You can make a starter for bread at home out of thin air! Learn how to make sourdough starter with this step-by-step recipe.
Don’t miss our recipe for the best sourdough bread in the world.
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 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 starter—out of thin air!
Buy it: To shortcut the process, you can buy a starter instead! We’ve tested this starter and it works well: Buy a sourdough starter
Watch the video to learn the process!
But first, here’s a video about the process. Watch Alex show you how to make this sourdough starter recipe!
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 starter is what makes sourdough bread rise. Instead of using active dry yeast like in other bread recipes, sourdough bread uses a starter. 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 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 a sourdough starter for yourself?
Interested in the science behind sourdough starter? Read more here.
Background on how to make sourdough starter
Making this sourdough starter recipe is a simple process. You simply mix together flour and water, and then wait, wait, and wait some 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, 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 named Starty. Original, right?)
Scroll down to get our full recipe for how to make sourdough starter, below!
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:
- A covered jar to store your sourdough starter (any will work: we use this one)
- Whole wheat flour
- All purpose flour
- Filtered water, at room temperature (we use this pitcher to filter our tap water)
- Kitchen scale (here’s the one we use)
What to make with sourdough starter
One more thing before we get down to it: what can you make with starter? Homemade sourdough bread, obviously! Here’s our How to Make Sourdough Bread, 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.
This post is one of three in our series on making sourdough bread:
This recipe is…
This sourdough starter recipe is vegan, vegetarian, plant-based, and dairy-free.Print
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!
- Whole wheat flour
- All-purpose flour
- Room temperature filtered water
- 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.
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
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:
- Avocado Toast with Turmeric Egg
- Hard Boiled Egg & Smoked Cheddar Grilled Cheese
- Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich
- Easy Chickpea Salad Sandwich
- Grilled Cheese with Tomato & Basil
Looking for more homemade bread recipes?
- Artisan No-Knead Multigrain Bread
- Homemade Pita Bread
- Garlic Herb Focaccia Bread
- Raspberry Braided Bread
- Tomato Sage Parmesan Cornbread
About the Authors
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 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.