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How To: Feed Sourdough Starter

A sourdough starter is a living culture that needs feeding to keep it healthy and active. The feeding process can be as simple or involved as you want, but the most important thing is to do it on a regular basis. This article will provide 10 tips for feeding your sourdough starter to ensure that the bacteria are happy, healthy, and active!

Can't get enough of that sourdough tang?

What you might not know is that sourdough bread is made from what we call a starter, which is a mix of flour and water that's left to ferment. It can be used to make delicious, tangy artisan bread that might actually be easier to make than yeasted bread.

But sourdough takes some time and a little bit of effort... so I've created this guide with tips on caring for and maintaining sourdough starter!

You'll need a pinch of patience and a dash of dedication - but don't worry, I'm here every step of the way with my easy-to-follow instructions. Trust me, once you have a healthy batch of sourdough starter, you'll never want store-bought bread again!

PS. Don't forget to check out all my sourdough recipes!

This sourdough feeding guide is dedicated to tangy, delicious bread!

Sliced sourdough loaf in a dutch oven.
My favorite sourdough bread recipe! Small Loaf Sourdough

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Tip 1: Start With A Good Starter

There are many ways to start your sourdough journey. You can purchase dehydrated or dry sourdough starter online via Amazon, or King Arthur Flour.

OR!

You can make an almost free sourdough starter using ingredients you have in your home! Use my great sourdough starter recipe. This recipe is quick and easy, and leverages the power of commercial yeast to jump-start your sourdough starter and get you baking sooner!

Fully risen sourdough starter.

Tip 2: Feeding Sourdough Starter

Learning how to feed sourdough starter is one of the most fundamental parts of baking with sourdough. While this is not difficult, it can take a bit to get the hang of.

The rule of thumb for basic sourdough starter is to feed it equal amounts, by weight, of starter, water and flour.

- for example: If your sourdough starter weighs 100 g, mix in 100 grams of lukewarm water and 100 grams of flour.

Tip 3: Determine Your Baking Schedule

While the most important part of feeding and maintaining a sourdough starter is the actual feeding, a big part of the learning curve is learning how much you'll actually be baking with your sourdough starter and discard. This will affect where you store it and how often you feed it.

daily to bi-weekly baker

If you plan on baking daily or a few times a week, you'll want to keep your starter at room temperature and feed it daily. This will keep it warm and active whenever you're ready for it!

To keep your starter alive, you'll need to feed it around every 24 hours. You can play with the feeding schedule a bit, once you get to know your starter and how hungry it is. The starter should be fed after the culture doubles in size and deflates.

You'll know your starter has begun to deflate by the slide marks left on your jar!

A container of sourdough starter with slide marks.
The high volume mark and "slide marks" from the sourdough deflating are visible on the sides of this container.

weekly or less frequent

Busy with life? I hear you! Don't worry though, you can bake beautiful sourdoughs as frequently or infrequently as you like.

If you're an infrequent baker, keep your sourdough in the fridge! This slows down the fermentation time considerably and allows you to feed your sourdough only once a week. Due to the length of time between feeds, the refrigerated starter will likely have hooch forming on the top, this is totally fine, stir it in and feed as required.

If keeping your starter in the fridge, simply remove it from the fridge, then stir and feed, and rest for 12-24 hours before baking.

Sourdough starter full of bubbles and air pockets after feeding.
fed and active starter ready to be used for baking!

Tip 4: Good Food

As with any recipe, a lot of the end result relies on the quality of the ingredients put in. The same goes with your sourdough starter. If you feed it with the best ingredients, your bread will also be of a higher quality.

Flour: Consistency is as important here as quality. Use high-quality flour, but consistently use the same type of flour. It can be a shock to your starter to go from unbleached all purpose flour to whole wheat flour or bread flour in one feeding.

Water: Use good un-chlorinated and non-fluoridated water. I have a reverse osmosis drinking water system in my house, but I actually tend to use my softened well water. My starter loves it. Speaking of water... use warm water but not hot when feeding your starter, too hot can kill your cultures and really put a damper on your baking!

A brownie missing a bite.
Sourdough Brownies

Tip 5: Regular Feedings

Care for your sourdough starter by feeding it when it is hungry. Feeding your room temperature sourdough every day, or refrigerated sourdough weekly will help keep the culture healthy and strong. This way, you'll have a happy little bacteria that can produce all sorts of wonderful things like tasty sourdough loaves or delicious sourdough cinnamon rolls for you to enjoy!

dried sourdough starter in a bail type mason jar.
Dehydrated sourdough starter.

Tip 6: Hydration Level

It's important to ensure your starter is properly hydrated.

If it's too dry, the yeast will need to work harder and produce more gas which can lead to over-fermentation or a "sour" taste.

To make sure your starter has enough water content you need to add the same amount by weight of water and flour and starter. This will keep your sourdough starter at a standard 100% hydration level. Appropriate for most sourdough recipes.

Tip 7: Don't Forget To Discard

Now that we know the sourdough starter must be fed equal parts starter, water, and flour, I'm sure you can see how the batch of starter would grow to an unsustainable size in a quick hurry!

It's important to feed only a small amount of starter each time you feed your starter. The remainder of the starter is "discarded". Please don't actually throw your discard away!

Sourdough discard is a baking gem in its own right. Toss the discard into a sealed container and store it in the fridge until you have enough discard to make something delicious.

Here are some of my favorite sourdough discard recipes:

Tip 8: Keep It Warm

Sourdough starter is happiest at a temperature between 70 and 85F. Cooler temperatures can cause your starter to be sluggish while higher temperatures can see your starter being overactive and going through feedings too quickly.

In the winter, keep it in a warm place, like on top of your refrigerator. In the summer, if your house is super warm, keep it in a cooler place like a dark pantry. Just don't forget about it!

Showing the focaccia crumb.
Sourdough focaccia. YUM!

Tip 9: Plan for Absences

If you plan on going on vacation, then you need to prepare your starter for your absence by feeding it well and placing it in the fridge. Placing the sourdough in the fridge will slow down fermentation which will lead to less production of gas so you won't have a huge mess on your hands when you get back home!

Icing the sourdough cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting.
Sourdough cinnamon rolls.

Tip 10: Contingency Plan

Build in a contingency plan. Sometimes things go sideways and life gets in the way, and you harm your starter beyond rehabilitation. There are several ways to store contingency sourdough starters. My favorite ways to "back up" my starter are freezing, dehydrating, and storing in the back of the fridge.

You can learn more about how to safely store your sourdough starter with my 4 ways to store sourdough starter guide!

Spreading sourdough on a baking sheet to dehydrate.
Spreading sourdough on a baking sheet to dehydrate for storage.

In Conclusion:

Now that you know how to care for your sourdough starter, the next step is figuring out what to do with it! What are some of your favorite recipes or ways to use a starter or discard?

Here are a couple of my sourdough starter recipes:

If you've got any great tips and tricks for caring for or feeding your sourdough starter, leave them in the comments below!

Pin this sourdough starter maintenance guide!

10 tips and tricks for feeding and maintaining sourdough starter pinterest graphic.

Smearing the pizza dough with pizza sauce.
Easy Pizza Dough
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