Sourdough Starter: Equipping You To Be A Sourdough Baker


You’ll need a sourdough starter if you are aiming to make your own tangy, long-fermented goodies. With just two ingredients, you’ll be on your way to homemade bread, bagels, biscuits, rolls, pizzas & more!

What is Sourdough?

If you purchase sourdough products in the store, you probably are thinking it is the addition of the tangy, sour flavor. But did you know that sourdough is actually a preparation method? Using wild yeast and fermentation, this method creates a risen product with bioavailable nutrients. You may have also heard the relative term: leaven. Let’s dive into some sourdough keyword definitions.

jar of overflowing sourdough starter setting on a counter top

Yeast: Yeast is a single-cell organism, called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, that thrives with food, warmth, and moisture. Through fermentation, it takes its food (sugar & starch) and converts it into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

Leaven: a substance used to make dough rise (typically yeast) or to cause dough to rise by adding a leavening agent (yeast).

Sourdough: method of baking using a combination of flour and water to cultivate wild yeast & bacteria resulting in fermentation and expansion.

Starter: this is the combination of flour and water that has been fermented and has risen acting as the leavening agent in your baking. You will remove a small portion to bake with and use the remainder to keep an ongoing supply of leaven (with feeding and discarding).

When baking bread, or any other baked good, you will still use the necessary ingredients such as flour, water, salt, and maybe other enrichments. But instead of a yeast packet, you will use a small amount of sourdough starter to create the rise you need. Before commercial yeast, this was the traditional method of leavening baked goods.

Sourdough Vs Commercial Yeast

The most common form of yeast you will find in the grocery store is active-dry yeast or baker’s yeast. Baker’s yeast was isolated and adapted from wild yeast making it a quick and reliable leavener, ideal for industrial breadmaking.

Sourdough was the OG leavening method, being naturally fermented using wild yeast from grain and wheat (i.e. from the flour you use).

how does sourdough starter work

We learned earlier that yeast likes food, warmth, and moisture. Yeast digests its food (sugars and starches) converting it into carbon dioxide (gas/airiness) which is what causes the dough, a combination of flour (food) and water (moisture), to rise.

But to go a step further, wild yeast also uses bacteria (lactobacilli) to metabolize those sugars resulting in acids. These acids help break down, or digest, the proteins, making sourdough more gut-healthy since some of the work has been done for us!

One of the major downfalls of the sourdough method is that it requires waiting. In a world of instant gratification, it is easy to forego traditional processes. However, in our impatience with breadmaking methods, we really do ourselves a disservice. Even though the use of wild yeast can be unpredictable and time-consuming, the benefits really do outweigh the disadvantages.

Why Sourdough?

  • Simple ingredients: you can make a large, crunchy, airy loaf of bread with just three ingredients: water, flour, and salt. Isn’t that amazing!? I like knowing what goes into my food while keeping it simple with real food ingredients.
  • Homemade: there is a real sense of accomplishment in knowing you are using real food ingredients to make your own food from scratch. This also ensures you know all of the ingredients you are consuming. I mentioned above that bread can be made with three simple ingredients. Have you ever read the ingredient list on a loaf of bread from the grocery store? Horrifying!
  • Traditional preparation methods: since humans have been using this method for centuries, it is tried and true. Quicker is not always better.
  • Long-fermented, gut-healthy: though time-consuming, this long-fermentation method is essential for gut health, nutrient bioavailability, and absorption. Due to microbial fermentation, many who have trouble consuming bread/gluten products are able to consume sourdough with little to no digestive issues.
  • Flavor enhancement: bacteria that cause the sour, tangy flavor we all know and love.

Cultured Guru is one of my favorite resources on the “sciency” stuff behind all things fermentation. They go into a lot more detail on what makes sourdough healthier and easier to digest.

What You Need To Be A Sourdough Baker

Sourdough Starter
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Time
  • You’ll also want a glass jar, spatula, and some sort of jar cover.
Sourdough Baking

Large mixing bowl or stand mixer, clean dishcloth, kitchen scale, banneton, bread lame, flour, filtered water, good quality salt, parchment paper, dutch oven, cooling rack

shop Sourdough Essentials

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Creating A Sourdough Starter From Scratch


To create a sourdough starter from scratch you’ll need a kitchen scale, a glass jar, a spatula, flour, and warm filtered water.

