Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

Monday Mission: Make a Sourdough Starter

How To Make A Sourdough Starter

I was so intimidated by the idea of making my own sourdough that I waited over six months to finally try it. I was convinced I would never post anything about it here at KS and pessimistically assumed I’d fail, so I didn’t even take one picture when I made a homemade starter for the first time.

But I have to tell you: capturing your own yeast is a monumental feeling when you see those little bubbles! Imagine me in my li’l ol’ kitchen, pulling a Tom Hanks/Castaway triumphant roar:

“Look what I have created! I have CAPTURED YEAST! I have made BUBBLES!”

I want you to experience that, too. That’s why your Monday Mission is as follows:

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to capture your own yeast from the air!

We’re going to make our own sourdough starters. Don’t get scared yet. Believe me, if I can do this, you can too.

How to Create a Sourdough Starter: The Basics

I’ll outline the step-by-step process below, but the true bare bones method for convincing wild yeast to settle in your sourdough starter is quite simple:

  1. Mix whole wheat flour and water together.
  2. Feed the starter more flour and water daily.
  3. Wait for the yeast to get hungry and eat your flour, creating bubbles.

A sourdough starter is simply a mixture of flour and water wherein natural yeast or natural leavening from your air consumes the starch and creates gas, giving your bread an opportunity to rise. What is natural leavening? It’s just a fancy way of saying bacteria; the good guys that keep our systems going. Sourdough is a fermented food, which makes it easier to digest because the grains are partially pre-digested by the bacteria.

In all my research on soaking grains and phytates and phytic acid…everyone agrees on one fact: Sourdough preparation absolutely has an impact on reducing phytates and is the healthiest way to prepare grains. Study after study demonstrates the health benefits of sourdough.

For now, just know that sourdough is so incredibly healthy, and has the added bonus of being FREE yeast. Particularly if you don’t find yeast in bulk, those little packets can make bread baking almost expensive!

Psst! If you’re a visual learner or just want more…more info, more examples, demonstrations, recipes, and materials about sourdough, I’m a guest lecturer in an online eCourse about JUST sourdough. Please check out the sourdough eCourse – enrollment is always open!

I’ll hold your hand. Here are some of the “crutches” I used to ensure a successful final product:
  • Some say you can start with potato or pasta cooking water because the added starch is a feast for the little beasties and attracts yeast faster.
  • Others say that starchy water is inviting the wrong kind of bacteria and that you should start with some pineapple juice instead and that will keep it more sanitary. See the comments for great suggestions as well.
  • You can toss in a few unwashed organic grapes. You know the white film on the surface of grapes? That’s “bloom” or natural yeast. Be sure to choose organic if you’re going to add the grapes to your sourdough starter, but they’re not necessary if you can’t find them (or they’re way too expensive to bother).HOW TO MAKE A SOURDOUGH STARTER

How to Make a Sourdough Starter, Step-By-Step

Materials Needed:

  • clean glass jar (some say switch your jars every day; I use the same jar until it’s too caked with dried starter at the top to pour anymore.)
  • flour (whole wheat preferred in my opinion, but the method works with white, rye, etc.)
  • water – non-chlorinated. If you have city water, you should leave water out in a jar with the lid off so the chlorine will evaporate.
  • spoon (some say don’t use a metal spoon; I’ve read that that’s outdated advice from when spoons were made of metal that would leach into the mixture because of the acidity. I use whatever’s handy!)
  • napkin, cloth or coffee filter, and a rubber band to cover the jar

Method:

