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6 Ways to Use Sourdough Starter Discard – not just baking!

Baking homemade sourdough can be incredibly fulfilling. It’s fun, creative, healthier and less wasteful (less packaging) than store-bought bread. Yet it may feel wasteful in other ways, with all the feeding and “discarding” that sourdough starter takes to maintain. So, let’s talk about several clever ways to use discarded sourdough starter – and not just by cooking with it! For example, did you know that you can dehydrate or compost extra starter? But first, let’s explore how to create less waste in the first place.

Reducing Sourdough Discard Waste Upfront

Store starter in the fridge

If you aren’t already, storing your sourdough starter in the fridge will greatly reduce the frequency that it needs to be fed, thereby reducing a lot of flour use, discard, and waste! It’s usually recommended to feed sourdough starter kept at room temperature every single day. On the other hand, sourdough starter that’s stored in the refrigerator can go weeks to months between feeding. That’s because the cold vastly decreases the activity of the bacteria and yeast in the starter. But don’t worry, it perks right back up once it warms to room temperature again.

So, unless you’re baking several times per week, refrigerating your starter is an ideal storage option, an easy way to reduce waste, and also far less work for you!

A sourdough starter in a flip top lid glass jar sits on the top shelf of a refrigerator next to a bottle of elderberry syrup and a jar of pickled cucamelons.
Our starter, currently living it’s best life in the fridge alongside our favorite TC Elderberry Syrup and homegrown pickled cucamelons. I can tell by the layer of dark hooch that it hasn’t been fed in about a month, but it’s still totally alive and well!

Stop discarding so much

You know, you don’t need to discard sourdough starter every time you feed it right? A brand new starter does benefit from routine discarding and feeding for the colony of bacteria and yeast to grow strong. Yet once it’s established, you can change the way you use and feed your mature sourdough starter to minimize discarding.

For example, say you just made a loaf of bread and have only a small amount of starter left over in your “mother jar”. Rather than feeding the starter again before putting it back into the refrigerator for storage (and thus increasing the volume) you could just put it away as-is. Then, simply feed it with fresh flour and water next time you take it out to bake – no discarding necessary! 

The only times you really “need” to discard before feeding is: 1) if your starter has grown too large for its container and therefore doesn’t have adequate room to be fed and rise, 2) if it’s been a really long time since it was last fed (3 weeks or longer) or 3) if it’s acting sluggish.

See our full instructions on how to revive and feed an old, neglected, or otherwise inactive starter here. The guide also covers how to tell if a starter is still “good” or not, including the difference between hooch and mold.

A close up image of a cookie that has been pulled apart in two just after baking. The two halves are sandwiched together to reveal the gooey insides from the melty chocolate chips. A baking sheet full of cookies resides below in the background.
And now, onto the ways to use discarded starter.

6 Ways to Use Discarded Sourdough Starter

1) In sourdough starter discard recipes

Perhaps one of the most obvious ways to use sourdough starter discard is to bake something with it! There are hundreds (if not thousands) of recipes out there that call for sourdough starter discard. A few of our personal favorites include:

A close up of the tines of a fork that have speared a bite size portion from three pancakes stacked atop each other. There is cranberry sauce on the top layer that is obstructing the view of the pancake. The lower layers of pancake are fluffy and golden grown. Below in the background lies a white plate with the remaining three pancakes stacked on top of each other with cranberry sauce covering half of the top sourdough pancake.
I don’t know about you, but I love my sourdough pancakes with fruit preserves and walnuts or pumpkin seeds!
A large plate is full of freshly made sourdough crackers. Various sprigs of herbs garnish the area around the plate and crackers. Use starter discard to make delicious crackers.
Making sourdough crackers is a great way to use discard. We love to add fresh herbs from the garden, but you add whatever types of seasonings or spices you like – or leave them plain!
Three sourdough ginger molasses cookies stacked on a white ceramic plate. One of them has been torn in half, one half propped up on the other two. There are crystalized ginger chunks and a cinnamon stick in the background behind the cookies.  Use starter discard to make many baked good treats.
Don’t even get me started on these ginger molasses sourdough cookies.

