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Looking for a sourdough starter recipe? Well, we have the perfect, beginner’s sourdough starter recipe just for you.
2020 certainly sparked a boom in homemade sourdough! So many people cultivated sourdough starters, baked sourdough bread, and gifted starter away for the first time. If you haven’t joined in the fun yet, it’s never too late to start.
Before I made my first sourdough starter, I was completely unfamiliar with the process. I didn’t even know you had to make or get a starter first. Also, making “artisan” loaves intimidated me. Thus, I had little interest in pursuing homemade sourdough.
However, the ease of the process pleasantly surprised me. When I first made starter, the process was rather fun, where I was anxious to see when my starter would finally be ready for bread. Accomplishing something I previously shied away from was also gratifying.
If you’re worried that a sourdough starter recipe will require too much work, don’t worry. Yes, you have to tend to your starter daily, but the effort is minimal and repetitive. Thus, daily feedings become routine. Once your starter is established, you can reduce feedings to every 1-2 weeks. You’ll see that this sourdough starter recipe is really easy.
Purported Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread
Admittedly, we don’t eat a lot of bread in our house. Not so much out of dislike (believe me, we love eating bread when available), but to limit carbohydrate consumption. However, when I do bake bread, I prefer baking sourdough for the taste and possible health advantages over other breads.
Increased Mineral Bioavailability
Fermentation is believed to enhance the bioavailability of minerals in sourdough versus in other breads.
The phytic acid found in wheat normally impedes your body’s ability to access minerals in bread. However, lactic acid reduces the amount of phytic acid in sourdough. One study estimates sourdough fermentation can reduce the phytate content in whole wheat bread by 62%.
Thus, with less phytic acid, your body can absorb more minerals from sourdough like iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium.
Glycemic (Blood Sugar) Response
A popular belief is that sourdough’s fermented quality causes a lower glycemic response than other breads. That is, glucose (i.e. sugar) is released into your blood at a slower rate.
However, another study suggested that glycemic response rates can vary per person. In other words, although some people showed a lower glycemic response to sourdough versus white bread, other people showed the opposite.
At the end of the day, sourdough bread contains wheat flour, and wheat flour causes a glycemic response. So, if you’re on a low GI diet, you should probably limit consumption of any kind of bread.
The lower level of phytic acid in sourdough can ease digestion of sourdough in your body versus other breads.
Sourdough’s fermentation process also breaks down more starches and gluten than in other breads, which can ease digestion for gluten-sensitive individuals.
However, sourdough still contains gluten to varying degrees. Thus, I would not recommend that anyone with Celiac’s Disease or extreme gluten-sensitivity consume sourdough freely.
How Sourdough Starter Works
Our sourdough starter recipe requires only two ingredients: flour and water. You don’t need to add any yeast, because wild yeast in the environment will break down sugars in the flour through fermentation.
When the yeast digests sugars, the process produces carbon dioxide and ethanol. Carbon dioxide creates the leavening, i.e. the rise, in sourdough. Ethanol contributes to the flavor. Thus, you never have to add yeast when you make sourdough bread or other baked goods, because the starter provides the yeast.
Lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) is also wild in the environment and flour. It produces lactic and acetic acid, which cause the sour flavor in sourdough. The water you add to starter allows the bacteria to flourish.
Sourdough Starter Recipe – Supplies Required
You should get two quart-sized (i.e. 4-cup) wide-mouth mason jars with lids. It’s easier to have two jars with each feeding, so that you can transfer part of your starter from your old jar into your new jar without having to remove all of the starter and then clean the jar before putting starter back in.
Whole Wheat/Grain Flour
Unless you plan to back with it more afterwards, you only need 1 cup of whole wheat/grain flour to start your sourdough starter on the first day. You can use regular all-purpose flour instead, but whole grain flour contains more wild yeasts and bacteria, which facilitates the initial growth in your sourdough starter.
Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
You will need plenty of regular, unbleached all-purpose flour. Each feeding requires 1 cup of flour, so get at least a 5-lb bag. You don’t need to get organic flour for making starter, but it doesn’t hurt to use organic flour if that’s all you have (like us!).
If you don’t have filtered water, then you can use distilled or bottled water. The problem with regular tap water is that it may contain chlorine levels that will kill the bacteria that you’re trying to cultivate in your sourdough starter.
Notes Before You Start the Sourdough Starter Recipe
The Golden Ratio
When you first start your sourdough starter and with every subsequent feeding, you always want to preserve the following ratio:
½ cup (120 g) of water: 1 cup (120 g) of flour
Notice that the weights are identical (i.e. a 1:1 ratio), but the volumes are different (approximately a 1:2 ratio between water and flour). Flours can have different weights, depending on density and measuring methods.
You don’t have to be super precise when dealing with your starter, so volumetrics (i.e. using cups) will work just fine. Our sourdough starter recipe does not require precision.
However, you should use a kitchen scale when you actually bake a sourdough loaf or any baked good, so should get a kitchen scale if you don’t have one yet.
If you want to be more precise, then go for it! Just ensure the weights of the water and flour are equal.
Don’t Worry or Give Up!
Do not fear the process of making a sourdough starter. We tried to make our sourdough starter recipe as easy-to-follow as possible. Like most beginners, I questioned whether my starter looked “normal” on different days, whether I should feed it more/less, or a different kind of flour.
