Every week I receive hundreds of questions about how to care for sourdough starter, so I decided to add all the questions I receive and my answers into this post for a reference for those who are just starting to use sourdough.
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Once the initial 7 or so days is up, how often does it need to be “fed” if you’re keeping it on the counter top?
How often you should feed your starter depends on how much you use it during the week. I would keep it in the fridge if you only use a few times a week. A good idea is to feed it every time you use it, and then leave it on the counter for 8 hours, and then put it into the fridge until you are ready to use it again.
How long before I intend to use it do I need to take it out of the fridge?
It depends on what you are making when you should take it out of the fridge. If you are following a sourdough recipe, usually the author will tell you exactly when to do so.
My sourdough is really thick and pasty? Is it supposed to be like that?
No, it is not. If your sourdough starter is really thick, then just add a little more water until it is the consistency of thick pancake batter.
In the “How to Make Sourdough Starter” blog post, I give you the guide line of that you want a 1:1 ratio of flour to water. However, that is just a guide line. The real ratio depends on what type of flour you are using. If you are using an all-purpose flour, then you can get away with a smaller amount of water, but if you are using a whole grain wheat flour you may need more water. The basic principle is that some flours soak up water more than other flours, so the best way to find out how much flour to water ratio you need for the type of water you are using is to just play around with it.
Why do I have to discard half of my sourdough starter? Instead of discarding half of my sourdough starter on Days 2-7, can I just use it to make another separate sourdough starter?
That question doesn’t actually make sense to me, because what you are creating is basically a symbiotic colony of yeast that you capture from your local environment. What you are trying to do is just make a master starter that then can then inoculate anything else with the yeast colonies that are in it. Therefore, you do not need to create more than one. It is basically just like having double the sourdough starter which once you have an established starter you can easily do by just adding more flour and water to the bowl of sourdough starter.
It is really hard to explain, but basically what I am saying is all that you are throwing away, when you discard half of your sourdough starter on days 2-7, is flour and water. Just think of it that way. There is really no way else to make sourdough starter, because what you have is immature starter at that point and there is not really a ton that you can do with it. Especially if you are making a sourdough starter and you cannot really tolerate grains, so what you have there is not fully fermented yet.
If you are trying to avoid grains that are unfermented, you are just going to want to discard it. You can put it in your compost or feed it to your animals.
It is not like you are throwing away perfectly good sourdough starter and to create more of another one is just the same as having one main sourdough starter. Anyway, I hope that makes sense!
How do you Store your Sourdough Starter?
When you are feeding you starter, you will leave it out on the counter where it can get a little bit of air so you might put a thin tea towel or something else that is not air tight for a few hours before putting it back in fridge.
However, when it goes in the refrigerator, you are going to want to use something airtight. I personally keep my starter in a 2.5 quart glass bowl and I cover it with a silicone lid. This is what I have always done. On occasion, I have to take the sourdough starter out and clean the bowl really well because things get really crusty up on the top of the bowl and I do not want that.
How much sourdough starter do you keep on hand?
I always like to keep a pretty good amount of starter in the bowl, because there are certain no wait sourdough recipes that you can make like my sourdough skillet and sourdough pancakes. If you have enough in your bowl that you can pull from, you can always make those recipes without having to wait as long as the starter is fed and full.
Now you always want to keep enough sourdough starter in the bowl that you can use to feed again to continue on having sourdough starter. As long as you can remove enough for your recipes while leaving about a cup of starter in your bowl, you can feed it and get it back to a full bowl of starter.
How Often Should I Feed my Sourdough Starter?
That totally depends on how often you are going to use it.
I do not use my starter every day. I use it about once a week, so what I do is keep it in the refrigerator in a bowl with an airtight lid.
To illustrate, say that it is Friday and on Saturday I want to make pancakes, I will pull my sourdough out of the fridge on Friday and add some flour and water to the bowl, mix it up, and leave it on the counter with a tea towel cover it until Saturday morning. Once I am done making pancakes on Saturday and if I am not planning on using my sourdough starter until next week, I will feed it and leave it on the counter for 8 hours and then cover the bowl with an airtight lid and leave it in the refrigerator until next Friday.
However, let us say that I am planning on using my sourdough starter again on Sunday to make cinnamon rolls, then I will just feed the sourdough starter and leave it on the counter until Sunday.
When you leave sourdough on the counter in room temperature, the yeast will again be nice and active and it will become bubbly sourdough starter. When you put it in the refrigerator, it puts the starter on pause, so you do not have to feed it as often because the yeast will relax and they do not need a whole bunch of sustenance. You can kind of think of it like a bear hibernating in the winter.
When the sourdough starter is in the fridge it does not need to be fed as much as it does when it is on the counter. On the counter it needs to be fed daily, but in the fridge it only needs to be fed once a week. You can even switch back and forth between the refrigerator and the counter if you use it sporadically such as using the sourdough every day and leaving it on the counter and then not using it for two weeks and leaving it in the refrigerator.
How much flour and water should I feed my sourdough starter?
Sourdough starters are really resilient. I have had mine for 8 years now and I never measure the flour and water. I just add enough to make the starter the consistency of thick pancake batter. I do not worry about it and it is a very happy, healthy sourdough starter.
