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How to Make a Sourdough Starter

Creating your own sourdough starter is the first step in adding fermented goodness to all of your baking needs!

Add the health benefits of fermentation to your family’s breads and baked goods.

A slice of sourdough bread and knife

Why Make a Sourdough Starter?

From the beginning of bread making, sourdough starters were made from wild yeast and the only way to make bread.

It wasn’t until roughly 200 years ago when commercial yeasts became available that sourdough took a back seat.

In 1780 Dutch distillers began skimming the yeasty foam that arose at the top of their fermenting beer and sold it to bakers.

Then, in 1867, a company in Vienna took that yeasty foam and compressed it into a yeast cake.

Later, in 1872, Charles Fleischmann improved on this process and created the instant yeast we find at the grocery stores today.

The convenience of ready-when-you-are commercial yeast instead of growing and maintaining your own starter culture became the norm and sourdough became a novelty.

However, with these conveniences, some of the health promoting benefits of fermentation get lost.

Health Benefits of a Sourdough Cultures

Think about it – 200-300 years ago, all of our beers, and wine, and saurkraut and sourdough breads would have been made from the wild yeasts that we breathe in and come in contact with every day.

It doesn’t seem very natural to bake our breads with yeast that’s been processed from possibly a continent away.

I personally feel (and I’m not alone) that eating foods fermented from the natural yeasts that are in our homes and our surrounding areas give our bodies a kick start into digestion.

According to several studies conducted by microbiologists, in most sourdough cultures, lactic acid bacteria are far more plentiful in numbers than yeast.

bubbly sourdough starter in a mason jar

How to Make a Sourdough Starter

However, making your own sourdough starter could not be easier!

All it takes is simple ingredients and a little patience.

To make your very own starter, simply mix together one cup flour with half a cup of room temperature well water or dechlorinated water.

Tap water will often have chlorine or bleach in it that will prevent the yeast from growing.

While sourdough starter can be made with any grain flour, be particular in the ones you choose.

You can use all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, or even a mixture of flour.

All flours made from grains are heavily seeded with microorganisms that remain dormant until fermentation.

It’s the combination of these microorganisms, wild yeasts and a “food” such as the grain starches, that enable the fermentation and create the starter.

Stir the mixture until smooth – it should be liquid and pourable, yet thick enough to cling to a spoon.

Cover with a tea towel or coffee filter or anything that will allow the gas to escape without letting bugs or debris in and secure with a rubber band.

Keep in a warm spot such as your pantry or kitchen counter.

Any warm place that is out of direct light will work.

Stir at least once a day for a few days until you see bubbles on the surface.

On day two, discard half of the starter ( one cup of starter) and add another one cup of flour and 1/2 cup of warm water.

This reduces the acidity in the starter and gives the yeast plenty to chew on.

Now we’ll begin twice daily feedings the same way we did on day 2.

Continue for five days. This will ensure a healthy starter.

You should have small bubbles at the top of the starter.

One of the coolest things about sourdough starters is that the complexity and texture will change over time – will age like a fine wine.

I imagine that the wild yeasts around you vary throughout the course of a year based on weather and humidity.

In fact, a sourdough starter, created in California, will change when it comes to Virginia.

How to Feed Your Sourdough Starter

Once you have an active starter, it’s a living thing and you need to consistently feed it.

The feeding process after the initial feeding period is to simply use (or discard) 75-95% of your starter and “feed” it, or replace the remaining starter with fresh flour and water.

Ideally you’ll want to feed your starter at least every three days, however if you have to go out of town or get busy, you can put your starter in an airtight container or covered by plastic wrap in the fridge or even the freezer to slow down microbial production.

If your starter dies, don’t worry! You can always create a new starter, or buy a sourdough starter culture.

In fact, you can even dehydrate your starter for long term storage and reanimate it with a little care.

My good friend Victoria from A Modern Homestead has an entire course on making and using sourdough!

If you want an in-depth, thorough course with videos and recipes, you definitely need to check it out! The Art of Sourdough

There are lots of sourdough recipes you can make with your sourdough discard or check out these recipes for your own sourdough bread recipe, sourdough pizza crust, and other sourdough baking.

the process of kneading and baking with sourdough