How to Make A Sourdough Starter From Scratch


* This article contains affiliate links. For more information, please read my Affiliate Disclosure.

 

Learn how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch using just flour and water and start baking sourdough bread in just a few days! Easy beginner sourdough starter recipe.Learn how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch using just flour and water and start baking sourdough bread in just a few days!

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Sourdough starters have been a homestead kitchen staple for as long as there have been homesteaders.

One Chicago Tribune article highlights just how valuable sourdough starters really were for pioneers and homesteaders back in the day:

“For frontier families, sourdough was the most important possession after the Bible. Not only was it used to make bread, flapjacks and biscuits, but it could be used to fill cracks in the log cabin, treat wounds, brew hooch and feed the dogs.”

Pretty incredible stuff!

As far as bread goes, sourdough was the ONLY way to make bread for thousands of years, until commercial dry yeast was invented roughly a century ago.

The first leavened breads date back to Ancient Egypt, when it was discovered that bread dough would rise if left out to ferment. Wild yeast would populate the dough and produce carbon dioxide as it consumed the sugars in the flour. The carbon dioxide made tiny bubbles in the dough which allowed for it to rise.

Prior to this, humans ate flat breads. But it was the discovery of fermented dough (aka. sourdough) that gave rise (pun intended) to the very first leavened, or yeasted breads.

 

What IS sourdough?

Before we dive into how to make a sourdough starter from scratch, First let’s talk about what sourdough actually IS and what benefits it has to offer.

Sourdough bread is naturally fermented leavened bread. It’s typically made with a sourdough starter, which is a mixture of flour and water, along with an active colony of wild yeast and other good bacteria.

Millions of microorganisms live all around us: on surfaces, on our skin, in our bodies, and in the air that surrounds us. As the dough sits out, yeast from the air and other good bacteria find their way in and quickly make themselves at home, and then they colonize and reproduce rapidly.

As the microbes begin to reproduce in the flour and water mixture, the good bacteria take over and kill off any bad bacteria that finds its way in. The wild yeast and good lactobacilli bacteria start to convert the sugars in the flour into lactic acid and acetic acid. This is what gives the sourdough starter its signature tangy flavour. 

As the bacteria and yeast reproduce, eat, and die off, this causes the release of the gas CO2 (carbon dioxide). The air bubbles from this gas cause the bread to rise, and this results in lighter, fluffier bread than the more ancient, dense flatbreads, which were in existence before sourdough and the leavening process was discovered.

Since these microbes already exist all around us, all you need to do to make your very own sourdough starter at home is to mix up the dough (flour and water) and let nature do the rest!

While you could fast-track the process by purchasing a sourdough starter or having a friend give you some of their starter to get your own going, it really only takes a few days to make a sourdough starter from scratch using just flour and water.

And no, you don’t need to add any dry yeast, extra sugar, juice, yogurt or anything else that some other recipes recommend. Seriously, just flour and water. It’s that easy!

Once your starter is strong and ready to bake with, you can use it instead of commercial yeast to make all sort of different breads and baked goods, from sandwich loaves to those fancy artisan loaves to cinnamon rolls to pizza dough and more!

Plus, you can use the discard to make sourdough pancakes and waffles and flatbreads and brownies, etc. (If you’re scratching your head wondering what discard is, don’t worry. We’ll talk more about sourdough discard below:)

 

 

Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread

Besides sourdough being the slower, more traditional (and arguably more delicious) way of making bread, it has some surprising health benefits too!

For starters, sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index than commercially yeasted breads, which means it causes a much more gradual increase in blood sugar rather than the sharp spike caused by other types of bread.

Second, sourdough bread has less gluten than other types of bread, which can make it easier to digest for people with gluten sensitivities. In fact, it’s easier to digest for everybody! But especially if you find you have a sensitivity to gluten, you may be able to handle a little sourdough bread.

* Please note that while sourdough bread does have less gluten than other breads, it’s not gluten-free, and therefore it still may not be suitable for those with extreme gluten sensitivities or allergies.

You can even make sourdough bread completely gluten-free by using gluten-free grains like oats, millet, sorghum, quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat flour to make your sourdough starter! 

Sourdough bread also contains higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of anti-nutrients. It’s a great source of iron, selenium, folate, thiamine, manganese, niacin, and sodium, as well as both pre and probiotics. 

Plus, sourdough bread has a lower phytate level, which makes it easier for your body to absorb nutrients. Phytates are also known as anti-nutrients because they bind to minerals like zinc, iron, calcium and manganese and inhibit your body’s ability to absorb them. However fermentation can reduce the phytates or phytic acid content in bread, which makes nutrients more bioavailable.