To begin, you will combine flour and water and wait. Then you will begin a discarding and feeding routine. Each time you feed your starter you will take out a portion, called the “discard”. This step is very important in establishing the colony of good bacteria.

The term discard is misleading because you absolutely DON’T want to throw it away! Sourdough discard can be stored in your fridge and used with many recipes that would call for flour and water (or compost it). See below for some easy discard recipes.

What is the best temperature for sourdough starter

Remember, the wild yeast loves warmth! When feeding, it is recommended to use warm water around 65 to 70 degrees F. When fermenting (the time between feedings), the best temperature is 70-85 degrees F.

If you have a cooler house, like mine, you can place your starter near, but not directly on a heat source. You could also increase the water temperature slightly. Common practice is to place it in the oven with the light on. Then go ahead and write yourself a sticky note reminding you it’s there. You’re welcome. 😉

First, we’ll walk through the feeding instructions and then I will lay out a feeding schedule for the first week or so.

How To Feed Sourdough Starter

how much to feed sourdough starter

Grab your kitchen scale and plop your jar atop it. To the jar, add equal parts water & flour.

Example: 30g water + 30g flour

what flour to use for sourdough

Technically you can use many different kinds of flour, but high-protein “bread flour” from hard wheat will yield the best results. You can still bake with other types of flour even though you use a different base flour in your starter.

what consistency should my sourdough starter be

Using a spatula, stir until all flour is incorporated into the water. It should be a thick, batter-like consistency.

Cover and let sit in a warm place for 12 hours. Repeat the feeding and discarding schedule every 12 hours.

You want your jar to be covered to keep out dust, critters, etc. but you don’t want it to be sealed because you want airflow. You can cover it with a coffee filter, paper towel, or a loose-fitting lid that just rests on top.

Feeding Schedule

Day 1 aM + pm

Add equal parts water & flour, and stir until incorporated.

Day 2 aM + pm

Discard about 80% of your starter. Add equal parts water & flour, and stir until incorporated.

Day 3 aM + pm

You will likely start to see some serious bubble action by now. Repeat the same steps.

Discard about 80% of your starter. Add equal parts water & flour, and stir until incorporated.

Day 4 aM + pm

It is very common for things to take off around Day 3 and then slow down around Day 4 or 5. If this happens to you – KEEP GOING! Continue with the same feeding schedule.

Discard about 80% of your starter. Add equal parts water & flour, and stir until incorporated.

Day 5 + beyond

Continue with this process and look for signs that your starter is active. When your starter is noticeably active and doubling in size, you can test for strength and begin trying out some of the recipes you’ve been so anxious to create!


  • If dark liquid forms on the top, don’t panic! This is totally normal. “Hooch” is that alcohol byproduct we learned about earlier, and signals that your starter is hungry (it has eaten through all of the sugar + starches). You can pour it off before discarding and feeding.
  • Bubbles are a great sign that your starter is active.
  • Your starter will develop a sour, tangy smell – this is good!
  • Use a rubber band or dry-erase marker on your jar to document any growth/rise.

Maintaining (Feed & Discard)

Once your starter is established and strengthened with the ability to rise and hold its own, you will want to maintain it on a daily basis.

You will continue with the same routine of discarding and feeding your starter, but you have some options on what will work best for you.

At a minimum, you should discard and feed every 24 hours, but you could do this every 12 hours if you want to bake frequently, or if you need to strengthen your starter.

Try to be consistent with your feedings (the same time every day) if possible. This will yield the best results. But, let’s be honest, we don’t all have that luxury. My starter has been quite reliable even when I fail to be consistent. I have even gone a couple of days without feeding it – more than once. Gasp!

It won’t lend the same rise as a freshly fed and strengthened starter. Without fresh food, it will begin to deflate and lose its energy. But there are still a ton of delicious ways to use the unfed starter. As long as it isn’t moldy, use it!