  1. Pour some water into the jar. I used about a half cup.
  2. Add an equal amount of flour and stir well.
  3. Cover your sourdough starter with cloth or napkin or coffee filter, secure with rubber band or Ball canning ring. The starter needs to be open to the air to catch the yeast but safe from bugs and falling objects.
  4. Store your starter in a warm place, away from any other ferments you have going.
  5. One option is in the turned-off oven with just the light turned on. If you set the jar right by the bulb, it will feel warm to the touch in a few hours. I didn’t believe that would work, I really didn’t! Just try it overnight and feel your jar for warmth. (Test the temperature of your oven – some get a lot hotter than mine, apparently!)
  6. About every 12 hours or so, add more flour and water in equal parts. I only used 1/4 cup at a time, because I didn’t want my starter to get too big.
  7. Pour off the bit of liquid that separates and turns dark before “feeding” your sourdough that meal.
  8. Once you consistently see bubbles in your sourdough starter, congratulations! You have captured yeast! Now you can get even lazier with your feedings.
  9. Feed your starter once daily, either equal parts flour and water or any grain you have – oatmeal, any flour, etc. Just a few Tbs will keep your starter happy until tomorrow. Some methods tell you to toss half your sourdough starter every time you feed. No way – no need to waste the flour! (You can also see the recipes at the bottom of this post for “discarded sourdough starter” recipes.)
  10. I usually feed with water and flour at the beginning, then switch to just flour (as if I’m feeding a fish!) for a few days. Once the starter is really thick, I add water with my flour. I use rye flour from time to time too, and I think it makes more bubbles. Rye is higher in phytase, so regardless of rising air, it makes the healthiest sourdough to be had.

I wanted you to be able to print the method easily, so here are the photos to tell the story and give you an idea of what you’re looking for:

Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!
Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!

The initial mix was on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!
IMG_8976

Eight hours later, there’s already some separation and action. No smell yet. I fed it again that evening.

Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!
Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!

Blech. There’s the example of the dark liquid that you can just pour off your sourdough starter. It doesn’t hurt anything to leave it in, but I’ve read that it makes your starter more sour, and Sarah hypothesizes that it’s the “waste” of the bacteria. Yuckier! These two photos are from Sunday morning.

Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!

By Sunday at 2:47 p.m., the sourdough starter was already bubbling away! I can’t guarantee that yours will take yeast this fast, because I probably cross-contaminated it with my other active starter. By midnight the starter was separated again; it’s more dense on top and bottom with liquid in the middle:

Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!
whole wheat sourdough starter
Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!

By the afternoon on Monday, the starter has calmed down again and formed a thicker “crust” on top. I fed it more, but not quite two times per day, and imagine my surprise when I found this Wednesday:

Make a Sourdough Starter: capture your own yeast from the air!

I’ve never, ever found mold on my sourdough starter until today. (This would be the part where you read the disclaimer, realize I’m not a doctor, and do nothing that I tell you…) I scooped it out! I just baked bread this weekend (seven days after starting the process, if you’re counting) and it was delicious.

Tips for Sourdough Success

Warm spot? For a good warm spot, you can turn the oven on for just a minute or less, then put the starter inside with the light on. I wanted to make it easy on myself, so I waited until summer to start mine so that it wasn’t 64 degrees in my house.

Smell? The starter starts out smelling like flour and water, and as it progresses, there’s more of a sourdough tang to its scent. You can definitely tell something is happening!

Time to grow? You betcha. A new starter takes time to “mature” before it’s ready for bread. I would recommend starting with pancakes, crackers, or a flatbread that won’t count on much rise the first few times you bake. That way you’re not setting yourself up for failure and doorstop-worthy loaves! 🙂

What to do with it? I started with some recipes that didn’t need much rise because I was nervous about my sourdough starter’s performance at first.

***If you’re not going to bake at least once a week, store the starter in your fridge. Just remember to feed it some flour once a week, with water when it is too thick.

Maybe you’re really, really intimidated by starting your own sourdough (like I was). Feel free to check out some other options for Sourdough Starters:

How To Make A Sourdough Starter
If you really want to master sourdough (or at least get up the guts to try it for real), consider checking out the GNOWFGLINS “Learn to Cook with Sourdough Online” multimedia eCourse. I contributed a few demonstrations and notes, but the real masters teach over 20 different recipes using a sourdough starter. Click here for more details.
Other sourdough posts and recipes here:

Sources: I am indebted to Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation for making sourdough sound less intimidating and Heavenly Homemakers for her photos.

