The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide | The Perfect Loaf (2024)

Your sourdough starter is the foundation of baking sourdough bread. Through proper maintenance and a little attention, it can last indefinitely and provide you with countless healthy and delicious loaves of bread.

The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide | The Perfect Loaf (1)

This collection of guides, recipes, and walkthroughs will help you create your sourdough starter from scratch, maintain it with the right flour and feeding ratios, and learn how to use it to make a levain and bake bread. Finally, I'll also go through a few ways to use your sourdough starter discard to make other food like pancakes, waffles, and more.

What is a Sourdough Starter?

A sourdough starter is a culture containing a stable blend of wild yeasts and suitable lactic acid bacteria. The culture is maintained indefinitely, fed with fresh flour and water (also called refreshing) consistently. A sourdough starter is used to seed fermentation in new dough when baking bread and is responsible for leavening (making rise) and flavoring a loaf of sourdough bread.

How to Make a New Sourdough Starter

Creating a new sourdough starter takes only a few days, but to help speed things along, it's best to try and create the perfect environment for bacteria and yeasts to take hold. Over the years, I've found keeping the mixture warm at around 80°F (26°C), and high hydration (100% water to flour in baker's percentages) helps get things started. In addition, while not mandatory, using certain flour also helps increase the chances a starter will take hold quickly (see below).

Create your own sourdough starter with my 7-step starter creation guide →

The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide | The Perfect Loaf (2)

What is the Best Flour to Start a Starter With?

Over the past decade-plus of baking, I’ve tested all manner of flour from whole grain wheat to spelt to einkorn, and while they all do work, my preferred flour to use when creating a sourdough starter is whole grain rye flour and white flour (this can be all-purpose or high-protein bread flour). Using a percentage of whole-grain rye flour helps kickstart the starter creation progress. The additional nutrients in rye flour, combined with keeping the mixture warm and highly hydrated, have increased the reliability of creating a new starter.

What is the Difference Between a Levain and a Sourdough Starter?

A starter goes by a few names (mother, chef, pasta made, etc.). It's anongoing culture fed continuously at a set schedule and never completely used when baking. By contrast, alevain (or leaven)isa small offshoot of a sourdough starter used completely when making a loaf of bread by mixing it into a dough that is eventually baked in the oven.

How I Feed My Sourdough Starter

The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide | The Perfect Loaf (3)

Feeding a sourdough starter calls for discarding some—but not all—of the fermented mixture (the amount leftover is called the carryover), adding fresh flour and water, and leaving it to ferment for some time. The frequency a starter is fed (refreshed) depends on the flour used for the feedings, the amount of ripe starter carryover, and the environmental conditions the starter is kept.

I find the following ratios and flours help keep my starter strong and healthy when I feed it this way twice a day:

IngredientWeightBaker's Percentage
Medium protein white flour (all-purpose flour)70g70%
Whole-grain rye flour30g30%
Ripe sourdough starter carryover20g20%

Twice a day (usually at 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.), I do the following when my starter is ripe:

  1. Discard the contents of my starter jar down to 20g (the discard can go in the compost, trash, or used in a discard recipe)
  2. To the jar, add 70g white flour, 30g whole rye flour, and 100g water
  3. Stir the mixture until everything is incorporated
  4. Place the lid to my starter jar on top, loosely (gasses can escape, but nothing can get in)

Check out my guide to how I currently feed my starter for an in-depth look at my flour, water, carryover ratios, and sourdough starter refreshment schedule.

Do I have to feed my sourdough starter twice a day?

I like to feed mine twice daily because it gives me two opportunities to make a levain for baking. If you prefer, you can feed only once daily to reduce the flour used for these feedings. To do so, leave less ripe starter in the jar to lengthen the time between feedings. Keep reducing the amount of ripe starter left until the starter ripens right when you want to feed it consistently daily.

Can I keep a smaller starter? I don't like discarding so much flour.

