Frequently Asked Sourdough Starter Questions | The Perfect Loaf (2024)

Your sourdough starter is a mixture of yeasts and suitable bacteria that co-exist to leaven and flavor bread dough. I’ve been maintaining my starter for over ten years now, regularly feeding it twice a day, every day, and the process is so familiar I don’t even think about it anymore. But it’s nothing mystical or magical, my sourdough starter is a culture I give nourishment (flour and water), and in return,ithappily does work for me without even realizing it. But many uncertainties can arise along with its maintenance, and this frequently asked sourdough starter questions post is here to help.

I’ve been compiling this list of starter questions for almost as long as this website has been around.Each time I receive an email orcommentasking a question about what I do in a particular situation, I’ve saved it and added the most commonly asked questions below.

If you’ve arrived here before you have a starter, it might be worthwhile to have a read-through to internalizesome of these questions and answers. Then head to my guide tocreating a sourdough starter and get started.

Frequently Asked Sourdough Starter Questions | The Perfect Loaf (1)

How Do I Create a Sourdough Starter?

I’ve written a detailed postwith pictures and clear instructionson creating a sourdough starter in 7 easy steps.

Do I Have To Use Whole-Grain Rye Flour For A Sourdough Starter?

I call for whole-grain rye flour when creating a starter because the additional nutrients in rye flour help speed up the process. You can certainly use whole wheat flour or even white (sifted) flour if you’d like, but I find rye flour to be the most effective flour at the beginning. If you don’t have rye flour, then whole wheat works!

I Think My Sourdough Starter Died. Is it Dead?

It’s normal to see a lapse of activity at some point when first creating a sourdough starter—this is normal. The initial proliferation of action at the beginning of creating a starter is from a different type of bacteria in your mixture that will eventually be replaced by the kind we are looking for (lactic acid bacteria). Keep feeding, and discarding, as I outline in my creation guide. Eventually, your mixture will slowly become more and more acidic (low pH), killing off other bacteria and allowing the beneficial yeasts and bacteria we are looking for to take hold.

I’ve Been Following Your Starter Creation Guide, But Nothing is Happening. What’s Wrong?

The most common problem I see people face is low temperatures: it’s easier to create your starter if you keep it warmer. Cold temperatures (below 70°F/21°C) will slow the process down significantly, whereas warmer temperatures (around 76-82°F/24-26°C) will speed it up. Try to find a warm spot in your kitchen to keep your starter, or use more lukewarm water for feeding. For more information on starter and dough temperatures, see my post on the importance of dough temperature.

Frequently Asked Sourdough Starter Questions | The Perfect Loaf (2)

Should I Cover My Sourdough Starter Jar?

I like to keep mine covered loosely to keep anything from falling inside the jar and the starter from drying out. The lid does not have to be airtight. I loosely place a glass lid on top (my favorite sourdough starter jars have a glass lid that rests on top), but it’s not sealed shut.

When Is My Sourdough Starter Ready?

Once you see predictable signs of fermentation (rise, bubbles, a transformation in aroma from sweet to sour, etc.) each day, it should be strong enough for baking. When creating a starter from scratch, you might see a spur of activity at the beginning of the process, but you want consistent signs of fermentation day after day before it’s strong enough to use for leavening. Typically, when creating a new starter, this is after 5-8 days.

Do I Have to Make a Levain?

It’s always an option to use your starter instead of making a levain. But, for most recipes, I prefer making a levain so I can control the flour going into the levain, the ripening timeline, and when I use it to mix into a dough—all of this without having to adjust my continually maintained sourdough starter.

For example, I might make a levain with all white flour and use it before being overly ripe for my cinnamon rolls. This will help to ensure the end rolls will not have an overly sour flavor.

What Kind of Container Is Best For a Sourdough Starter?

You can use just about anything. I like to use clear glass containers to observe the sides and bottom, and these Weck jars are my favorite. They have a glass lid that rests on top just in case too much pressure builds up inside the jar from fermentation. Canning glass jars are also a perfect choice.

How Often Should I Clean My Sourdough Starter Jar?

Use the same jar daily and keep it as clean as possible. During a feeding, discard part of your starter per usual and then scrapedown as much residual starter as possible, reincorporating it back into the mixture. Thenwipe the top and sides of the jar with a towel to remove any remaining liquid. If you can get the top half reasonably clean, that’s good enough. The bottom half of the jar will most likely be covered when your starter rises during the day, anyway.

What Water is Best For a Sourdough Starter?

Regular drinking water from the tap is just fine. Fill up a large container and let it sit on the counter overnight before using it to allow any chlorine in your tap water to dissipate.

