Welcome to your easy sourdough starter guide! If you think that making sourdough bread is only for professionals, let me prove you wrong! What you need to make great sourdough bread is a good and strong sourdough starter.
In this article I will show you how to make your own sourdough starter (both from regular and gluten-free flours) from scratch step by step.
No more need to fear the process of sourdough making! With this simple and comprehensive guide you can become your own home’s sourdough expert. After all, it only takes a few minutes a day for a week to be ready for your first loaf!
What is sourdough starter?
Sourdough starter is only a different type of yeast, but is natural and bread made with it has great health benefits!
Ultimately, sourdough starter is flour and water mixed together and left for a time on its own. The bacteria and yeast that are naturally present in the flour feed on the sugars that are released when water breaks the starches down. As the yeast and bacteria consume the sugars, we get the bubbly rise of our sourdough which will eventually raise your loaf when baking.
Easy sourdough starter methods
The most common method involves regular feeding and discarding of the starter mixture. You gradually strengthen your bacteria and create a culture that will leaven your bread and give it a sour flavor.
Another way of making an easy sourdough starter is with yeast water. For that you need to make the yeast water (which takes 4 days), then you can add it to flour and water and have a ready-to-bake sourdough starter within 12 hours. However, the yeast water needs to be remade every couple months.
In this article I will show you how to make a starter with the regular method by feeding and discarding.
Easy sourdough starter kit
- large glass jar with a lid(glass recommended, as plastic or metal do not react well to sourdough)
- cloth (if not using a lid)
- stirring tool (wooden is best, but a knife works too!)
- kitchen scale (you may use cups, but it is better to use a scale for accuracy)
- Rubber band for tracking the growth
- Sugar (or honey)
Best flour for my easy sourdough starter
Any type of flour works for sourdough! Although it has been said that whole grain flour tends to show better results, however, it is up to your preference of taste and flour availability in your local stores which type to choose.
50% whole grain flour + 50% unbleached all purpose or bread flour = a solid starter.
I personally use 100% of all-purpose flour, because I don’t like the taste of the whole grain sourdough baked goods.
You want to make sure you consistently use one type of flour at least for two days before baking bread. Otherwise you can switch between flours with no harm to the starter!
Best flour for GLUTEN FREE sourdough starter
Can’t eat gluten based bread? Gluten free sourdough is just as good as the regular one!
Brown rice flour has great reputation when it comes to gluten free sourdough, however, quinoa and sorghum flours (50%+50%) are also said to give great rising results fairly quickly.
But if you are like me and you don’t want to spend a fortune on flour that you will be using quite often, then I would recommend using white rice flour.
You can use brown rice flour, or quinoa and sorghum flours in the beginning to get the process started, but then you can safely switch to any other flour you want.
I personally use white rice flour from the beginning. It works great for sourdough, it is easily accessible at most local stores, and is budget-friendly compare to all other gluten free alternatives.
Yet the most budget-friendly gluten free flour out there is corn flour! I have tried both rice and corn flour and they both work. You can even try mixing the two!
What water is best for sourdough starter?
Tap water quality depends on whether or not your city uses disinfectant agents like chlorine or chloramine to clean the water. It is suggested to let your water sit on the counter for a day if chlorine is used, and to avoid using tap water all together in case chloramine is present.
If you are concerned about the tap water quality, you may use bottled water or get a filter, but in my experience tap water works just fine unless your water literally smells like chemicals!
However, if your sourdough doesn’t work whatsoever, maybe you want to try filtering your water and see if that helps.
Watch How to Make Easy Sourdough Starter at Home!
Check out my comprehensive yet short video tutorial for the visual illustration of the process!
Get my FREE PDF easy sourdough starter guide to keep at hand to save time!
The process of making sourdough starter is the same whether you are making a gluten free version or a regular starter. You need the flour of your choice and water (I use tap water and it works just fine!)
STEP 1 – Mix 50g water and 50g flour of your choice (or ¼ cup water and ½ cup flour) with a chopstick or any other tool you have (I use a spoon or a knife). Stir the mixture until you don’t see any dry flour bits left. For gluten free: If your mixture is not resembling a thick paste, you might need to add a little bit more water (intuition is also a necessary ingredient!)
STEP 2 – Place the rubber band on the glass jar at the top level of your mixture.
STEP 3 – Place the lid on the top loosely (or use cloth). You want to make sure that no unwanted guests visit your sourdough!
STEP 4 – Place the jar in a place with about 70F or 21C (+2 or -2 degree difference is totally fine!) If the air is colder it is alright, it just might take a bit more time for the sourdough to rise.
