How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter From Scratch
Have you been dreaming of fresh, crusty, chewy sourdough, made right in your own kitchen? Maybe you’ve been ogling over photos of artisan loaves, covered in beautiful floury designs? Has your belly been craving something a bit more “real” and unprocessed than commercially-made bread? Yes, Yes, Yes! All these things. But, maybe you’ve felt too intimidated to dive in and get your hands sticky – believing that sourdough is too difficult and complicated? I am here to tell you that it really is not! Sure, it takes a few steps and a little practice, but nothing you can’t overcome!
So are you ready to make sourdough at home?!
The first and most important thing you will need to get going on your new sourdough adventure is a starter culture. What is sourdough starter? The starter culture is a colony of wild yeasts that are now living in flour and water – nurtured by routine “feedings” to keep them happy. They are what will make your bread rise, without the need for commercial yeast.
If you’re lucky enough to snag one from a friend, great! Starter cultures can also be purchased online, but are usually sold and shipped in a dehydrated state. I have heard varying success stories from folks using this type. So why not just make your own?
Let’s do it.
This article will go over the step-by-step process to transform three simple ingredients – water, flour, and apple – into an active and bubbly sourdough starter to get you on your way. We will also discuss feeding the sourdough starter, where to store it, and how to get it ready for baking.
For all the visual learners out there, a tutorial video is included at the end of this post!
- A large, glass, air-tight glass container. We used a 2-liter flip-top container, or about a half-gallon.
- A mixing bowl
- A silicone spatula
- A kitchen scale
- Liquid measuring cup
- Filtered water
- Organic white bread flour. You can also use organic whole wheat if you’d like.
- One large organic apple, or substitute for two small
- A warm location
Step 1: Flour
In a large mixing bowl, weigh out 500 grams of organic white bread flour. You can also add some organic whole wheat if you prefer. Just make sure your total flour weight is still 500 grams! Don’t forget to either tare the bowl on the scale, or add the weight of the bowl in to the total! No, sorry, I can’t provide an equivalent in cups here. Different flours weigh varying amounts, so it may not be accurate if I tried. A digital kitchen scale is a super useful homestead tool to have on hand anyways, if you don’t already have one!
Step 2: Apple
Grate your apple. Keep the skins, but avoid the core. Add the grated apple to the bowl of flour. Why add apple? Some homemade sourdough starter recipes do call for flour and water only. However, flour and water can be pretty sterile. I have heard mixed success stories from folks using only flour and water. Some of their starters didn’t get active.
With the addition of apple, it basically stacks the odds in your favor that it will get active! Organic fruits and vegetables are more likely to have natural wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria on them. I stress the word organic here, because inorganic produce may not only lack the good things you need, but may have harmful additives that will ruin your starter.
Step 3: Water & Mix
Measure out 360 mL of room temperature filtered water. Add this to the bowl of apple and flour, and thoroughly mix. You will likely need to get in there and use your hands to do so, so wash up really well first!
Avoiding chlorinated water is pretty important when it comes to any fermentation process, including making sourdough. We use filtered water. A basic carbon filter is enough to remove most of the chlorine from city tap water. In a pinch, bottled water could be used, but don’t get me started on bottled water….
Step 4: Transfer
Dump, pour, or otherwise scoop the flour, apple, water combo into an air-tight container. The container needs be large enough to allow for at least doubling in size, if not more. Ours usually quadruples while rising. In this step, try your best to get it all mashed down into the bottom, with the top of the mixture fairly level. You’ll see why in step 5.
Step 5: Let it sit
It’s time to close the container up and watch her rise! But first, using some kind of washable marker that writes on glass, draw a little line on the side of your container at the top level of the mixture. (We love our wineglass writers – used around here for labelling kombucha bottles and jars of homegrown dried seasonings.) This is so you can monitor its growth. A large rubber band could also be used around the container to mark that line. The mixture could rise and then fall again, so you’ll want to look for schmears on the sides of the container – not just the current level.
The mixture will now sit for 3 days. Keeping it in a spot that is about 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) is ideal. Temperature is important! Too cool of conditions can lead to an inactive and moldy starter. It can be in the dark or light.
