Starter & room temperature



In all the guides I have read they say that when producing starter it should be kept at 'room temperature'.

Now 'room temperature' is a very inexact term. In the tropics I guess it's somewhat warmer than in the Nordic countries. Furthermore, my room temperature varies a great deal depending on whether it's day or night, summer or winter. Could this explain why I have tried & failed, numerous times, to produce starter. Should I keep my central heating on throughout the night?

Perhaps, rather than 'room temperature' being the culprit, could there be something in the atmosphere of my kitchen that is killing the starter?

Having failed to produce starter so many times I borrowed some from a friend that had been working for a couple of years. I followed his instructions to the letter & within 2 or 3 days it was dead & smelled horrible.

Now there are many recipes in books & on the Internet that give opposing instructions. Some say you should seal the jar, others not. Some say add either lemon/pineapple juice/raisons/grapes/apple/yeast/sugar/milk/yoghurt or nothing. Some say organic flour or strong white or wholemeal, tap water or bottled, 

Seem it doesn't matter what you do or use it should work.  For me however, having used many of the above suggestions, it doesn't work - after a day or two it's dead.

So temperature, killer spores or just bad luck.

Suggestions please

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farinam's picture
farinam 2017 April 23

Hello again David,

You are right.  Room temperature is rather variable and it does have a significant effect on the rate at which the yeasts and bacteria grow and multiply and that is why the timings given in any recipe/method need to be tempered with observation and experience to suit the 'local' conditions.  If you are running a commercial bakery you do not want to be held to ransom by such random variations and that is why such operation use controlled temperature environments for starter growth and storage and for dough proving etc.

A starter is, however, a very robust culture and will tolerate any number of 'abuses' with very little complaint such as wide variations in temperature (from freezing to maybe at least 30C or more though higher will cause some problems and kill the yeasts and bacteria off which is what happens in baking), being left without food for extended periods and so forth.

If your cultures are dying or becoming contaminated it is not down to room temperature alone.  While it is not necessary to 'sterilise' your equipment, it should,at least, be kept household clean.  The container that you use should be kept covered to keep out mold spores and other things that could infect your culture.  It is probably best not to apply a tight fitting lid.

You need nothing more than flour and water to establish a starter though there is good evidence to suggest that it is best to include a proportion of wholemeal flour (rye is specially good because of some extra enzymes I am told - and believe) as this contains the bran and germ and the yeasts and bacteria are concentrated here and so are largely (though not entirely) missing from white flour.  It is probably best not to use a flour that has been bleached.

The link given above is one of the best primers that I know of for making your own culture.  That is where I began and succeeded in getting my culture going first time and it is still going strong.

Good luck with your projects.


Andrew Fraser 2017 April 24



I bought a basic propagator off of amazon, it wasn't thermostatic but had a small heating element in the base.

My 'room' temperature is normally about 16' - for a starter to become active when you're starting out it really needs to be consistently at around 21-22'.

I found the starter at the bottom, where the tub touched the element started to crust slightly but after a week it was fully active. Definitely worth a try if your house is cold!

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