Sourdough Starter Recipe

Simple, healthy recipes that work every time!

This sourdough bread starter recipe shows how to make a sourdough starter from scratch. You can make a starter for bread at home out of thin air!

And don’t miss our recipe for the best sourdough bread in the world.

Sourdough starter | Best sourdough bread recipe | how to make sourdough starter

Are you looking to start baking sourdough bread at home? As part of our series How to Make Sourdough Bread: The Simplified Guide, we’re showing you how to make a sourdough starter at home! A sourdough starter is essential for making sourdough bread. Though you can order one online or find one from a friend, why not make it at home? It’s simple and requires very little hands on time. Wait for 5 days, and you’ll have grown your own sourdough starter—out of thin air! Keep reading for how to make sourdough starter.

Buy it: If you’d rather save the effort, you can buy a starter instead! We’ve tested this starter and it works well: Buy a sourdough starter

Watch how to make sourdough starter

But first, here’s our video on the process: watch Alex show you how to make this sourdough starter recipe!

Sourdough starter | Best sourdough bread recipe | how to make sourdough starter

What is sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter, also called levain, is a fermented dough filled with natural, wild yeast and a bacteria called lactobacilli. The sourdough starter is what makes sourdough bread rise. Instead of using active dry yeast like in other bread recipes, the sourdough starter is used for sourdough bread. Along with leavening the bread, the starter also brings that classic sour flavor.

A starter is literally full of life! There are 50 million yeasts and 5 billion lactobacilli bacteria in every teaspoon of starter dough. Sound weird? Actually, humans have been doing this for thousands of years; the process of making sourdough starter is as old as bread itself. For over 5,000 years, humans have mixed flour and water, waited for it to ferment, and then used it as leavening for bread. Ready to take part in the ancient practice of making sourdough for yourself?

Interested in the science behind sourdough starter? Read more here.

Sourdough starter | Best sourdough bread recipe | how to make sourdough starter

Making sourdough starter

Making this sourdough starter recipe is a simple process. You simply mix together flour and water, and then wait, wait, and wait so more for the yeast and bacteria to do their thing! It’s a 5 to 6 day process that mostly consists of waiting. For our sourdough starter recipe we use a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour to give the start a jump start. Once the starter is active and vibrant, we switch to all purpose flour for regular feeding of the starter.

And that’s right, we said feeding a starter! Since this little dude is alive (see above), you’re going to have to feed him or her regularly. See our post on How to Feed a Sourdough Starter. You may want to give him a name too! (Ours is Starty. Original, right?)

Scroll down to get our full recipe for making sourdough starter, below!

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What you need to make your own sourdough starter

Luckily, you don’t need too many special tools for making this starter recipe. (Don’t worry, you’ll need special tools when we get to How to Make Sourdough Bread!) Here’s what you need for making sourdough starter at home:

Sourdough starter | Best sourdough bread recipe | how to make sourdough starter

What to make with sourdough starter

One more thing before we get down to it: what can you make with sourdough starter? Homemade sourdough bread, obviously! Here’s our How to Make Sourdough Bread: The Simplified Guide, complete with printable to make the process pretty simple.

Beyond bread, there are all sorts of things you can make with sourdough starter: pancakes, waffles, cookies, pizza crust, and muffins. Check out some uses here: Beyond the Loaf: The Many Uses of Sourdough.

Related posts

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

Sourdough starter | Best sourdough bread recipe | how to make sourdough starter

Looking for more sourdough recipes? 

Once you’ve baked your first loaf of sourdough, there are so many ways you can enjoy it! A few of our fave sourdough recipes are:

Looking for more homemade bread recipes?

This recipe is… 

This sourdough starter recipe is vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based.

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Sourdough starter | Best sourdough bread recipe | how to make sourdough starter

Sourdough Starter Recipe


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (30 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 days
  • Total Time: 5 days
  • Yield: 1 starter

Description

This sourdough bread starter recipe shows how to make sourdough starter from scratch. No need to order online, you can make a starter for bread right at home!


Ingredients

  • Whole wheat flour
  • All-purpose flour
  • Room temperature filtered water

Instructions

Day 1: Use a kitchen scale to add 25 grams whole wheat flour, 25 grams all-purpose flour, and 50 grams of water. Stir to combine. The mixture should look like a thick paste. Cover the jar and place in a warm location for 24 hours. The temperature of your room can have a big effect on the speed at which your starter grows. Ideally, you want to be between 68 and 72 degrees. The starter will not flourish in cooler temperatures. Day 2: You may or may not see a few bubbles starting to appear in the starter. Either way, discard about half of the starter and add the same ingredients to the jar: 25 grams whole wheat flour, 25 grams all-purpose flour, and 50 grams of water. Stir to combine. Cover the jar and place in a warm location for 24 hours. Day 3: You will likely see a few more bubbles today. The starter should start to smell a little bit sour (in a good way!) Again, discard half of the starter. Today, you’ll switch to using only all-purpose flour. Add 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams of water. Stir to combine. Cover the jar and place in a warm location for 24 hours. Day 4: You should see a lot more bubbles and the starter should increase in volume. Follow the same process: discard half of the starter. Add 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams of water. Stir to combine. Cover the jar and place in a warm location for 24 hours. Day 5: The starter will be very bubbly and double in volume. It will have a funky sour smell that indicates the magic of sourdough is ready to happen! This starter is ready to use! Follow our instructions for feeding and maintaining a starter to keep it alive on the long term.