 

Learn how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch using just flour and water and start baking sourdough bread in just a few days! Easy beginner sourdough starter recipe.

 

How to make a sourdough starter from scratch

So you’re ready to make your own sourdough starter. It can feel intimidating at first, but it’s really a pretty simple and straight-forward process. All you need to get started is a little flour and water. 

You’ll also need a glass jar to keep your starter in… I find a quart-sized Mason jar works best.

While I recommend using regular all-purpose flour when making your first sourdough starter, you can substitute any flour you like (ie. whole wheat, fresh ground, Einkorn, spelt, sorghum, brown rice, etc.) 

You may have seen sourdough recipes online calling for additional yeast or for added sugar, honey, yogurt, grapes, grape juice, etc. I’m here to tell you, you don’t need anything to make a sourdough starter except flour and water. 

In fact, adding any of these additional ingredients can actually throw off the balance of wild cultures in your sourdough starter, so it’s best to just stick with flour and water and allow the wild yeast in the air to colonize it.

* As a side note, you don’t need any additional yeast to make sourdough bread either. You may come across sourdough recipes that call for added dry yeast. While you can use additional yeast, the sourdough starter itself contains wild yeast, so I feel like it sort of defeats the purpose to use dry yeast too.

Here are the exact steps to take to make your own sourdough starter from scratch…

 

Step 1: Gather your tools and ingredients

First thing’s first, you’ll need to gather your tools and ingredients. 

Tools:

  • Kitchen scale (optional but highly recommended)
  • Glass jar (quart sized Mason jars work great!)
  • Non-reactive spoon or stirring utensil
  • A lid or a coffee filter/cheese cloth/plastic wrap to cover the jar

Ingredients:

  • Flour (50g or ½ cup)
  • Water (50g or ¼ cup)

When it comes to sourdough and bread baking in general, you’ll always get the best results when you measure your ingredients by weight. 

I highly recommend investing in a kitchen scale. They’re pretty inexpensive and come in handy for all sorts of kitchen projects. However, if you don’t have a scale and can’t wait to get started, I’ve included approximate volume measurements for ingredients as well. This kitchen scale is very similar to the one I’ve used for years.

It’s important to use jars and utensils made of non-reactive materials as reactive metals can interfere with the wild yeast growth in your sourdough starter. Glass jars work great for sourdough starters. I like using a quart-sized wide mouth Mason jar best.

I use a stainless steel spoon to mix. Stainless steel, wood or food grade plastic utensils all work great. Just steer clear of any reactive metals like aluminum, copper or cast iron.

You’ll also need a lid or something to cover your jar with. You don’t want to make it airtight as this won’t allow for the wild yeast and microorganisms to enter and colonize your starter. I used a coffee filter secure with an elastic band for the longest time, but now I use these plastic Mason jar lids, which I screw on loosely to cover my sourdough and other ferments.

Cheesecloth works too. Just make sure to cover your starter loosely with something to keep out unwanted dust and bugs (fruit flies LOVE sourdough starter).

As for the ingredients, you can start with whatever type of flour you like. You can always switch flour types later on, however you should stick to feeding your sourdough starter with the same type of flour until your starter is established. If you’re just starting out, I recommend starting with all-purpose flour, but I’ll leave that up to you:)

When it comes to water, it’s best to use non-chlorinated water, as chlorine can kill off the microorganisms trying to colonize your dough. Filtered water or natural spring water is best, but if your tap water is chlorinated, you can leave it sit out for 24 hours first and most or all of the chlorine will naturally evaporate.

 

Step 2: Mix your starter dough (Day 1)

Mix the flour and water together in the jar.

If using a kitchen scale, start by mixing 50g of flour with 50g of water. If using a measuring cup, measure out ½ cup flour (approx. 70g) and ¼ cup water (approx. 60g) and mix together. If the dough is a little too dry at first, add up to a tablespoon more of water. 

You’ll notice that many sourdough recipes mention the hydration level of the bread or the sourdough starter. The hydration level is the ratio of water to flour. The more water, the wetter the dough and the higher the hydration level of the bread. This is always measured by weight for accuracy and consistency.

A sourdough starter typically has a 100% hydration level, or equal parts flour and water by weight.

Once you’ve mixed the flour and water together, cover your jar either loosely with a lid or with a breathable coffee filter or cheesecloth secured with an elastic band.

Let your sourdough starter sit out on your counter at room temperature for 24 hours before the next “feeding.”

 

Step 3: Feed your sourdough starter (Day 2)

After 24 hours have gone by, it’s time to feed your sourdough starter. Add another 50g flour and 50g water and mix together.

