Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (2024)

Table of Contents
How To Feed A Sourdough Starter: Maintaining A Sourdough Starter: How Often Should I Feed my Sourdough Starter? Feeding a sourdough starter in the refrigerator How much flour and water should I feed my sourdough starter? Common Questions Regarding Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter Once the initial 7 or so days is up, how often does it need to be “fed” if you’re keeping it on the counter top? How long before I intend to use it do I need to take it out of the fridge? Should you bake sourdough straight from the fridge? My sourdough is really thick and pasty – is it supposed to be like that? Why do I have to discard half of my sourdough starter? Instead of discarding half of my sourdough starter on Days 2-7, can I just use it to make another separate sourdough starter? How do you store your sourdough starter? How much sourdough starter do you keep on hand? What does “fed” sourdough starter mean when your recipes call for it? Is it okay to put my sourdough starter away unfed? My starter taste really sour. How can I make it so that it does not taste as sour? If I receive sourdough starter from a friend, how long should I wait to use it? How do you make sourdough starter? Do you know how to make gluten free sourdough starter? What is your schedule for sourdough starter? Is it normal for the sourdough starter to develop a hard crust over the top of it? What is the black layer of liquid on top of my sourdough called and why is it there? After day 7, do I keep discarding half of my sourdough starter? How do I know when my sourdough starter has gone bad or molded? How do I know my sourdough starter is working after it finished day 7? Why is sourdough starter much healthier than just regular flour? I cannot tolerate grains. Do you think that I will be able to tolerate sourdough starter? How long should a properly maintained sourdough starter be kept? Should sourdough starter be kept airtight? What is the difference between sourdough discard and starter? Can I leave sourdough dough out overnight? Can I let my sourdough rise in the fridge? What flour should I feed my sourdough starter? Find My Favorite Fermented Recipes: FAQs

Join me as I teach you all about maintaining and feeding a sourdough starter. Every week I receive hundreds of questions about how to care for a sourdough starter, so I decided to add all the questions and answers into this post as a reference for those who are just starting out with sourdough.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (1)

Sourdough is such an integral part of our diet, and I have been maintaining and feeding a sourdough starter for 11 years. Warm, crusty bread straight out of the oven, or decadent desserts made from fermented grains – they are comforting to the soul.

When people hear sourdough, I think their mind usually thinks about how difficult it must be to maintain something like that. It’s just another thing to care for, and something else to think about in advance.

But I’m here to tell you just the opposite. Sourdough has made life, and cooking on the go, much easier. I’m not a meal planner, and I never have been. As long as I have some sourdough starter, there are so many recipes I can just whip up.

Fromwafflestopancakes,pizzatocobbler, and so many more (you can find my favoriteno wait sourdough recipes here), you may not realize how many options there are!

I’ve been baking and cooking with sourdough for a long time, and some sourdough connoisseurs may not exactly like how I do it, but hey, it’s worked for me all these years without issue.

So, let’s get into how easy it is to maintain and feed a sourdough starter.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (2)

How To Feed A Sourdough Starter:

While there are fussy ways of doing this, I’m going to show you how I’ve done it for years without any issues.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (3)

I like to start by eyeballing approximately how much sourdough starter I already have and feeding it at least that much in equal parts of flour and water. For example, if you have about 1 cup of sourdough starter, you will want to feed it at least 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (4)

If I’m running low on starter, I will add more than the minimum requirement of flour and water.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (5)

Mix it up. The consistency should be similar to pancake batter.

Cover with either a tea towel or a glass lid. I like using a glass lid, because a towel tends to get really messy.

Allow to sit of for 4-12 hours before using in a recipe, once it has about doubled in volume. If not using for baking, feed about 12-24 hours after last feeding or place in the fridge.

Maintaining A Sourdough Starter:

Maintenance is fairly simple. Like anything living, it requires food and water. The location you keep your starter in will determine how you maintain it.

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. It can, however, be stored up to two months in the fridge without being fed.

Reviving a sourdough starter that has been stored in the fridge for a longer period of time is a good idea. This can be done by feeding it equal parts flour and water, allowing it to sit at room temperature for 12 hours, and then feeding it again.

It may need to be fed 2-3 times for 12 hours between each feeding before it becomes active enough to make certain recipes like bread. Some no-wait recipes you may be able to use sooner.

Pour off any hooch (if there is any, see below) before feeding.

How Often Should I Feed my Sourdough Starter?