Notes

Depending on your room temperature conditions, it might take several more days of the same process to get the starter to be really bubbly and active!

  • Category: Baking
  • Method: Fermented
  • Cuisine: French

Keywords: Sourdough Starter, How to Make a Sourdough Starter, How to Grow a Sourdough Starter, sourdough starter recipe

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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.

40 Comments

  • Reply
    Lance Fink
    October 29, 2018 at 9:32 am

    I cannot wait to try this! Before I do, since we are measuring the starter ingredients by weight, do we discard half by weight, byvolume, or does it really even matter? Also, should you cover the starter with a lid if possible, or is plastic wrap better? I made a starter last year and only covered it with a tea towel, thinking exposure to the air would allow more of the natural yeast to be incorporated into it.

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 29, 2018 at 9:49 am

      Hi!

      I’ve grown a starter several times and have not found it to be too sensitive. I just discard about half the starter visually. Same thing regarding covering the starter; there should be plenty of yeast already existing in the air and the flour itself. I have found that you can get a lot of activity after day one or two, and then it settles down for a few days before becoming more regular around day 5. Have fun with it!

      • Reply
        Lance Fink
        October 29, 2018 at 10:06 am

        Thank you!

        I have two more questions (for now). What is the best way to maintain a starter without starting over every time? Are there any alternatives to using the Dutch oven and the banneton?

  • Reply
    Jim Bellomo
    February 2, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Followed your directions and it will not grow. Smells sour, I get bubbles but not more than a half inch of growth overnight.

    • Reply
      Sonja
      February 2, 2019 at 4:22 pm

      Hi! Do you have a slightly warmer place to keep the starter? It may just be on the edge of really growing!

      • Reply
        Anwar
        April 19, 2019 at 4:20 am

        Hi,
        This is my 2nd try, and yhe starter on the 3rd day will start to have some fluid!! Is that OK? Or that means it’s bad and I have to discard it?

        • Reply
          Alex
          April 19, 2019 at 12:01 pm

          A little fluid is good! If your house is warm, you may want to feed it a little sooner than 24 hours.

  • Reply
    Jim Bellomo
    February 2, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    Last night I put it in my Wolf oven with the oven set to proof so temp was 85. No growth.

    • Reply
      Sonja
      February 2, 2019 at 4:35 pm

      Weird! I’d try discarding all but about 1 tablespoon and trying again for a few more days. Sometimes they are just hard to get robust.

  • Reply
    Cheryl
    February 3, 2019 at 11:25 pm

    On the night that you feed the dough before preparing to proof the next day is it correct that I mix
    1 tablespoon of the starter with the flour and water as it says in the instructions to then discard the rest but then would be out of starter. Need clarification. Thank you in advance.

    • Reply
      Alex
      February 4, 2019 at 9:10 am

      Hi!

      The tablespoon you use to prepare the starter will make enough for the following day’s bread with some leftover to make more starter.

  • Reply
    Lynn
    February 18, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    After two days, it’s started to come alive. I have a reasonably warm kitchen which could be the reason why, so far, it seems to be growing. I’m using a small glass Kilner jar for now. But I’ll need something that’s a little safer to use, just in case the whole things starts to overflow. I’m rather concerned at the prospect of it exploding. My next thought is. What do I call it? As it’s a living thing. I need to give it a name. Has anyone else given their starter a name?

  • Reply
    R. Williams
    March 4, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    Today will be the 3rd try for me making starter. As a newbie .. should it be thin and runny? Should it smell like beer a little? Do I have to throw out half or can I add to it as I bake daily? Help? I cannot find answers anywhere… ?

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 4, 2019 at 3:15 pm

      Hi! Yes, it will be fairly thin and runny and smell a little yeasty and funky in a good way. If you are baking with it daily, there’s no need to throw it out. If you are feeding the starting without baking, you will need to discard some or else you’ll have way too much! Good luck :)

      • Reply
        R williams
        March 4, 2019 at 8:16 pm

        I’m guessing that the very first day it should be like a paste? I bought a brand new scale and weighed all ingredients and in my jar it’s paste….

        • Reply
          Alex
          March 4, 2019 at 8:17 pm

          Yes! Not much to look at.

  • Reply
    R Williams
    March 8, 2019 at 10:34 am

    I give up… obviously I’m doing everything wrong in trying to make starter. 3rd try wasn’t the charm LOL

    • Reply
      Julie
      May 10, 2019 at 5:29 pm

      It took me 21 days to have my starter rise (and double in size) for the first time! Everything I read said it would be ready in a week, or at the most, two weeks. Took me three weeks- I ALMOST gave up. Be patient! (I fed my starter 60 grams of filtered water and 60 I bleached all purpose four once a day ).

