How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter (2024)

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This is a comprehensive guide on how to feed and maintain a sourdough starter as well as troubleshooting common issues.

You'll find practical advice and expert tips to help successfully nurture and sustain a healthy sourdough starter for delicious homemade sourdough bread.

How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter (1)

A sourdough starter plays a pivotal role in the sourdough bread baking process due to its unique properties and benefits.

Firstly, it serves as a natural leavening agent, replacing commercial yeast. The wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria present in the starter contribute to the fermentation process, resulting in a more flavorful and aromatic bread.

Secondly, sourdough starters enhance the texture and structure of baked goods, providing a desirable chewiness and improved shelf life.

Lastly, sourdough fermentation breaks down complex carbohydrates and gluten, making the bread easier to digest for those with gluten sensitivities. The complex flavors, improved texture, and digestive benefits make a sourdough starter a valuable asset in baking.

Jump to:
  • How often should I feed my sourdough starter?
  • How much should I feed my sourdough starter?
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Can I use the discarded sourdough starter in recipes?
  • How to make a backup of sourdough starter
  • Troubleshooting guide
  • More sourdough baking resources

How often should I feed my sourdough starter?

The frequency of feeding your sourdough starter depends on various factors such as ambient temperature, desired fermentation speed, and your baking schedule.

In general, feeding your starter once a day or once a week is a common practice. However, the frequency can be adjusted based on the following guidelines:

  1. Daily Feeding: If you maintain your starter at room temperature (around 70-75°F or 21-24°C) and want it to be ready for baking within a day or two, daily feedings are recommended. Discard a portion of the starter and feed it with fresh flour and water every 24 hours.
  2. Twice-Daily Feeding: In warmer environments or if you prefer a faster fermentation process, you can feed your starter twice a day, approximately every 12 hours. This helps maintain a more active and vigorous starter.
  3. Refrigerator Storage: If you don't plan to bake frequently or want to slow down the fermentation process, you can store your starter in the refrigerator. When refrigerated, the feeding frequency can be reduced to once a week or even every two weeks. Remember to feed the starter and allow it to ferment at room temperature for a few hours before returning it to the refrigerator.

The key is to observe your starter's behavior and adjust the feeding frequency accordingly.

If it starts to develop a strong sour smell, becomes overly bubbly, or shows signs of slowing down (e.g., taking longer to rise after feeding), it may be an indication that your starter needs more frequent feedings.

How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter (2)

How much should I feed my sourdough starter?

Feeding ratios in sourdough starters refer to the proportion of flour and water used when refreshing or feeding the starter. The feeding ratio is typically represented as a ratio of flour and water to starter.

The ratios listed below result in a hydration level of 100%, meaning the weight of water equals the weight of flour.

Common feeding ratios for sourdough starters include:

1:1:1 Ratio: This ratio means using equal parts of flour, water, and starter by weight. For example, if you have 100 grams of a starter, you would feed it with 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water.

This starter will rise quicker than a higher ratio of flour/water to the starter. Use this ratio if you want a starter that is ready in 4-6 hours.

1:4:4 Ratio: This ratio involves using four times the weight of flour and water compared to the starter. For instance, if you have 25 grams of starter, you would feed it with 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water. Use this ratio if you want a sourdough starter that is ready to bake within 10-12 hours.

It's a good practice to experiment with different ratios and observe how they impact your sourdough baking results until you find a ratio that works well for your desired bread texture and flavor.

How to refresh your starter after it has been in the fridge for a while

A mature sourdough starter can last for several weeks kept in a refrigerator without being fed.

If your sourdough starter has been in the fridge for a while and you want to give it a refresh, follow the steps below.

  • Discard all but25 grams and add 100 grams of filtered water and 100 grams of flour.
  • Mix vigorously with a spatula, cover lightly, and set on the counter for a few hours to allow the yeast to multiply.
  • Place the jar back into the fridge until the next time it needs to be refreshed or you wish to bake sourdough.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best flour to feed my sourdough starter?

When feeding your sourdough starter, it is generally recommended to use high-quality, unbleached organic flour. The type of flour you choose can impact the flavor, activity, and overall health of your starter. Here are some common flour options for feeding your sourdough starter:

  1. 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.
  2. Bread Flour: Bread flour has a higher protein content compared to all-purpose flour. This can contribute to increased gluten development and give your sourdough starter extra strength and structure.
  3. Whole Wheat Flour: Whole wheat flour adds nutritional value to your starter as it contains the bran and germ of the wheat kernel. It can provide a slightly nuttier flavor and enhance the complexity of your sourdough bread.
  4. Rye Flour: Rye flour can be used in combination with other flours or as a standalone option for feeding your sourdough starter. Rye flour contains enzymes that can help boost fermentation activity and contribute to a distinct flavor profile.
  5. Spelt Flour: Spelt flour is an ancient grain that can be used to feed your sourdough starter. It has a nutty flavor and can add a unique character to your bread.