Ways to keep your sourdough starter warm:
If you’re making a sourdough starter during the summertime, you’ll likely have no issue keeping it happy by simply leaving the starter out on the countertop. However, if you attempt to create a starter during the winter (or if your house is otherwise on the cool side) it can be a bit more tricky. If you aren’t exactly sure what the ambient temperature is within microclimates in your house (e.g. in particular rooms, on the counter, etc) it is best to use a thermometer to assess the exact temperature where your starter is stored.
A couple options to provide warmth to a sourdough starter are to keep it near a warm appliance, use an electric heating pad or seedling heat mat nearby, or to wrap the container in classic holiday lights. I emphasize classic lights because newer LED lights do not get warm. These are all tricks we use and suggest for keeping homemade kombucha warm and active too!
Last but not least, our favorite easy way to keep both sourdough starter and the proofing dough warm is to keep it inside the oven – with the oven OFF, but oven light on! It creates the perfect cozy home. It if gets too warm in the oven, keep the door cracked open slightly. Keep the container on a plate or pan in case there are overflows.
(72 hours after step 5)
After 3 days, the mixture should be a bit bubbly. It mostly likely has risen, and should smell sweet and tangy, sort of like apple cider vinegar! It may also be a bit darker in color.
Step 6: Discard
It’s time to do the first discard, and then feed! To discard, first stir the mixture to knock out any air to let it fall back down to a more condensed state. Then you want to discard half of that amount. (I will talk about what to do with the discarded portion towards the end of this post!)
If you want to be exact, you can remove the mixture from its container, weigh it, and discard exactly half. We are lazy, and eyeball it. After mixing to knock out the air, I simply note the level it is in the jar, and gently tip out a little at a time until it looks like it’s down to about half of what I started with.
Step 7: Feed
After you discard, now it’s time to feed! See, the wild yeast in the mixture has probably eaten up a lot of their food already, and want more to continue to grow and be active. So let’s give her some food, ‘kay?
With your 3-day old sourdough starter, mix in another 250 grams of of bread flour and 170 mL of tepid filtered water. Mix thoroughly. You can do this either in a separate bowl, and put it back into a now-clean ferment vessel, or like we do, mix it in place. I guess it depends on your container and how easily you can get in there to stir well. If you do mix in place, make sure to clean up the sides a bit with a spatula afterwards so you can still monitor the rise and fall.
Step 8: Let sit again
Re-mark the top of the mixture height on your container if needed. Now, it’s time to let your homemade sourdough starter sit for 2 days, or 48 hours. Same as before, a spot that is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
(48 hours after Step 8)
There should be a lot of activity and small bubbles now. It has likely risen even higher than the first time.
Most folks breeze through this step without any issues, and their starter becomes nice active again after the first discard and feed. However, if you are going to experience any issues… this seems to be the step that does it.
- If there is no activity, let it sit an additional day or two. Sometimes that initial burst of promising bubbles and rise is a different bacteria at work. Once it dies out, the beneficial lactic acid and yeast we want present long term should start to develop – but maybe more slowly.
- Is your home on the cool side? Try to find a warmer spot!
- If the starter is bubbling but doesn’t rise after the first discard and feed, the mixture may be too wet or runny (as varying home humidities and flour types can lead to different consistencies). When a starter is too wet, the bubbles rise right through and out of the mixture – rather than being trapped inside and causing the starter to puff up and become spongy. Stir in more flour to thicken it up, adding just a few tablespoons at a time until it more closely resembles your original thick mixture from step 1 (a stiff dough).
- Another option is to try opening the lid of your jar. Cover it with a coffee filter or something else that will prevent fruit flies or other debris from getting inside inside.
- If your starter has risen and fallen, or, if seems to not rise after the first discard and feed, and instead it has a dark liquid formed on top, it may actually be overly active and hungry! Stir in a little more flour (and warm water as needed, if it becomes too thick and dry) and let it sit again. Wait a day or two to see if it perks up and begins to rise and bubble.
- Try to feed it with half whole wheat or rye flour, which usually enhances activity.
- Keep feeding! Don’t give up, unless it is obviously moldy.
Once your starter regains activity, move on to the next step.
