Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks - The Clever Carrot (2024)

Learn how to feed and maintain a successful sourdough starter in 3 easy steps! Tips shared for choosing the best flour, the right jar, and how to keep it alive (without the stress).

Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks - The Clever Carrot (1)

Without fail, the most intimidating aspect of sourdough bread recipes is understanding how to feed and maintain your sourdough starter. If you don’t have a healthy starter, you can’t make sourdough bread, sourdough focaccia or anything else with a lofty-high rise! I discuss this in detail in my bestselling book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. However, I’ve written a quick guide below so you can tackle this right away.

In this post, you’ll find sourdough starter feeding instructions (at a glance) and (in depth) depending on how much instruction you need. I’ve also included tips on how to with helpful FAQs at the end.

But First: What is Sourdough Starter?

Simply put: a sourdough starter is a live fermented culture of flour and water. Once it’s fed with additional flour and water (and left in a warm spot to rise, ideally 75+ F), it becomes bubbly and active. A small portion of this active starter is used to make bread dough rise. Instant yeast is not required.

Why Feeding Matters

Most bakers, especially beginners, don’t realize that you can’t just create a sourdough starter, leave it on the counter and expect it to work on a moment’s notice. You’ll need to feed it every time prior to making bread dough. This is referred to as “activating” your starter. Then, to keep it alive, you’ll need to maintain it with regular ongoing feedings to keep it strong.

Feeding Sourdough Starter (You Will Need):

  • Sourdough Starter
  • Jar with lid (I use this one)
  • Kitchen Scale
  • Bread flour or all purpose
  • Water, filtered or quality tap water (that doesn’t taste like chlorine).

Looking for a starter? Try my Beginner Sourdough Starter Recipe with step-by-step instructions.

What is the Sourdough Starter Feeding Ratio?

Because we all have different quantities of sourdough starter, bakers feed their starters by ratio. The most common feeding ratio is 1:1:1 (sourdough starter: flour: water). This is also known as a 100% hydration starter.

For example, let’s say you have 40 g of sourdough starter in a jar. To feed it, you’ll add 40 g of flour + 40 g of water. This is referred to feeding with “equal parts by weight.” You need a scale for this (measuring cups are not considered “equal parts by weight” because different ingredients weigh different amounts). You should also know, this feeding ratio applies to any quantity of starter. If you have 20 g starter in a jar, feed it with 20 g flour + 20 g water. You can scale the ratio up or down.

TIP: Texture is key. While following a feeding ratio is helpful, use it as a guide only. It doesn’t have to be exact. Why? Because your starter will look different on different days. And because of that, it will need different things. This is due to the type/brand of flour used, temperature and the amount of time that has elapsed in between feedings. So, if you’ve followed the feeding ratio and your starter is too thick, add more water to thin it out. If it’s too thin, add more flour. The texture should look like thick pancake batter.

How To Feed Your Sourdough Starter (at a Glance)

  1. Remove and discard half of your sourdough starter
  2. Feed what’s left in the jar with equal parts flour and water by weight (1:1:1 feeding ratio).
  3. Let rise at room temperature (covered or airtight) ideally 75+ F, until bubbly, active and double in size (2-12 hrs.).

*Note: Before you begin, establish a regular feeding time. Morning or evening; the time itself doesn’t matter. What does matter is consistency. Feeding your starter at roughly the same time each day will train it to rise and fall predictably. This way, you’ll know when it’s ready to use. For example, if you want to make dough at 7 PM (and your starter takes about 5 hrs to rise), feed it at 2 PM.

Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks - The Clever Carrot (2)

Feeding Sourdough Starter (In-Depth)

  1. Remove and Discard. Let’s say you have about 120 g of sourdough starter. The first step is to remove half, about 60 g, into a separate bowl (use a spoon or pour it out). What’s leftover in the bowl- the amount you just removed- is called sourdough discard. The discard can be used to make sourdough discard recipes such as my fluffy sourdough pancakes. Or, if discolored and smelly, you can just throw it out (we’ll talk more about this later).
  2. Feed the Starter. Now, you’re going to feed what’s left in the jar with equal parts flour & water by weight. I follow the sourdough feeding ratio of 1:1:1 (sourdough starter: flour: water). So, let’s continue with our example: You had 120 g of starter and removed half. You now have 60 g of sourdough starter in the jar. Feed it with 60 g flour + 60 g of water. Mix well with a fork, scraping down the sides as needed until the texture turns into a thick, lump-free batter. Place the lid on top.
  3. Let Rise Until Bubbly, Active & Double in Size (2-12 hrs.) Place your starter in a warm spot to rise and activate, ideally 75-80 F. Temperature is really important. The warmer it is, the faster it will rise. Your starter is active when it shows the following signs: doubles in size, small and large bubbles appear, has a spongey or fluffy texture and exhibits a pleasant aroma.

