Does The Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter? And What Happens When You Change It? (2024)

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Does the amount of sourdough starter matter? Have you ever wondered why the amount of sourdough starter in the recipe you're following has been chosen?

The ratio of sourdough starter to flour in your sourdough recipe is important and can affect many aspects of the sourdough baking process.

Changing the ratio of sourdough starter to flour can be beneficial.

This blog aims to help you understand why certain amounts are calculated and how to manipulate these amounts to better fit sourdough baking into your busy life.

Does The Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter? And What Happens When You Change It? (1)

Does The Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter?

You might have noticed that the amount of starter in recipes can vary from 50g up to around 200g (or maybe more). These amounts are not random amounts.

Generally, the amount of sourdough starter in a recipe has been chosen for a specific reason.

And in fact, you can change the amount of starter in a recipe to suit you and your specific needs.

As a general rule, the less sourdough starter you use, the slower your dough will ferment - resulting in a more sour flavored loaf.

The more starter you use, the faster your dough will ferment - resulting in a less sour loaf.

Of course the amount of starter is actually a ratio in relation to the flour - so 50g of starter to 500g of flour will ferment at a much slower rate than 200g of starter to 500g of flour.

They are different percentages. 50g of starter is just 10% in relation to the flour in a recipe with 500g of flour (like this one). Whereas 200g of starter is 40% in relation to the flour in a recipe with 500g of flour.

Does The Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter? And What Happens When You Change It? (2)

Using Less Starter To STOP Over Fermenting Your Sourdough

In general, the less sourdough starter you use, the less chance you have of over fermenting your dough during the bulk ferment. This reduces the risk of sticky, unshapeable dough.

As with any sourdough recipe, before you start baking bread, you want to make sure that your sourdough starter is as strong as possible.

My basic sourdough recipe uses just 50g of starter for 500g of flour (so just 10% of starter).

The reason I use only 50g is so that there is an option of extending the bulk ferment overnight.

This makes it much easier to fit sourdough baking into my day (or night).

Creating a baking timeline around an overnight bulk ferment allows you mix the dough after work, ferment all night and shape the next morning.

If you want more info on scheduling sourdough around full time work, go here.

Some good reasons to use a smaller amount of starter:

  • you can ferment your sourdough for longer periods, which means that you can comfortably do an overnight ferment (as long as it's not too hot). This long fermented sourdough bread uses just 20g of starter.
  • you can develop a really good flavor with a little starter because your dough can ferment longer giving the bacteria more time to develop flavor in your bread.
  • Using smaller amounts of sourdough starter mean that you can maintain a smaller sourdough starter.
  • You can continue to make sourdough during the summer. If it's really hot and humid you could even reduce the amount of starter further.

When To Use More Sourdough Starter

Generally, a smaller amount of sourdough starter is all you need. But there are some instances where you might want to increase the amount of starter you use.

Some instances could be:

  • If it's particularly cold, you could increase your sourdough starter to make your bread ferment more quickly. When it's cold, you could easily ferment 100g of starter overnight.
  • If you're in a hurry and want to make your sourdough ferment more quickly, you could increase your starter up to 200g and decrease your bulk ferment time. I use a big starter amount in this pizza dough.
  • You want your sourdough to be less sour - using more starter decreases fermentation time, making your starter less sour (in general).
Does The Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter? And What Happens When You Change It? (3)

Do I Have To Adjust The Flour & Water Amounts If I Increase Or Decrease The Amount of Sourdough Starter?

You don't have to adjust the amount of flour and water in your recipe when you increase (or decrease) the amount of starter you use.

BUT - you do need to understand that changing the amount of starter will change the level of hydration in your bread. This isn't always as big a deal as people make out. I think it really depends on how much starter you're adding and how comfortable you are working at different hydrations.

Remember that there must be a reason for increasing or decreasing the starter amount - and this will dictate by how much you change the ratio.

In general most sourdough starters are 100% hydration, meaning they contain an equal amount of flour and water.

And you will probably find that many starters are slightly less hydrated (I like to work with quite a stiff starter) so this will reduce the effect that it has on your dough too. If your starter is more watery, you might need to make adjustments for this.

You can see in the table below the effect of changing the starter amount has on my basic sourdough recipe. It's only a change in hydration of 4%. If you wanted to, adding 150g to 200g of starter you could decrease the amount of water by 10 to 20g to bring the hydration back down to around 72% but you really don't need to.

STARTER FLOURWATERHYDRATION
25g500g350g70.8%
50g500g350g71.4%
100g500g350g72.7%
150g500g350g73.9%
200g500g350g75%

I hope this helps you to understand the ways in which the amount of starter can affect your sourdough and that the amount of sourdough starter in your recipe really does matter.

Try experimenting with different amounts of sourdough starter in your dough based on your time available and ambient temperature and see what happens!

