If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you may want to try creating your own sourdough starter from scratch. Baking bread from scratch is satisfying in its own right, but when you’ve also had a hand in the creation of one of the most fundamental components, the leavening agent itself, you’ll feel an even greater satisfaction and connectedness to the process.

Are there kids in your house? This little science project is ideally suited to sharing with any children you can convince to join in. Culture their budding scientific minds while creating your own bread culture.

This video outlines one simple method that worked for me the first time I tried it. In the video, I give credit for this technique to Peter Reinhart. It has since come to my attention that Debra Wink, a chemist and accomplished baker, is the mastermind and author of this Pineapple Juice Technique. A lot of research and testing went into developing and refining the technique. The choice of pineapple juice over other juices is from much trial and error. Debra was kind enough to email her essay on the Pineapple Juice Technique. Click here for a printable copy of it.

As I mention in the video, the wild yeast spores and lactic-acid bacteria that give your starter its leaving properties are all around you. You are simply creating the conditions ideally suited for them to thrive and multiply. I used whole wheat flour in this recipe because fresh whole wheat flour may harbor greater numbers of yeast spores than ordinary all-purpose flour and so increase your likelihood for success. It worked for me, so you might try the same. If, at any time, you wish to transition your whole wheat sourdough starter to a regular white flour starter, it’s super easy to do so.

I’ve listed the ingredients and approximate steps here to save you the note taking.

  • Step 1. Mix 3 ½ tbs. whole wheat flour with ¼ cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for 48 hours at room temperature. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. (“Unsweetened” in this case simply means no extra sugar added).
  • Step 2. Add to the above 2 tbs. whole wheat flour and 2 tbs. pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for a day or two. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. You should see some activity of fermentation within 48 hours. If you don’t, you may want to toss this and start over (or go buy some!)
  • Step 3. Add to the above 5 ¼ tbs. whole wheat flour and 3 tbs. purified water. Cover and set aside for 24 hours.
  • Step 4. Add ½ cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 to 1/3 cup purified water. You should have a very healthy sourdough starter by now.

Notes: I do wonder if the fact that I bake all the time with a sourdough starter (and so theoretically have wild yeast floating around our house by the gazillions and covering everything we own) would increase the likelihood that I would have success creating my own sourdough culture from scratch. So I anxiously await feedback from anyone who attempts this process at home. (You’ll see a nifty little form below for comments and feedback. If you’re shy; you can use the Contact link at the top of the page. While I may report your (mis)adventures, I’ll keep your identity anonymous ;).

2,032 thoughts on “Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

  1. AP

    Hi, I make pizza every Friday. This week I decided to make sourdough levain half the dough. I left it overnight and in the morning it was loose and bubbly and had a very sourdough smell. I thinks that’ what I should be getting but I keep reading the comment which say it takes a few days. It what I came up with something worth keeping and storing in the fridge or should I start from the beginning. And do I still have to keep adding flour and liquid once i put in the fridge and how much should I add? Thanks

  2. Newbie starter from scratch success

    I’ve never succeeded at making dough from scratch before so suffice to say I’ve ignored that entire genre of baking in my kitchen for the past 25 years. So I’ve known for a long time that my cooking knowledge is sorely lacking in baking fundamentals and dove in this week to learn the basics until I have enough experience to understand what turns dough into good bread, pastries, pizza, etc. I’d like to learn how to make good french bread first and eventually, good sourdough but when I stumbled on your homemade sourdough starter recipe while looking for some to purchase retail, I figured, why not give it a shot? So at 7:30pm PT on Tues I followed your instructions and mixed the pineapple juice with the unbleached whole wheat flour (not sure if it makes a diff, but I used organic flour and since I pulled the pineapple juice out of the fridge, I warmed it in the micro until it was just about room temp before I mixed it). It’s now 9:30pm PT Fri evening and I believe I already have a healthy starter (74 hours). I’d made it thru steps one and 2 and had small bubbles this AM before I mixed in the flour / purified water (step 3) but I also took the extra time to mix it into a new container about double the original container’s size.

