at room temperature overnight to allow the chlorine to naturally evaporate.
2. It’s probably hungry!
Most people underestimate how often you will need to feed your starter. They will also get surprised at how much more you need to feed the starter in the warmer months. The hotter it is outside and in your home, the more often your starter will need to eat. (1-3 times per day)
The black or clear liquid that can develop on top (called hooch) is a natural by product and is just a sign that your starter is very hungry. Also, when your starter is incredibly unhappy it can have an awful smell.
Try feeding it more frequently, and more flour than water. Get a thicker consistency before letting it sit.
Also, you can try discarding a lot. Discard all of your unhappy starter except maybe 1/4 cup (or even less) and then feed it 1 cup of flour and a 1/2 cup of water.
3. Save what you can, even if it’s a tiny bit.
Even if it’s just a tablespoon, Save it! Use that to slowly build up your starter again.
I’ve done this when I accidentally poured a ton of melted coconut oil into my starter, thinking that it was my mixing bowl. *hard face palm*
I scooped out about 1-2 tablespoons of what got touched the least with coconut oil. Fed that a cup of flour and 1/2 -ish cup of water. It wasn’t happy with me for a few days but around day 3, after feeding it twice a day, it rebounded and was happy again.
That brings me to the last thing…
4. Be patient and persistent!
Starters don’t always bounce back over night. Sometimes it takes a few days of feeding it twice a day. But be consistent and patient and you will see results.
Once you get it happy and healthy try getting yourself a good feeding routine. Or give it a rest in the fridge so you don’t have to feed it as often.
There are times when you may need to throw out your starter and begin anew. Mainly when there is mold throughout or it starts to turn orange or pink. But most of the time it’s just yelling at you that it’s unhappy.
The longer you have your starter the more comfortable you will become with how to keep it alive and thriving. Or you just become better at troubleshooting for those times when you’re a bad sourdough starter parent…it happens to all of us.