Before you watch this video on sourdough starter maintenance, please know that it really isn’t a big deal to keep your sourdough culture alive and healthy. A good starter is naturally very hearty and robust. If I were as strong as my starter is, I’d be competing in Iron Man competitions. At a minimum, all you have to do is throw some flour and water in once in a while to keep it alive during periods when you’re baking infrequently. To keep it near optimum health, feed it once a week or so and keep it refrigerated.

If you’re baking regularly, say weekly or bi-weekly, it’s easy enough just to feed it after using the amount called for in your recipe before returning it to your refrigerator. If you really want to be sure your starter is in optimum shape, feed it once or twice the day before baking or the two days prior to baking day. In addition, here are a few points that are worth noting…

  • When you feed your starter, feed it with approximately equal weights of flour and water. That equates to about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of water for every cup of flour.
  • As a general rule of thumb, the amount you feed your sourdough starter depends on how much of it you have to start with. When practical, you want to approximately double the amount of starter you have each time you feed it. However, if you already have a couple cups of starter on hand and typically only use a cup of starter in your recipe, it doesn’t make sense to have to double the existing two cups of starter. In this case just dispose of a cup or more of the starter and then double what remains.
  • If it’s been a long time since you’ve fed your starter and you don’t plan on baking for a while, don’t feel like you have to go through a big rigamarole to keep it happy, just stir in a 1/2 cup of flour and about the same amount of water and forget about it. That will at least buy you a few more weeks before you have to worry about it again.
  • If you really don’t think you’re going to use your starter at all for a very long time, (some people don’t bake during the summer months, for example), you could dry some starter and freeze it. It will store this way indefinitely. Then revive it in the fall. See the videos on drying starter and reviving dried starter.
  • If you need a whole wheat or rye starter, it’s easy to convert your white flour starter by just a few successive feedings with the flour you want. You may have to adjust the water as some flours are thirstier than others.
  • Be sure to store your starter in a container that’s not air tight. This comment from Madelyn dramatically (and humorously) illustrates why.

I’m really belaboring this subject. Once you’ve played around with sourdough starters for a while and baked some with it, you’ll know all you need to know and develop a sense for what works best. If your bread is not rising as much as you think it should (you’re not getting the desired oven spring) then try what I said about feeding your starter a couple of times in the 12-24 hours before starting your recipe.

As with anything on this web site, if you have any questions or comments about anything please ask in the space below.

Jan 13, 2011 Update: In this video I mention a favorite recipe of mine that calls for 2 cups of sourdough starter. It’s been so long since I shot the video (and many favorite recipes ago), that I’ve forgotten exactly which recipe I was referring to. I do know it was in Ed Wood’s book, Classic Sourdoughs. He has many recipes in there that call for 2 cups of starter.

1,439 thoughts on “Managing Your Sourdough Starter

  1. barbara garu

    I’ve come across a recipe for no-knead bread made in a Dutch oven. One version of this calls for 1-1/2 tsp. yeast and 1/2 cup sourdough starter (to 3-1/2 cups flour, 1-1/4 cups water). I thought this was odd – I thought starter alone would leaven the bread. Have you ever used both yeast and starter together? I get a wonderful artisan bread from this recipe, but I don’t understand why it calls for both.

    Thanks for your video – it clarified lots of things for me.

    • Les V

      A good sourdough starter will leaven the bread by itself, but it takes longer to do it. Sometimes regular yeast is added to make the bread rise faster. If you have the time for an overnight ferment you will get a much better flavour using just the starter for leavening.

  2. Les V

    I’m about a week into the process of converting a batch of my sourdough starter from store bought bread flour to spelt. I could swear that I can already tell a difference in the smell. It’s still a good smell, just different from my regular starter (which I got from here by the way). I suppose the difference to be caused by the different yeast and bacteria on the surface of the spelt berries (I grind my own) incorporating into the culture. I am anxious to see if it develops a noticeably different flavor.
    Any comments would be welcome.

    • Kirsten

      I would love to know how your spelt experiment turned out and if you noticed a difference in taste.