    Some notes and observations:
    – In our neighborhood, the tap water is likely enough to kill a batch of flegling bacteria so I made sure to use bottled water, as the instructions indicate ‘purified’. Using tap water is likely one of the top reasons many ‘pre-starters’ fail.

    – After about 24 hours, upon stirring the mixture madly with a fork, strands of gluten started to cluster around the blade until finally the fork was clogged and the strands began to resemble a wet dough ball that I could not shake off. If I let the fork hover over the container with a glob of the goo, it would ooze off, kind of like the movie about the blob. I tried my hardest to break up this wad by stirring harder which only made it worse. So I resorted to mashing the gluten ball against the side of the container with the fork to try to break it up but it never completely did until a few hours after step 2 had been completed. Once it had the additional pineapple juice and flour, the stands disappeared into the mixture again.

    – every time I’d mix the mixture, I’d also use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the container back into the mixture. It seemed to me, if any mold was going to form, it would do so on the spots that had been separated from the main mixture enough to nearly dry out repeatedly.

    – I used the same airtight 2-cup container all the way up to step 3 even though the directions don’t indicate how large it should be or if it should be airtight. At step one, the mixture filled the container about 1/4 the way. At step 2, the mixture filled the container 1/2 way but it only stayed that way overnight since I hit step 3 this AM and moved it to a fresh quart sized container.

    – The mixture only showed small bubbles for most of the day today (post-step 3), but once I removed the airtight lid (holy smokes!), bubbles immediately worked their way to the surface and starting popping.

    Step 4 in 74 hours!

    Thanks for the guidance! Really, what a great resource you have here.

  3. George

    I have been trying to use the Sourdough Starter receipe stated in “The Fannie Farmer Baking Book” by Marion Cunningham printed in 1984. This receipe was also developed by Kandace Reeves and Jerry DiVecchio of Sunset magazine who worked with a food chemist, George Y9rk ath the University of California, Davis, to develope the following technique. Heat 1 cup of skim milk to 90 – 100 degrees. Remove from heatand add 3 tablespoons of low-fat yogurt. Cover tightly and place in a warm spot (80 to 100 degrees but not above 110 dsegrees. After 6 to 8 hours the mixture should clabber. I have had mine in the gas oven with the oven light on for 24 hours. Mine does not clabber. I am temped to add some regular yeast. But anyway, after it clabbers, add 1 cup all-purpose white flour and after a curd has formedCover tightly and let stand in warm place for two to five days, until the mixture is full of bubblews aned has a good sour smell. The starter is ready to use as directed in the receipes.
    Well, what should I do. Continue the mixture of skim milk and low-fat yogurt for a while longer, add the yeast, or add the flour to the mixture and proceed with the receipe?

    Thanks, George

  4. Marqui

    Hi, I have a few questions about making starter. Why didn’t you use active dry yeast to make your sourdough starter? I combined the yeast with some flour and water and stirred it once a day for several days. So, I’m curious about the method you used compared to mine, which came from the Joy of Cooking cookbook. I have another recipe called Amish Friendship Bread where a cup of sugar, flour and milk are added to the starter, so is this another to feed my starter?

  5. Madelyn

    I would recommend against a mason jar based on personal experience unless you always keep it only half full. I kept mine in a mason jar for about 9 months until an incident last September where I had a bit of a starter explosion. I commented about this on September 30.

    http://www.breadtopia.com/sourdough-starter-management/comment-page-10/#comments

    Jar had too little headroom and built up a vacuum. Then when we went to open it and ended up with starter everywhere. The mason jar worked until it was 75% full and I fed it.

  6. I bought your large glass starter bottle, with the blue pop-up lid. The pop up lid is handy, but the bottle seems awfully large for a starter. Is there an advantage to a large bottle? Ie: air? Or would a small mason jar not be a more appropriate size/amount of starter. I have other uses for that large bottle if I can free it up.