  • Reply
    Susan
    March 15, 2019 at 11:05 pm

    I just bought a bag of Einkorn wheat flour (from an ancient, non-genetically modified type of wheat). Do you know of any reason why I could, or why I should not, use it for the all-purpose flour in my starter? I’ve never had much luck making starters, but I’m getting better at making bread since I got a scale sifter attachment for my Kitchenaid. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 16, 2019 at 9:46 am

      I think it would probably work great!

  • Reply
    Susan
    March 16, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Cool! Thanks!
    How do I cover the jar, both initially and after it is ready to be kept in the fridge? Should I use cheesecloth, plastic wrap, something else, or nothing? Can the jar be sealed with a screw on lid or will it explode from the gasses in it while it’s still maturing at room temperature? Can it be sealed continuously while it’s living in the fridge? Can it be stored in a plastic container with a locking lid like Lock and Lock?
    Can the bits that are removed while you’re feeding the starter in the first few days be used for baking even if the starter isn’t really mature yet (like, could you throw it into a regular yeast bread recipe for flavor?) And, if I’m baking other yeast breads during the start up week, will my sourdough starter pick up those yeasts from the air in my kitchen?
    Sorry. I have a lot of questions…

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 16, 2019 at 1:52 pm

      Hi!

      I generally cover loosely with a screw on lid — there’s plenty of yeast already on the flour and if you check every day you won’t get any gas buildup. You can store it in the fridge fully covered and secured.

      I think you could definitely add the discard starter to another recipes, but I haven’t tried it!

      Good luck!

      :)

  • Reply
    Susan
    March 16, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks again! I’ll follow your recommendations!
    PS. Your kid is so cute! I am also adopted, and, at 62, only discovered my birth family’s heritage last year. Turns out I’m Irish, so Erin Go Brah for St. Patty’s Day!
    Take care!

  • Reply
    Hazel
    March 17, 2019 at 10:49 pm

    So it’s been 5 days and my starter smells like nail polish remover. And has a few bubbles but isn’t really growing substantially. Does this sound right or should I start over? Is it possible to actually go wrong in terms of safe to eat?

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 18, 2019 at 11:00 am

      Hi! If you get that acetone smell — the yeast ran out of food (flour) and started to break down. You should start over. I don’t think it would be unsafe to eat, but it would be gross!

  • Reply
    Radhika
    April 3, 2019 at 10:52 am

    Hi,

    Thanks so much for the recipe, I am at day 1 now! I wanted to check with you if the process would be much shorter in warm locations? I live in India and the temperature currently is close to 95degrees. After day 1 itself I see quite a lot of bubbles and sour smell. Is something wrong? Please let me know,

    Thanks,
    Radhika

    • Reply
      Alex
      April 3, 2019 at 11:16 am

      Hi! Yes, it may go faster in a warmer area! Once you see it get really bubbly, and then fall back a little bit, you can feed again (as though it is the next day). Good luck!

      • Reply
        Anonymous
        April 3, 2019 at 12:15 pm

        Thank you!

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    April 4, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Hi. I’ve used bread flour for my starter. Is that ok ? After 3 feedings and discarding it’s growing substantially. How will I know when it’s ready for use?

    • Reply
      Alex
      April 4, 2019 at 9:36 am

      Yes, bread flour should work great! I’d wait through 5 days of feeding to make sure it’s not and robust before starting to use it!

  • Reply
    katy
    April 26, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    So I started this 5 days ago, and forgot about it. Should I just throw it out or start up with day 2 options? Hopefully round two I’ll be a better mom.

    • Reply
      Sonja
      April 27, 2019 at 10:53 am

      Oh no! It would probably work best if you threw it out and started over — so sorry :( Let us know how it goes!

  • Reply
    Joyce
    April 29, 2019 at 1:16 am

    All the discarding…. sounds very wasteful. What else can we do to utilise them to the fullest?

  • Reply
    Mary White
    May 8, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Can I use all purpose flour to make a starter?

    • Reply
      Alex
      May 8, 2019 at 12:46 pm

      Yes!

    • Reply
      cassie
      May 24, 2019 at 5:17 pm

      make other starters! it becomes a lot, but the starter you were going to throw out you can use as a mature starter for another starter dough.

  • Reply
    Rebecca Ramos
    June 19, 2019 at 9:22 am

    Instead of discarding part of the starter everyday, could you actually use it to make starters in different stages? I could easily see this being used to give away as gifts if you get all that “discarded” started going too. I know you’d have to really keep track of which jar was in which stage…or am I overthinking it and it needs to be discarded lol

    • Reply
      Alex
      June 19, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      Hi! While you are building the starter it’s better to just discard. Once you have it live and thriving, you can definitely use any “discard” to create new batches for gifts!

  • Reply
    Jared
    June 20, 2019 at 8:17 am

    I’ve fed my starter for two days. it still looks like the paste and thick. Is that ok and right?? By the way, I use all rye flour instead of plain flour. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Alex
      June 20, 2019 at 9:09 am

      Yes, this should still be ok!

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