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

52 thoughts on “Monday Mission: Make a Sourdough Starter”

  1. Hi! I tried to make a starter with fresh milled red winter wheat and it bombed. Any advise? I’ve read you have to let the wheat age but you mentioned in a previous blog fresh is best. Appreciate any advise 🙂

    1. Hi Lindsey! Congrats on trying sourdough, but it’s so disappointing when it doesn’t turn out, I know! 🙁 There can be so many reasons that sourdough doesn’t “take” on the first try, so I definitely would not go to your wheat as the first problem. I always used freshly ground and it worked just fine. Troubleshoot things like amount fed, # of times fed, temperature, and whether you used a commercial starter or tried to “catch” your own yeast (adding an organic grape always helped mine). You can even boost a starter by adding a tiny bit of commercial yeast at the get-go. My friend Wardee has some even more in-depth guides than me and troubleshooting: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/sourdough-starter-TCS

      I hope that helps on the second try! Stay positive! 🙂 Katie

  2. On the sourdough starter I will add some information may benefit some readers even though the post is on the older side.
    I’ve been making bread by hand for many years. My current starter was started about a year or so and still going strong. Usually re-start if I forget about it for a couple of months.

    On the wild yeasts, the judge is out whether those are coaxed from the air.. or they are present in the flour. Me… well Im inclined to believe its both since bacteria is everywhere!

    ——–
    Starter container, place and ingredients:
    ——–
    For temperature, room temp at 22C is perfect. Away from direct sun. When I get mine active, it lives on my kitchen worktop, near a wall to shade it from the sun.
    Little plastic beaker lid (400ml capacity) (my preference), jam/mason jar. I leave my beaker not totally sealed but with lid on.
    Flour, Generally, I use stoneground organic white wheat flour. Because of the stone ground process its supposed to allow more minerals through.
    Water, room temp. (I prefer filtered).
    Consistency: The consistency of thick pancake mixture, not easily runny but not solid either.

    Note: the process works by doubling the amount of the previous day/period. The key for me is to develop and maintain the starter whilst trying to not be too wasteful. If its winter or night.. temps drop a bit and the process just slows down a little that’s all. Never been important.
    Mould: I’ve never seen mould in my starter. If I ever do, I’ll through the lot and start again.

    ——–
    To start the process:
    I’m calling the rule of thumb: 1,2,3 process (feed, feed, rid&feed) for easiness to remember.
    ——–
    Day 1, feed two heaped tablespoons of flour to the beaker and mix enough water to make a porridge. Put lid on, but not sealed.
    Day 2, feed two more tablespoons of flour and enough water as before.
    Day 3, rid most of what you have, retaining only about a teaspoons worth (yes teaspoon has plenty of the culture we are growing). Feed 2 table spoons of flour and water as before.
    Day 4, 5 and 6 are a repeat of the 1,2,3 process.

    At this point you’ll probably have noticed the culture rising (doubling) and falling. If not, continue pattern till you do.
    If you forget about it for a day or two, just go back to Day 3.
    If you end up with any brown water, discard the water, go back to Day 3.
    Yeast is difficult to kill in good conditions and I’ve heard it just goes dormant till its fed.

    ——–
    To maintain:
    ——–
    If I’m not baking, I rid of what’s there as Day 3 and feed. Put lid on (not sealed) and place in fridge top shelf. I then use the same 1,2,3 process but on a weekly or so rather than daily basis (don’t worry if you I forget about it for a short while).

    ——–
    When Im ready to bake:
    ——–
    I take the beaker out of the fridge, rid and feed. Day 2, feed four tablespoons and water. After about 6 to 8 hours, once it has doubled in size its ready to use. Retaining a teaspoon’s worth in the beaker. Feed and place beaker back in fridge.