It's worth noting that different types of flours may result in variations in flavor, fermentation speed, and texture.

You can experiment with different flour combinations and ratios to find the ones that produce the desired results for your baking preferences.

Additionally, using organic or locally sourced flours can add further depth to the flavor of your sourdough starter and bread.

What kind of water should I use in my sourdough starter?

When it comes to choosing water for feeding your sourdough starter, using water that is free from chlorine, chloramine, or other strong chemicals is generally recommended. Here are a few considerations:

  • Filtered Water: Using filtered water, such as water from a home filtration system or a countertop filter, is a popular choice. It helps remove impurities and chemicals that could potentially hinder the activity of the natural yeasts and bacteria in your sourdough starter.
  • Spring Water: Natural spring water can be an excellent option for feeding your sourdough starter. It is generally free from chlorine and other additives, and it often contains beneficial minerals that can contribute to the overall health and flavor of your starter.
  • Tap Water: If your tap water is chlorinated, it's advisable to let it sit in an open container for at least 24 hours before using it to feed your starter. This allows chlorine to dissipate, as it can potentially have a negative impact on the fermentation process.

It's important to note that the quality and characteristics of water can vary depending on your location.

If you're unsure about the quality of your tap water, consider using filtered or spring water as a more reliable option.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide your sourdough starter with water that is free from chemicals that could inhibit its fermentation activity.

Can I use the discarded sourdough starter in recipes?

Yes, you can save and make use of sourdough discard in recipes. Sourdough discard refers to the portion of the starter that you remove and discard during the feeding process.

Instead of discarding it, you can repurpose the discard in various recipes to avoid waste and enjoy its unique flavor.

Collect the discarded sourdough starter in a separate container and store it in the fridge.

Here are a few ideas for using sourdough discard:

  1. Pancakes and Waffles: Incorporate the sourdough discard into pancake or waffle batters for added tanginess and flavor.
  2. Bread and Rolls: Add sourdough discard to zucchini bread or cinnamon rolls to enhance their flavor and texture. It can be used in combination with commercial yeast or in recipes specifically designed for sourdough discard.
  3. Crackers and Flatbreads: Use sourdough discard to make homemade crackers, tortillas, or naan. It adds a pleasant tang and complexity to these snacks.
  4. Quick Breads and Muffins: Incorporate sourdough discard into quick breads like banana bread or muffins. It adds moisture and a unique flavor profile to the baked goods.
  5. Pizza Dough: Make our easy sourdough pizza crust recipe for a unique flavor and improved texture.

How to make a backup of sourdough starter

Creating a backup of your sourdough starter is recommended in case of accidental loss or contamination. Here are a couple of ways you can make a backup.

How to dry sourdough starter

Spread 200 grams of active sourdough starter into a thin layer on a silicone mat or a piece of parchment paper. Allow it to air dry completely, for about 3-4 days depending on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen.

How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter (3)

TIP: Store the sheet in a cold oven to keep it free from any debris that might be floating in the air. Place a sticky note on the oven so that you don't forget it's in there!

Once it's dry, break the starter into pieces and place them in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool dry place for 6-12 months.

How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter (4)

How to revive dried sourdough starter

To revive the dried sourdough starter, add 50 grams to a clean jar with 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour. Let sit for 24 hours at room temperature.

The next day transfer 25 grams to a new jar and feed with 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour. Feed the starter once a day until it starts to double in size.

How to freeze the sourdough starter

Pour the starter into an ice cube tray and place in the freezer until frozen. Transfer the cubes into a freezer-safe container and keep them frozen for up to 1 year.

How to revive frozen sourdough starter

To reactivate the frozen starter, place a cube into a jar and allow it to thaw. Once fully thawed, feed with 100g water and 100g flour.

The next day transfer 25 grams to a new jar and feed with 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour. Feed the starter once a day until it starts to double in size.

Troubleshooting guide

Troubleshooting problems with a sourdough starter can help identify and address issues that may affect its health and performance. Here are some common problems you may encounter with your sourdough starter and suggestions on how to troubleshoot them:

Slow Fermentation or Lack of Activity

  • Check the temperature: Ensure that your sourdough starter is kept in an environment with a consistent temperature between 70-75°F (21-24°C) for optimal fermentation.
  • Adjust feeding schedule: Consider increasing the frequency of feedings to provide more food for the microorganisms, or try using a higher hydration ratio to boost activity.

Foul or Off Odor

  • Evaluate your feeding routine: Check if you're feeding your sourdough starter often enough. A strong, unpleasant smell can indicate that the starter needs more frequent feedings.
  • Discard and rebuild: If the off odor persists, you may consider starting over as it may be contaminated.

