How to make sourdough starter from scratch . A close up shot of homemade sourdough starter in a glass jar

How To Make Sourdough Starter (From Scratch)

If you’ve been making your own bread at home, Kudos to you! If you haven’t, but it’s something you’ve always wanted to try, you’re in the right place. You may have heard stories of sourdough starters being passed down from generation to generation. Even that these age old starters can be closely guarded, and well taken care of secrets. Luckily learning how to make sourdough starter from scratch requires neither a centuries old ‘hand me down’, or any special ingredients.

I’ll show you not only how make your own sourdough starter, but also how to properly use, and take care of it, as well as few tips and tricks I’ve picked up from doing this myself over the past few years.

This post contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated if a purchase is made through the links provided. For more information please read my affiliate disclosure.

A Quick History of Sourdough

Sourdough bread is essentially the ‘historical’ way of making leavened bread around the world. The very first breads where likely various forms of flatbread, which were made with whatever flour or grain was available in the region. At some point in history, an ‘unlucky’ (or very lucky..depends how you look at it), baker left his dough sitting in a warm spot for too long, and the water and flour mixture would have started to ferment. What a surprise he (or she) must have gotten when upon baking, a soft fluffy bread was pulled out of the oven.

Sourdough bread was born.

This basic method of using naturally occurring yeasts to ferment flour products, was the main method which would have been used up until the early 18th century for baking bread. Bakers would not really have had any control over the yeast itself, but strains ‘local’ to an area would have produced differing tastes and textures, especially when re-using old dough’s to start a new batch.

This eventually led to the creation of making slurry based yeast starters which often contained barley malt, and various flours. These were often referred to as ’emptins’ in old recipe books, and where essentially the scraps of the beer making process (left-over wort), mixed with flour. It’s interesting that leavened bread and beer were usually produced in the same regions, as the fermentation process for yeast is similar in nature.

In time the ‘Vienna Process‘ for baking and making yeast was invented and bakers would have slowly started using press-yeast, a specially produced yeast meant for baking.

The Difference Between Sourdough and Regular Yeast Breads

As mentioned above, sourdough bread uses ‘wild yeasts’ to ferment a bread dough, while more modern yeast breads use what is knows as ‘bakers yeast’. While sourdough always requires a starter of some sort, Bakers yeast comes in easy to store, shelf stable variations that require little work.

  • Fresh Yeast
  • Active Dry Yeast
  • Instant Yeast

Each have a different method of preparation, but in short: both fresh and active dry yeast need to be ‘bloomed’ or activated prior to use while instant yeast may be mixed right into the dry ingredients of the recipe.

Related:  Baking Your Own Homemade Sandwich Bread
a freshly sliced loaf of homemade sandwich bread

Modern breads leavened with bakers yeast have a tenancy to rise (or proof) fairly quickly in comparison to sourdough starters. While this is convenient  in a commercial setting, breads using bakers yeast often have less complex flavors and a lighter structure.

Sourdough breads are more complex in flavor due to differing wild yeasts, have a slightly ‘sour’ taste due to the fermentation process, and are usually a bit chewier then other breads.

Wild Yeasts

Naturally occurring wild yeasts, are present literally everywhere around us.  On fruit, in the air, on plants such as wheat, barley, and Einkorn, in dirt and water.  When mixed with flour, water, and left in a warm environment these bacteria (specifically lactobacilli) will start to ferment and turn natural carbohydrates present int he flour into carbon dioxide. This is the basis of how a sourdough is made possible.

The interesting thing is that, as a starter ferments and is ‘fed’, it picks up strains of yeast local to it’s surroundings and the flour used to feed it. This means that while you may receive a sourdough starter that is ‘so many years old’ and from a specific region, in time, the starter will take on new local strains of yeast until the old ones have all but disappeared.