    ——–
    Cleaning:
    ——–
    Every couple of months or so, I move culture to a new beaker in order to keep containers reasonably clean looking. (You might have hard bits here and there so a soak in warm water will sort).

    HTH and all the best.

    1. I’ve also used wholemeal rye flour for the starter, copes with being out of the fridge better if forgotten unfed on the side for longer as it rises slower (less gluten).
      I’ve also gone from using the rye, to using my normal choice flour (stoneground white wheat flour) and back. Depending if I decided to use the rye flour and I had it in.

  3. This is one recipe I am too scared to try so I end up buying sourdough bread all the time. You made it look so easy. I think I am going to face my fears and give it a go.

  4. I was given a starter that uses potato flakes and sugar for feeding. Can I convert it to a flour-and-water-fed starter? And if so, how?

  5. My starter is 15 days old I have added oatmeal flour. soya flour, crushed linseed, with the wheat its turning out to be really healthy not getting such a good rise yet after baking 4 breads but the taste is GOOD.

  6. This is such an awesome website. My problem with SD starter is that in NW Florida, I’ve had very little success in achieving a really good SD starter. Not nearly as easy as when I lived in Alaska. Can anyone give me some suggestions on creating & maintaining a SD starter in humid climates?

    Thanks in advance,

    Debbie… (0;
    <

    1. Debbie,
      I live in Michigan, so I don’t have a lot of firsthand experience, but my starter was happier in the summer because my 65F house in the winter was a bit cold. Maybe you should buy a starter culture just to get a good jump at the beginning and then it will behave better? Could be that your wild yeast isn’t great. There might be more ideas in the forums at GNOWFGLINS eCourses where I taught a few lessons: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/GNOWFGLINS (It’s a paid course, but perhaps you could just try for a month and then back out if you don’t love it or need more help.) Good luck! 🙂 Katie

    2. Might help others if not the original ‘commenter’: wholemeal rye flour for the starter as it copes with wider range of conditions better. (The starter flour and the bread flour does not need to be the same).

  7. Pingback: Week 20- Summer CSA conclusion | GROUNDWORKS FARM

  8. Pingback: You Are the Proud Parent of Sourdough, Now What? « The Word Magician's Kitchen

  9. This is such a great blog!!! Really makes me hungry just reading and looking at the pictures : ) I recently baked my first loaf of bread and it was incredible!!! I used a starter my friend told me about. It’s from Sourdough’s International and now I have to spread the word! I loved it. Definitely going to order more when it comes the time.

  10. Pingback: {Going Primal} So what is "real" food? | From Cube to Farm

  11. Anybody tried with SPELT flour? I cannot tolerate “regular” wheat but I seem to do fine with spelt . It would be great to have sourdough bread again . I will look into Wild Fermentation to see if there is any suggestions but just thought I’d ask on this forum ! Thank You !

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Maureen,
      Although I myself haven’t done it, sourdough spelt works great. You might find some spelt-specific recipes on http://gnowfglins.com/. Enjoy! 🙂 Katie

  12. I started my sourdough starter and within a few hours noticed it had separated (clear liquid on the bottom). It’s not dark like the photos. Is this what I’m supposed to drain off?

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Melissa,
      You can drain it off or stir it in…but I’m so behind on comments that I hope you weren’t waiting for my answer. Oops! Sorry about that – Katie

