Learn how to feed, maintain, store and save a backup of your sourdough starter with this comprehensive guide. We answer ALL of your questions and offer easy options for feeding and maintaining your sourdough starter.
Learn what kind of flour and water to use, as well as how to dry and freeze a sourdough starter backup for later!
Congratulations! You've graduated from How to make a Sourdough Starter 101 and your hard work has paid off!
You now are the proud owner of a strong sourdough starter, also known as the "Mother". If you keep her fed and happy, she will give birth to many wonderful loaves of sourdough bread for years to come!
There are MANY ways to feed and maintain a sourdough starter, and with so many tutorials online, I'm sure you are probably confused.
So get out your pen and paper, and let's see what will work best for you!
What ratio should I feed my sourdough starter?
In this section you will learn how to use the correct ratios of starter, flour and water when feeding your starter. You will also find out how to schedule your feedings so that you are able to mix your dough at the optimal time after it has doubled.
The ratio you will feed your sourdough starter will depend on your baking schedule and the temperature of your kitchen. Each of these variables will change throughout the year, so it's important to understand how to adjust your feedings to get the best results.
You will often see recipes that call for equal parts of starter, flour and water. This is also known as a 1:1:1 ratio. This is a great way to go if you need your starter ready within a few hours.
I often get asked why I don't use the 1:1:1 ratio. The short answer is that the starter will rise too quickly which doesn't fit my typical baking schedule. With that being said, I do use it when I'm in a pinch for time.
When you mix equal parts of starter, flour and water, the yeast will "eat" through the flour more quickly. This is because you have more yeast to "feed" with the same amount of flour.
Think of it as trying to feed a group of 25 people and a group of 100 people with the same amount of food. The group of 100 people would run out of food much faster because there is 4 times as many people to feed.
Your starter is the same way!
I like the 1:4:4 ratio because the smaller amount of starter or "seed", allows for a longer rise, doubling anywhere from 10 to 12 hours after a feeding.
This makes it convenient for me, and those with a typical 8-hour workday, to feed the starter in the morning and mix the dough in the evening for an overnight ferment (rise).
However, just because the 1:1:1 ratio doesn't work for me, doesn't mean it won't work for you. If you want your starter to be ready in 4-6 hours, give these ratios a try.
I like to use the following amounts to make 225g of active starter in 10 -12 hours at room temperature 68°F (20°C):
- 25 grams starter
- 100 grams flour
- 100 grams water
WHAT'S THE BEST RATIO FOR YOU TO USE?
That is a question that only you can answer. You will need to experiment to figure out what will work best for you.
Here's how you can find out!
On a day that you will be home, mix 3 different jars of starter, at the same time. (It will require 175g of starter.)
- To each of the 3 jars, add 100g of flour and 100g of water.
- For a 1:4:4 ratio, add 25g of starter to the first jar.
- For a 1:2:2 ratio, add 50g of starter to the second jar.
- For a 1:1:1 ratio, add 100g of starter to the third jar.
Place a rubber band to mark the level of starter in each jar and make sure to label them to know which is which.
On a piece of paper, write down the start time and temperature of your kitchen. When the starter has doubled in the jar, write down the end time. (Each jar should have a different end time.)
Remember that temperature influences the rate at which the starter grows. Cold temperatures slow the growth and warm temperatures speed the growth!
Now you will know the ratio of starter to flour and water that will work best for your baking schedule in the future! Remember to adjust for temperature during warm and cold months.
When you start to understand these principles, knowing when and what to feed your sourdough starter will become second nature.
How to maintain your sourdough starter (2 ways)
Now that you know what ratios to feed your starter, let's go over a couple of ways that you can keep your starter alive and healthy for years to come.
- The first is a way to feed and maintain your starter so that you have discard available to bake with. If you like to make sourdough discard recipes such as sourdough discard crackers or sourdough pizza crust, you'll want to make sure you always have sourdough discard on hand.
- The second is a way to maintain a small amount of sourdough starter with no discarding. You may want to use this method if you only intend to bake sourdough bread with your starter and you have no need for discard.
With each of these methods, you will always store your sourdough starter, loosely covered, in the fridge between bakes.
Read through both methods and choose the one that works best for you. You can always switch to a different method at anytime!
How to maintain a starter with discard
With this method, you will keep 2 containers of starter in your fridge. One is referred to as the "Mother" and the other as the "discard".
The cold temperature of your fridge will keep them "asleep" until you are ready to bake.
When feeding your starter, you will always transfer the portion that is discarded from the Mother to the discard container.
To provide clarity of this method, take a look at this sample feeding schedule for a sourdough recipe that will be mixed on a Saturday morning. (Please note that we are mixing the cold starter right out of the fridge, no need to let it come to room temperature first.)
Remove both the Mother and the discard containers from the fridge.
- Transfer 25g of the Mother into a new clean jar and the remainder into the discard container. (This new jar is now the Mother)
- Cover and place the discard container back into the fridge.
- Feed the 25g of starter in the new jar, 100g flour and 100g of water. Loosely cover and let rise at room temperature, 68°F (20°C), overnight. (10-12 hours)
- Transfer 100g of the Mother into the dough recipe. There will be 125g left in the jar. (Because we fed the Mother to build the active starter for the recipe, there is no need to feed her again.)
- Place the Mother back in the fridge to go to "sleep". When you are ready to bake, repeat the process again.
If your starter is relatively new, it may need more than one feeding to build up enough strength for baking.
Store the discard container in the fridge at all times and keep adding to it every time you take from the Mother to build your starter. Just stir it right in!
What is sourdough discard?
Sourdough discard is the portion of the starter that is "discarded" when you feed your starter. It is essentially unfed starter and it can stay in the fridge for months without it going bad.