Does The Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter? And What Happens When You Change It? (4)

Further Reading

If you're curious to know more about how the amount of sourdough starter matters, you'll find the following links useful:

  • Find out how to increase the amount of starter in your jar by scaling your starter here.
  • Find out how to bake sourdough in hotter or colder temperatures here.
  • Read about how to know when your sourdough starter is ready for baking here.
  • Learn about baker's percentages and ratios here.
Does The Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter? And What Happens When You Change It? (2024)

FAQs

Does The Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter? And What Happens When You Change It? ›

The more starter you use, the faster your dough will ferment - resulting in a less sour loaf. Of course the amount of starter is actually a ratio in relation to the flour - so 50g of starter to 500g of flour will ferment at a much slower rate than 200g of starter to 500g of flour.

Does the amount of sourdough starter matter? ›

Truth be told, the amount of starter you use in your recipe is very important and can affect many aspects of the sourdough baking process. The typical amount of starter used in a recipe varies from 50-200g - these are not random amounts.

What is the best ratio for sourdough starter? ›

Typical feeding ratios are 1:2:2 or 1:3:3 (old sourdough: fresh flour: water). However, even extreme ratios like 1:50:50 would still work. In that case, the freshly fed sourdough would just require more or much more time to grow and reach its peak, as judged by the maximum volume increase in the jar (at least doubled).

Does more starter make sourdough more sour? ›

If you feed or use your starter more often, it will be milder. If on the other hand, you leave your sourdough starter in the refrigerator for a long time, it will become more acetic and sour.

What if I need more sourdough starter? ›

You can use the 1:1:1 ratio in many situations when scaling your sourdough starter. Even if you only had 10g of starter and you wanted 200g of starter, you'd just have to feed it at 1:10:10 which would mean adding 100g of flour and 100g of water to that 10g of sourdough starter.

What happens if you put too much starter in sourdough bread? ›

As I get ready to feed it, I often have too much starter and I need to keep the ratios the same - equal portions of starter, flour, and water (1-1-1). If you have too much starter compared to the additional flour and water you're adding, your hungry starter consumes all the nutrients and then it's not as bubbly.

How do I know if my sourdough starter is active enough? ›

A “ripe” starter is one that's fermented for some number of hours and is ready to use in a recipe, whether to make a levain or mix directly into a dough for sourdough bread-making. Generally, when a starter is ripe, it has risen, is bubbly on top, has a sour aroma, and has a looser consistency.

What is the minimum amount of sourdough starter to keep? ›

To keep a smaller starter, you will save just 20 grams (about 1 heaping tablespoon) of active starter, feeding it with 20 grams of water and 20 grams of flour. This will yield 60 grams of starter which is just enough to maintain.

Do you have to discard sourdough starter every time you feed it? ›

With each sourdough starter feeding, you'll be discarding some to avoid it from becoming overly acidic. Most will compost or trash this discard, but you can save it and use it in other recipes!

Should sourdough starter be thick or runny? ›

Does it matter if my starter is thick or thin, you ask? Nope! Thick and thin starters are both full of wild yeasts and bacteria which is what your bread is begging for. The viscosity of your starter is really just a personal preference because thick and thin starters will both make bread.

Why does my sourdough starter rise and fall so quickly? ›

A truly good starter will double in 6-8 hours when given a 1:2:2 feeding. If you find your starter is rising so fast that it has sunk back down to its starting point by the time you feed it, it needs more food. You can either feed it twice a day or increase the ratio to 1:3:3 or even 1:4:4, depending on your starter.

Why doesn't my homemade sourdough bread taste sour? ›

Using flours with more ash, or mineral, content, will yield more sour taste. If you can't get enough ash, adding a bit of whole wheat flour to your recipe, which is what is done with the 20% Bran Flour, will boost the sour of a bread. Conversely, using a lower ash flour will tend to produce a milder bread.

Is over fermented sourdough safe to eat? ›

If you over-ferment the dough you run the risk of the gluten structure degrading and the loaf turning into a puddle of goo before your eyes, never to be retrieved and destined for the bin.

Does it matter how much starter you use? ›

Generally, a smaller amount of sourdough starter is all you need. But there are some instances where you might want to increase the amount of starter you use. Some instances could be: If it's particularly cold, you could increase your sourdough starter to make your bread ferment more quickly.

Why discard half of sourdough starter? ›

If you don't discard your sourdough starter, it will grow too big and be unmanageable. Not to mention you will go through an unmentionable amount of flour.

What size jar is best for sourdough starter? ›

What Size Jar is Best For a Sourdough Starter? No single-sized jar is best for every baker because it depends on how much sourdough starter they regularly need for baking. However, for most people, a 3/4 liter (28.7 fluid ounces) jar is perfect as it can store both a small sourdough starter or a large one.

Is it better to use less sourdough starter? ›

Reducing a starter down quite low helps conserve flour and reduce waste, but using 100% all-purpose flour also helps reduce activity and keep that lengthy interval.

What happens if you don't use enough sourdough starter? ›

Don't worry — everything will be just fine. A sourdough starter is often likened to a pet, but unlike a puppy, if you forget to feed it when you're supposed to, nothing bad will happen. Because even though starters are technically alive, they're incredibly resilient.

Can you overfeed your sourdough starter? ›

Yes, you can overfeed your sourdough starter. Audrey explains: “Every time you add more flour and water, you are depleting the existing population of natural bacteria and yeast.” If you keep adding more and more, eventually you'll dilute the starter so much that you'll just have flour and water.

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