  13. Pingback: {Going Primal} So what is “real” food? | From Cube to Farm

  14. I’m wondering why you throw your hooch away? I usually stir it in, makes the sourdough more sour… is that why?

  15. Pingback: Fermented Things Friday: Sourdough Starter « The Accidental Pumpkin

  16. Melissa Blanton

    I tried twice last summer to make a sourdough starter and got scared both times and threw it out. The book I have said that if I saw “pink ?” mold I should throw it out as it was the wrong type of bacteria. I wasn’t sure if it was truly pink or orange-ish in color, but I am a chicken so I went with the addidge “if in doubt throw it out”. I live in an RV normally which means I have a small kitchen and small oven but right now my husband and I are living in one of our trucker’s chapels while we are trying to find new chaplains and I have only a make-shift kitchen and I’m using a George Foreman toaster oven to bake. FUN We are hoping to have our RV brought up to us in the next month or so and I thought I would try to make sourdough starter again. Do you have any advice for a skiddish sourdough-er? I have been making Challah bread since I was a teen so I’m not afraid of baking, just new to the healthier side of breadmaking. I just successfully made multigrain bread (I think it was a success) by just changing up some of my white flour and I soaked 1/3 cup of 7 grain cereal in part of my liquid. I like the taste and it rose pretty well. I found a store that sells whole grains and will grind them for me so that will be my next trial. Here’s to healthier eating.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Melissa,
      “If in doubt, throw it out” is always a good motto. I was so nervous and sure I’d fail the first time, too. You can try adding a few organic grapes or order a powdered starter to make sure you have the right start. Also feed it often so it doesn’t look for anything else to eat. Good luck!!
      🙂 Katie

  17. Sarah Butcher

    I am Celiac can a GF version be made? I saw on the post about oats that buckwheat can be used to soak oats. Can buckwheat or a combo be used to make sourdough gluten free? I have seen several sourdough bread versions online but so far all use bean flour(not soaked though would the sourdough process fix that?) and Xanthan gum which I can’t eat for the soy issue. Any ideas?

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Sarah,
      I’ve never seen one with bean flour, but usually a combo of flours. I know the GNOWFGLINS eCourse has a GF track with adaptations to every recipe. Our family is actually “low gluten” and I’m considering making a GF starter, just haven’t yet. Here’s the course: https://rl102.infusionsoft.com/go/srdoecourse/ks/ Good luck! 🙂 Katie

  18. Pingback: Bacon Sourdough Waffles | Frantically Simple

  19. hi, i made my own starter using organic rye and spring water. i didnt have that separation or the mold. i would throw it out if i saw any mold, Mine stayed firm and smelled yeasty and like bread. I fed it once a day, and instead of throwing out half i made two batches of starter. on the 4th day, i made two loaves — a traditional sourdough using rye and unbleached white, and another using milk and eggs and whole wheat. both were excellent with a gorgeous crust and easy to slice. i made a sponge with my wild harvested yeast starter and let that soak over night. my rise time the following day was 3 hours, the second rise was another 2 1/2 but it was worth the wait and patience. I saved the starter in my fridge, used it again the following week, same excellent results. no separation or mold. When i see your pictures, I cringe. starter should not grow mold. fermented foods should have enough good bacteria and enzymes to kill off anything bad, the acids should prevent mold from growing. your pictures look gross…no offense, but i would start it again, use fresh flour, throw out the mold stuff. starter is cheap, better to do it right. maybe use less water or use bottled water and organic flour til you have a starter you want to save.

  20. Hi Katie,
    I have been following you for a few weeks now making a few baby steps to making baby steps (I am starting from the beginning! too many changes are too scary!).
    Any way i decided to take the lunge and start a sourdough starter as i just love making home made bread- buuut i havent been using anything that comes in a glass jar so concequently I dont have any to use! Can you suggest something else or should I just suck it up and go and buy a glass jar?
    Also I have been trawling the web to find a recipe to replicate some Rye rolls I had once that were crusty and sweet and moist and blackest of black I have ever seen bread. I was wondering if you have seen anything in any of your research that might replicate this, as far as I can tell you need a rye sourdough starter and to soak the rye flour but I cant find a recipe anywhere. I am dying for the recipe because some black rye rolls slathered in butter would be just divine with the batch of amazing home made stock (your intructions) that I just made.
    Thanks
    Roxsie

    1. Roxsie,
      Hmmm, I haven’t done anything with dark rye, but once you get your starter going, you can feed it with pretty much any grain, so that shouldn’t be a problem once you get a recipe for the rolls.