Step 9: Discard and Feed
Repeat steps 6 and 7 again – the discard and feed. If your homemade sourdough starter has been nice and active, it is okay to make it just a tad more wet this time. Discard half and add the same 250 grams flour and 170 mL of water. If needed, add a few extra splashes of water – maybe about 30 to 40 mL more – until the desired consistency is reached (smooth and easy to stir, but not runny). As mentioned in the troubleshooting tips above, too runny/wet of a starter can sometimes make it rise less, though that has never been an issue for us.
Step 10: Sit one last time
Cover the sourdough starter and let it sit out one final time. This time is only for 24 hours.
If your starter is bubbly and active after those last 24 hours – congratulations – you did it! You now have a super happy homemade sourdough starter that is ready for baking with! Check out how crazy our starter got on the final day! This thing was rip-roarin’ ready to go!
Step 11: Name her
It is a tradition among sourdough bakers to name their starter culture. Don’t break tradition now! It is said to bring bad baking luck. We don’t need any of that! Our gal is named Apple. I know, suuuuper creative, right? See our top 60 Punny Sourdough Starter Names for more clever ideas.
So… What do I do with it now?
Well, you bake with it! Check out our go-to, simple, no-knead sourdough bread recipe and instructions. I highly suggest these sourdough focaccia, cornbread, and pizza crust recipes too. Enjoy!
But hold up! Before you run off to make a loaf of bread, I highly suggest you continue on to read this article all about ongoing sourdough starter care. It covers:
- How to routinely feed your sourdough starter – which is a little different than the feeding process we did here to create it.
- How frequently to feed your sourdough starter.
- Where to store your starter: in the refrigerator or at room temperature?
- How to ready your sourdough starter for baking, and more!
FAQ: What is that dark liquid on the top of my sourdough starter?
When the yeast in a sourdough starter has eaten up all of its available food and is hungry for more, it produces a thin dark layer of liquid on top. This is an indication that your starter is more active than you’re feeding it. It is a naturally-occurring alcohol created by the yeast, called hooch. This is totally normal! Do not freak out.
Either pour it off the top, or simply mix it back in, then discard and feed as usual. If this happens while you are first making your sourdough starter, also discard some and feed it with the given ratio provided. Ours almost always has a thin layer of hooch developed when we take it out of the fridge for our weekly baking.
FAQ: What to do with discarded sourdough starter?
So many options! It does not need to go to waste. There are all sorts of “sourdough recipes” out there. We make some really killer whole wheat crackers with fresh herbs from the garden – check out that recipe here! Chickens really enjoy eating the discarded starter too. It is full of healthy probiotics for them! Some folks make pancakes, pizza dough, muffins, all sorts of things! Worse case scenario, throw it in your compost and bury it.
There you have it!
Your crash course on making your own sourdough starter is complete. I hope you also have a good idea of how to tend to it. Now it’s time to put this to good use!
I hope you found this helpful! If so, please share! As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments below too. Here is a video to go along with everything we just discussed:
How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter
- Large, glass, air-tight container (2 liter or half-gallon)
- Kitchen scale
- 500 grams organic bread flour or all-purpose flour
- 360 mL filtered water, room-temperature
- 1 large organic apple (or 2 small apples)
- Wash your apple, but avoid using soaps or produce wash. Using a cheese grater, grate the organic apple into semi-fine shreds. Use the skins, but discard the core.
- Add the called-for flour, grated apple, and water to a mixing bowl and thoroughly combine.
- Transfer the mixture into a large glass airtight container that has enough room for it to at least double in size, minimum. (Ours usually quadruples while fermenting) Pack the mixture down into the bottom of the container. Close the lid.
- To monitor growth, mark the side of your container with a washable marker or rubber band at the top level of the mixture.
- Let the mixture sit for 3 days at a temperature of 70-75 degrees F. It should bubble and rise during this time.
- After approximately 72 hours, thoroughly stir the mixture and then discard half of the amount. Then, thoroughly mix in another 250 grams of flour and 170 mL of tepid filtered water to the remaining starter mixture. This is called "feeding" the sourdough starter. You can do this either in a separate bowl, and put it back into a now-clean ferment vessel, or like we do, mix it in place.