Yes, you can maintain a smaller starter to reduce waste. I prefer to keep around 200g of ripe sourdough starter on hand for baking, but you can certainly reduce the quantity of flour, water, and ripe starter to keep a smaller starter.

The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide | The Perfect Loaf (4)

What is the Best Ratio for a Sourdough Starter?

There is no single best ratio, but I've found a ratio of 1:5:5 fed twice daily at 12-hour intervals to produce a sourdough starter that's strong and healthy. This ratio corresponds to 20% ripe starter carryover, 100% water, and 100% flour (a mix of whole grain rye and white flour) at each feeding.

What is the Best Flour to Feed a Starter With?

I prefer to use some percentage of whole-grain flour in each feeding, and I keep a small amount in my favorite starter jar each time I discard it. This lets me stretch my feeding interval to 12 hours, which means I refresh twice daily. It's certainly possible to drop this down to once a day, but I'm not particularly eager to go any less frequently to ensure my starter is strong and healthy.

Do I Have to Discard Every Time I Feed My Starter?

Yes, it's necessary to discard a little of your sourdough starter each time you feed it; otherwise, your mixture will eventually become very large and overly acidic.

What is a Ripe Sourdough Starter?

A “ripe” starter is one that's fermented for some number of hours and is ready to use in a recipe, whether to make a levain or mix directly into a dough for sourdough bread-making. Generally, when a starter is ripe, it has risen, is bubbly on top, has a sour aroma, and has a looser consistency.

Typical signs your starter is ripe and ready to be used:

  • Some rise
  • Bubbles on top and at the sides
  • A sour aroma
  • Loosening in consistency

Looking at this in more detail, there are two different types of starters:

  1. Liquid starter: around 90 to 100% hydration (as much water as there is flour)
  2. Stiff starter: between 50 to 65% hydration (about half as much water as there is flour)

Signs of ripeness in a liquid starter

In terms of ripeness, in a liquid starter, you'll see lots of bubbles and aeration, and the mixture will be loose, and if you gently pull back the top layer or stir it, you'll feel how the mixture has broken down.

Signs of ripeness in a stiff starter

In terms of ripeness for a stiff starter, the dome at the top begins to collapse and recede. After mixing a stiff starter and forming it into a ball, it'll relax to fill the jar and start to rise up, forming a dome. When mature, the dome will look less like the top of a ball and more like a plateau. Additionally, the top will show a soft and crackled texture, it will look like it's breaking apart, and if you pull back this top, you'll detect a pungent, sour aroma, and the entire mixture will have softened.

What Does it Mean for a Sourdough Starter to be “Mature?”

A mature sourdough starter consistently shows the same signs of fermentation each day. Maturity refers to a stable mix of lactic acid bacteria and wild yeasts that coexist in symbiosis, indicating the culture is steady and able to leaven and flavor sourdough bread properly.

Some bakers refer to a mature starter as one that's matured overnight or for some number of hours and are now ready to be used for bread-making. I don't typically use mature to refer to this time. Rather, I use the word ripe to designate a starter as ripe that day and ready to be mixed into a dough (or for making a levain).

What is the Difference Between a Starter That is Fed and Unfed?

A “fed” sourdough starter is ripe, has fermented for several hours, and is ready to be used in a bread-making recipe. An “unfed” sourdough starter has not been fed in a while and is essentially considered sourdough starter discard. In other words, when using an unfed starter, you're using some of its discard created during a normal feeding schedule.

Using Sourdough Starter Discard

Refreshing (feeding) your sourdough starter daily can lead to excess starter (unless you maintain a tiny starter). My favorite thing with excess starter discard is making pancakes, waffles, or banana bread—they're all delicious and can be made with little notice.

And there are so many more ways to use your sourdough starter discard! If you do a little pre-planning, you can ensure you never waste a single drop of your ripe sourdough starter.

See my collection of sourdough starter discard recipes →

Can I Store My Sourdough Starter?