Using The Proper Ingredients For Your Sourdough Starter

When making your first batch of sourdough starter at home, it’s important to use good quality ingredients. This is the biggest secret to success. The very first time I made my own sourdough starter from scratch, nothing happened. Literally. It went moldy on the counter, and I was left wondering how I could have screwed up something ‘so easy’.

Use high quality ingredients to make your own sourdough starter from scratch. Learn how with this easy DIY! - Chef Markus MuellerClick To Tweet

Flour

I learned that since yeast is a living organism, giving it any old flour and water, will not exactly help it grow and multiply. Most often people have all-purpose flour at home which has been bleached and enriched. Freshly milled flour has a yellow appearance,, and as such it is commercially bleached with a bleaching agent, (such as chlorine), to give the flour a white appearance. The bleaching process also makes it easier for the flour to develop gluten while kneading.

While this is fine and dandy, bleaching flour may kill the naturally present yeast and other beneficial bacteria. If it doesn’t, the chemical inhibits the growth of other wild yeasts that may be introduced through other means, such as by adding yogurt to the starter (more on that later). For this reason it is best to use un-bleached all purpose flour when making sourdough starter from scratch.

Whole wheat flour and other flours can in theory also be used, but they may produce of flavors in your starter. Using an un-bleached organic all-purpose flour is my recommendation. – Chef Markus Mueller

Water

While most of us in North America have access to clean, potable tap water, if you live in any urban setting, it is most likely treated with chlorine and fluoride. While this is done to kill bad bacteria that can cause disease and other illnesses, it also destroys the wild yeasts as soon as it’s mixed into the flour . The easy way around this is to use filtered water, or natural spring water.

Making Sourdough Starter From Scratch

Lets get to the knitty gritty and actually make a sour dough starter from scratch! Keep in mind this is not something you will make start to finish in one afternoon. You’ll need about 4 days to properly let the starter ferment and become active.

Over these four days you’ll periodiclly feed the ‘sourdough starter’ (about every 12 hours) with more flour and water to encourage yeast production. you’ll notice the sourdough starter start to become gloopy, bubbly, and slightly sour smelling.

You’ll need:

    • A non reactive container (such as a wide mouth glass jar or plastic container. Old yogurt containers work well for this)
    • A clean spoon and measuring cup set
    • a clean linen towel or cheese cloth


  • un-bleached all purpose flour or bread flour
  • warm filtered water or spring water

(Optional)

  • plain greek yogurt

Day 1

Start by mixing 2/3 cups (85 grams) of the flour in your non-reactive container with 1/3 cup (80ml) of warm water. Vigorously stir the mixture with a spoon to incorporate air. Scrape down the sides of the container with the spoon, and cover the container with a clean linen cloth or cheese cloth. You want the starter to ‘breath’ and be able to expel the carbon dioxide it produces. If the mixture seems VERY dry add another 1btsp (14ml)  of water. The consistency should be paste like, but not runny.

Set the container in a corner on your kitchen counter and forget about it for a day.

Optional: You can at this stage add 1 Tbsp of plain Greek yogurt to the starter, to help kick-start the bacteria count, increasing the chances of good bacteria taking over the starter. – Chef Markus Mueller

Mixing flour and water in a glass jar to make sourdough starter from scratch

Day 2

After 12 – 24 hours, it’s time to feed your starter again. Over the past hours, the bacteria present in the flour/air/water should have started to slowly eat the carbohydrates in the flour, and begin fermentation. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen(especially if your room temperature is under 20C or 68F) this may be closer to the 12 hour mark. Essentially the warmer the temperature the faster the sourdough starter will ferment. You may notice one or two lone bubbles in the mixture.

Add 2/3 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water to the starter. Mix vigorously with a clean spoon, and again scrape down the sides and replace the cloth. The sourdough starter should be fairly gloopy and may start to appear gluey.

Day 3

Wait another 12-24 hours. At this point you should start seeing noticeable bubbles trying to break the surface of the sourdough starter. Don’t worry if you don’t, as long as there is no mold, or ‘rotten smell’ everything should be ok.

