This is the EASIEST way to make a sourdough starter from scratch: No measurements, No discards, No feedings! Find out how!
Have you been wondering how to make your own 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?
Let me tell you that it’s actually very easy to make your own sourdough starter!!
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!
I will show you how simple it is!
First things first: How I learned to make a sourdough starter
I grew up eating sourdough bread. My mom learned from my grandmother (her mother-in-law) how to make it when she married my dad. In my grandmother’s family, they had been baking sourdough bread for generations.
I would watch my mom grind the grains in the morning and add her sourdough starter. She would let the dough rise. Midday she would take off some dough that would become her next starter and put the rest of the dough in the loaf pan. In the evening, she would bake the bread. I remember the smell of the bread wafting through the house. Often, we would “fight” for the first warm slice of bread with just some butter and salt.
Once I lived on my own, I just continued this tradition. Yes, there have been times when I wasn’t baking much. However, I have always come back to it.
My boys ate sourdough bread when they were growing up. As teenagers, though, they preferred some store-bought, softer bread. Oh well … Now recently, both of them told me individually that they actually really like this bread. My heart was singing …
Why bake with sourdough?
Apparently, the first sourdough bread dates back to 3700 B.C. in Switzerland. People found out that if they left the dough out, the gases of the wild yeasts leaven the bread.
We now 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 it 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 breads, sourdough breads stay fresh longer and are not as susceptible to mold.
For all these reasons, sourdough bread is so much healthier than bread made with commercial yeast.
How to make your own sourdough starter
Or you have a friend who bakes with sourdough who might give you their starter (or a portion of it to be precise).
However, I find it easiest and most satisfying to make my own. Every now and then, I have done that over the decades. For example, when I moved from Germany to the US, I had to make a new starter. Or if for some reason, I hadn’t been baking for a while and I wasn’t sure about my old starter.
As you will see, it’s really quite simple! All you need is flour, buttermilk, water, and caraway seeds.
What are the ingredients for this sourdough starter recipe?
For this no measurement, no discard, no feeding method you will need:
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 (spelt, einkorn). The type of flour doesn’t matter so much. Most of the time I use wheat but ultimately, rye flour is the best flour for your homemade sourdough starter.
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. If you can’t find or don’t have buttermilk, there are substitutions: I have successfully made a sourdough starter with yogurt and kefir. And if you are looking for a non-dairy alternative, you can use kombucha. Just make sure it’s plain and doesn’t have any fruit or other herbs added to it.
I am listing this as an ingredient because it is important WHAT kind of water you are using. The best is filtered or distilled 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.
I know, I know, they are a very unconventional ingredient in sourdough starters. But hear me out: I have made sourdough starters with and without caraway seeds. The one containing these little seeds becomes an active starter so much faster. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you exactly why but they make a difference!
The Simple Process of Making your Starter
You need to start with a clean jar. That can be a mason jar or something ceramic. I just don’t recommend any metal container since that can react with the acidity in the sourdough starter and give it an off-taste. However, you do not need to bleach or sterilize your jar. Just make sure it’s clean and has no soap residue in it.
To that jar, add about ½ to 1 cup of buttermilk. you
Next, add some amount of flour. You can use anywhere from 3 tablespoons to 1 cup, depending on the size of your jar and how much starter you’re trying to make.
Start stirring this mixture with a spoon. Ultimately, you are going for the consistency of a thick pancake batter. If your mixture is too thick, add a little bit of water until you get that consistency.
Now, add a pinch of caraway seeds and stir this mixture well.
I like to cover my sourdough starter. Most often, I use 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˚-73˚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 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. 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.
Another sign of a healthy starter is a hollow sound when you tap the bottom of your jar.
What if it takes a really long time to make a sourdough starter?
Sometimes, the entire process might take longer than the typical 5-10 days to get an active starter. If you are making a sourdough starter for the first time, it might take longer because you will have no or fewer wild yeasts in your kitchen. For best results, it is also a good idea to keep your sourdough starter at least 3 feet away from other ferments. That way, nothing will compete with the good bacteria you are cultivating.
You have a sourdough starter – now what?
Congratulations! You have successfully made your own sourdough 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.
Is my sourdough starter good enough for baking?
This is my pro tip: If you are not sure that your starter is active and healthy enough to bake some bread, simply add about 1 tsp of active dry yeast to your bread recipe. You still get the long fermentation with the added insurance that your baked goods will rise nicely.
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.
this is the same sourdough starter about 1 year later
Troubleshooting your sourdough starter
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 breads tend to come out 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!
What if you still have questions?
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!
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
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
- Combine buttermilk, water, flour, and caraway seeds in a glass jar (or in another non-reactive container.
- 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 7 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.