Discard can also be used to start a new "Mother" to give to a friend or used as a backup in the fridge for your starter!
Over time, kept cold in the fridge, the discarded starter becomes more flavorful because it starts to build up more acid. This adds a unique "sour flavor" to sourdough discard recipes.
How do I use sourdough discard?
When you want to make a recipe that calls for sourdough discard, take the discard container from the fridge and remove the amount needed for the recipe.
With most recipes, you can add it cold, without the need to bring the discard to room temperature.
How to maintain a starter with no discard
If you do not have any desire to make discard recipes and only want to maintain a small amount of starter, follow this method.
You will keep ONE jar of starter, the "Mother", loosely covered in your fridge at all times. 12 hours before you mix your dough, you will take a small amount from her and place it in a separate jar.
This small amount is referred to as the "seed". You will use the seed to build up enough starter to use in a recipe.
Take a look at this sample feeding schedule to create 100g of active starter with the ambient kitchen temperature around 68°F (20°C). (Please note that we are mixing the cold starter right out of the fridge, no need to let it come to room temperature first.)
- 8PM - Remove 10g starter from the mother and add it, plus 45g water and 45g flour to a jar, cover loosely and let rise at room temperature until doubled, 10-12 hours. (Place the Mother back into the fridge.)
- 8AM - Mix your dough.
When the Mother starts to get low and there's only about 25g left in the jar, add 100g of water and 100g of flour. Stir, loosely cover and let her rise for a few hours before placing back in the fridge.
If you use this method I highly recommend saving some starter as a backup just in case something happens to your starter!
Overtime, you will discover other ways that you might prefer to maintain your starter but I find it's best to adjust and adapt as your sourdough journey expands!
What kind of flour can I use for a sourdough starter?
Any wheat flour can be used to maintain your starter. The flour can be freshly milled at home or store-bought.
Two common and economical varieties are all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. Spelt, rye and einkorn varieties are also good choices for maintaining your starter.
You can also mix flours in a sourdough starter. I prefer to feed my starter with a mixture of 75% all-purpose and 25% whole wheat flour.
Your sourdough starter can be used to make bread recipes that call for flour that is different than the one you maintain it with.
For example, if you use 100% all-purpose flour to maintain your starter and you want to try a recipe that calls for whole wheat flour and bread flour, your existing starter will work fine. There is no need to feed the starter with the same flour as the recipe calls for.
Don't have a kitchen scale to measure flour?
Use the scoop and level technique to measure your flour if you do not have a kitchen scale. To do this, use a spoon to fluff up the flour in the bag. Use a spoon to scoop the flour into a measuring cup until it is heaped on top. Take a butterknife and level off the top. This should give you the most accurate measurement for flour.
Because flour is measured by weight in these recipes, if the flour is scooped straight out of the bag with the measuring cup, there will be more flour than called for in the recipe.
Common measurements used for maintaining a sourdough starter.
- 50g starter = 3 tablespoons
- 50g whole wheat flour = ⅓ cup
- 50g all-purpose flour = ⅓ cup
- 100g all-purpose flour = ⅔ cup
- 100g water = ½ cup
Self-rising flour is not recommended because it contains ingredients other than wheat such as baking powder and salt.
Does the kind of water I use matter?
You can use just about any water that is available. I fill a large glass bottle with tap water and let it sit out, uncovered, to let any gases dissipate.
I have had zero issues with this method, however local water treatment and sanitation regulations are different in each area of the world. This may cause you to have a different experience with using tap water.
If you are worried about using your local tap water, I recommend using bottled or filtered water instead.
What is hooch?
The dark layer of liquid you see on top of your starter after it has been in the fridge for a while is called "hooch". It occurs when the flour is settling after a couple of days.
According to the Sourdough Librarian, the hooch offers a layer of protection for your starter, so this is actually a good thing!
This liquid can be poured off before feeding your starter or stirred back in. If you like a very sour flavor, keep the hooch!
Your sourdough starter can be kept dormant in the fridge for months, without being fed. Do not worry about feeding your starter while it's in the fridge. Just bring it out and feed when it's time to bake.
I've revived starter that sat in my fridge for 4 months with no issues!
How to save a sourdough starter backup
I recommend saving a "backup" starter, just in case you find yourself without any. Trust me, things can go wrong when you least expect it!.
You never know if you'll find a fruit fly floating on top, or heaven forbid you accidentally drop your jar!
Lucky for you saving a sourdough starter backup is easy.
How to dry sourdough starter
- Lay a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat on a baking sheet. Instead of discarding your starter, spread a very thin layer on the paper. Allow the starter to dry COMPLETELY. This will take about 3-4 days.
- Break the dried starter into pieces and store in a cool, dry area, in an air-tight container, for up to 6 months. Dried starter can also be stored in the fridge or frozen for up to 1 year.
If you do not dry the starter completely, there is a high chance it will grow mold because of any moisture left in the flakes!
How to rehydrate dried sourdough starter
- Place 50 grams of dried starter in a jar and cover with 100 grams of water. Let sit for 30 minutes for the starter to absorb the water.
- Give it a stir and then add 50 grams of whole wheat flour + 50 grams of all-purpose flour and 50 grams of water. Add more water if it is too thick.
- Continue to give it daily feedings until it is active and bubbly.
How to freeze sourdough starter
Another way to save starter is by freezing it in its liquid form.
- Pour the starter into an ice cube tray and place in freezer until frozen. Transfer the cubes into a freezer-safe container and keep frozen for up to 1 year.
- To use, allow a cube to thaw in a jar. Once fully thawed, feed with 100g water and 100g flour to reactivate the starter. (A few feedings might be necessary)
I hope you found this information helpful in your new sourdough journey! Please leave any questions you have in the comment section and we will be happy to answer them. Happy Baking! 🙂