STEP 5 – Leave for 24 hours. After that you might start seeing the first bubbles coming up to the surface!
STEP 1 – No bubbles yet? Don’t get discouraged! They will come. Patience is your friend. Get 50gof flourand 50g of water(½ cup flour, ¼ cup water)and add to the jar. No need for discarding any dough at this point! The bacteria is still weak and learning how to grow your farm for you.
STEP 2 – Mix well until no lumps are seen.
STEP 3 – Place the lid and rubber band on the jar. Then put the jar back with preferred temperature of around 70F or 21C.
STEP 1 – See those bubbles? Yay! Today you will discard half of your sourdough and add additional 50g of flour and 50g of water (½ and ¼ cup).
STEP 2 – Don’t throw away the discard, rather check out my sourdough discard recipes and make something delicious with it today!
STEP 1 – Feed your sourdough twice today, but do not discard anything (you can discard if you need extra space in the jar).
DAY 5 & 6
STEP 1 – Discard half of your sourdough in the morning and feed with the usual 50g/50g mixture.
STEP 2 – Repeat in the evening! By now your dough should be bubbling up and rising, you might notice sour smell as well – that is totally normal at this stage!
STEP 1 – Now that your sourdough is a week old, it can be used for bread making. To check whether it is ready, you can do a float test (doesn’t work for gluten free sourdough!): feed your sourdough, then take a spoonful after 4 to 6 hours and see whether or not the starter will float. If it does – you are ready to embark on the baking adventure, but if not, continue growing your starter for some more days.
For GLUTEN FREE starter: make sure it doubles in size during the day. In that case you can give bread a shot!
STEP 2 – Continue feeding and discarding the starter twice a day whether or not you decide to make bread with it.
DAY 8 and on
Keep feeding and discarding the starter twice a day for another week to make sure it is strong enough. Then you can store your starter in the fridge! Just feed your sourdough starter and place it in the fridge for a week until the next feeding. Keep it alive by weekly feedings and you will have your easy sourdough starter at hand any time you need it!
This is the bread I made with my 1.5 week old sourdough starter:
From now on you can follow 1:1:1 principle. Any time you feed your starter, use equal parts starter, water, and flour. In our recipe it would mean 50g starter, 50g water, and 50g flour.
Note: for gluten free starter you might need to add more water. Your mixture should look like a thick paste.
Storing your sourdough starter
If you are not planning to use your starter in the next few days, you can put it into the fridge right after a feeding and keep it alive by refreshing it once a week. Once you are ready to bake, take it out the fridge and feed twice a day for two days and your starter should be ready for baking!
Another way to store your starter is by drying it. You can dry all or a part of your starter and revive it anytime you need it. In dry form you can store it for indefinite time. To learn how to dry your sourdough starter, check out this drying guide.
When to use the starter in bread?
Your starter is best when it is risen to its full capacity. As you can see below, a starter has adjustment, growth, stability, and death periods. In the first stage your bacteria is adapting to the environment, then it starts multiplying. At a certain point it stays in the same spot before the bacteria starts dying.
The reason you want to use your starter at its peak point is because that is when there is the biggest amount of bacteria present, they are adjusted to the environment, and ready to grow further.
If you use your starter when it already started to go down, then it will take more time to grow bacteria again. That can also make your bread more sour as a result.
If after a week or two of growing your starter it still doesn’t double in size (for me it is harder to get gluten free starter to double in size), then you will need to continue refreshing the mixture until it does. You can try refreshing twice within 12 hours to help the bacteria get stronger!
The temperature of your house can slow down or speed up the process.
Tips for success
- If your starter is taking a lot of time to start rising, add a teaspoon of sugar or honey to help speed up the process.
- For best results use warm (but not hot) water when feeding.
- You might notice a quick rise in your starter within the first day or two. Do not hurry to use it for baking! It is normal for the starter to rise quickly and then slow down. Wait a week and then you can give baking a try!
- If you are making gluten free starter, keep in mind that it will need more water than the regular one. Make sure your starter looks like a thick paste and add more water if needed. Intuition is your friend here!
- After taking the sourdough starter out of the fridge feed it twice a day for a couple of days before baking bread.
Frequently asked questions
Why is there liquid in my sourdough starter?
Hooch is the liquid that shows up on the top of your starter if you haven’t fed it for too long. It is normally a sign that bacteria is hungry and needs feeding. However, make sure the liquid is not black and doesn’t have mold like appearance.
What if there is mold in my sourdough starter?
