Sourdough starter

How To Make A Sourdough Starter At Home

Sourdough starter

Two Types of Flour – Similar Results

There are so many different blogs and YouTube videos that teach you how to make your sourdough starter. Everyone has their own method that they swear by for amazing results. It can be confusing but it also means that there is no exact, 100% way that you have to do this. Sourdough starters can be forgiving; as long as you follow just a couple of basic principles, you will succeed.

Is it a process? Yup. Does it take time? Yup. Is it worth it? Absolutely, in my opinion.

The Basics of Sourdough Starter

You really only need two ingredients. Flour and water. You also need a clean vessel to store the flour and water in. Wide open-mouth clear glass jars work best since you will need to stir the flour and water together. Plus, with a clear glass jar, you can better observe what is happening with your starter.

You don’t need a scale, but if you are interested in making bread at home, I suggest picking one up. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Don’t forget to check out my post on how to see if your scale is accurate. If you are not using a scale, just use equal parts water and flour.

Let’s Get To Making Sourdough Starters

A lot of instructions call for an obscene amount of flour when getting this going. I don’t think it’s necessary and I hate to waste flour. You are going to discard some of the starter as the days progress which is why I use a minimal amount. After all, you are just trying to get the good bacteria alive and growing.

Once you have a thriving starter that is ready to use in your baking, you can up the amount of flour so that you have enough. Otherwise, go small and save some flour.

Why Two Starters?

I decided to run a little experiment here. One jar is going to be made with a local flour mill’s rye flour mix. The other jar will have a grocery store brand whole wheat flour. Let’s see how they do and if you really need to spend more money to get a sourdough starter.

Okay, so let’s talk about the obvious thing with my experiment. Why am I not using an all-purpose flour? Way back when, many years ago, I tried to start a sourdough starter with all-purpose flour. It did not work out that great for me. It was many many many months of daily feedings and in the end, the starter was never strong enough to actually make a loaf of bread.

Please check out the Science of Sourdough article for all the scientific reasons why mixing flour and water together will eventually result in something you can use to bake bread.

On to the process.

Day 1

empty jars

I started with two clean, clear glass jars and added some labels so they don’t get mixed up.

empty glass jar on a scale

Place your empty jar on your scale and set the scale to zero.

Add 25 grams of flour and 25 grams of water to each jar. Give it a good stir to make sure all the flour is wet.

Both the whole wheat and the rye flour are now ready to just sit around for 24 hours. I use the metal jar tops and just place them on. I don’t screw the tops down. You just want it covered so nothing get in the jars.

Place off to the side in a warm location out of direct sunlight and get on with your day.

Day 2

This is after around 24 hours. Doesn’t look a lot different. A little bit more liquid on the bottom.

I do not remove any of this mixture on day two. I simply add 25 grams of flour and 25 grams of water and give it a good stir. Cover, and again, off to a nice warm corner that is out of direct sunlight. Wait.

Day 3

For some reason I can’t find my day 3 pictures. But, you are going to remove about half of the mixture and discard it. You don’t need to be exact. You just don’t want to keep accumulating the mixture.

Let’s say, for example, you have 50 grams of sourdough starter in your jars. If you add 25 grams of water, and 25 grams of flour, there will not be enough food for your 50 grams of starter to feed on. Remember, this is a living organism and it needs the flour/water mixture to eat and grow.

By removing half of what’s in the jar, you will give enough food for your starter.

So, remove roughly half and add 25 grams of flour and 25 grams of water and give it a good stir. Cover, and off to a nice warm corner that is out of direct sunlight.

Day 4 and on

Repeat what you did on day 3 removing half of the mixture and feeding your starter again. How many days this takes will be totally dependent on your environment. I would say though you are looking at at least 10 to 14 days before I would even attempt baking with it.

Day 20

These are my two sourdough starters just after feeding on day 20. I discarded about half of the previous day’s mixture and added 25 grams of flour and 25 grams of water. I have added two rubber bands and placed them at the starting level for the day. This is so I can check how much growth happens and how long it takes.

Here are my two sourdough starters after feeding and waiting 11 hours. You can see that after 11 hours, the starters have almost doubled in size. There are a lot of bubbles and they have a tangy/sour, but pleasant smell. Oddly enough, the rye flour starter smells something of apples.

This is the inside of the whole wheat jar.

Even though these two starters are alive and well, they are not ready to bake with. At this point, I have used the discard in my bread recipes but I use commercial yeast to get the rise. These two lovely starters are not strong enough to do the job on their own yet but they do add a nice flavour to the bread.

As for the flour type experiment, I don’t really see much difference between the rye flour starter and the whole wheat starter. The rye flour starter was quicker to bubble at the start of this process, but overall, the two were pretty consistent through the process.

Tips and Tricks

  • Don’t set your clocks for every 24 hours. Just try to do this around the same time every day but if you are earlier or later, no big deal. If you miss a day, again, don’t worry about it. Just get back on schedule.
  • Use room temperature water. Remember, this is a living organism. If you use hot water, you may kill your starter.
  • You may find that on day 2 or 3 you start to see some wonderful bubbles. It’s exciting! You are thrilled and can’t believe it’s happening. Then, on day 4, no bubbles. Don’t panic. Just continue with the process and you should start to see bubbles again in a day or two. I don’t know the science behind it, but it can happen.
  • There is no magic date for how long it will take before you have a starter that is strong enough to support making bread. That said, after a week, you can use the discard in your bread along with commercial yeast. This will give you some of that sourdough flavour.
  • If at any point in time, you get fuzzy white or green things growing on your starter, please throw it out. You now have mold. You cannot just scrap the mold off and continue. The mold spores will be all over the starter. It is not worth risking nasty stuff happening.

Summary Steps

  • Day 1
    • Start with empty jar. Add 25 grams water and 25 grams flour. Stir to mix well.
    • Cover and place in a warm location out of direct sunlight.
  • Day 2
    • Add 25 grams water and 25 grams flour. Stir to mix well making sure you get the previous day mixture incorporated.
    • Cover and place in a warm location out of direct sunlight.
  • Day 3 and on
    • Remove around half of the sourdough starter that is in the jar.
    • Add 25 grams water and 25 grams flour. Stir to mix well making sure you get the previous mixture incorporated.
    • Cover and place in a warm location out of direct sunlight.
    • Repeat this process for as long as it takes to get a strong, healthy, active sourdough starter culture.

But Is There Another Way to Get Sourdough Starter?

I understand that not everyone wants to or can spend the time commitment to growing your sourdough starter.

I’m going to share with you my favourite flour provider. It’s here in Ontario and I’m not sure of their shipping policy but I do suggest you check them out.

They occasionally have….SOURDOUGH CULTURE! That’s right. It is sourdough culture that is ready for your use. I have not used a premade sourdough culture but I’m very interested in it and do happen to have one in my virtual shopping cart right now. Perhaps I’ll write about it at a later date.

How do you know when your sourdough starter is ready to bake with?

If your sourdough starter consistently doubles in size within 4 to 5 hours after feeding, it should be strong enough to bake with. Your starter needs to be bubbly and active.

What To Do When Your Sourdough Starter Is Ready

Congratulations! You now have a living organism that can help you make the most versatile and delicious bread.

This is one of my go-to sourdough bread recipes but feel free to experiment with other recipes as well. Every baker has their own processes and what works for them. You will find yours.


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