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 the video to learn 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 the container, 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
How to Feed Sourdough Starter
- Prep Time: 2 minutes
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 2 minutes
- Yield: 80 grams starter 1x
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.
- Category: Bread
- Method: Stirred
- Cuisine: French
Keywords: Bread, Sourdough Bread, Sourdough Starter, Feeding, Starter, Baking,
Hi couple cooks,
I made sour dough using your recipe and the checklist was like super helpful
One question though, i didn had bread flour in hand so i used 150 grams of wholewheat and 200 grams of all purpose.
The bread was fine but had a little gummy texture, not chewy but gummmy, what could be the reason?
Bread flour makes that much difference i wonder.
Hi! Yes, the protein in the bread flour lends a strength and chewiness to the bread that would be missing otherwise!
Sourdough starter at 50% hydration which is a stiff leaven.
It can stay refrigerated for months and do not need to feed every week
That’s my experience as well though my sourdough is a milk one that’s been in my family for about 70 years. My grandma got it from a friend who’s family had it about 60 years. It originally came to Washington state on covered wagon from Arkansas. My grandma (and I) have forgot to feed it for months and it always bounces back quickly.
Uhm JEALOUS ROBERT! What a cool story, thanks for sharing!
Google says the oldest one known to man is 122yrs old
I have a sour dough start that has been passed down for generations. Dating back to the 1800
How do you share a starter? Do I give them the part I would usually discard?
Hi! Yes, just feed the part you’d normally discard! You can share with a new friend every day :)
Okay, two questions:
1. I’m on day 5 of the starter process (so it should be ready to use) but my starter doesn’t seem to be rising and falling much as far as I can tell. Does the float test really work? whats the best way to make sure my starter is active and ready to bake?
2. The starter smells pretty good, no liquid sitting on top, and no rancid alcohol smell, but the bubble are very small/ almost foamy and only on the top. I don’t see any around the sides or bottom of the jar. The starter is also a more liquid consistency than I’ve had with other starters in the past. Almost like crepe batter. Is this okay or should it be more gelatinous ?
It sounds to me like maybe you just need one more day. I’d switch to the standard feeding so that you get that thicker consistency. Discard all but about 1 tablespoon of your starter and I would think it will look good tomorrow!
Hi- first of all, thank you so much for the printable checklist! My starter is looking great and I have all my tools ready to start my first loaf! Question: your recipe says to leave it proofing in the fridge overnight – but can I leave it in the fridge longer – like, 20 hours?? Thank you!
Hi! It will continue to proof the longer it is in the refrigerator. 20 hours is probably right on the edge of overproofed. If you do this, make sure to have your fridge on the coldest setting!
You could also place it in the refrigerator right after putting it in the basket :)
In terms of going on holiday, I’ve frozen my starter before. When I got back, I simply allowed it to warm to room temperature, gave it 2 days of feeding without going into the fridge and it was right as rain.
If you have a dehydrator, you can also make starter ‘chips’ by spreading it it thin on a piece of baking paper and allowing it to fully dehydrate. Have managed to revive a starter chip after about 3 weeks with no issues. Makes a handy way to share with friends by post.
For dehydrating starter, maybe take 1 – 2 tbsp to make a chip? And I assume that you mean “after 3 weeks” in the dehydrates state you were able to rehydrate and feed? Could you elaborate as to how you would do that? I have a dehydrator and would like to try it. Thank you
I just completed the 5 days and the starter is more liquid than thick. It does not smell bad but it doesn’t look super healthy either. I’m thinking it might have been too warm? Thank you!
You should be able to recover it! Try just doing a standard feeding keeping 1 tablespoon.
Hi! I was wondering when you are in the proofing steps and keeping the dough in a warm place, are you putting it back in the ziplock bag and then in the oven every time? Is the plastic bag safe to go in the oven at 80 degrees? Thank you!
Hi, yes we’re returning to the ziplock for each proof. 80 degrees is fine for plastic (a lot less heat than being outdoors in the summer!).
Most advice that I have seen on feeding a starter says to use equal parts starter, flour and water. Can you explain why you like to only use only 1T of starter to 50 grams each of flour and water.
We find that 1 tablespoon is the perfect feeding for an active starter in 12 hours. Your welcome to adjust to your kitchen temps!
Hello Alex and Sonja,
Just discovered your site and am giving it a go. One question. Tomorrow is day 5 for the starter. It looks good but I am not baking. I have been feeding at about 11 am. So, do I simply place my starter in the refrigerator tomorrow morning instead of feed again? Or, do I feed and then place in the refrigerator immediately after? Thanks, Martha
Hi! I would start following the sourdough rhythm for Day 1, so put it in the refrigerator instead of feeding it, remove it the evening and feed it: https://www.acouplecooks.com/sourdough-bread-recipe-simplified-guide/#tasty-recipes-23323
You’re Blog is so fun and informative! Our fam of four just made our first sourdough bread using your recipe and the videos were so helpful. The loaf turned out beautifully and it’s oh so yummy! One clarifying question I have is about feeding the starter. If I want more starter for other recipes, do I need to add 1Tbsp of starter per 50 grams of both water and flour or do I just use 1Tbsp of starter to whatever equal parts of flour and water depending on how much I need?
I’ve been putting 2Tbsp of starter in a jar and adding 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water. It looks nice and bubbly after 12 hours at room temp. Am I on the right track?
There’s not exact math to it, but keeping the same ratio as you did should work just fine.
So glad you enjoyed the recipe!
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