TIP: What goes up must come down. An active sourdough starter, one that has doubled in size, will eventually fall back down. This is normal. There’s nothing wrong with your starter when it falls; it’s just losing its strength as it goes down. It will only stay fully risen for 1-2 hours (this varies). Use it to make bread dough at peak height.

Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks - The Clever Carrot (3)

How to Store Sourdough Starter

Once you have a starter, you’ll need to maintain it with regular feedings when not in use- otherwise your bread won’t rise. Your feeding maintenance routine is directly related to where it’s stored and how often you plan to bake.

  • Room Temperature: if you bake a few times a week, keep your starter at room temperature. You’ll need to feed it (1x) per day, even when not in use. Storing at room temperature, especially if it’s warm, will make it ready to use faster.
  • In the Fridge: if you bake only once a week or once a month, store your starter in the fridge. Feed it (1x) per week to maintain it’s strength. You do not need to bring it to room temperature first before feeding it; just remove it from the fridge, feed it and put it back. When ready to use, feed the cold starter at room temperature until it perks back up. Use warm water. Find a warm spot. Remember, the warmer it is, the faster it will rise.

Feeding Sourdough Starter FAQs

Q: Why do we remove and discard sourdough starter?

This is the #1 question asked about the feeding process. While it might feel wasteful, it’s done to refresh the acidity levels and to control the starter’s growth in size. I recommend removing half as a guideline, but the exact quantity is not set in stone. Some days you’ll remove more or less, depending on what the starter looks like. If you do not discard (and yes, some bakers choose to do this), your starter would grow exponentially making it difficult to maintain. But remember! You don’t have to throw the discard away.

Q: What should I do with sourdough discard?

Make sourdough discard recipes. Additionally, you can save discard in the fridge, freeze it, share it, or create a new starter.

  • Best Sourdough Pancakes
  • Crispy Sourdough Waffles
  • Overnight Sourdough Apple Cake
  • Moist Sourdough Blueberry Muffins
  • Ultimate Sourdough Banana Bread
  • Secret Ingredient Sourdough Cornbread

Q: What if I don’t have a scale? Can I use measuring cups to feed my starter?

Yes, absolutely. However, “equal parts by weight” does not translate into measuring cups. Why? Because 1/4 cup flour does not weigh the same as 1/4 water. You can certainly use “equal measurements” if you’d like, but the texture will most likely be off. Adjust with more/less flour and water to achieve a thick, batter-like consistency.

Q: Do I need to feed and activate my starter every time before using it?

Yes. You cannot bake with inactive starter. To activate your starter, feed it with fresh flour and water, and then wait for it to bubble and double in size. Feeding a starter is not a once off activation process (like a new cell phone).

Q: What if I forget to feed my starter?

Totally normal. We all forget at some point. It’s not dead (and you didn’t ruin it). Please keep feeding it until it becomes bubbly and active. For best results, find a warm spot and use warm water for a boost. Starters are more resilient than you’d think- they just need time and patience.

Q: What’s the best flour for feeding sourdough starter?

Starters like routine. In my experience, it’s best to feed your main jar of starter with the same flour it’s made of.

For white flour starters, use unbleached all purpose flour or bread flour. These flours are inexpensive, easy to find, and reliable for starter growth. For whole wheat starters, use whole wheat flour. For rye starters, use rye flour etc.

For variety, some bakers prefer to use a 50/50 blend of whole wheat and white flour for an enzyme boost (starters love enzymes). This is fine too. See what works best for your taste, your budget and your convenience level.

Just do me one favor: when choosing flour, always consider how the starter will be used.

For example, a 100 % whole wheat starter might not work for Soft Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls because the unsifted bran will make the dough more hearty, rather than light and airy. On the flip side, it might be more desirable for Light Whole Wheat Sourdough to really amplify the nutty, wholegrain taste.

Q: What’s the best jar or container for sourdough starter? Does it need to be airtight?