      I had a boatload of pineapple juice and too many different kinds of flour to choose from so I made a couple of different sourdough starters. One is made with whole wheat flour, one with spelt, one with rye flour and one with whole wheat rye flour. I’m very curious to see how they all turn out!

      I’ll probably try them once and then mix them in one container and keep feeding it with different kinds of flour.

      • Les V

        Kirsten, I haven’t really noticed any difference in taste or rising power using the spelt starter, and now it smells pretty much the same as my white flour starter. I’m thinking about just using it up and not keeping it going since there doesn’t seem to be any difference.

  3. Allen

    I am working to get a starter going. I get the clear liquid at the top every time but it forms after only a few hours. Am I not feeding it enough. Also, when I put the flour in the starter is not rising in the container. It stays at the same level as when I mixed it. There are certainly signs of healthy activity as it begins bubbling and gets frothy for a while but then the alcohol starts to come through.

    • Hi Allen,

      That’s probably it… not feeding enough. You can take a very small amount of your starter. About a tbsp and mix it with 3 tbsp flour and 2 tbsp water in a separate small jar and watch it grow. A thicker (stiffer) starter will rise more since it traps the fermentation bubbles better.

  4. Suzanne

    Help! I have 8 quarts of starter (lets just say I haven’t had time to bake and it didn’t occur to me to throw some out before I fed each week.) So here I am- with 8 quarts! Every recipe seems to only call for like 1/2 a cup. What can I possibly do?
    I’m already going to give some away but I am also wondering if there are any recipes that call for more starter.
    Thank you and I love your site!
    Suzanne

    • mary

      Suzanne, Here is a great easy sourdough pizza crust (thin) that I have been using and it takes 1 1/2 c. starter! I started doing it this summer and made smaller pizzas on the grill. So good! I just did my first one on a pizza pan in the oven at about 400 degrees for about 20 minutes then finished on the rack for about another 3 minutes to crisp the bottom. Hope you like it!

      1 1/2 c. starter
      1 1/2. flour
      1 tsp salt.
      1 – 2 TB olive oil

      Mix all ingredients together well. I use my stand mixer for about 2-3 minutes. Then let dough sit at least 30 minutes but longer is ok. This helps it become more workable. It is a fairly soft dough so I will oil my hands before working with it so it doesn’t stick to my hands. So simple I don’t even have to look up the recipe!

      • Suzanne

        Thank you Mary! Can’t wait to try it – tomorrow!

    • Les V

      Suzanne,
      Sometimes when I don’t have the time for the long ferment of the regular no knead recipes, I will make a loaf of regular yeast bread and just add a cup and a half or so of starter to it for flavor. It usually turns out pretty good. You might have to add a little extra flour to make up for the water in your starter if you keep it wet. Good luck.

    • Anita

      Hi Suzanne,
      I have been using 2-3 cups of starter when I make bread (2 loaf recipe), simply because I have so much starter and don’t want to throw it out. Also, the dough rises faster with more starter, and I don’t mind not having a distinct sour taste. It works just fine. I usually convert a yeast recipe by substituting the starter for the yeast, and then reducing the flour and the water by the amount in the starter. My starter is always fed by the same formula, so I know that it contains , by volume, about 1/3 water and 2/3 flour, so if I substitute 2 cups of starter in a recipe, then I reduce the water by 2/3 cup, and reduce the flour by 1-1/3 cups. Bread is very forgiving, so if you just plan to add the last portion of the flour and water slowly, and stop when you like the consistency of your dough, you will be all set. Last night I experimented with a favorite yeast recipe for a rich sandwich bread. I used 2 cups of starter, along with an egg, some butter and sugar, some potato water, and I made the dough in the food processor because I didn’t have time to knead it by hand. I had to use quite a bit more flour than I expected, but other than that, the loaves turned out just the way they used to. I say, go for it! Just be sure your starter is active and vigorous when you use it, and be flexible. I’m learning more and more every day about how to use sourdough starter, and it is amazing. I really don’t want to ever go back to commercial yeast.