Yes, it's safe and possible to store your sourdough starter if you want to take a break from baking bread. You can store your starter for short periods (up to a week or two) in the refrigerator, or months by drying it out, or even years by completely dehydrating it and saving the dried pieces in a sealed container.

Read through my guide to storing your starter for any duration →

What's the Best Way to Revive a Sourdough Starter From the Fridge?

Every sourdough starter is different, but for my decade-old starter, the best way to revive it from the fridge is to take it out and let it warm for a few hours on the kitchen counter. Then, give it a feeding with its typical maintenance flour. Let this mixture ferment during the day or overnight, then give it another feeding. Repeat this process, feeding it twice a day for two days. After this time, the starter should be strong and ready for baking.

Related to this, I always think of the fridge as a stressful environment for my starter. To bake the best bread possible, always take it out and give it a few feedings until it shows strong signs of fermentation consistently each day. While I know some bakers who can make sourdough bread using their starter from the fridge, mine has never worked in this way.

Microbes Present in a Sourdough starter

The exact microbes—lactic acid bacteria and yeasts—present in a given sourdough starter highly depend on how the starter is maintained: the flour used for feedings, the amount of ripe carryover, and the maintenance temperature. Several lactic acid bacteria species, primarily Lactobacillus sp., Leuconostoc sp., and Weissella sp., are most often present, in addition to yeasts, primarily Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida sp.

Have a Sourdough Starter Problem?

Check out the top 21 problems—and solutions—bakers face when creating and maintaining their sourdough starter.

Read through my collection of starter problems and solutions →

Sourdough Starter FAQs

What is a sourdough starter called in Italian?

In Italy, a sourdough starter is typically called lievito madre or pasta madre, which means “mother dough.” A starter is also sometimes called lievito naturale and pasta acida naturale—all of which refer to a sourdough starter.

Can I switch flour when creating a sourdough starter?

Yes, absolutely. You can create a sourdough starter with any flour in your pantry, though I find it easiest to use a portion of whole-grain rye flour to help speed up the process. During the starter creation process, you can switch from rye to whole wheat to white flour to even einkorn or spelt—any flour suitable for baking bread will work.

What is a 1:1:1 sourdough starter?

This sourdough starter consists of equal parts flour, water, and carryover ripe sourdough starter.

What's Next?

Now that you have a firm grasp of what a sourdough starter is and how to create one, review my guide to maintaining a starter to keep it strong and healthy.

If you didn't find an answer to your sourdough starter question here, check out my sourdough starter frequently asked questions roundup.

The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide | The Perfect Loaf (2024)


What is the secret to a good sourdough starter? ›

There is no single best ratio, but I've found a ratio of 1:5:5 fed twice daily at 12-hour intervals to produce a sourdough starter that's strong and healthy. This ratio corresponds to 20% ripe starter carryover, 100% water, and 100% flour (a mix of whole grain rye and white flour) at each feeding.

How much starter do I need for a loaf of sourdough? ›

Ingredients for one sourdough bread loaf
  1. 500 grams of bread flour.
  2. 330 grams of lukewarm water.
  3. 50 grams of active starter (fed)
  4. 9 grams of salt.
Dec 9, 2021

What is the 1/2/2 ratio for sourdough starter? ›

A 1:2:2 feeding ratio would consist of one part existing starter, two parts flour and two parts water. For example, if you have 30g of existing starter, you would feed it 60g of flour and 60g of flour. The most common feeding ratios for daily maintenance are 1:1:1 or 1:2:2.

Do you have to discard sourdough starter every time you feed it? ›

It would be best if you discarded some portion of your starter each time you feed it unless you want to continue to let it grow. Eventually, you need to discard the used “food” (flour and water) that's been used to sustain your starter during the last fermentation period.

What makes a sourdough starter more sour? ›

The longer you go in between feedings, the more acetic acid your starter will develop. This acid creates a more sour flavor.