  7. Thomas

    Took only one day – after moving the starter to a clean container and moving on to step 3 above, the starter really took off, and no mold. smells almost like a dough / sourdough type thing and i think is exactly what i want. i moved it to the fridge and will feed it every 4-5 days or as i remember.

    thanks for all the help, great site you have got here –

    -Thomas

  8. Well, I decided just to add some yeast, both to my dough and to my starter. All’s well that ends well.

  9. Thomas

    after the 4th day my starter looked like it was doing really well, nice and bubbly and everything, but then i smelled it, and there is mold growing on the sides of the jar! there is no mold in the starter, should i just mix it all up and hope the yeast can defeat the mold in an epic battle for survival? or should i try to scoop out my starter and put it into a new container?

    im going to try method B – and will get back to you when its all done, 4-5 days.

    -Thomas

    • I would have taken method B as well.

  10. Um, I created a starter, and I think it is doing well. I tried to use it today for the first time. I mixed up my dough about 8:30am. It is about 8 hours later, and it doesn’t seem to be rising. Does it take longer to get going? Or is it just dead?

  11. Vera

    Hi Eric, wonderful website….thank you for the video on sour dough starter. How long can one keep a starter and does it need to be refrigerated?
    Thanks and Regards……….Vera

  12. Until you get used to using sourdough starter, it can be difficult knowing if what you have is what it’s supposed to be. If it’s bubbly and lively looking and rises well after feeding it well (feeding it well means adding at least as much volume of flour as the amount of starter you’re starting with), and there’s no discoloration or super offensive smells, then you’ve probably got a good starter. If your bread rises well and tastes good, then you do have a good starter.

    If some “bad” stuff gets in your starter, it will be destroyed at bread baking temps so no worries about getting sick.

  13. Just wondering when you know if starter is not ok to use.When do I know if it has any contamination of harmful bacteria.if you cook with it like this would it make us sick.

  14. Ashley

    Hi, I need help! I’m on day three of my sourdough starter and it’s definitely alive. It smells fermented, but not like sourdough or beer it’s hard to describe. I have never succeeded at this before so I don’t know what I’m looking for. Is this smell normal, or has my starter gone bad? Please help.
    Thank you,
    Ashley

  15. Joe

    After the starter has been made up to the 5th day what is needed in terms of flour and water to keep the started fed, and if the starter is not used on a regular bases, however it receives regular feedings will removing the starter from it original container hurt the starter?

    Thank You,

    Joe

  16. Milo Osbun

    I’ve been using my homemade sourdough starter for nearly three years now.
    Followed your directions and was unimpressed with the results, which continued to be spotty until I learned to feed it 8 – 12 hours before using it. This has made all the difference. Now when I bake, my starter is always fresh and vigorous. I get an impressive ‘oven spring’ every time.
    During Advent and Lent we have weekly pre-service dinners on Thursday eve, the bread I made is a huge hit with everyone who attends.

  17. Ray

    I followed the instructions on your site to make a sourdough starter and it worked perfectly. It was the first attempt. I think the pineapple juice helped.

  18. sara

    so I am on day 2 of my pineapple starter and for the life on me it will not stay incorporated like some of the pineapple juice just floats on top. I am very excited to start baking but did not know if I should plan on starting another one or just keep with it.

  19. Ruth

    I made a sour dough mash in Shanghai China with success – the first time it ever worked for me…and I have tried several times. I have since moved to Malaysia and will start again – thanks for a successful recipe!

  20. shane kochanowski

    Doing a white flower starter in pgh for the first time. Fed it twice so far and it appears to be voracious! More than doubling between feeding and its only been 24 hours. Gonna go a couple days and then try it and see what my natural yeast tastes like in bread.

  21. Kendra

    Hello… I am a first time sourdough starter. I don’t really know what i am suppose to be seeing or smelling. Right now I am at day 4 and my starter is very very frothy and smelly. it almost burns my nose. is that what i want???

  22. Madelyn

    Hi Jan

    That loaf is beautiful. I’ve been baking rye bread weekly since last December when I experimented with the starter recipe here. Pretty much learned to back bread here.