  5. Charles Patterson

    A friend forwarded your comment that it is not possible to kill starter. Au contraire! I’ve killed 3 starters and have done nothing wrong. I am currently residing in an old motor home while building a new house. Obviously, something in here and the starter disagree. I used distilled water, AP flour, wood utensils, glass crock, between 60-90 degrees. Killed ‘em deader than Hogan’s goat. Any observations appreciated.

    • Hmmm. Please help me find that comment so I can correct it :).

    • Eva Holmes

      I killed 3 starters also and gave up. I live in a house so where you live has nothing to do with it. I followed the instructions to the letter and used all quality ingredients. I finally just gave up. So, I don’t think your enviroment has anything to do with it. You and I can’t be the only one’s this has happened to.

    • Deonia Copeland

      Charles and Eva, I understand your frustration, but I beg you to order Eric’s starter and try just once more. I too had no success with starters that I made myself. They worked but remained too weak and my results were exhasperating, to say the least.
      A few months ago, after finding this site and perusing all the information and comments, I decided to order Eric’s live starter. It was, I think, around memorial day and it floated around in the mail for a week before I finally received it. I followed Eric’s instructions using distilled water and “bread flour” and within a few hours it was alive and kicking and raring to go. I have made many breads from it, and all have been superb! I’ve played with the starter switching from bread flour, to rye and sometimes whole wheat and every time i’ve had great success. Charles I noted you used AP flour in your starters, and I’m convinced it would work with Eric’s starter, but I think bread flour ( if you’re wanting to keep a white flour starter) would be the best.
      I implore you both to order one of Eric’s starters ( either live or dry) and you will see how much difference it will make. To me there is nothing more satisfying to a baker than to turn out a beautiful and great tasting sourdough bread. I’ve had rave reviews on everyone I’ve made since I got Eric’s starter. I hope you’ll take my advice and try just once more. Happy baking! Deonia

      • Eva Holmes

        I used Peter Reinhart’s sourdough starter recipie using filtered water and bread flour. So what is difference using distilled water and Eric’s recipie that makes it more sucessful?

        • Anita

          Hi Eva,
          I made my starter from scratch this summer and it was a long, drawn -out frustrating process getting it to ‘full power’. I expected to make great bread in 1-2 weeks and it took a good month to get a great starter. I kept trying different flours, proportions, temperatures, etc., and it just boiled down to patience. And I really was upset about all the flour that I used in the multiple feedings. I’m sure with Eric’s starter, you will be able to bake wonderful bread in a matter of days, because it will arrive to you already with the high concentration of yeast that you need. I find it hard to imagine ‘killing’ a starter, but I can easily see how one would ‘give up’ on it.

          • ted

            In my experience it takes at least a month to 5 weeks to develop a mature starter suitable for baking.Patience is fortitude in starter land!

    • Freelan Pollard

      Hi Charles. If I’m not mistaken temperatures above 85 degrees will kill the sour dough starter. I have read it a number of times and it is next to impossible to kill the starter from a lack of feeding if refrigerated but the heat will do a number on it. On the other hand feed all of those creatures once in awhile. Like us they get hungry also. :-)

      • I think it might be quite a bit higher than that. Yeast will die in the oven when the temp gets into the 130-140 range.

        • Freelan

          Thank you for the reply. Maybe the starter I purchased from http://www.sourdoughbreads.com some 8 years ago are a bunch of wimps to heat. The information given on page 3 paragraph 1 of the instruction/recipe section states that about the only thing that will kill the starter is heat, therefore never expose the starter to temperatures above 90 degrees. I thought it was 85 degrees. Sorry. I wish I could find out for sure because I have always kept the temperature in the proofing box at 85 degrees. By the way, enjoying all of the toys I purchased from Breadtopia. Using the pizza stone for the first time tonight. Can’t wait.

  6. Stu B.

    The starter I ordered, with jar and whisk, came yesterday after ordering it just a couple days ago. It has been vigorous since the first spring water and flour addition. I’m just expanding the volume now for the second time. Can’t wait to make a bread this coming weekend in just a few more days.

  7. Ted

    IS ANYONE USING THE “SOAKER APPROACH” TO BAKING? IF SO, ARE YOU GETTING BETTER CRUMB ,CRUST TASTE AND OVEN SPRING ?IS THE EXTRA STEP WORTHWHILE?

