How to Feed Sourdough Starter

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.

how to feed sourdough starter | feeding sourdough starter | maintaining sourdough starter | storing sourdough starter | sourdough starter container

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.

how to feed sourdough starter | feeding sourdough starter | maintaining sourdough starter | storing sourdough starter | sourdough starter container

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.

how to feed sourdough starter | feeding sourdough starter | maintaining sourdough starter | storing sourdough starter | sourdough starter container

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.

how to feed sourdough starter | feeding sourdough starter | maintaining sourdough starter | storing sourdough starter | sourdough starter container

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.

how to feed sourdough starter | feeding sourdough starter | maintaining sourdough starter | storing sourdough starter | sourdough starter container

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!

Related posts

This post is one of three in our series on making sourdough bread:

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how to feed sourdough starter | feeding sourdough starter | maintaining sourdough starter | storing sourdough starter | sourdough starter container

How to Feed Sourdough Starter


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  • Author: Alex
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 minutes
  • Yield: 80 grams starter 1x

Description

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.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 50 grams all-purpose flour
  • 50 grams filtered water (room temperature)

Instructions

  1. At around 9:00 pm, take the active starter out of the refrigerator.
  2. Remove and throw away all but about 1 tablespoon of the starter.
  3. Add 50 grams of purified water and 50 grams of all purpose flour.
  4. Stir, cover, and leave out on a counter at room temperature overnight.
  5. 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.

Notes

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,

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

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.

Alex Overhiser

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.

12 Comments

  • Reply
    Nadia
    March 26, 2019 at 3:31 am

    Hi couple cooks,
    I made sour dough using your recipe and the checklist was like super helpful
    Thanks alot.
    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.
    Thanks again

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 26, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      Hi! Yes, the protein in the bread flour lends a strength and chewiness to the bread that would be missing otherwise!

  • Reply
    Shannon
    April 12, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    How do you share a starter? Do I give them the part I would usually discard?

    • Reply
      Alex
      April 12, 2019 at 12:35 pm

      Hi! Yes, just feed the part you’d normally discard! You can share with a new friend every day :)

  • Reply
    Phoenix Haynes
    April 14, 2019 at 12:15 am

    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 ?

    Thank you!

    • Reply
      Alex
      April 14, 2019 at 10:44 am

      Hi!

      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!

  • Reply
    Julie
    May 12, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Alex
      May 12, 2019 at 8:27 pm

      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!

      • Reply
        Alex
        May 12, 2019 at 8:38 pm

        You could also place it in the refrigerator right after putting it in the basket :)

  • Reply
    Ryan
    September 16, 2019 at 5:11 am

    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.

  • Reply
    Daniela
    October 2, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Hi there,

    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!

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      October 2, 2019 at 1:42 pm

      You should be able to recover it! Try just doing a standard feeding keeping 1 tablespoon.

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