    Can you tell me a little bit about spelt…. I use a revised version of the Almost No-Knead Whole Wheat recipe and substitute rye. Is spelt like a whole grain that you can use where whole wheat is called for? I have been very curious about all the references to spelt. How do you use it? And what is special about it? What recipe do you use?

    Madelyn

  23. Hi Jan,

    Your post and bread photo are suitable for framing :). Thanks very much for your nice comments, I’m so glad you’re getting so much out of your baking.

  24. Hi Henri,

    I would venture to say that naturally leavened bread is almost always going to be more authentic and interesting than it’s commercial yeast counterpart. It definitely doesn’t have to be more sour or even sour at all.

    It’s ok to mix commercial yeast with natural leavening. One won’t kill the other.

    Given your interest in perusing it, find a good recipe and instructions for making a naturally leavened baguette and go for it. Lots of people invest a lot of time and practice getting their breads (and baguettes in particular) to meet their expectations, so you might want to be prepared for your quest to potentially take a while (and to be a lot of fun!)

  25. Jan

    Dear Eric,
    I had always wanted to bake sourdough bread but had no earthly idea how to obtain the starter, let alone the procedures, etc.. But when I accidently stumbled upon your site, your videos were and continue to be priceless resources of answers not only for that, but so many aspects of the world of baking. Once I got a viable starter going, which I alluded to in an earlier email, (Big smile… I could write an epistle on my trials and tribulations about that), I have never bought another loaf of that inferior store bought bread(.. nose in the air…) To date I have many notches on my oven, but right now my favorite is spelt with wheat germ since my primary aim is not only taste, but also nutrition. I enclose a picture of my latest endeavor, a loaf of spelt with a cross on top… if my picture download is successful. ( And by the way, the items I ordered from your site are a tremendous aid.)

    Most sincerely and with a heartful of thanks and appreciation.

    Jan

  26. Henri

    I’m really interested in using starter to bake bread….but I’m interested in artisan-type baguettes that aren’t too sour. I just want them to be more interestingly flavored than the flattish tasting bread I have now using commercially produced yeast (even after a 24-hour cold fermentation period). I’ve been adding beer to my bread recipe in place of water as a flavor shortcut, but I want to try something more “authentic.” Will using a self-made starter as leavening make the bread overly sour? I imagine that I’m not supposed to use a mix of both yeast and self-made starter (wouldn’t the commercial yeast kill off the homemade one?).

    Thanks for any guidance!

    Henri

  27. Hi Diana,

    Where I live, you’re taking your life into your hands if you don’t use purified water. So I use it for everything. It’s just tap water run through a multi stage carbon under sink filter. I prefer that to reverse osmosis filters only because I don’t like to filter out all the minerals too. For baking, the main thing is to remove the chlorine in the water which can be done easily with a carbon filter or the chlorine will evaporate out of the water by simply letting it sit out overnight.

  28. Diana

    Hi Eric, just wondering if you always use purifed water in all your recipes and when you feed you starter? Or is just when you are getting your starter up and running when purifed water is used? Thanks for the great website.

  29. Tom

    I’m in to my starter now about a month and it’s looking and working great. I’ve made three loaves of bread, oatmeal sourdough biscuit and several batches of pancakes in the last month.
    When my starter was just a week old I tried to put it into the fridge which now I think was too soon. I ended up taking it back out after a few days and have been feeding it twice a day ever since. Any less than that and it seems to want to produce too much hooch. I would bet it is safe to say that every batch is different and you have to look for that right balance for your starter. I will try again for the fridge once I’m not using it weekly
    I’ve also have already tried the drying process for storing starter and brought some back after 2 weeks just to try the processes I’ve learned here. It was well on the way to being restored in just two days (4 feedings).
    Thanks again for the videos and all the info.

  30. Jason

    Are there any steps that can be taken to kill any yeast/bacteria that might be on the flour so that you can be sure you are only collecting bacteria and yeast that are in your own personal environment ?

  31. John

    Thank you for such an amazing resource. Around 8 years ago, my father gave me a bit of starter he’s been using for at least 20 years. I’d ignored the starter for a few months in the refrigerator and thought it was dead. Your guidance helped me bring back a starter I almost threw away.