A lot of guides state your starter could be ready in one week. My first starter took almost three weeks, which added to my worry. That’s why you shouldn’t pay attention to timelines. Since I was so focused on my starter being ready in one week, I almost gave up after my second week.
Just remember these words of comfort: So long as you see any change in your starter after feeding it, then you know the cultures are still alive. Whether it gets a little more liquidy/thinner or has some bubbles, any activity whatsoever is a good sign.
Also, killing your sourdough starter would be super difficult, so don’t think that you killed your starter just because it’s fermenting slowly. As long as you do regular feedings, you should be fine. In fact, even if you don’t do enough feedings, your starter should be fine.
As I mentioned, so long as your starter is still doing anything, then press on!
Sourdough Starter Recipe – Steps
Add ½ cup of water to a quart-sized jar. Stir in 1 cup of whole wheat/grain flour. I normally stir in half first before stirring in the other half, because the mixture gets stiff and hard to stir quickly.
I alternate between using a spoon and fork to stir. A whisk will get starter stuck inside, so I don’t recommend using one.
Try to mix as thoroughly as you can.
Screw the lid on your jar completely, and let your starter sit on the counter for a full day. (If your kitchen is cold, try to find a warmer place, like inside a high cabinet.)
After a full day, stir your starter and save ½ cup (120 g.) of it. The rest is considered “sourdough discard,” which I’ll discuss further below. Note: your starter will probably smell unpleasant, but don’t be alarmed.
Fill another quart-sized jar with ½ cup of water. Add the ½ cup of starter to the water and stir until fully dissolved. Next, add 1 cup of all-purpose flour. (From now on, just use all-purpose flour.)
Like before, I like to mix in half the flour first before adding the rest, since the flour may be hard to incorporate otherwise. Try to mix as thoroughly as you can.
Screw the lid on the jar completely and place your new starter back on the counter for a full day.
After a full day (now Day 3), check on your starter. If it has bubbled at all, then feed it by repeating Step 3.
Keep repeating Step 3 every day after Day 3, so long as your starter has showed activity. However, I only feed my starter when it has at least doubled in volume and has then deflated some (by itself, upon opening the jar, or by touch).
The best way to record volume is by wrapping a rubber band (or drawing a line with a marker) around the jar at how high your starter is when you first feed it. That way, you can see whether the starter has doubled from that height later.
After a week, you can test your starter regularly with “the float test.” It’s more likely to pass if your starter has been doubling in volume within 4 hours of feeding.
The float test: scoop a small spoonful of starter from the top (without stirring first!), and plop it into a cup of water. If it floats, your starter is ready for bread. If it sinks, you should wait longer.
Note on the float test
Take the float test with a grain of salt. If your starter seems to be rising consistently and seems capable of leavening, you can always just try baking with it. Worst case, you’ll know to keep feeding your starter until it grows stronger.
Sometimes my established, refrigerated starter passes the float test, sometimes it doesn’t. However, it still produces great results when I bake with it!
Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter
Congratulations! You have a sourdough starter that is ready. Now what?
Now, you can either use part of it for baking sourdough bread, or just store it in the fridge.
When you store starter in the fridge, you should feed it every 2-3 weeks. If you miss a week, don’t worry. Really, even if you only fed your refrigerated starter monthly, it should be fine. (I have month-old discard in the fridge that is still regularly bubbling out of the jar!)
To feed your refrigerated starter, let the starter sit out of the fridge for 2-3 hours. Then feed it the same way we did in Step 3. Let it sit out for 3-4 hours after feeding before putting the starter back in the fridge.
Whenever you want to use your refrigerated starter for baking, do a feeding per the above paragraph. After it has about doubled in volume (usually within 4 hours after feeding), then use whatever amount you need in your recipe.
If you will need a lot of starter (e.g. baking two loaves of bread), then you should make 2 starters out of your refrigerated starter, since you should have enough to scoop out two ½ cup portions of the starter to put in two separate jars.
Just ensure you have enough starter left to feed and maintain in the fridge after each use.
You can also freeze or dehydrate your starter if you won’t use it for a long time.
Note on Sourdough Discard
If you’re like me, you may feel wasteful about discarding any sourdough discard. Here are My Top 3 Proven Sourdough Discard Recipes for you to try.
Sourdough discard can add a nice rise and sourdough flavor to any recipe.
If you happen to goof in your measurements or proportions between flour and water, don’t despair. I once added 1 cup of water with 1 cup of flour to feed my starter. After realizing my mistake, I simply doubled the flour. My starter was fine!
Also, in maintaining your starter, if you have less than ½ cup of starter left after a recipe, don’t worry. Just weigh the starter and use the same amount in weight of flour and water to feed it. (See “The Golden Ratio.”). For instance, if you only have 1/3 cup of starter, then use 1/3 cup of water and 2/3 cup of flour to feed it.
You’ll find that sourdough starter is rather resilient. Just ensure it’s regularly fed, and you should be fine. It can last for decades!
Share this sourdough starter recipe with anyone else who has yet to start their sourdough journey. Also, please comment below on how your sourdough starter went, any tips you want to share, or favorite sourdough recipes. Questions are also welcomed!