Troubleshooting (Test & Resolve)

Signs Your Sourdough Starter Is Active

  • Bubbles are forming on the sides
  • Bubbles are forming on the top
  • Hooch on top
  • After a recent feed, a dome formed on top
  • The starter starts to rise or even double in size
close up of bubbles in a sourdough starter

Testing Your Sourdough Starter

how soon after feeding the sourdough starter can I use it

Activity: if your starter is active and bubbly, this is a good sign of fermentation

Rise: your starter can be “active” and have many bubbles, but still not be strong enough for bread making. So you’ll want to also look for growth/rise. If your starter is doubling in size, like you fed it and marked where the topline was and the starter has grown way above that, your cultures are producing carbon dioxide creating the expansion you’ll need for a leavening agent.

how to test sourdough starter

Float test: once your starter is active and consistently rising & falling, you can do a float test to see if it is willing and able to do the heavy lifting. To do this, you will plop a drop of active, fed starter into water. The theory is that if the plop floats on the water, it is strong enough for bread building. If it doesn’t float it may still be too weak. This could be because the starter hasn’t developed enough and needs some TLC in the feeding area. Or it could just mean that it hasn’t peaked yet.

Peaking: meaning it has reached its highest point. When the active starter begins to bubble and rise it will get to a point where it no longer has fresh food to eat through and therefore will begin to weaken and deflate. When preparing to bake, you want to use your starter at its highest point (or as soon as it begins to fall) to ensure that it still has the stamina to create the expansion necessary for the rise.

If you are planning to make an artisan loaf, you want your starter to be in tip-top shape. But, if it isn’t there yet, try out some other recipes that don’t require as much strength for leavening. You can still make really good muffins, bagels, pizzas, and other types of enriched bread with mediocre starter strength.

jar setting on a counter top overflowing with sourdough starter

Strengthening Your Sourdough Starter

how to strengthen sourdough starter

Try feeding at a higher ratio – if your eyes glaze over when you read things like this, you are in good company, haha! Here is what you need to know. We talked about feeding your starter equal parts flour + water, but then we also have the addition of your starter that is left behind during the feeding. So we will be looking at the ratio

starter : water : flour

Let’s say we started off with a ratio of 1:3:3, we used 10g of starter, 30g of water, and 30g of flour.

10g starter : 30g water : 30g flour

Try increasing to a ratio of 1:5:5. This increases the amount of food but still uses equal parts flour + water.

10g starter : 50g water : 50g flour

Try feeding more frequently – if you have only been feeding once a day (or every couple days for people like me), try feeding every 12 hours to kickstart the fermentation. This will ensure your starter has plenty of food and water and will be happy as can be!

Aim for warmth – yeast and bacteria thrive with warmth, food, and moisture. So if your starter is a little sluggish, check the temperature of your home and try to find a warm, cozy nook for it to cultivate.

Frequently Asked Questions

can I store sourdough starter in the fridge?

Yes! You can store your discard in the fridge for months and use it when you can. But, you can also store your fed sourdough starter in the fridge to slow down the fermentation. Refrigeration allows it to go dormant and not go bad as quickly. Use this hibernation tactic if you need to go on vacation or just aren’t able to feed it consistently.

can I use sourdough starter straight from the fridge?

Yes, you can! Depending on the recipe, sourdough discard is a great addition to your baked goods. It won’t do very well in an artisan loaf, but there are many ways to use sourdough starter discard.

how do I know if my sourdough starter is dead?

It is nearly impossible to completely tank your starter if you feed it regularly. There are two instances I can think of where you will want to trash and start over: heat and mold. Yes, yeast prefers warmth but you don’t want to cook the starter. If you see any mold growth, you will also want to toss it and start anew.

what does mold on sourdough starter look like?

Mold growth might look pink, black, blue, green, and/or fuzzy. Scrap and move on! But, remember, dark liquid is just that alcohol byproduct and can be poured off. To prevent mold, make sure to feed daily and use a clean jar as often as possible.

jar of sourdough starter with dark liquid hooch on top
How to revive sourdough starter from the fridge?

If your starter has been hibernating, pull it out of the fridge, and let it warm up. Discard most of it leaving a small portion then feed equal parts water and flour. You might want to feed your starter every 12 hours for the next few days to jumpstart the process.

Now What?

Now you have the tools to be a successful sourdough baker. What are you waiting for? Okay, you are probably a bit overwhelmed, but I encourage you to jump in! Throw together some flour and water and just get started. Comment below and let us know how it’s going and what delicious baked goods you are creating.

If you need just a bit of inspiration

Check out some of these Sourdough Discard Recipes to get you started.

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