    • Great story, John, thanks for posting it.

  32. Alex

    It’s a screw-on top but I leave it on loose. Plenty of breathing room, too.

  33. Madelyn

    I hope there’s some headroom in that jar and its not a screw on cap! Did you read the last bullet on this writeup :

    http://www.breadtopia.com/sourdough-starter-management/

    “Be sure to store your starter in a container that’s not air tight.”

    I used to keep mine in a nice glass jar too! I opted for a funky plastic container :-)

  34. Alex

    I tried this exact method, never having baked bread with anything but active dry yeast before, and saw lots of foamy, bubbly fermentation within 24 hours of step 2. It’s now on step 3 and in a nice glass jar.

  35. Tom

    Thank you for efforts on this site to help get people baking great bread! I’ve followed several of the recopies here and had a lot of fun.

    I followed the process for making started with pineapple juice and think it is going well. I’m attempting my first loaf now and it is in the first rising stage. My question is about my starter. It is now 6 days old and is very active but has a slight alcohol smell. IS this okay?
    Since I have a loaf going from it now, I thought I should feed it and placed it in the refrigerator. My thought is it will slow down the growth process and might help the smell. Is that right?

    • Hi Tom,

      A slight alcohol smell is not uncommon. It usually goes away soon after feeding your starter but then returns after a while of acidic acid build up. The smell doesn’t usually transfer to the bread. The bread just might taste a little more sour than it would otherwise. Refrigerating will slow down the acid build up, but feeding the starter more flour and water as a percentage of what your starting with and/or feeding more often is the best way to keep a starter fresh and pleasant smelling.

  36. Lynn Robson

    Hi there.Thank you so much for this no-fuss easy starter.I have had no sucess with previous ones,so am excited that this seems perfect.
    Am gona do a loaf today?
    Will let you know.
    Thanks
    Lynn

  37. Edoctoor

    I am also very happy with this bullet proof method of creating starter; I just boiled the containers and followed the instructions and it worked.

    However, I am not getting the best results with the bread, I think I should back up and actually read the bread making instructions some day.

    Or use these bricks to build a house… ;-) Joking

    I just started this; I never cooked before, so this have given me many many hours of entertainment as I shake and watch for bubbles like an impatient child. Special thanks for sharing your secrets!!!!

  38. TJ Hayes

    I just followed these instructions, but substituted Guava Juice in place of pineapple juice. I’m excited to see lots of bubbles in the starter after step 4 of the instructions on this page. I’ve made up my first batch of no-knead bread dough (50-50 white-wheat) tonight and hope to bake it tomorrow!

    I had a great starter culture going last winter and spring, but when I went to start over a month ago, I failed on 2 attempts. I was using the simple method that had given me success last year (basically 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup white flour, set till it starts to smell funky and feed it). This time it went rancid or something both times. So, I’m very glad this modified pineapple juice recipe for starter is working!!

  39. Kathleen

    Thanks so much for the perfect instructions regarding “make your own starter”.

    Can you please provide additional instructions regarding what to do next after step 4 is completed and you have it in the larger storage container.

    How often do you add flour and water and what is the quanity of each?
    Do you keep it in the refriderator?
    How long will this last?
    Is there anything else I need to know?

    Thank you so much for the clear and precise instructions for making the starter!

    Kathleen

  40. Jan

    Many thanks for acknowledging my entry of 18 Oct. Let me just say that my persistence has paid off big time. I never thought I would be so thrilled to see bubbles in a jar!! I am so thrilled in fact that I cannot at this point bear to dump excess down the sink! In preparation for baking I fed two jars of starter (two, in case one died or something..). The next morning I awoke to find the tops blown off both jars. At any rate I now have five quart jars filled with various stages and activity of starters. One of the most exciting aspects of all though is how MUCH I have learned and how much there is to learn about this invisible world around us. I’ve bought the books “Whole Grain Baking” and “Crust and Crumb” and am consuming them like a good novel! Thank you for your videos, website, and the wonderful world you have opened up for me.

