How to Make Sourdough Starter

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

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.

Watch how to make sourdough starter

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

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 sourdough 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 starter 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 sourdough starter 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 for making your own sourdough starter

Luckily, you don’t need too many special tools for making sourdough starter. (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? 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

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

How to Make Sourdough Starter


1 Star (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 1)

  • Author: Alex
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 days
  • Total Time: 5 days
  • Yield: 1 starter
  • Category: Baking
  • Method: Fermented
  • Cuisine: French

Description

This sourdough 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!

Keywords: Sourdough Starter, How to Make a Sourdough Starter, How to Grow a Sourdough Starter

About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is an acclaimed vegetarian cookbook author and cook based in Indianapolis. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food website 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 food 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.

3 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?

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