Feed the starter again with 2/3 cups of flour and 1/3 cup of water. Scrape down the sides of the container, and replace the cloth.

Day 4

At this point another 12 – 24 hours will have passed, and you should be seeing the surface of the sourdough starter look bubbly, The starter may even start to grow in volume, and depending on the temperature may even have doubled in size.

An overhead view of from scratch sour dough starter in a glass jar

Feed the starter one more time with 2/3 cups of flour and a splash of water. Sit back and wait another 24 hours.

Day 5

This is it! Your sourdough starter should have at least doubled in size by now. If you are still not seeing any visible signs of fermentation or notice a ‘sour’ smell, it’s a good idea to start over and try keeping the starter in a warmer location to encourage yeast growth.

homemamde sour dough starter after fermenting for 4 days. Nice and bubbly!

At this point your starter is ready to use in a bread recipe, but if you aren’t quite ready to bake, you can store it in the refrigerator.

Storing Your Sourdough Starter

Many people keep their sourdough starters on the counter, but unless you plan on baking every two or three days, I have found it best to keep it refrigerated to avoid the yeast from losing it’s strength. If kept at a warm temperature the yeast will keep eating the carbs in the flour until all the food has been consumed(unless you keep feeding it). The yeast then starts to die and looses its potency.

To avoid this, store at least 1 cup of starter in the fridge in a non-reactive container. the cold temperatures will make the yeast go dormant

. They are easily awakened by taking them out of the fridge and feeding again with another round of water and flour. If the sourdough is left to sit for a long time, a brownish liquid may appear on the surface. This is normal , and usually a sign of a little to much water in the mixture. Simple pour it off and continue feeding as normal.

A close up shot of homemade sourdough starter in a glass jar

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How to make sourdough starter from scratch . A close up shot of homemade sourdough starter in a glass jar
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How To Make Sourdough Starter

Learn how to make sourdough starter from scratch using only natural, whole ingredients. Easy to follow steps for making fool-proof sourdough bread at home without any special equipment.

Course Baking
Cuisine German
Prep Time 5 minutes
Fermentation Time 2 days 12 hours
Servings 1 sourdough starter
Calories 303.3 kcal
Author Markus Mueller

Ingredients

Sourdough Starter Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup Un-Bleached All Purpose Flour Organic is best, but using un-bleached flour is most important.
  • 1/3 cup Filtered Spring Water Chlorine and Fluoride Free

Optional

  • 1 tbsp full fat plain greek yogurt

Instructions

Day 1

  1. Start by mixing 2/3 cups (85 grams) of the flour in your non-reactive container with 1/3 cup of warm water. Vigorously stir the mixture with a spoon to incorporate air. Scrape down the sides of the container with the spoon, and cover the container with a clean linen cloth or cheese cloth. You want the starter to 'breath' and be able to expel the carbon dioxide it produces.

Day 2

  1. Add 2/3 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water to the starter. Mix vigorously with a clean spoon, and again scrape down the sides and replace the cloth. The sourdough starter should be fairly gloopy and may start to appear gluey.

Day 3

  1. Feed the starter again with 2/3 cups of flour and 1/3 cup of water. Scrape down the sides of the container, and replace the cloth.

Day 4

  1. At this point You should be seeing the surface of the sourdough starter look quite bubbly, The starter may even start to grow in volume, and depending on the temperature may even have doubled in size.

    Feed the starter one more time with another 2/3 cups of flour and 1/3 cup of water. Sit back and wait another 24 hours.

Day 5

  1. Your sourdough starter should have at least doubled in size by now.

    At this point your starter is ready to use in a bread recipe, but if you aren't quite ready to bake, you can store it in the refrigerator.

Recipe Notes

If after 5 Days  are still not seeing any visible signs of fermentation or notice a 'sour' smell, it's a good idea to start over and try keeping the starter in a warmer location to encourage yeast growth.

This post contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated if a purchase is made through the links provided. For more information please read my affiliate disclosure.

