Learn how to feed sourdough starter in 3 easy steps! Tips shared for choosing the best flour, the right jar, and how to keep it alive (without the stress).
What is Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter is a live fermented culture of flour and water. Once it’s “fed” with additional flour and water, it becomes bubbly and active. A small portion is used to make bread dough rise- instant yeast is not required.
Why Feeding Matters
The thing is though, you can’t grab a starter, leave it on the counter and expect it to work on a moment’s notice. Bakers feed starters to activate (prior to making bread dough) and to maintain strength when not in use.
Here’s What To Expect
You Will Need
Looking for a starter? Try my Beginner Sourdough Starter Recipe with step-by-step instructions.
How To Feed Your Sourdough Starter (at a Glance)
- Remove and discard half of your sourdough starter
- Feed what’s left in the jar with equal parts flour and water by weight (1:1:1 feeding ratio)
- Let rise at room temperature (covered or airtight) ideally 75+ F, until bubbly, active and double in size (2-12 hrs.).
*Note: Before you begin, establish a regular feeding time. Morning or evening; the time itself doesn’t matter. What does matter is consistency. Feeding your starter at roughly the same time each day will train it to rise and fall predictably. This way, you’ll know when it’s ready to use. For example, if you want to make dough at 7 PM (and your starter takes about 5 hrs to rise), feed it at 2 PM.
Feeding Sourdough Starter (In-Depth)
While feeding sourdough (at a glance) is pretty straight forward, this section breaks down each of the 3 steps for a better understanding.
- Remove and Discard
9 AM (sample feeding time): Let’s say you have about 120 g of sourdough starter. The first step is to remove half, about 60 g, into a separate bowl (use a spoon or pour it out).
What’s leftover in the bowl- the amount you just removed- is called sourdough discard.
The discard can be used to make recipes like Sourdough Pancakes. Or, if discolored and smelly, you can just throw it out (we’ll talk more about this later).
- Add Equal Parts Flour & Water By Weight
Now, you’re going to feed what’s left in the jar.
How much flour and water does your starter need?
Because we all have different quantities of starter, bakers feed by ratio.
Common practice is to feed your starter with equal parts flour and water by weight. I follow a feeding ratio of 1:1:1 (sourdough starter, flour, water).
So, let’s continue with our example:
You had 120 g of starter and removed half. You now have 60 g of sourdough starter in the jar. Feed it with 60 g flour + 60 g of water.
Mix well with a fork, scraping down the sides as needed until the texture turns into a thick, lump-free batter. Place the lid on top.
TIP: The 1:1:1 feeding ratio by weight can be applied to any quantity of sourdough starter. If you have 40 g of starter, feed it with 40 g flour + 40 g water. If you have 90 g of starter, feed it with 90 g four + 90 g water.
- Let Rise Until Bubbly, Active & Double in Size (2-12 hrs.)
Place your starter in a warm spot to rise and activate, ideally 75-80 F.
Your starter is active when it shows the following signs:
– Doubles in size
– Small and large bubbles appear
– Spongey or fluffy texture
– Pleasant aroma
When can sourdough starter be used to make dough?
Plan on 2-12 hrs. depending on temperature. The activation process not instant. Place a rubber band around the base of the jar to measure the growth as it continues to rise.
Once your starter is active, it won’t stay double in size forever. You have a 1-2 hr. window before it falls back down. Do the float test to check for readiness.
What is the Float Test?
Drop 1 tsp. of starter into a glass of water; if it floats to the top, it’s ready to use. Do the test only when your starter has doubled (not after it has collapsed and lost strength).
How to use sourdough starter?
Pour off and weigh the quantity of bubbly active starter needed for your Sourdough Bread Recipe. Afterwards, you’ll need to feed the jar of starter again with fresh flour and water to keep the cycle going.
How to Store & Maintain Sourdough Starter
Once you have a starter, you’ll need to maintain it with regular feedings when not in use- otherwise your bread won’t rise. Your feeding routine is directly related to where it’s stored and how often you plan to bake.
- Room Temperature: if you bake a few times a week, keep your starter at room temperature. You’ll need to feed it (1x) per day, even when not in use. Storing at room temperature, especially if it’s warm, will make it ready to use faster.