Cover loosely and let sit for another 24 hours. You may start to see a few bubbles beginning to form!

 

Step 4: Discard and feed (Day 3)

Before feeding your sourdough starter again, you need to discard half of the starter.

It’s important to discard some of your sourdough starter, especially when you’re first getting it established because you need to constantly refresh your sourdough starter with fresh flour, and if you don’t discard some, you’ll need to add more and more flour to feed it as it gets larger.

You can save your sourdough discard and use it to make things like pancakes, flatbreads, crackers and brownies (to name a few). Or you can discard it in your compost or garbage. Just try to avoid pouring discard down the sink as it can clog your pipes.

I like to save my sourdough discard in a jar in the fridge until I have enough to make a batch of something with.

Once you discard half, feed your sourdough starter 50g flour and 50g water again, cover loosely and let it sit out for another 24 hours.

 

Learn how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch using just flour and water and start baking sourdough bread in just a few days! Easy beginner sourdough starter recipe.

 

Step 5: Repeat until your starter is bubbly and active (Days 4-7ish)

By day 4 you should definitely see a few bubbles starting to rise in your sourdough starter. But your sourdough starter’s not quite strong enough to bake with yet, so keep feeding and discarding half before every second feeding.

By around day 7 your sourdough starter should be pretty active, full of bubbles and ready to bake with. But if not, just keep feeding and discarding.

It can take up to 14 days of consistent feedings to establish a strong, healthy sourdough starter.

The temperature also affects how active a sourdough starter is. The ideal temperature for a healthy sourdough starter is between 68-72º F or 20-22º C.

If it’s cooler, it will rise slower. If it’s warmer, it will rise faster. You can always put your starter in the oven (turned off) with the light on to help speed things up. Or keep it near a heater or wood stove. Just make sure it doesn’t get too close as you will kill it if you bake it or if it gets too hot!

 

How to know when your sourdough starter is ready to bake with

There are a few ways you can tell if your sourdough starter is ready to bake. Here are some telltale signs:

  1. Your starter doubles in size within a few hours of feeding it.
  2. It smells pleasantly yeasty and tangy. (It shouldn’t smell like nail polish remover or stinky feet! If it does, discard half and feed until it smells fresh and yeasty, as described).
  3. It passes the float test (see below).

The ultimate way to know if your sourdough starter is ready to bake with is if it passes a float test. Around 4 to 5 hours after feeding your starter, pour just a little bit of it into a bowl of water and see if it floats.

If your sourdough starter floats, it’s ready to bake with. If it sinks, it’s not ready yet. Keep feeding and discarding and feeding until it passes the float test!

 

Learn how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch using just flour and water and start baking sourdough bread in just a few days! Easy beginner sourdough starter recipe.

You can test to see if your sourdough starter is ready to bake with by performing a float test. Pour a little bit of starter into a bowl of water. If it floats, it’s ready to bake with!

Learn how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch using just flour and water and start baking sourdough bread in just a few days! Easy beginner sourdough starter recipe.

A great way to gauge how much your sourdough starter has risen is by placing a rubber band at the top of your starter right after feeding. Once the starter has doubled in size, it’s ready for baking.

 

How to store your sourdough starter

If you plan to use your sourdough starter daily or even a few times a week, you can keep your it on the counter and just feed it after every use. This will keep it healthy and strong and in a bubbly, active state so it’s ready to use regularly.

If you forget to feed it for a day or two once it’s established, it’s no big deal. Just discard half and feed until it’s active and bubbly again.

However, if you need to store your sourdough starter for any length of time, you can keep it in the fridge. Then when you’re ready to use it, take it out of the fridge, let it come to room temperature, then discard and feed until it’s strong enough to bake with.

While it’s best practice to take your sourdough starter out once a week for a feeding, you can store your starter in the fridge for quite a long time. I’ve stored my own sourdough starter in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 months before and have had no trouble reviving it. I’ve even heard of people who’ve left their starters in the fridge for up to 6 months and revived them. They’re incredibly resilient!

 

It’s time to bake!

Now that your sourdough starter is healthy and strong, it’s time to start baking!

I’ll have recipes for sourdough sandwich bread, artisan bread, pizza dough and more coming soon:)

 

Learn how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch using just flour and water and start baking sourdough bread in just a few days! Easy beginner sourdough starter recipe.