2) Give starter away

Spread the sourdough love! Another great way to use discarded sourdough starter is to gift some to a friend, family member, neighbor, co-worker, or other interested (or unexpecting) party. Surprise, here is a new living thing for you to care for! Lol just kidding, kind of. 

I suggest feeding the starter before giving it away so the recipient won’t have to right away. Simply put your sourdough discard in a new jar, feed it with fresh flour and water, and deliver it to its new home. You can then direct them to this sourdough starter feeding and maintenance guide, which also has printable instructions that are easy to share.

Need to mail sourdough starter to share it? Dehydrate it first – explained below!

Two large flip top glass containers full to the top with sourdough starter. Each one has a text bubble emanating from each of the jars, one jar is saying "Lookin big and bubblicious today, Doughlene!" while the other responds "Thanks Puff Daddy, you're looking mighty swole yourself..."
Sharing is caring! (Context: this image is from our 60 Best Punny Sourdough Starter Names post)

3) Dehydrate extra sourdough starter

Did you know that sourdough starter can stay good and alive for many years in dry form? It’s also the easiest way to ship and share starter with friends, take an extended break from baking, or store extra starter as back-up! To preserve the beneficial bacteria and yeast in the starter, it’s key to dehydrate it at a very low temperature (aka, so it doesn’t get cooked alive).

Learn how to dry sourdough starter here, and then follow these easy instructions to reactivate it.

Shard like pieces of dry sourdough starter is in a glass jar with a flip top lid. A drying rack is next to it with a silicone mat that contains pieces of dry sourdough starter as well.

4) Freeze it

Like dehydrating, freezing extra sourdough starter is a great way to preserve it, create a backup starter, or otherwise save some for later. To freeze sourdough starter discard, simply place it in a freezer-safe container (such as a small wide-mouth glass jar or ziplock bag) and store it in the freezer.

Frozen sourdough should survive for up to a year. However, it will start to lose activity and become harder to revive the longer it’s frozen. To revive frozen sourdough starter, simply allow it to defrost and then feed with fresh flour and water as you normally would.  

Note: I’ve never personally frozen sourdough starter, though I’ve heard mixed reviews about how well it bounces back to “normal” after freezing. So, I typically recommend dehydrating starter (which works amazingly well and without fail!) over freezing it. 

5) Compost sourdough starter discard

It’s perfectly fine to compost sourdough starter. If anything, it will actually add more good microbes to your compost! Since it’s pretty wet and gooey, try to mix and/or bury the starter with leaves, straw, or other “browns” in the compost pile. We occasionally compost discarded sourdough starter in our worm bin too. Yet good moisture balance is especially important in worm bins, so only add small amounts of starter (and add more browns if needed) so the bin doesn’t get overly wet.

Learn how to set up and maintain a simple worm compost bin here.

A mass of compost worms and castings sit atop brown paper. Use discard starter added to a worm bin in moderation.
Composting sourdough starter is great way to turn it into something even more valuable – “black gold” for your garden!

6) A healthy chicken treat

One final way to use discarded sourdough starter is to feed it to your chickens. After all, it’s essentially just fermented wheat and grains, and is loaded with health-promoting enzymes, vitamins and probiotics!

Like any treat, sourdough starter should only be given in moderation (not in place of their regular food) since it lacks the balanced nutrition and protein that chicken feed provides. 

You can give chickens a scoop of starter in a bowl on its own, though be forewarned that it tends to get pretty crusty in their face and chest feathers. Another option is to mix the sourdough starter with some water and chicken feed, turning it into a wet mash. Finally, consider adding sourdough starter to a batch of fermented chicken feed! It will jump-start the fermentation process and introduce even more probiotics and nutrients. 

A blue ceramic bowl is held in front of four chickens with trailing rosemary in the background. It is filled with fermented chicken feed on top of sourdough starter. Feeding sourdough starter in moderation to chickens is a great way to use discard starter.
Our girls love to eat fermented feed and sourdough starter!

And that sums up how to use sourdough starter discard!

Well folks, I hope this post gave you plenty of ideas to use your extra starter in new or different ways and reduce waste overall. Do you have any ideas that I missed? Please share them in the comments below. Otherwise, thank you so much for tuning in today – and happy baking!

Don’t miss our most popular sourdough recipes:

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