- Re-mark the container to note the height of the mixture. Let sit at 70-75 degrees, for 2 days or 48 hours this time.
- After 48 hours, repeat the same discard and feed process as done previously. Discard half, feed, mix, mark the level, and cover again.
- Allow the sourdough starter mixture to sit for a final 24 hours.
- Once complete, you now have a happy and active sourdough starter! Store it in the refrigerator when not in use, giving it a discard and feed weekly. OR if stored at room temperature, feed it daily to keep it alive.
- If there is no activity, let it sit another day or two.
- If your starter has risen and fallen, or, if seems to not rise after the first discard and feed, and instead it has a dark liquid formed on top (called hooch), it may actually be overly active and hungry! Stir in a little more flour (and warm water as needed, if it becomes too thick and dry) and let it sit again. Wait a day or two to see if it perks up and begins to rise and bubble.
- If your home is cold, try to find a warmer spot if possible!
- If the starter doesn’t rise at all after the first discard and feed, try opening the lid of your jar. Cover it with a coffee filter or something else that will prevent fruit flies or other debris from getting inside inside.
- Another troubleshooting tip is to feed with half whole wheat or rye flour, which usually enhances activity.
- Ensure that you use an organic apple.
Hey there! I used y’all’s recipe with apples included as my first starter without just did not go well. Our oven light is currently out too. I’ve been keeping it in the warmest spot in the house. There is activity and it has risen but not a lot. I’m at the finish line with it at this point, day 8 now. Should I try to get it to rise more before using it?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Maggie, if your starter is still not active enough, I wouldn’t worry about trying to use it in a recipe just yet. I would feed it again and let it sit for two days to see if you can get the beneficial bacteria to grow which should help with your starter activity. After a few days, discard and feed again and see how much it rises, you really want your starter to double in size (especially so when you are in the process of making one from scratch) to show that it is fully active and ready to be used for baking. Hopefully you will have a fully active sourdoughs starter to use in baking shortly, good luck!
I have made this successfully before but remember thinking it was so much volume for a starter. I will be making it again in a couple of weeks and will probably scale the recipe down. Have you guys ever done this before? Any recommendations or tips?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hello Katie, it should work out just fine if you scale it down. The process we describe in the article is just the way we were shown to create our own starter so we never looked too much into it after that as we have always had success. Usually once you do it one time, you don’t need to do it again unless something happens to your starter. Let us know how it works out for you, good luck and have fun baking.
I am anxious to try this sourdough starter & recipes! I have a daughter who is allergic to Gluten…can I use GF flour in my sourdough starter & it still work?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Shvaughn, unfortunately it isn’t recommended to use GF flour in a regular sourdough starter if someone is allergic to gluten as I believe there is still too much gluten in the original starter. It may not be too bad if the person is just gluten intolerant, but if they are allergic or have celiacs disease, I wouldn’t use any glute at all, even if it is only in the original starter. We do have a post on How to Make a Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter from Scratch that may be a safer way to make your daughter GF bread. Hope that helps and reach out if you have any other questions.
I believe that you misunderstood the question…. the OP was excited about making the starter and wondered if they could use GF flour to make the sourdough from the beginning – NOT adding GF flour to an established wheat starter.
Shvaughan – You should have no broblem using GF flours to begin this sourdough starter – I have done it without any problems [I used banana in my original GF starter]… that starter is gone now and I am looking forward to making this one with apple 🙂 🙂
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Marie, if that is indeed the case, we do have an article on How to Make a Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter from Scratch as well.
Successful starter! The initial measurements and first rise went well. We had to use the oven trick to get the 70-75 degrees, I’m guessing that because it did what it was supposed to do.
After the first discard and feed, nothing really happened at all. We just did another discard and feed and we were back on track. Starter did great for the last discard and feed. Now it is sitting happily in the refrigerator waiting for the weekend to bake our first loaf.
Wish I could say the first batch of sour dough starter crackers went well, but we went too far with the salt. Note to others, go sparingly. On the upside, we definitely drank our daily goal of water plus some,
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Glad to hear you had success making your own starter! Enjoy your sourdough journey as it is just getting underway, have fun baking!
