The EASIEST way to make a sourdough starter recipe from scratch: no measurements, no discards, and no feedings. It’s perfect for beginners!
Have you been wondering how to make the best sourdough starter?
Maybe you have been too intimidated by how complicated it sounds. Or maybe you had some sourdough failures and haven’t tried again.
This is such an easy sourdough starter recipe – with no discards ever!
Of course, you can always buy a starter and follow the instructions (you can find some great ones here).
But wouldn’t it be so much more satisfying and cheaper to make your own? You don’t even need a kitchen scale!
This method is so simple that it’s the perfect sourdough for beginners!
Origins of my old-fashioned sourdough starter recipe
I grew up eating sourdough bread. When my mom married my dad he told her to go to her new mother-in-law to learn how to make her own sourdough starter and bake sourdough bread. She then learned this generations-old sourdough starter recipe that I am still using today! So you can see I have been around sourdough for a very long time.
Fun fact: up until about 5 years ago I didn’t know that almost nobody else uses our method.
Why bake with sourdough?
Did you know that the first sourdough bread dates back to ancient Egypt about 6000 years ago? People found out that if they left the dough out, the gases of the wild yeasts leaven the bread.
Now, we understand that sourdough also breaks down the inherent phytic acid in grains.
The bacteria and yeast in the sourdough help to predigest the starches in the grains, thus making them more easily digestible. Often, people with gluten sensitivity have no issues eating sourdough bread.
Furthermore, even though you are baking your sourdough bread at about 350˚F, the inside never reaches that temperature. That means that the probiotics are still alive in there.
In contrast to yeast bread, sourdough bread stays fresh longer and is not as susceptible to mold.
For all these reasons, sourdough bread is so much healthier than bread made with commercial yeast.
For this no discard sourdough starter recipe, you will need:
- Flour: While you can use regular, all-purpose white flour, I highly recommend you use both unbleached and organic flour! We are trying to capture the wild yeast. In the process of bleaching the flour, many of the wild yeasts may be killed. Similarly, using non-organic flour means that the grains will have been sprayed with pesticides that kill exactly what we are trying to cultivate. You can also use whole wheat flour or any other whole-grain flour such as spelt, einkorn, or rye flour. Rye is actually the best flour for making your very first sourdough starter!
- Buttermilk: This is the key ingredient for this radically different method. You see, we are essentially jumpstarting the whole process by using something that already has active live cultures in it.
- Water: I am listing this as an ingredient because it is important WHAT kind of water you are using. The best is filtered, distilled, or bottled water. If you’re using tap water, there is a good chance that it has chlorine in it. This will inhibit the growth of the good bacteria we are trying to cultivate.
- Caraway seeds: I know, I know, they are a very unconventional ingredient in sourdough starters. I have made sourdough starters with and without caraway seeds. The one containing these little seeds becomes an active starter so much faster. Caraway seeds contain essential oils that can stimulate the growth of beneficial lactic acid bacteria and yeasts that are responsible for fermenting the dough. Additionally, caraway seeds contain enzymes that can help break down complex carbohydrates in the flour, making it easier for the yeast and bacteria to digest and ferment.
Helpful Tools and Equipment:
Given that people have been making sourdough starters for millennia you really don’t need much. However, here are the tools I prefer:
- Glass jar: While you can use any non-reactive container, I recommend using a Weck jar or mason jar. The main reason is that you can see through the glass. You can also easily clean them.
- Wooden spoon: you may have heard that you are not supposed to use metal with your sourdough. I am not sure I agree 100% but I do like to use small wooden or bamboo spoons for stirring.
- Beeswax wrap: I always recommend loosely covering your jar to keep things out that don’t belong in there. Some airflow is good, though, and that is why I always use my homemade beeswax wraps.
How to make your sourdough from scratch
- When making a sourdough starter it’s really important to start with a clean jar. You do not have to bleach or sterilize it. Just make sure it’s clean and has no soap residue in it.
- To that jar, add about ½ to 1 cup of buttermilk depending on how much starter you would like to create.
- Next, add some flour to the jar. It doesn’t matter how many grams of flour as long you create a pancake batter-like consistency. The amount of flour can vary depending on what type of flour you use. Do not overthink this!
- Stir this mixture vigorously with a spoon. Sourdough cultures like oxygen! If your mixture is too thick, add a little bit of water until you get that consistency.
- Optional: Add a pinch of caraway seeds and stir this mixture well.
- Loosely cover your starter. I like using beeswax wraps but you can use fabric, a paper towel, or a coffee filter. A rubber band will keep it in place. I just don’t like plastic wrap or any other tight-fitting lid that does not allow your starter to breathe.
- To get the fermentation process going, keep your sourdough starter at room temperature. An ideal temperature is somewhere between 70˚-75˚F. What if you don’t have a warm kitchen? I can tell you that I have made many starters in our kitchen in the winter with much cooler temperatures than that. Then, I just put it in a warm spot, such as a sunny window sill to capture some warmth.