- In the Fridge: if you bake only once a week or once a month, store your starter in the fridge. Feed it (1x) per week to maintain it’s strength. You do not need to bring it to room temperature first before feeding it; just remove it from the fridge, feed it and put it back. When ready to use, feed the cold starter at room temperature until it perks back up. Use warm water. Find a warm spot. Remember, the warmer it is, the faster it will rise.
Feeding Sourdough Starter FAQs
This is the #1 question asked about the feeding process.
While it might feel wasteful, it’s done to refresh the acidity levels and to control the starter’s growth in size.
I recommend removing half as a guideline, but the exact quantity is not set in stone. Some days you’ll remove more or less, depending on what the starter looks like.
If you do not discard (and yes, some bakers choose to do this), your starter would grow exponentially making it difficult to maintain.
But remember! You don’t have to throw the discard away.
Use it to make Fluffy Sourdough Pancakes, Cinnamon-Sugar Sourdough Waffles, Sourdough Cornbread or Sourdough Crackers.
Additionally, you can save discard in the fridge, freeze it, share it, or create a new starter.
Check out Sourdough Discard 101: Recipes & Faqs Answered for more details.
Yes, absolutely. However, “equal parts by weight” does not translate into measuring cups. Why? Because 1/4 cup flour does not weigh the same as 1/4 water.
You can certainly use “equal measurements” if you’d like, but the texture will most likely be off. Adjust with more/less flour and water to achieve a thick, batter-like consistency.
Yes. You cannot bake with inactive starter. To activate your starter, feed it with fresh flour and water, and then wait for it to bubble and double in size. Feeding a starter is not a once off activation process (like a new cell phone).
Totally normal. We all forget at some point. It’s not dead (and you didn’t ruin it). Please keep feeding it until it becomes bubbly and active. For best results, find a warm spot and use warm water for a boost. Starters are more resilient than you’d think- they just need time and patience.
Starters like routine. In my experience, it’s best to feed your main jar of starter with the same flour it’s made of.
For white flour starters, use unbleached all purpose flour or bread flour. These flours are inexpensive, easy to find, and reliable for starter growth. For whole wheat starters, use whole wheat flour. For rye starters, use rye flour etc.
For variety, some bakers prefer to use a 50/50 blend of whole wheat and white flour for an enzyme boost (starters love enzymes). This is fine too. See what works best for your taste, your budget and your convenience level.
Just do me one favor: when choosing flour, always consider how the starter will be used.
For example, a 100 % whole wheat starter might not work for Soft Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls because the unsifted bran will make the dough more hearty, rather than light and airy. On the flip side, it might be more desirable for Light Whole Wheat Sourdough to really amplify the nutty, wholegrain taste.
Currently, I use a 3/4 L glass jar with a latch top. I love it. I prefer glass over plastic, it’s easy to clean and it doesn’t absorb any weird smells or chemicals.
But I often switch things up and use jam jars, glasses and/or whatever else is clean! My friend Jim recently sent me this sourdough starter jar to try- it’s really cool.
Whatever you choose, make sure the jar is large enough to accommodate the starter’s growth when it doubles in size- this is key.
Regarding the lid: it can be airtight or loosely covered. It depends on the baker.
For example, when I want my starter to bubble up fast, I keep it airtight. But if the jar is not large enough for the starter to grow, it might burst through the lid. Always keep an eye on it.
Alternatively, rest the lid on top of the jar without securing it. This way, the jar is technically still covered but it won’t break as the starter rises.
The activation process is not instant. Plan on 2-12 hrs. depending on temperature and the strength of your starter. The warmer it is, the faster it will rise.
Potential warm spots include a proofing box, a microwave with the light on, or inside the oven (turned off) with the light on for 1-2 hours but not overnight- the environment will become too warm.
You can also try a warm water bath, pictured below, with frequent water changes to maintain temperature.
At some point, you’ll experience a dark, grayish liquid on the surface of your sourdough starter. Don’t stress- hooch is just a sign that your starter needs to be fed. Simply pour it off, removing any discolored starter underneath and give it a fresh feeding.
The images below are of two starters I keep in the fridge: Country Starter (fed with 50/50 white flour + whole wheat) and my Basic Starter (all white flour).