Why Is My Sourdough Starter Watery?

Sourdough Starter Watery
Published on
20 May 2021
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

Ever wondered if your sourdough starter water is a little too much on the thin side? If so, chances are that you need to feed it more flour, but there could be another problem that’s more complex. We are going to explore how to keep your starter happy and healthy so you don’t have to worry about your starter being runny, or anything else for that matter! We can do this by regulating the temperature, feeding it properly, and maintaining pH levels.

When a sourdough starter is watery, increase the amount of flour used in the refreshments. Flour brands differ in their ability to absorb water. Further adjustments, until the consistency is reached are often necessary. Most sourdough starters have a thick pancake batter consistency.

Why is my starter so wet?

Be rest assured that even if your starter is really wet and runny, you’ll still be able to use it to make bread. Just expect a slightly different profile which I’ve explained below.

But what if your starter changes consistency or gets slowly wetter or dryer over time? Well, let’s cover a few scenarios:

You’re not feeding your starter enough

The first scenario is that your starter initially has the right consistency. But after it peaks, it becomes watery as it collapses. The cause of this watery starter is under-feeding or not feeding frequently enough.

Decrease the amount of old starter and increase the fresh flour and water when you feed. Complete your refreshments at least twice a day, you can use the fridge to store it once established.

Your starter experiences volatile temperatures

If the temperature drops at night a starter might struggle to develop the complex bacteria and enzymes it requires. This can make it watery. Try and find somewhere in your home that says at a constant temperature. I’ve heard of some bakers taking it to bed with them at night… I don’t think I would do that, but, hey, each to their own!

The most reliable solution is to get your own home proofer. This proofer by Brod & Taylor is a fantastic product that every baker should consider. If you get yourself one, many of your sourdough baking inconsistencies will be a thing of the past!

You’re not measuring the ingredients accurately

As with all things bread baking, consistent measuring gets consistent results. You should use scales to portion out your ingredients. If you tweak a recipe to get the right balance between watery and thick, you’ll be able to write it down to follow next time.

Yes, it is possible to refresh your sourdough by feel, but you will get more consistent results by weighing your flour, water and old starter each time. As hydration is core to the balance of acetic and lactic acids. A starter that has the same consistency each day will harbour the bacteria to be more powerful.

You are using scales but the starter is still changing its consistency

When refreshing the starter you could measure the weight of the starter by placing the container on the scales and removing the discard. You will be able to tell how much is left in the bowl by seeing how much the scales go down in weight. But it’s not a good method to follow as:

If you were to use 80 grams of starter, 80 grams of water and 80 grams of flour when you refresh. You would remove 160 grams from the jar to discard to leave 80 grams of old starter for the next refreshment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like this!

Evaporation lowers the weight of sourdough. This makes the amount of retained starter lower with every feed.

The best way to combat this whilst not using a fresh container for every feed is to know the weight of the container.

How to measure the ingredients of a sourdough starter

Discard the starter

Weigh the weight of the empty container and write it down. When you make refreshments, zero the scales before putting the container on. Then remove enough starter till you reach the weight of the container plus the amount of old starter to refresh (80 grams).

This way makes feedings more accurate and prevents your starter’s consistency from changing.

Changing the flour in a sourdough starter

Changing the flour used in a starter is like when you change the washing powder at home and everyone gets itchy. A week later and it’ll be fine, but for a few days, the new bacteria upsets the balance on our skin.

The same thing happens when you change the flour in a sourdough, its ecosystem needs a few days to adapt. This changing-over period can make the sourdough watery. Once the starter has taught itself to produce the right enzymes it returns to being healthy.

A wet sourdough starter

Can I use a wet sourdough starter?

Yes, a wet sourdough starter, providing it is active, perfectly fine to use. Expect it to be less sour, which you may (or may not) prefer! You will also need to lower the amount of water used in most sourdough recipes – this is important!

If you follow my beginner’s sourdough bread recipe, you will find that lowering the water from 180, to 165 grams works well.

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