Wondering how to feed sourdough starter? Here’s all you need to know about on feeding and maintaining sourdough starter, including how to tell if your sourdough starter is bad.
Got a sourdough starter? If you’re baking sourdough bread at home and suddenly mom or dad to a sourdough starter, the new responsibility might feel overwhelming! Luckily, feeding and maintaining sourdough starter is quite simple. As part of our series How to Make Sourdough Bread: The Simplified Guide, we’re showing you how to feed sourdough starter. A sourdough starter is essential for making sourdough bread. And in order to have bread on the regular, you have to learn to feed sourdough starter to keep it happy and healthy. Keep reading for how to feed sourdough starter, storing and maintaining sourdough starter, and how to tell if sourdough starter is bad.
Watch how to feed sourdough starter
But first, here’s our video on the process: watch Alex show you how to feed sourdough starter!
Finding a sourdough starter
A sourdough starter, also called levain, is a fermented dough filled with natural yeast. The starter is used to make sourdough bread rise and give it that characteristic sour flavor. If you’ve ended up here, we assume at this point you already have a sourdough starter on hand.
But if you don’t have a sourdough starter, did you know you can make it at home? Here’s our guide on how to make sourdough starter, complete with all our tips. You also can get a sourdough starter from a friend or purchase it online…but what’s the fun in that? Making sourdough starter takes very little hands on time. It takes 5 days of waiting time before the starter is active and ready to go.
Storing sourdough starter
To store your starter, you’ll need a sourdough starter container. Any covered jar will work, but here’s our the sourdough starter container. Just place the starter right into the container, which is now his or her home. (Note: Over time the starter’s home can become gummy: every week or two, take the starter out of the container and wash it, then replace the starter and follow the normal feeding instructions below.)
You’ll want to store your starter in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make bread. When you make bread, you’ll feed the sourdough starter the night before (see the recipe below), then return the sourdough starter to the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake again.
Feeding sourdough starter
So, you’ve got a sourdough starter and it lives in its container in the refrigerator. What’s the frequency for feeding sourdough starter?
- You can leave the starter in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days at a time between feedings. We recommend feeding sourdough starter at least twice a week for best results.
- Remember, if you’re planning to make bread on a given day, you’ll feed sourdough starter the night before you bake. So depending on how often you want to make bread, you may end up feeding your starter more often.
- For us, we make a loaf of sourdough bread about 4 times a week, so we feed it 4 times per week (every night before we make bread). If we have a week where we plan to make less bread, we’ll still feed the starter 2 times per week, regardless of whether we’re making bread.
- What are the actual steps for how to feed sourdough starter? Go to the recipe below.
If you’re actively using your starter to make our Sourdough Bread recipe, the instructions in the recipe below will allow just enough leftover sourdough starter to have enough starter for the next day’s bread. If you’re not making bread every few days, you’ll need to discard excess starter as part of the feeding process to keep it healthy and happy.
What is a healthy sourdough starter like? A healthy starter smells funky and fruity, in a good way. It’s a floury paste that’s lightly bubbly. If things start to take a turn, see the Troubleshooting section below.
Troubleshooting your sourdough starter
Every once in a while something can go wrong with your starter. If you don’t feed it often enough, the sourdough starter starts to smell like alcohol. You may also find that the starter loses its vibrancy and doesn’t get too bubbly and active after a feeding. Don’t worry, you can always get the starter to recover. Throw away all but about a teaspoon of the starter and nurse it back to life following the instructions for making a sourdough starter. It should take 5 days or less to be healthy again.
What if I go on vacation?
What if you want to go on vacation: what should you do with your sourdough starter? In our experience, we’ve found that if you’re leaving for over a week, it’s best to discard your sourdough starter and start again with the process of making a sourdough starter. Of course if you have a friend or family member who can babysit your sourdough starter, that’s even better! Actually, in Sweden you can hire a babysitter for your sourdough starter. So maybe it’s not so far fetched!
Alright, if you’ve made it this far you’re ready to learn how to feed sourdough starter. See the recipe below!
This post is one of three in our series on making sourdough bread:Print
Wondering how to feed a sourdough starter? Here’s all you need to know about on feeding and maintaining sourdough starter, including how to tell if your sourdough starter is bad.
- 50 grams all-purpose flour
- 50 grams filtered water (room temperature)
- At around 9:00 pm, take the active starter out of the refrigerator.
- Remove and throw away all but about 1 tablespoon of the starter.
- Add 50 grams of purified water and 50 grams of all purpose flour.
- Stir, cover, and leave out on a counter at room temperature overnight.
- The following morning when the starter is active and bubbly and about doubled in volume, use in bread or place it in the refrigerator. (We find that the starter takes about 12 hours in our home to double in size; timing in your home may vary slightly.) If you’re using the sourdough starter in bread, place any remaining starter that you didn’t use in the recipe in the refrigerator until the next feeding.
Note: Our sourdough bread recipe calls for 80 grams of sourdough starter, leaving 20 grams of starter for the next batch. If you’re using a different bread recipe that calls for more starter, you can add any amount of flour and water as long as the weights are the same.
Keywords: Bread, Sourdough Bread, Sourdough Starter, Feeding, Starter, Baking,
About the Authors
Cookbook Author and writer
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Cookbook Author and photographer
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.