How to Make A Sourdough Starter From Scratch

Ingredients

  • 50g flour (or ½ cup)
  • 50g non-chlorinated water (or ¼ cup)

Instructions

  1. Mix the flour and water together in a glass jar. Cover loosely with a lid or use a coffee filter or some cheesecloth secured with a rubber band and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  2. After 24 hours have gone by, add another 50g flour and 50g water and mix together. Cover loosely and let sit for another 24 hours. You may start to see a few bubbles beginning to form!
  3. Before feeding your sourdough starter again, discard half of the dough. Then add another 50g flour and 50g water and mix together. Cover loosely and let sit for another 24 hours.
  4. Repeat this process, feeding and discarding half before every second feeding until your sourdough starter is active and strong enough to bake with. It typically takes a minimum of 7 days and up to 14 days of consistent feeding to establish a strong, healthy sourdough starter that's ready to bake with.
  5. You'll know your sourdough starter is ready to bake with once it doubles in size and passes the float test. Around 4 to 5 hours after feeding, pour a little sourdough starter into a bowl with water. If it floats, it's ready for baking! If it sinks, it’s not ready yet. Keep feeding and discarding and feeding until it passes the float test!
  6. To store your sourdough starter, feed it and then put it in the fridge. When you're ready to use it again, take it out of the fridge, let it come to room temperature, then discard and feed until it’s strong enough to bake with.


CATEGORIES
HOMESTEADING
REAL FOOD
NATURAL LIVING

7 Comments

  1. Sharon Gullikson

    oh my gosh, I thought I wanted to make this since I LOVE sourdough! But I am someone who hates to cook. This is a long, involved process. You are a saint for going to the trouble. I will just have to imagine how amazing it tastes 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashley Constance

      That’s totally fair – something this involved is not for everyone! Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find someone in your life who loves to bake sourdough and you can enjoy the benefits through them 😉 -Ashley (assistant)

      Reply
    • Chuey Bluey

      LOL, Shannon! You sound like me! Remember that soul-killing “Friendship Bread” starter years ago? I, and everyone I know who tried it eventually gave up and killed it because we were too spoiled to do anything for ourselves, that could be bought ready-to-eat!
      But the language here, about keeping it in the fridge and ignoring it longer than is optimal, made this recipe very do-able for those who forget to do things until they start to smell! Yes, I will try this with confidence because it seems fool proof, because it is “resilient” as noted, and because it is forgiving.♡

      Reply
  2. Ellen F Sawyer

    Hi…You say sourdough can be gluten free. Can I just substitute all purpose gluten free flour and follow the above method?

    Reply
    • Ashley Constance

      Hi Ellen – you can certainly try! It’s not something I have personal experience with doing, but I know it can be done. It can sometimes take a little trial and error, so I would encourage you to do some googling on how to create a gluten-free sourdough starter specifically. Good luck and let us know how it goes! -Ashley (assistant)

      Reply
  3. Jenny

    This is a great post! I appreciate the clear directions and simplicity of the recipe. I’ve been putting off starting a sourdough starter for awhile now, but after reading this, I feel confident to start this tonight! Thanks Anna! ❤️

    Reply
    • Ashley Constance

      That’s great to hear, Jenny! Good luck – sourdough is so much fun! -Ashley (assistant)

      Reply

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ABOUT ANNA
Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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When I graduated from university with a degree in journalism many years ago, I remember thinking that while I knew how to write, edit, interview, shoot, and handle just about every part of creating a publication from the editorial standpoint, I really had no clue how to actually get published, let alone how the printing process works.

Over the years I’ve followed my passion for writing, editing and creating content, figuring much of it out on my own. From creating my blog to “self-publishing” my own digital/print magazine for the last 4 years, I’ve taught myself most of the practical skills necessary for turning an idea into a publication and getting said publication in the hands and in front of the eyes of many hundreds of readers.

But now that I’ve joined forces with the team at @homesteadlivingmagazine and @freeportpress, we’re all able to level up and reach many THOUSANDS of print and digital readers together.

People are HUNGRY for tried and tested advice on homesteading and self-reliant living. There’s a huge movement happening right now as more people wake up to all of the corruption in the world and realize that many of the systems we have come to depend on are fragile and on the brink of collapse. People are ready to take matters into their own hands by growing their own food, preparing their own meals, becoming producers instead of merely consumers and taking control of their health, freedom, security and lives.

I’m so proud to not only be a part of this movement, but to be at the forefront of it with some of the most passionate, talented and driven individuals I could ask to work with.

Getting to meet and brainstorm with some of the team in person and tour the printing facilities over the last few days has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, not just for me, but for everyone who considers themselves part of the modern homesteading movement. We are growing faster than I could have ever imagined. We’re creating a system outside of the system! We’re charging full steam ahead and we invite you to climb aboard and join us for the ride:)

#homesteading #modernhomesteading #homesteadliving #selfsufficiency #selfreliance
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