Currently, I use a 3/4 L glass jar with a latch top. I love it. I prefer glass over plastic, it’s easy to clean and it doesn’t absorb any weird smells or chemicals.

Oftentimes, I switch things up and use jam jars, glasses and/or whatever else is clean! My friend Jim recently sent me this sourdough starter jar to try- it’s really cool. Whatever you choose, make sure the jar is large enough to accommodate the starter’s growth when it doubles in size- this is key.

Regarding the lid: it can be airtight or loosely covered. It depends on the baker. For example, when I want my starter to bubble up fast, I keep it airtight. But if the jar is not large enough for the starter to grow, it might burst through the lid. Always keep an eye on it. Alternatively, rest the lid on top of the jar without securing it. This way, the jar is technically still covered but it won’t break as the starter rises.

Q: How long will it take for my starter to rise?

The activation process is not instant. Plan on 2-12 hrs. depending on temperature and the strength of your starter. The warmer it is, the faster it will rise.

Q: Can you recommend a warm spot for my starter to rise?

Potential warm spots include aproofing box, a microwave with the light on, or inside the oven (turned off) with the light on for 1-2 hours but not overnight- the environment will become too warm. You can also try a warm water bath, with frequent water changes to maintain temperature.

Q: What is hooch?

At some point, you’ll experience a dark, grayish liquid on the surface of your sourdough starter. Don’t stress. Hooch is just a sign that your starter needs to be fed. Simply pour it off, removing any discolored starter underneath and give it a fresh feeding. The image below features two different starters I keep in the fridge: Country Starter (fed with 50/50 white flour + whole wheat) and my Basic Starter (all white flour) both with a layer of hooch on the surface.

Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks - The Clever Carrot (4)

Print

Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks - The Clever Carrot (5)

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 4.9 from 67 reviews

  • Author: Emilie Raffa
  • Prep Time: 5 hours
  • Total Time: 5 hours
  • Yield: 1 cup
  • Category: Sourdough Starters
  • Method: No-Cook
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegetarian
Print Recipe

Description

Learn how to feed and maintain a successful sourdough starter in 3 easy steps! Tips shared for choosing the best flour, the right jar, and how to keep it alive (without the stress).

Ingredients

Instructions

*Note:Before you begin, establish a regularfeeding time.Morning or evening; the time itself doesn’t matter. What does matter is consistency. Feeding your starter at roughly the same time each day will train it to rise and fall predictably. This way, you’ll know when it’s ready to use. For example, if you want to make dough at 7 PM (and your starter takes about 5 hrs to rise), feed it at 2 PM.

  1. Remove and discard half of your sourdough starter from the jar.
  2. Feed what’s left in the jar with equal parts flour and water by weight (1:1:1 feeding ratio). You need a digital kitchen scale for this. Because we all work with different quantities of starters, this 1:1:1 feeding ratio is best understood by example. So, if you have 60 g of starter in the jar, feed it with 60 g flour + 60 g water. If you have 30 g of starter, feed it with 30 g of flour and 30 g of water. Mix well with a fork, scraping down the sides as needed. Cover the jar with a lid. The lid can be airtight or loosely placed on top- your choice. Note:if the jar is airtight, the pressure will build up fast. Keep an eye on the jar so it doesn’t burst.
  3. Let your starter rise at room temperature, ideally 75+ F (the warmer it is, the faster it will rise), until bubbly, active and double in size (2-12 hrs). When your starter is at peak height, it’s ready to use. Eventually it will fall back down, and become inactive again. Then, you’ll need to repeat the feeding process.
Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks - The Clever Carrot (2024)

FAQs

What are three top tips when making sourdough starter? ›

Top 10 Sourdough Starter Tips for Success
  1. Maintain a Schedule to Feed your Sourdough Starter. ...
  2. Know How to Store a Sourdough Starter. ...
  3. Maintain a Small Sourdough Starter.
  4. Use Sourdough Discard for Less Waste.
  5. Know How to Revive a Sourdough Starter. ...
  6. Measure your Ingredients by Weight.
May 21, 2022

What is the best ratio to feed sourdough starter? ›

The most common feeding ratio is 1:1:1 (sourdough starter: flour: water). This is also known as a 100% hydration starter. For example, let's say you have 40 g of sourdough starter in a jar. To feed it, you'll add 40 g of flour + 40 g of water.