Hi! I’m coming back to this recipe (tried it when you first wrote this blog post) and I’m running into the same issues 😩. When first making the starter it does GREAT, it doubles in size by 48 hours and looks successful. But then after the second feed it never rises. I tried your troubleshooting ideas and fed it again, tried half whole wheat flour, but it never rises well. I even added more four to thicken it up, but didn’t seem to do anything. Maybe not thick enough? It seems a little bubbly and grows a tad over the line I drew, but never like it did the first time. Please help! I keep it in the oven with the light on to keep it warm. Other than that, I have no clue what I’m doing wrong.
Thanks in advance!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Cassandra, it seems that second part can be tough for some people and we haven’t figured out exactly where it goes wrong for some. The winter time can be tough for people but you are utilizing your oven light to keep the temperature warmer so it is a tough call? Have you ever considered ordering a dehydrated sourdough starter from our shop, it is an easy option that will get you going in a matter of 4 to 5 days using less flour and water than making your own from scratch. Hope that helps and let us know if you have any more questions.
Hi, I can’t rate the recipe as I haven’t made it yet. I do appreciate the detailed instructions. I’m actually wondering if the prior commenter Trish Dela Cruz had any success. I have enough flour, but my jar is half the size required, and I’m too anxious to get started before my larger jars arrive
Just ordered your dehydrated starter!
I gave my homemade starter another feed and a couple extra days, but still no activity. Hopefully I don’t ruin your dehydrated starter the same way!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Thanks for your order! Our dehydrated starter is very easy to activate so you should have a fully active and healthy starter within 5 days of starting the process. Good luck!
Do you have any alternatives to organic apples? Just curious, because I don’t have any apples at the moment!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Mariah, I have heard people making their own starter with berries, grapes, plums, and even beets. Although apples and beets would be the main items that are in season right now. Hope that helps and good luck!
OK, I’m a rookie (76 years old). I have a on-line friend who directed me to this site… and I’m glad and I subscribed. I read your article on how to create a sourdough starter from scratch….. using the shredded apples. My question:…… What happens to the apple? Do you have to remove it? Does it remain in the starter? Does it simply….. go away? Really got me curious…. Grin
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hey Warren, glad to hear you subscribed to the weekly newsletter and we are happy to have you. The apple just dissolves into the starter and becomes unrecognizable within a short time as it is consumed. Hope that helps and good luck!
Thanks Aaron…. I appreciate the answer…. I was very curious….. as I didn’t think we would want pieces of fruit “in the starter”…… I actually wondered if it would just “go away”…..but since it wasn’t actually stated….. I began to wonder. Thanks again.
By day three mine was growing mold. Any suggestions?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Ashley, I would ensure that all of your equipment is clean so the ingredients aren’t introduced to any bad bacteria before it has a chance to produce good bacteria. Temperature is another important factor in getting the ingredients active, try to keep it between 70-75 degrees F while you are trying to turn the ingredients into a healthy starter. If temperatures are too low, it will move more slowly and will give mold a greater chance of growing. Hope that helps and good luck!
Can we give the 72 hour discard to chickens? Is it beneficial at this point?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Meg, yes the starter should still be packed with healthy bacteria at that point and your chickens will still enjoy it, though we usually feed it in moderation. Hope that helps and good luck!
Hi! What do I do if it’s already doubled and it’s only been about 30 hours since I first made it. I’m supposed to wait 3 days but it’s about to overflow!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Alex, did you start off with a large enough container to begin with? See if it gets close to the top without overflowing before you move on to the next step as it is a good idea to let the beneficial bacteria and yeast consume the food source before moving on. Even if it becomes slightly less active it will be ready once you are moving on to the next step. It looks like you are on the right track so do what you are doing and you should have a healthy and active starter before long. Good luck!
Trish Dela Cruz
Hi! I’ve been itching to try this for days now but our community is on lockdown and I have limited supply of flour. Will it work if I halve the recipe? (Start with 250g and feed with 125g of flour?) Or is it really recommended to start with 500g? Thanks! 🙂
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Trish, we have not tried to do it that way but it seems like it should work. Let us know how it goes and if you are able to get a healthy starter out of it at the end. Good luck!