What does “fed” sourdough starter mean when your recipes call for it?
Basically what I mean by that is your sourdough starter has had flour and water and the opportunity to sit out and feed on that.
If you are going to feed your starter, let us say it is out of the fridge, you give it flour and water and stir it up really well, you do not want to instantly put it back in the fridge even if you are not planning to use it. You want to let the starter sit out for a few hours to feed and be active for a little bit then cover it and put it back into the refrigerator. Now at that point, you could pull it out of the fridge the next day and use it for pancakes and sourdough skillet and it has been fed.
Is it okay to put my sourdough starter away unfed?
I do not usually like to put my sourdough starter away unfed, but I am not saying I haven’t done it and still worked out just fine. Once after I made pancakes on Saturday morning, I put my sourdough starter straight into the fridge without feeding it first and didn’t feed it at all until the next Friday when I pulled it out to feed it again in preparation for Saturday morning pancakes and it was totally fine. However, ideally you want to give the starter some flour and water, let it sit out on the counter for a few hours, and then put it in the fridge.
So obviously, there are way less rules to keeping sourdough starter than you might think. As you keep your starter, you will get really familiar with it.
My starter taste really sour. How can I make it so that it does not taste as sour?
Your starter may have a little bit of a smell if it hasn’t been fed in a while and your cooking projects will taste a little more sour. So if you want to avoid the super sour sourdough taste you might just need to feed it more often and not let it sit out on the counter as long. However, if you are sort of intolerant to grains, you are at least going to want to let it sit out for 24 hours to do all the fermenting work. If you are just trying to get a little bit of the sourdough taste and a little bit of that fermentation, you can let it ferment for a lot less time and avoid a lot of that sourdough taste, but it will not have the full benefit of the fermented grains.
If I receive sourdough starter from a friend, how long should I wait to use it?
I would say just feed it once and let it bubble up before using it.
How do you make sourdough starter?
Funny you should ask! I actually have a post all about that here: How to Make for Sourdough Starter
Do you know how to make gluten free sourdough starter?
I honestly have never tried it. I know that there are instructions out there on the internet. For example, after a quick Google search, I found this simple recipe for gluten free sourdough starter HERE. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!
What is your schedule for sourdough starter?
I honestly do not even have one. Every week is different. Sometimes I only use my sourdough starter one day and leave it in the fridge for a week and then the next week I use it everyday.
Is it normal for the sourdough starter to develop a hard crust over the top of it?
Yes! Whenever you have your sourdough sitting out on the counter with something that is not air tight, like a tea towel, it is totally normal. You can either scrape of the hard sourdough starter or stir it in.
What is the black layer of liquid on top of my sourdough called and why is it there?
It is called hooch. You can either dump it out or stir it in. Most likely your sourdough starter is hungry and needs to be fed, so just give it some more flour and water and it should be fine.
After day 7, do I keep discarding half of my sourdough starter?
Nope! Once the sourdough starter is established on day 8, all you have to do it just give it flour and water. You no longer need to discard half of it.
How do I know when my sourdough starter has gone bad or molded?
Honestly that is a case by case bases. I get a lot of questions about this, but I don’t really know if your sourdough starter is molded or bad until I see it.
So, honestly I do not know. I do know that your sourdoughs starter should not have an off putting smell, but it does have a sour smell to it. You should definitely be able to see if there is mold.
How do I know my sourdough starter is working after it finished day 7?
You will know it is working if works in your recipes. For example, if you are making sourdough bread and you make the dough, put it in a nice warm spot, and if it doesn’t rise that means your starter is not full established and you need to keep on making it or you just need to throw it away and start over.
Your sourdough starter should definitely rise if it is good and active. You will also see a lot of bubbles on the top as well.
Why is sourdough starter much healthier than just regular flour?
This has to do with the grains and the fermentation. A lot of people today cannot tolerate grains. For the most part, a lot of people have given up grains and going gluten free and grain free.
I am not a doctor or a food expert, but I can tell you what I know about it.
Outside of a grain, there is a protective layer called phytic acid. That phytic acid is very incompatible with your body absorbing and digesting those grains. When you ferment those grains, the fermentation process takes care of that pre-digesting work for you and it makes the grains and the nutrients in them more easily accessible for your body to recognize it and use it without having to go through those original steps of breaking down the phytic acid which can be very taxing and difficult for your body. Plus, fermentation just makes the nutrients more readily available. What was locked up inside the phytic acid in the grain, the outside of the bran, is now available for your body to use, so a lot of the vitamins that are in the grain are not actually doing you any good and fermentation unlocks them.
A lot of the time, people who are not tolerate of grains, find that they can tolerate sourdough starter if it has a least sat out on the counter for 24 hours.
I cannot tolerate grains. Do you think that I will be able to tolerate sourdough starter?
I personally can tolerate grains just fine, but if you are a person who cannot tolerate grains, but not if you have celiac, then maybe you can tolerate sourdough starter that is fermented for at least 24 hours. However, if you have celiac then you will more than likely not be able to even tolerate sourdoughs starter, but definitely check with your doctor.