What is the best way to feed sourdough starter? ›

There is no single best ratio, but I've found a ratio of 1:5:5 fed twice daily at 12-hour intervals to produce a sourdough starter that's strong and healthy. This ratio corresponds to 20% ripe starter carryover, 100% water, and 100% flour (a mix of whole grain rye and white flour) at each feeding.

What is the best flour for sourdough starter? ›

The best flour blend for creating a new sourdough starter is 50% whole-meal flour (whole wheat or whole rye) and 50% bread flour or all-purpose flour. I recommend a 50/50 mix of whole wheat flour and bread flour. Why do you need to use these two types of flour?

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!

How to strengthen a weak starter? ›

By simply catching your starter near its peak and refeeding at that time, you can significantly strengthen a weak starter. If you discard and feed at peak, you are carrying over the largest concentration of yeast cells possible in your carryover starter for the next feeding.

How to make sourdough more sour? ›

Here are are 6 things to try if you prefer your sourdough bread to be more sour:
  1. Longer fermentation. ...
  2. Try adding whole grains. ...
  3. Feed your starter less often. ...
  4. Stir in any hooch. ...
  5. Add starter to recipe after it's reached its peak. ...
  6. More stretch and folds.

Do you stir sourdough starter before using? ›

No you do not have to stir sourdough starter before you use it. You measure the sourdough starter by weight, not volume, so stirring it or not makes absolutely no difference. What does "fed" sourdough starter mean? Fed sourdough starter refers to a starter that has been fed flour and water (preferably by weight).

Why is my sourdough starter bubbling but not rising? ›

If your starter gets completely covered on top with bubbles but does not rise, it is healthy but may just be a wet mix. Try reducing the water in your next feeding and see if you have different results. Also, the type of flour you are using can impede the rise of your starter.

What happens if I forgot to discard the starter before feeding? ›

If you don't get rid of the excess, eventually you'll have more starter than your feedings can sustain. After a few days, your daily 1/4 cup flour and water won't be enough to sustain your entire jar of starter, and your starter will be slow and sluggish, not much better than discard itself.

Should you feed sourdough starter at its peak? ›

With the Peak-to-Peak method, you ignore the clock, watch your starter's activity, then discard and feed your sourdough starter as it is peaking.

What flour do Italians use for sourdough? ›

Grano tenero flours are generally used in Italy to make both bread and pastries.

Can I use tap water for sourdough starter? ›

Myth 2: Sourdough starter requires fancy water

The key to sourdough starter success is using water without chlorine, which can cause the starter to die. While bottled water is chlorine-free, you can also use filtered tap water for our sourdough starter recipe.

Should you use unbleached flour for sourdough starter? ›

What Flour Should I Be Feeding My Sourdough Starter With? You can feed your sourdough starter with any flour you like, as long as it provides the starches the wild yeast in your sourdough starter need to convert to Co2 to rise your dough. The flour you choose should always be unbleached flour.

What is the secret to sourdough? ›

The secret to sourdough is simple: water. The more water you add to your dough will affect how open the crumb (bigger holes and softer texture) will be once it's baked.

How to get a really active sourdough starter? ›

10. How do I make my sourdough starter more active?
  1. Keep your starter warm, 74-76°F (23-24°C) or warmer.
  2. Use more whole grains in each feeding.
  3. Feed your starter when it's ripe (not too early, and not too late)
  4. Don't place it into the refrigerator.
Jun 6, 2022

What are the best conditions for sourdough starter? ›

For instance, with my Beginner's Sourdough Bread recipe, mix together the levain ingredients (flour, water, and ripe sourdough starter), set the Sourdough Home to 75°F (23°C), and slide in your jar. Then, return in 5 to 6 hours to find a perfect ripe levain ready for use.

What are the steps for making a sourdough starter? ›

Despite all the mysticism and lore about creating the concoction, a sourdough starter is merely a naturally fermenting mixture of flour and water. Add water to dry flour, let it sit on the counter for a few days, and you'll see nature weave life into a once lifeless lump: bubbles will appear and the mixture will rise.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Frankie Dare

Last Updated:

Views: 6162

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (73 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Frankie Dare

Birthday: 2000-01-27

Address: Suite 313 45115 Caridad Freeway, Port Barabaraville, MS 66713

Phone: +3769542039359

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Baton twirling, Stand-up comedy, Leather crafting, Rugby, tabletop games, Jigsaw puzzles, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Frankie Dare, I am a funny, beautiful, proud, fair, pleasant, cheerful, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.