What to do over the next few days:
Every day now, you’ll want to check in with your sourdough starter. Simply, look at it, smell it, and give it a good stir. Don’t worry if nothing seems to be going on in the first day or two or three. Don’t let that fool you!
After a few days, you might see some small bubbles and you might notice a slightly sour smell. But don’t worry if this whole process might take up to 10 days. Eventually, you will get an active starter with some bubbles. Just remember that with the warm temperatures of summer, this process might happen quicker than if you’re doing this in the colder winter months.
Pro Tip: If you’re not sure whether you can keep your budding sourdough starter at a consistently ideal temperature, check out this sourhouse product that will take the guesswork out of it!
Another sign of an active sourdough starter is a hollow sound when you tap the bottom of your jar.
How to know when the sourdough starter is ready
Here are the signs that your new starter is ready:
- it has a pleasantly sour smell
- it has a fizzy taste
- there are lots of bubbles
- you can actually hear some activity
- it might pass the float test (drop a bit of starter in a glass of water, if it floats, it’s ready)
I also wrote a detailed article about how to know when your sourdough starter is ready for baking.
Is my sourdough starter active enough for baking?
At first, your sourdough starter will be pretty young. If you still want to bake with it but aren’t sure if it’s robust enough to give your loaf of bread a good rise, you can add ½ -1 tsp of commercial yeast to your sourdough bread dough.
You have a sourdough starter — now what?
Congratulations! You have successfully made your own starter!
You can now bake some homemade bread (such as this European-style whole-grain bread or a lighter, artisan-style bread) or use it in other recipes, such as sourdough pasta or even a sourdough lemon cake.
Some people actually like extra sour sourdough bread while others like theirs more on the mellow side. In a separate blog post, I am covering 17 ways how to manage the sourness of your sourdough.
How to maintain your starter:
Since I love when things are simple and no-fuzz, the maintenance for my sourdough starter is the same.
In my family, we have never, ever fed or discarded any of our sourdough starters.
Instead, we have been using a very simple method that I describe. This easy method works best for people who bake 2 times a week or less.
FAQs & Troubleshooting
I have another blog post in which I address many of the common challenges with making a sourdough starter. Since young sourdough starters tend to be the most vulnerable, I wrote a whole article on mold on sourdough starters.
Now, I say this to everyone who is new to sourdough baking: DO NOT GIVE UP! Your first bread may not rise. That’s ok. Just keep some of the sourdough starter and try again.
My bread tends to come out slightly differently every time. You see, sourdough is a living thing. It does react to the ambient temperature, humidity, wild yeasts in the air, and in the flour. While you can control the flour and the temperature a little bit, you will have less control over the humidity and wild yeasts in the air.
Instead, I recommend you relax and start getting a “feel” for your sourdough starter. It will be so rewarding once you get the hang of it.
And remember, if you don’t “trust” your starter, you can always add some yeast (about 1 tsp for an average-sized bread) to your dough to make sure it does rise!
Frequently Asked Questions:
If you can’t find or don’t have buttermilk, you can also use yogurt or kefir. If you are looking for a non-dairy alternative, you can use plain kombucha. The most important part is that whatever you use has live active cultures in it.
My method is a no-waste sourdough starter. That means you will use a lot less flour. While there are different ways, most other methods rely on discards and daily feedings.
While I haven’t done so, I guess you can call it that.
You can always add additional flour to your starter if it’s too thin. I actually do that myself sometimes.
You can head over to this article in which I answer the most common questions about sourdough.
If you want to delve deeper into sourdough baking or if you want more personalized help from me, I recommend you check out my signature online sourdough course. By enrolling, you can join my private Facebook group where you have direct access to me, ask me questions, and post pictures of your sourdough starter!
Watch the Video on Youtube:
My favorite bread recipes:
More sourdough recipes you might enjoy:
How to Make a Sourdough Starter
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 dash filtered water
- 2-3 TBSP flour white or rye flour
- ½ tsp caraway seeds, optional
- Combine buttermilk, water, flour, and caraway seeds in a glass jar (or in another non-reactive container.
- Adjust the ingredients so that your starter has a thick pancake batter-like consistency. Stir vigorously.
- Lightly cover and leave in warm, undisturbed spot. Check every day for progress. You can also stir it.
- Depending on the environment (temperature, moisture, wild yeasts), this can take about 5-10 days.
- Your sourdough starter is ripe when it has a pleasant sour smell and is bubbly and foamy. You can also drop a bit in some water: if it floats, it's ripe, if it sinks, it needs a few more days.
- while you don’t NEED the caraway seeds, they will greatly speed up the process of making a sourdough starter
- if you don’t have buttermilk, you can also use plain yogurt, kefir, or kombucha (dairy-free alternative) but make sure that whatever you use has live active cultures