What Can I Do With Sourdough Starter Discard?

Cook or bake with it! You can use leftover starter into banana bread, waffles, pancakes, tea cakes, muffins, pizza, cookies, and so on. If you want to use less flour overall, check out my guide to maintaining a smaller sourdough starter. Aside from using sourdough discard in other foods, I will almost always compost any leftovers, only using the trash as a last resort.

Frequently Asked Sourdough Starter Questions | The Perfect Loaf (3)

Can I Refrigerate My Sourdough Starter?

You can absolutely store your starter in the fridge, especially for vacation. To prepare for the fridge, I will wait until the starter needs a refreshment, discard all but 20g of ripe starter, and thenrefresh it with 100g flour and 80g water (I like the culture to be a bit on the stiff/dry side). After refreshing, let it sit on the counter for 1 hour, then toss it into the fridge. I will usually use thesame Weck jars for this, and the cover will be loosely placed on top so nothing can fall in, but excess gasses can escape.

When I want to bake again, I will remove my starter from the fridge, let it ferment on the counter for a few hours, and then feed it as I would normally. I will do this a few days before I plan to bake to get the culture back up to strength.

See my post on storing a sourdough starter for tips on keeping it in the fridge or other methods for longer periods over two to three weeks.

Why Doesn’t The Sourdough Starter Float Test Work?

The float test is a good general indicator for when a starter or levain has significant fermentation, but I find it is not 100% reliable in testing for when a starter is ready for use. It can lead to false positives, but, as I discuss below, when your starter makeup is not with a majority of white flour at a moderate to high hydration, it will also rarely float, even if your starter is ripe. Instead of using the float test, I look for signs of strong fermentation and ripeness.

Frequently Asked Sourdough Starter Questions | The Perfect Loaf (4)

Why Isn’t My Sourdough Starter Strong?

If you’ve just created your starter, give it time to ripen. With consistent, predictable refreshments, you will “train” your starter into strength, and it will display the same signs of strong fermentation each day. Temperature is also incredibly important here: keeping your starter relatively warm (I prefer 76-80°F/24-26°C) will encourage increased activity.

Why Does My Sourdough Starter Take Forever To Ripen?

Several factors play into the fermentation vigor of your starter, and the most important one is temperature.Try to find a warm spot in your kitchen to keep your starter, or use more lukewarm water to feed it. Shoot for 76°F – 80°F (24-26°C) ambient temperature for increasedfermentation activity. Maintaining a stable temperature is important, and if there’s one thing I like to focus on with my starter, it’s temperature.

Flour selection also plays into the fermentation activity; the more whole grains you use to refresh, the higher the fermentation rate in your culture.

And, of course, the amount of ripe starter you carry over from feeding to feeding plays a significant role. The larger the percentage, the faster your newly refreshed culture will ripen.

All of these variables can be tweaked to speed up, or slow down, the time it takes for your starter to ripen and need a refreshment. My preferred method for changing my starter’s ripening timeline is to adjust the amount of starter I leave in the jar for each refreshment (the carryover). If it’s summertime, I will usually carry over a smaller percentage of ripe starter (15% or so) at each refreshment to slow things down so I can maintain my twice-a-day refreshment schedule. If it’s winter and temperatures are lower, I’ll carry over an increased amount of ripe starter (25% or so) into my next refreshment.

How Often Should I Feed My Sourdough Starter?

This question is very temperature and flour-dependent. If the ambient temperature in your kitchen is on the warmer side, 75-80°F (23-26°C), then you’ll find your starter ferments much faster than if it were cooler (less than 75°F/23°C). Likewise, you’ll see higher fermentation rates if you use a large percentage of whole grains in your refreshment.

I prefer to feed my starter twice daily to keep ithealthy and ready to bakeat any moment. But then again, I bake very, very frequently. If temperatures are not overly high, I recommend a single daily feeding. If your starter falls significantly in its jar, looks broken down and loose, and smells like harsh vinegar or paint, try using a smaller percentage of ripe starter at each feeding. You can also find a cooler spot in your kitchen or use colder water to feed.

For example, in the summer (typically 75-78°F/23-26°C in my kitchen), I feed my starter twice a day, but even then, I have to reduce my ripe starter carryover percentage. Instead of my usual 20-25% in the winter, I drop it down to 10-15% and find a shaded, cool spot in my kitchen to slow things down. For more information on this, including pictures, see my post on maintaining your sourdough starter.

How Can I Feed My Sourdough Starter On Workdays?

For a very in-depth discussion on how to maintain your starter in the fridge during the week and use it to bake on the weekend, head over to my Weekend Baking Schedule guide! Additionally, see the previous question for what “tools” you can utilize to speed up or slow down your starter’s fermentation rate.