That totally depends on how often you are going to use it.

Say you are going to use your starter to makepancakes every morning, orenglish muffinsorfrench toast.You can leave your starter out on your counter and just feed it every 12-24 hours.

I do not use my starter every day. I use it a few times a week, so what I do is keep it in the refrigerator in abowl with an airtight lidor glass lid.

To illustrate, say that it is Friday, and on Saturday, I want to makepancakes. I will pull my sourdough out of the fridge on Friday and add some flour and water to the bowl, mix it up, and leave it on the counter with a tea towel covering it until Saturday morning.

Once I am done making pancakes on Saturday, and if I am not planning on using my sourdough starter until next week, I will feed it and leave it on the counter for 8 hours, then cover the bowl with an airtight lid and leave it in the refrigerator until next Friday.

However, let us say that I am planning on using my sourdough starter again on Sunday to make cinnamon rolls, then I will just feed the sourdough starter and leave it on the counter until Sunday.

When you leave sourdough on the counter at room temperature, the yeast will again be nice and active, and it will become bubbly sourdough starter.

Feeding a sourdough starter in the refrigerator

When you put your starter in the refrigerator, it puts the starter on pause, so you do not have to feed it as often because the yeast will relax and they do not need much sustenance. You can kind of think of it like a bear hibernating in the winter.

When the sourdough starter is in the fridge, it does not need to be fed as much as it does when it is on the counter. On the counter, it needs to be fed daily, but in the fridge, it only needs to be fed once a week.

You can even switch back and forth between the refrigerator and the counter if you use it sporadically.

If you use the starter every day, leave it on the counter. When not using it for two weeks, leave it in the refrigerator.

How much flour and water should I feed my sourdough starter?

Sourdough starters are really resilient. I have had mine for 11 years now and I never measure the flour and water. I just add enough to make the starter the consistency of thick pancake batter.

It’s not something I worry about, and it is a very happy, healthy sourdough starter.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (6)

Common Questions Regarding Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter

Once the initial 7 or so days is up, how often does it need to be “fed” if you’re keeping it on the counter top?

How often you should feed your starter depends on how much you use it during the week. I would keep it in the fridge if you only use a few times a week.

A good idea is to feed it every time you use it, leave it on the counter for 8 hours, and then put it back into the fridge until you are ready to use it again.

How long before I intend to use it do I need to take it out of the fridge?

Typically, the suggestion is to wait at least 4 hours. But this also depends on what you are making. If you are following a sourdough recipe, usually the author should tell you exactly when to do so.

Many times, I will just take it out of the fridge and use it right away.

Should you bake sourdough straight from the fridge?

This will depend on the type of recipe. Many no-wait recipes that call for discard will have no problem at all using a starter straight from the fridge.

But for other recipes, like bread, for best results I suggest taking it out of the fridge, feeding it, and allowing it to be nice and active before using it. This usually takes about 4-12 hours.

My sourdough is really thick and pasty – is it supposed to be like that?

No, it is not. If your sourdough starter is really thick, then just add a little more water until it is the consistency of thick pancake batter.

In the“How to Make Sourdough Starter”blog post, I give you the guideline of a 1:1 ratio of flour to water. However, that is just a guideline.

The real ratio depends on what type of flour you are using. If you are using an all-purpose flour, then you can get away with a smaller amount of water, but if you are using a whole grain wheat flour, you may need more water.

The basic principle is that some flours soak up water more than other flours, so the best way to find out how much flour to water you need is to just play around with it.

Why do I have to discard half of my sourdough starter? Instead of discarding half of my sourdough starter on Days 2-7, can I just use it to make another separate sourdough starter?

That question doesn’t actually make sense to me, because what you are creating is basically a symbiotic colony of yeast that you capture from your local environment. What you are trying to do is just make a master starter that can then inoculate anything else with the yeast colonies that are in it.

Therefore, you do not need to create more than one. It is basically just like having double the sourdough starter which, once you have an established starter, you can easily do by just adding more flour and water to the bowl of sourdough starter.

It is really hard to explain, but basically what I am saying is all that you are throwing away, when you discard half of your sourdough starter on days 2-7, is flour and water. Just think of it that way.

There is really no way else to make sourdough starter, because what you have is immature starter at that point, and there is not much that you can do with it.

This is particularly true if you are making a sourdough starter because you cannot really tolerate grains, so what you have there is not yet fully fermented.