What flour makes the most sour sourdough starter? ›

For more tang: Incorporate some rye flour and/or whole wheat flour early in the bread-making process, such as when feeding the mother culture and the preferment. Rye flour in particular will help your culture produce some acetic acid.

What happens if I put too much starter in my sourdough? ›

If you have too much starter compared to the additional flour and water you're adding, your hungry starter consumes all the nutrients and then it's not as bubbly.

What is the best flour for sourdough starter? ›

The best flour blend for creating a new sourdough starter is 50% whole-meal flour (whole wheat or whole rye) and 50% bread flour or all-purpose flour. I recommend a 50/50 mix of whole wheat flour and bread flour. Why do you need to use these two types of flour?

How thick should my sourdough starter be when I feed it? ›

Ideally your sourdough starter should be the consistency of warm peanut butter. It should be pourable once at peak, but have a mousse like, aerated texture. What flour is best to use for a sourdough starter? You can literally use any kind of flour for a sourdough starter - as long as it's not bleached.

How often should I clean a sourdough starter jar? ›

How often do you change or clean your sourdough starter container? Use the same jar daily and keep it as clean as possible. During a feeding, discard part of your starter per usual and then scrape down as much residual starter as possible, reincorporating it back into the mixture.

What happens if I forgot to discard the starter before feeding? ›

If you didn't discard a portion of your starter each time you feed it, two things would happen: Your starter would grow to an enormous, unmanageable size. Your starter would likely become more and more inhospitable to the bacteria and yeast we want as the mixture would become ever more acidic.

How soon after feeding sourdough starter can I use it? ›

Fed sourdough starter refers to a starter that has been fed flour and water (preferably by weight). You should feed the starter equal or greater than its weight after discarding a portion. You should wait at least 2-4 hours or until the starter is at its peak before you use it in your baking.

Can you use sourdough discard the next day? ›

You can store sourdough discard in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It's fine to leave it on the counter for up 24 hours, however if you aren't planning to use it straight away it's always better to store it in the fridge.

Can I leave sourdough discard out overnight? ›

I left my sourdough discard out at room temperature for a few days. Is it okay? As long as your kitchen isn't too warm (I'd say 78°F or higher) your starter/discard will be fine stored at room temperature for at least a few days without feeding. The flavor will get more acidic the longer it sits.

How to tell if sourdough starter is bad? ›

Unless you can see mold on your sourdough starter or it has visible signs of pink or orange, your sourdough starter is not dead! Even if it has thick, dark colored liquid on top - it can still be brought back to life!

What does baking soda do to sourdough starter? ›

because it reacts with the acid from the sourdough starter to create carbon dioxide gas, which provides leavening. You don't want to add baking soda to the starter you are maintaining, because baking soda will raise the pH. The yeast will not grow unless the pH is around 3.5.

How to make 100% sourdough starter? ›

A "100% hydration sourdough starter" means it's 1 part water and 1 part flour. In other words, for every gram of flour there's a corresponding gram of water, hence 100% of the flour is hydrated. This is the easiest starter to maintain since most recipes are written with a 1:1 ratio in mind.

Does sourdough starter get better with age? ›

While the age of your starter won't make your bread any better — turns out, only good sourdough practices can do that — it's a link in the long legacy of sourdough, one of the oldest forms of baking that exists. Whether your starter is a week or a decade old, you can become part of that lineage as well.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Ouida Strosin DO

Last Updated:

Views: 6071

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (56 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Ouida Strosin DO

Birthday: 1995-04-27

Address: Suite 927 930 Kilback Radial, Candidaville, TN 87795

Phone: +8561498978366

Job: Legacy Manufacturing Specialist

Hobby: Singing, Mountain biking, Water sports, Water sports, Taxidermy, Polo, Pet

Introduction: My name is Ouida Strosin DO, I am a precious, combative, spotless, modern, spotless, beautiful, precious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.