Frequently Asked Sourdough Starter Questions | The Perfect Loaf (5)

What Hydration is Best For a Sourdough Starter?

Of course. When it’s significantly hot and dry here in the summer, and the flour seems to need more water, I’ll increase my hydration to 105% or higher as required. You can adjust the amount of water you use at each refreshment so the mixture displays the desired viscosity. As the humidity level in your environment changes, adjust thehydration up and down by 5% to compensate.

My Starter Has Clear Liquid On Top, Should I Throw It Out?

You can either discard this liquid (or “hooch,” as it’s commonly called) or stir it back into the culture. I typically stir it all in together. This can be a sign you’re not feeding your starter often enough.

How Does Altitude Affect My Sourdough Starter?

You might see increased fermentation activity at high elevations. See my baking at high altitude guide for more tips.

What’s Next?

If you’re having issues with your sourdough starter and haven’t found help above, post at our member community for help!

For more starter-related things, look at my ultimate guide to sourdough starters for help and advice with feedings, maintenance temperatures, long-term storage, and much more.

Happy baking!

Frequently Asked Sourdough Starter Questions | The Perfect Loaf (2024)


What are the qualities of a good sourdough loaf? ›

Moreover, the crust of real sourdough bread is usually thin and airy and makes a distinctive crackling sound when the bread is broken in half. The inside of the bread should be bubbly and chewy and the bread should have a slightly tangy taste.

How much sourdough starter to use for a loaf? ›

Ingredients for one sourdough bread loaf
  1. 500 grams of bread flour.
  2. 330 grams of lukewarm water.
  3. 50 grams of active starter (fed)
  4. 9 grams of salt.
Dec 9, 2021

What is the best flour to feed sourdough starter? ›

All-Purpose Flour: All-purpose flour, which is a blend of hard and soft wheat, is a popular choice for feeding sourdough starter. It provides a good balance of protein and starch, which promotes a healthy fermentation process. Bread Flour: Bread flour has a higher protein content compared to all-purpose flour.

What is the best feeding 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).

What are the qualities of a good loaf? ›

Slightly moist, tender and Moist, tender and light Soft, springy texture, flaky crumb, with a medium crumb, with medium fine, tender and slightly moist fine grain. evenly distributed air with fine grain, thin- spaces. walled cells.

What should I look for in a sourdough loaf? ›

Some sourdough breads can be denser in texture, but they should not be wet or gummy. A sourdough loaf made with 500g of good quality bread flour, 50g to 100g of sourdough starter, left to ferment for adequate time, will produce a light, airy loaf with a lacy, open crumb that is not wet or dense in any way.

What is the secret to sourdough bread? ›

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 long to wait before cutting sourdough loaf? ›

It can be tempting to just cut right into your loaf to take that first bite. The key here, though, is a lot of patience. Ideally, sourdough bread should be cooled to room temperature before you cut into it. This can take a few hours, and even up to overnight.

Can you use too much starter in sourdough bread? ›

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.

Can I use tap water for sourdough starter? ›

*If making sourdough is new for you, do not be discouraged if you starter takes longer to get active than mine – stick with it, it will happen! *Tap water is usually fine, if you are not sure, use boiled and cooled water, you can use it at room temperature or cool; do not use distilled water.

Is plain or strong flour better for sourdough starter? ›

If you do not have whole wheat flour, just use all purpose flour instead. The starter will be fine. I switch to all purpose flour for the feedings because it's reliable, inexpensive and practical for everyday baking (remember, a portion of your starter is removed, discarded, or used for something else).

Can you overfeed a 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.

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!

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.

What is one of the key qualities of a sourdough? ›

One of the key qualities of a sourdough is respect for nature. Sourdough is a type of bread made using a natural fermentation process that involves capturing wild yeast and bacteria from the environment.

What is unique about sourdough bread? ›

Why Is Sourdough Bread Different? Unlike other yeast bread recipes that use baker's yeast as the leavening agent, traditional sourdough recipes use a starter made of water and flour. The starter ferments over time, producing natural yeast and the slightly acidic flavor that sets sourdough apart.

What are the properties of sourdough bread? ›

Sourdough has made a comeback—and for good reason. It provides nutrients, including healthy carbs, protein, fiber, iron and vitamins like folic acid. It may help improve digestion, lower chronic disease risk and even promote healthy aging.

What makes a good loaf? ›

To determine whether bread is of good quality, there are several factors and characteristics you can identify. For example the crust must be crisp and of a darker tone than the inside, a strong flavour and taste due to the flour, as well as a pleasant smell. What's also important is that the conservation is longer.

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