If you are trying to avoid grains that are unfermented, you are just going to want to discard it. You can put it in your compost or feed it to your animals.

It is not like you are throwing away perfectly good sourdough starter. I hope that makes sense!

How do you store your sourdough starter?

When you are feeding you starter, you will leave it out on the counter where it can get a little bit of air, so you might cover it with a thin tea towel or something else that is not air tight. Cover for a few hours before putting it back in the fridge.

However, when it goes in the refrigerator, you are going to want to use something airtight. I personally keep my starter in a2.5 quart glass bowl, andI cover it with a silicone lid. This is what I have always done.

On occasion, I have to take the sourdough starter out and clean the bowl really well, because things get really crusty up on the top of the bowl and I do not want that.

How much sourdough starter do you keep on hand?

I always like to keep a pretty good amount of starter in the bowl, because there are certainno-wait sourdough recipesthat you can make, like mysourdough skilletandsourdough Dutch baby pancakes.

If you have enough in your bowl that you can pull from, you can always make those recipes without having to wait as long as the starter is fed and full.

Now you always want to keep enough sourdough starter in the bowl that you can use to feed again to continue on having sourdough starter.

As long as you can remove enough for your recipes while leaving about a cup of starter in your bowl, you can feed it and get it back to a full bowl of starter.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (7)

What does “fed” sourdough starter mean when your recipes call for it?

What I mean by that is your sourdough starter has had flour and water and the opportunity to sit out and feed on that.

If you are going to feed your starter, let’s say it is out of the fridge, you give it flour and water and stir it up really well. You do not want to instantly put it back in the fridge, even if you are not planning to use it.

You want to let the starter sit out for a few hours to feed and be active for a little bit, then cover it and put it back into the refrigerator.

Now, at that point, you could pull it out of the fridge the next day and use it forpancakesandsourdough skilletand it has been fed.

Is it okay to put my sourdough starter away unfed?

I do not usually like to put my sourdough starter away unfed, but I am not saying I haven’t done it and still worked out just fine.

Once, after I made pancakes on Saturday morning, I put my sourdough starter straight into the fridge without feeding it first. I didn’t feed it at all until the next Friday when I pulled it out to feed it again in preparation for Saturday morning pancakes, and it was totally fine.

However, ideally, you want to give the starter some flour and water, let it sit out on the counter for a few hours, and then put it in the fridge.

So, obviously, there are way less rules to keeping sourdough starter than you might think. As you keep your starter, you will get really familiar with it.

My starter taste really sour. How can I make it so that it does not taste as sour?

Your starter may have a little bit of a smell if it hasn’t been fed in a while, and your cooking projects will taste a little more sour to reflect that.

So if you want to avoid the super sour sourdough taste, you might just need to feed it more often and not let it sit out on the counter as long.

However, if you are sort of intolerant to grains, you are at least going to want to let it sit out for 24 hours to do all the fermenting work.

If you are just trying to get a little bit of the sourdough taste and a little bit of that fermentation, you can let it ferment for a lot less time and avoid a lot of that sourdough taste, but it will not have the full benefit of the fermented grains.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (8)

If I receive sourdough starter from a friend, how long should I wait to use it?

I would say just feed it once and let it bubble up before using it.

How do you make sourdough starter?

Funny you should ask! I actually have a post all about that here:How to Make for Sourdough Starter.

Do you know how to make gluten free sourdough starter?

Yes, after much experimentation I successfully created a Gluten Free Sourdough Starter and shared all the steps in this post here.

What is your schedule for sourdough starter?

I honestly do not even have one. Every week is different. Sometimes, I only use my sourdough starter one day and leave it in the fridge for a week, and then the next week, I use it everyday.

Is it normal for the sourdough starter to develop a hard crust over the top of it?

Yes! Whenever you have your sourdough sitting out on the counter with something that is not air tight, like a tea towel, it is totally normal. You can either scrape off the hard sourdough starter or stir it in.

What is the black layer of liquid on top of my sourdough called and why is it there?

It is called hooch. You can either dump it out or stir it in. Most likely, your sourdough starter is hungry and needs to be fed, so just give it some more flour and water and it should be fine.

After day 7, do I keep discarding half of my sourdough starter?

Nope! Once the sourdough starter is established on day 8, all you have to do is just give it flour and water. You no longer need to discard half of it.

How do I know when my sourdough starter has gone bad or molded?