  41. Madelyn

    Regarding ‘how much starter’… I make a raison bread with commercial yeast and went to buy some yesterday. I just grabbed for it without thinking and ended up coming home with RapidRise yeast. I was googling all the yeast sites yesterday trying to figure out if I really wanted to use it or not and came across a lot of conflicting information. Then I came across this discussion:
    http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/4680/yeast-dry-vs-rapid-rise
    I laughed and stopped reading when I read the last entry “way too much yeast stress”. What I concluded was the amount is a swag and it probably doesn’t even matter what kind of yeast it is (though I am still returning the RapidRise!). It depends on your starter, your conditions, your proofing and its hard to go terribly wrong unless you actually kill the yeast – which I have done and had to throw away a batch, but even then the ingredients are relatively inexpensive, so that experience turns into a lesson.

  42. Madelyn

    I started reading this website December 2009. Started making the starter and now bake the Almost No-Knead Rye on a regular basis. I substitutute about 3 heaping tablespoons of my starter for the yeast in this recipe. http://www.breadtopia.com/cooks-illustrated-almost-no-knead/

    I may have tried a few other recipes until settling on this one. I don’t remember how I came up with my starter quantity. Sometimes I put 4 tbsp, but when I read that you can achieve a sourer bread with less starter, I might have decreased it. On this page http://www.breadtopia.com/sourdough-no-knead-method/#comment-49727
    he says 1/4 cup of sourdough starter is about equivalent to 1/4 tsp. instant yeast.

    Hope this helps. Read a few recipes and then throw caution to the wind and just experiment! :-)

    Tried yeast bread only a few times prior to jumping in head first in December 2009 and have been a regular bread baker since. Learned all I know here! Have fun!

  43. Jan

    I’m at my wits end. I have started too many “starters” to count, following your instructions to the letter. I get beautiful bubbles in two days.. much activitity. Then the mixture turns watery and stays that way. Smells very good, good color. Please, please advise. I desparately want to succeed. I read every word of Debra Winks article. How can the cause be that bacteria? Should I just keep continue with the feeding schedule? I would be so grateful for and thank you for any help you can give. Jan (You may also post this on the website if it would be helpful to anyone else.)

  44. Greetings. I really appreciate this site and this article. I wonder, however, has anyone tried starting a sourdough culture with non-wheat flours — like oat or tapioca? Thanks for any insight!

  45. Lauren

    I am having trouble getting my bread to leven. I live at 5800 ft in altitude. I have watched all your videos and have hade a lot of success with yeast as a levener. keep my starter thick as reccommended. HELP! My husband is from San Fran and loves the flavor, I just want fluffier bread.

  46. Hi Ben.

    I’d have thought 2 days in the fridge would help a lot. I’m not sure what to suggest.Controlling the degree of sour sure seems like one of the most challenging aspects of sourdough baking. Some people “cheat” with a pinch of ascorbic acid (vitamin c) in the their dough. Hopefully someone else will chime in here with some ideas.

  47. Ben

    Hi Eric

    Well I think my starter is about a month old now, I have made some nice loaf’s. Tonight I bake one that was in the frig for 2 days was looking to get that zing of the sour bite, it only had a small hint of sour still, its a white flour starter and I did dry it up some like you suggested. is there any more secrets to getting it really sour ?????? picture is from tonighs loaf.

  48. Michele

    HI, just wanted to let you know that I used your recipe for sour dough starter last week. My friend in Germany sent me her bread recipe and it called for starter but I could not find any for sale. I went on line and found you. Even though it took about 5 days to make it up, it was absolutely worth it! I even gave away some starter already!
    To make the starter, I used some whole wheat and some rye flour because that’s what I had and it worked wonderfully. The German recipe used both rye and spelt, along with a whole lot of nuts and seeds and it turned out fabulously! I’m anxious to try some of the recipes you have posted on the site now.

    Thanks for doing this and best wishes as you continue to share so generously!
    Sincerely, Michele

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