      As for the container, lots of people also use a crock or even just a non-reactive (glass or ceramic) bowl with a plate or towel overtop.
      🙂 Katie

  21. Pingback: Smart Sweets eBook Giveaway! « miniMOMist

  22. Pingback: Green Kitchen Stories » Walnut & Rye Sourdough Bread

  23. Vicki (piggledy)

    Hi, Katie – love your blog, I’ve been making my own greek yogurt and also whole wheat sourdough for a couple of years now. Kind of cheated with the free Carl Griffith Oregon Trail starter from the web, and used just a little bit, which is fortunate, because now I can recover. My sourdeough starter got confused by my recent neglect when we had a death in the family, and was invaded by a nasty mold. I am rather extremely allergic to molds and mildew, so had to chuck it. I will be starting over again this week. Nonetheless, I’ve had wonderful results in making sourdough wholewheat bread and pancakes, and am most anxious to get it going again! Thank you for the inspiration!

  24. Pingback: Sourdough Pancakes | A Mother's Calling

    1. Daniela,
      There are ways to make a GF sourdough starter, but you’ll want to look them up. Here’s a book a friend recommended: http://artofgluten-freesourdoughbaking.com/

      And the GNOWFGLINS eCourse linked to in this post also has a GF sourdough track.
      Good luck! 🙂 Katie

  25. Pingback: Celebrating Michigan’s Grapes — Eat Local, West Michigan!

  26. I am on the Blood Type Diet so I made my sourdough starter with milk kefir and brown rice flour. The milk kefir created a really robust sourdough as opposed to my first experiment with brown rice flour and water. You can also make the starter with water kefir, too.

  27. Pingback: Going traditional « Coffee and Caramel

  28. It was this post that finally got me started. If you take a break from all your packing, I just wanted to say “thank you”! I’ve been wanting to do this for over a year and then read your post. I don’t even know the next step but told myself I could at least mix flour and water. 😉 So, now it’s bubbling thanks to the light in my oven. Woo Hoo. One step closer!

  29. Hi! I’ve been looking through a few websites/blogs and everyone seams to use a different proportion of starter/flour in their recipes. Some use about 1/2 volume of total flour content of starter (example: 2 cups starter+ 2 cups flour) and others use a lot less (example: 100g starter for 1kg flour).

    In the meantime – I have found a working stone -grind windmill and the old man that operates it still sells flour 🙂 Last night I used it to start a starter.

    1. Sandra,
      That’s the lovely part about sourdough – measurements rarely matter! I feed my starter just a few Tbs. a day when I’m not baking often. You can be so flexible, even with WHAT you feed – cooked oatmeal works too! Good luck with getting bubbles!
      🙂 Katie

  30. I made your sourdough pizza crust today (actually I made it yesterday and let it sit in the fridge overnight)- Yum! It is tangy and delicious. Thanks for the great tips!

  31. Dawn Chandler

    Today I started my second sourdough starter. The first one didn’t make it as it was dead of winter. It is warmer in my house now so hopefully this one will take. For now I am using your soaked Whole Wheat Recipe and my family loves it. Thanks so much for your wonderful ministry!!

  32. Thanks so much for all your links and instructions about sourdough. I started mine about 10 days ago and was about to give up on it because it didn’t seem to be doing much except smelling like vomit, despite regular feedings. I decided to try the sourdough crackers before giving up and was wonderfully surprised to find that within hours of removing a cup for the crackers, my starter was smelling beautiful and growing! So maybe there is something to the discarding method–though I would still never just throw it out–the crackers turned out so great I know I will have to be keeping those in stock.

    I’m so excited to start trying pancakes, muffins, bread, and more now!

    1. Melanie,
      I guess don’t wait for an answer from me! Whoops! Some comments got a little buried this week…but if you forget to feed, just feed double the next day, or whatever. Starters are pretty forgiving! 🙂 Katie

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.