© 2018, Markus Mueller | Earth, Food, and Fire. All rights reserved. Please contact Earth, Food, and Fire, if you wish to use any media or other content contained on this site.

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16 Comments

  1. I have always wanted to make bread and even took a class once, but I have aril been to nervous to try. Your recipe is very thorough and clear and I look forward to giving it a go!

  2. I am SO doing this Markus! I love sourdough bread and have thought of making it myself so many times. These detailed instructions and tips for success are exactly what I need to give me the confidence. Pinned for my next baking project!

  3. Wonderful post! Many years ago, I made my own starter but stopped and have been wanting to get back at it ever since! Wild yeast are so good and much better than commercially made yeasts (which nowadays is often GMO). This wild fermentation is exactly what our bodies need. Thank you for explaining all this information!

  4. What a good post Markus! You explained so well that I think I’m going to put my fear away and try to make sourdough bread. I baked traditional bread but never try sourdough. As I’ m gluten intolerant I make bread for my family… But I love bread! Could it be possible to make sourdough without gluten? Or at least make bread with a flour with less gluten like kamut using your sourdough recipe?

    • I am not sure if a ‘sourdough’ style starter would work with kamut. It’s worth a try! I know that my mother is sensitive to processed flours, but my parents make bread with an organic whole white flour from Spearville Mills. While it still contains gluten, it’s a heritage breed, not as processed as grocery store flour, and it seems to not bother her at all.If you do try it with a gluten free flour I would love to know if it works!

  5. This is great information. I tried making a sour dough starter before but it exploded on me the first night. What a mess! I kept my starter in my microwave, since we rarely use it. Your step by step instructions are great! Can’t wait to try again.

  6. Can whole wheat pastry flour be used? After mixing the first 2/3rds flour and 1/3 cup water should it be doughy or more liquid like? Mine is doughy

    • You can yes , though for your first sourdough starter I would suggest using all purpose instead of whole wheat as whole wheat an create weird tasting starters due to a bigger variety of wild yeasts.

      After mixing the first 2/3rds flour and 1/3 cup water the mix should be fairly doughy and thick. Almost like a thick pancake batter. As the yeast start to eat the carbohydrates and bubbles start to appear it will thin out a little. It should not be watery.

  7. hi Mark – excited to try this recipe, but not sure if I am supposed to mix the entire 1 1/2 cups starter with the sourdough ingredients, or hold back 1/2 cup for future use and feed it, and use just 1 cup of the bubbly starter. (i might have missed something in the instructions, but i’m confused) Thanks!!!!!

  8. I’ve just tried this recipe for the first time. The dough is on the counter proofing for the night, we’ll see how it turns out tomorrow!
    I’m just curious to hear your thoughts on other sourdough starter recipes. Any other starter recipes I’ve read instruct you to throw away a portion of the fermented starter each day before adding more flour and water (this always seemed kind of wasteful and complicated to me). Do you know whats the reason behind the discarding each day? I was interested to try your recipe because it was the first one I’d come across that didn’t look like you needed to be a bread guru to have success with it.
    Thanks for your time!

    • Thanks Myra, I’m glad you found the instructions easy to use.

      I’m not sure why other recipes tell you to discard part of it. To me this also seems wasteful. The only reason I can think of is that it’s meant to prevent you ending up with a huge amount of starter.

      I’ve also seen other recipes use yeast to help kickstart the process but this seems counter intuitive to me. As I mentioned though its important to use unbleached flour and un chlorinated water to be successful in breeding the bacteria.

      Basically once your starter is ready to use, use what you need and put the rest in the fridge to put its growth on hold. Next time you go to bake, take the starter out and feed as you did here. After 2 feedings it should be ready to go.

      • Thank you for the reply back! The throwing out seeming really wasteful and complicated to me as well. I was just always curious what the reasoning behind it was…
        Anywho, happy baking! I always enjoy reading the bits of history/extra information on recipes that you include in yours.

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