Hooch (Liquid) Separation

  • Adjust feeding frequency: Hooch (a brownish liquid) that forms on top of your starter between feedings, indicates that the starter is hungry.
  • Stir or pour off excess hooch: If hooch forms, stir it back into the starter or pour it off before feeding.
  • Reduce hydration: If your starter consistently produces excessive hooch, try lowering the hydration level by using a lower water-to-flour ratio during feedings.

Mold Growth

  • Maintain cleanliness: Ensure that all equipment used for your starter is clean and free from any contaminants.
  • Avoid cross-contamination: Store your starter away from other ferments or food sources that could introduce unwanted molds or bacteria.
  • Discard and start fresh: If mold growth occurs, it's best to discard the affected starter and begin a new batch using a thoroughly cleaned container and fresh ingredients.

Remember, sourdough starters can be resilient and may require some experimentation and adjustments to find the best practices for your specific environment and routine.

Observing your starter's behavior, making small modifications, and maintaining a consistent feeding schedule will help troubleshoot and maintain a healthy and active sourdough starter.

More sourdough baking resources

  • Beginner Sourdough Starter Recipe
  • Signs that your sourdough starter is ready to bake with
  • Baking conversion chart
  • Essential tools for sourdough bread baking
  • Sourdough glossary
  • Baking conversion chart

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This post was first published in May 2020 and revised in May 2023 with updated information and photos.

How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter (2024)

FAQs

What is the easiest way to maintain a sourdough starter? ›

Discard a portion of the starter and feed it with fresh flour and water every 24 hours. Twice-Daily Feeding: In warmer environments or if you prefer a faster fermentation process, you can feed your starter twice a day, approximately every 12 hours. This helps maintain a more active and vigorous starter.

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 often do you really need to feed sourdough starter? ›

Leaving it out on the counter, it will need to be fed equal parts water and flour every 12-24 hours. Warmer homes or frequent baking will require more frequent feeding (around every 12 hours), while colder homes every 24 hours. Storing your sourdough starter in the fridge will require feeding around once a week.

Should I stir my sourdough starter between feedings? ›

stir your starter in between feedings - try stirring it twice in between feedings and really give it a chance to get oxygen into the mix. This will help to activate your starter without too much effort.

How often do you change sourdough starter jars? ›

Use the same jar daily and keep it as clean as possible. During a feeding, discard part of your starter per usual and then scrape down as much residual starter as possible, reincorporating it back into the mixture.

Can you overfeed 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.

What happens if you forgot to discard 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.

Can I leave my sourdough starter out overnight after feeding it? ›

Can I leave my starter out overnight after feeding it? Yes, if you have just fed it.

How do you feed sourdough starter for dummies? ›

Feed starter with flour and water: If using a scale to measure ingredients, combine equal amounts by weight of starter, water, and flour. For instance, 50 grams starter, 50 grams water, 50 grams flour. If using measuring cups, combine 1 part starter, 1 part water, and a little less than 2 parts flour.

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 is the best flour to feed 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.

How to tell if sourdough starter is bad? ›

Typical signs of food spoilage and mold include pink, orange, or green colors, white fuzzy spots, or sometimes areas that are darker with white areas on top. If you see any of these signs, I would recommend throwing your starter away and creating a new one.

Should I cover my sourdough starter while feeding? ›

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.).
Jan 3, 2021

Can you stir sourdough starter with a metal spoon? ›

Things that WON'T kill your sourdough starter

METAL: Stirring your starter with a metal spoon or placing it in a metal bowl won't kill your starter. While we don't recommend making or keeping your starter in contact with reactive metals like copper or aluminum, stainless steel is harmless.

How to make a very active sourdough starter? ›

Flour with more protein and nutrients make sourdough starter more active, so consider feeding your starter with bread flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour (or a combination of these) to increase fermentation activity and rise. Thicken the starter (lower hydration ratio).

How do you make sourdough starter last longer? ›

If you're going to be away for many weeks or months, you can feed it up, get it bubbly and active, and dry it out on parchment paper and store it in a jar until you're ready to reactivate it. And the most important part of keeping a starter: give it a name!

How do you maintain a sourdough starter without a scale? ›

Take ¼ cup sourdough starter from the refrigerator and add ½ cup flour, and ¼ cup water to a clean glass jar with a loose fitting lid. Give it a stir. Feed the sourdough this way every 12 hours until it is bubbly and active, then it is ready to use.

What is the best flour for maintaining sourdough starter? ›

All-purpose flour works great for feeding starter, but adding a little whole grain flour can help give it a boost if needed.

Is it better to keep sourdough starter in the fridge? ›

Storing Your Sourdough Starter In The Refrigerator

This reduction in hydration helps the starter hold up extremely well in the fridge. Take out a new, clean jar with a lid. To the jar add the 20g ripe starter and 100g flour (whatever flour you usually use for feedings).

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