Honestly, that is a case by case basis. I get a lot of questions about this, but I don’t really know if your sourdough starter is molded or bad until I see it.

So, honestly, I do not know. I do know that your sourdough starter should not have an offputting smell, but it does have a sour smell to it. You should definitely be able to see if there is mold.

How do I know my sourdough starter is working after it finished day 7?

You will know it is working if it works in your recipes. For example, if you are making sourdough bread and you make the dough, put it in a nice warm spot, and if it doesn’t rise, that means your starter is not fully established and you need to keep on making it.

Or you just need to throw it away and start over.

Your sourdough starter should definitely rise if it is good and active. You will also see a lot of bubbles on the top.

Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (9)

Why is sourdough starter much healthier than just regular flour?

This has to do with the grains and the fermentation. A lot of people today cannot tolerate grains. For the most part, a lot of people have given up grains and they are going gluten free and grain free.

I am not a doctor or a food expert, but I can tell you what I know about it.

Outside of a grain, there is a protective layer called phytic acid. That phytic acid is very incompatible with your body absorbing and digesting those grains.

When you ferment those grains, the fermentation process takes care of that pre-digesting work for you.

It makes the grains, and the nutrients in them, more easily accessible for your body to recognize and use without having to go through those original steps of breaking down the phytic acid. This process can be very taxing and difficult for your body.

Plus, fermentation just makes the nutrients more readily available. What was locked up inside the phytic acid in the grain, the outside of the bran, is now available for your body to use.

A lot of the vitamins that are in the grain are not actually doing you any good until fermentation unlocks them.

A lot of the time, people who cannot tolerate grains find that they can tolerate sourdough starter if it has at least sat out on the counter for 24 hours.

I cannot tolerate grains. Do you think that I will be able to tolerate sourdough starter?

You may be able to tolerate grains that have been fermented for 18 to 24 hours. This may take some playing around with.A friend of mine couldn’t tolerate unfermented grains at 12 hours, but 18 hours was the magic number.

However, if you have celiac, you should completely avoid gluten grains, fermented or not. Definitely check with your doctor.

How long should a properly maintained sourdough starter be kept?

A properly maintained sourdough starter can literally be kept for over a hundred years and passed down from generation to generation.

Should sourdough starter be kept airtight?

It doesn’t need to be in an airtight container, but it does need to have some sort of lid to help protect it from bugs or dust.

What is the difference between sourdough discard and starter?

They technically are the same thing. The difference is when a recipe calls for discard or active sourdough starter.

Discard refers to an unfed starter, or a starter that was fed, had risen, and is needing fed again but isn’t being used. It is also a term used when people toss out starter before feeding. At this point, I never discard any of my starter because of the frequency I use it in many recipes that call for just “discard“.

Active, on the other hand, is when it has been fed and has had time to get nice and bubbly.

Can I leave sourdough dough out overnight?

Yes, while most recipes will call for room temperature fermentation for at least 8-12 hours, some recipes can be fermented at room temperature for 24 hours without issue. Just make sure to cover the dough.

Can I let my sourdough rise in the fridge?

Yes. Some recipes, like bread or long fermented recipes with egg, call for rising in the fridge. This slows the fermentation time way down. Many breads can be successfully risen in the fridge up to 36 hours without over proofing.

What flour should I feed my sourdough starter?

Unbleached all-purpose, whole wheat (I use freshly ground flour), and even einkorn works just fine. I find that my starter is highly adaptable and does just fine with any of those types of flour.

Find My Favorite Fermented Recipes:

  • Sourdough Chocolate Rolls
  • Easy Sourdough Flatbread
  • Sourdough Strawberry Shortcake
  • Mascarpone Stuffed Sourdough French Toast Casserole
  • Fluffy Sourdough Biscuits
  • Sourdough Garlic Bread
Maintaining and Feeding A Sourdough Starter (10)
Maintaining and Feeding 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.

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.

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.

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.

Can you use day 1 sourdough discard? ›

Remember, you can't use the discard from your homemade sourdough starter for the first 7 days. You can use sourdough discard in all kinds of sourdough discard recipes, including these no wait sourdough recipes, overnight sourdough discard recipes and sourdough discard recipes that use up a lot of discard.

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.

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.

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

Should you leave sourdough starter capped after feeding? ›

Once your starter is alive and active it only needs to be fed when you want to use it. Store your starter in the fridge with a fitted lid on in between uses.

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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