If you notice mold, it is a sign that something got into it and it needs to be thrown in the trash. I know, I know! It is a bummer to throw away something you worked so hard on. But you definitely don’t want any mold in your food. Next time make sure you use clean utensils and protect the starter from any kind of contamination.
Why does my sourdough starter smell bad?
If your starter smells like alcohol, it might mean the bacteria is hungry. Just try feeding your sourdough more regularly and it should get better!
If you notice vinegar-like smell – it is totally normal! Your starter might have a variety of different smells, most of which are probably unpleasant, but they are a part of the fermentation process.
However, if your starter smells like cheese or rotten meat, then, unfortunately, you need to throw it away and start over!
Can I feed my sourdough starter a different flour?
Yes, you can switch between flours, but give the starter time to get used to new food. You want to feed it the same flour for at least two days before baking. It goes for both regular and gluten free starters.
How much sourdough starter should I use for bread baking?
There are plenty of recipes out there varying from 10% to 25% of sourdough starter in a loaf, I would say your best bet is 15%, which if you are using 1kg (8 cups) of flour would be 150g (1 cup) of starter.
My starter was good early on but now nothing is happening. Should I start over?
Remember, the first couple days might result in a quick rise and a lot of activity, but that activity is going to slow down later on. It is totally normal to see little to no bubbles in your starter during the first few days. Continue the process and eventually you will get there! Remember that the temperature is also important. If it is cold in your house, your starter will take longer to develop.
Do I have to discard my sourdough starter?
Yes. If you don’t discard, you will end up with way too much sourdough starter. You need to provide enough food for the bacteria to grow, and if you don’t discard you will have excessive amounts of bacteria to feed.
But you don’t have to throw away the discard! Who likes wasting food? I have lots of must-try sourdough discard recipes for sourdough lovers!
How do I know when my sourdough starter is ready for baking?
With regular starter there is a float test – take a spoonful of the starter 4 to 6 hours after feeding and drop it into a glass of water. If the starter floats – it is ready!
For gluten free sourdough starter you just need to make sure you see consistent rise day after day, and the starter regularly doubles in size.
Generally it takes one to two weeks to grow a strong starter whether it is regular or gluten free.
What is the difference between sourdough starter and regular yeast?
Sourdough yeast or starter is considered healthier and more tolerable for gluten allergic people. However, sourdough baking takes more time. Another difference is the taste – sourdough tastes a bit more sour than regular bread, try both and decide what is your personal favorite!
Can I freeze my sourdough starter?
Apparently, you can! Turns out that freezing doesn’t kill off bacteria entirely, it leaves the most part alive, ready for the next use. However, it is not recommended to freeze it for longer than two weeks. After two weeks you can still use your starter for the flavor but you might want to use other types of yeast to help your bread rise. To freeze your sourdough starter just put it into a zip-lock bag or into cubes freezing containers.
Great job on your first step to mastering the art of sourdough baking! Now you just need to give this easy sourdough starter recipe a try and see where it gets you. Share any comments or questions you might have below, and don’t forget to grab the free one-page PDF short guide to building your easy sourdough starter from scratch. You can place it in the kitchen as a reminder!
Sourdough Starter Recipe Recap
- Kitchen scale
- Medium size jar
- Stirring utensil
- Rubber band
- Cloth (if not using a lid)
- 50 grams flour of your choice (use gluten free flour for GF starter)
- 50 grams water tap water is fine
- 1 tsp sugar (or honey)
- Place the jar on the scale and press the start button.
- Add 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. You can adjust the measurements if you accidentally added too much of the either ingredient. (Use gluten free flour for GF starter!)
- Stir until there are no lumps.
- Place the lid loosely on the jar, and place the rubber band on the highest level of the mixture.
- Leave for 24 hours.
- Add 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water to the mixture.
- Stir until there are no lumps.
- Leave for another 24 hours.
- Discard about a half of your starter.
- Add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour to the jar.
- Stir until there are no lumps and leave for another 24 hours.
- Feed your starter with the regular 50g/50g water and flour, but do not discard anything.
- Feed your starter twice today – once in the morning and once in the evening. Do not discard.
- Discard about a half of the starter in the morning.
- Feed your starter with the regular 50g/50g water and flour.
- Repeat the discarding and feeding process in the evening.
- Do the regular discarding and feeding twice a day.
- About 4 hours after feeding perform a float test – place a little bit of the starter into a cup with water. If the starter floats then it is ready for bread making.
Day 8 and on
- Continue discarding and feeding process twice a day from now on. You can store your starter in the fridge, in that case you only need to feed it once a week.
Get my FREE PDF easy sourdough guide to keep at hand to save time!