    • Deonia Copeland

      Ted, I’m trying jto find the tme to make a Buttermilk Whole Wheat bread that uses a biga and soaker and when I do i’ll post my results to you here. I have made a bread using the biga/soaker method before but cannot remember what the outcome was except that any loaves that i’ve made using Eric’s starter have turned out fabulous. I just dont remember exactly what the conditions you are asking about were. I only remember they were always wonderful tasting and I was always pleased with my results.

  8. Carol

    Hi all – I have a situation that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere. I wondered if anyone can help me? I have a SF sourdough starter that I have been growning and using for a while. I keep it in a clean glass jar with a clean cloth under the glass top, and between feedings, it will develop hooch. I generally just stir it in unless the starter is too thin in which case I just dump some off. The question is this: I do a lot of lactobacillus fermenting in my kitchen and I have noticed that the last two batches I’ve grown have developed a sort of orangish colored hooch (maybe more like a peach color), as well as a fine white powdery film on the top. It looks really active under the film and it smells great, although very sour. As near as I can tell what I am seeing is wild yeast culture, and should be okay for me to just stir in and use. But before I poison myself and my husband, I wanted to check with others. Has anyone had this happen to their starter and can you tell me what I am seeing? Thanks, Carol

    • Hi Carol,

      All good questions… most of which I don’t know the answer to :).

      Generally, I consider hooch formation and/or any kind of discoloration a sign the starter simply isn’t being fed enough. A really healthy starter won’t do any of that. Fortunately, your starter doesn’t have to be in absolute top form to produce good results. The other thing I wanted to mention is I’ve yet to lose anyone (that I know of) from starter poisoning or anything close. Maybe just because any bad stuff is toast at the high baking temps it goes through.

      • Carol

        Thanks so much – I kind of got to the same place , but then i got nervous. I dumped it and started over and the new batch is very happy – I love your website – happy that I found it!

    • Ted

      Carol, If the alcohol is brown ,that is normal,even black is OK.If the alcohol is pink or red or rasberry throw it out.It looks like you have contamination in your starter to me!

      • Carol

        Thanks Ted – It’s funny – The first time it was black I wondered but stirred it in, fed it and watched it and it was great so I learned that is okay. But this film was powdery white and the hooch was peach. It sounds like it is good that common sense prevailed, huh? Thanks for the reinforcement. I hate to throw out good starter, but I would hate worse to be in the hospital
        :-). I will just keep it in the fridge once this batch is fully started.

  9. Chris

    I just got your live starter in the mail today, followed the directions right away and just 4-5 hours later, Its waking up and blowing bubbles- I can’t wait to try my hand at sourdough baking. I love this site, and all the great information, thanks

  10. Bob

    I have been baking sourdough bread for a couple of months now almost every weekend. I don’t understand why we keep more starter than we need. Constantly discarding some or finding other thing to bake with it. Why can’t a small amount of starter be kept in the refrigerator than taken out a few days before baking, building to amount you need to bake with plus slightly more. Put the same small amount of fresh starter back in the refrigerator for next week. Don’t know if I am missing something does anyone know why this might not be a good idea, will I be losing some flavor by not keeping a mother starter. From everything I’ve read your starter should be as fresh as possible.

    • Gary

      Bob,

      Keeping extra starter helps you to develope an age starter that does get better over time in flavor. There is a bakery in San Fransico that has had the same starter from the early 1800’s. Plus depending on the area in which you live you pick up flavors just from your part of the country that is unique to other parts of the country. There are people who live in Vermont and Maine who travel around and comparing their starters to each others. Just like someone who is into BBQ foods there are people into starters. I hope this answers your question.

      • Bob

        Yes, but starter that has been around for a while is constantly being refreshed it might be the same strain of yeast or bacteria for years but the actual starter itself is refreshed and fed over and over again just as it would be with my starter. I can continue my starter for years and just keep a little from batch to batch. I just don’t see the advantage of have a large amount and constantly discarding some. I don’t think the flavor comes from very old starter but its more about the strain of yeast or bacteria that is in it. I think would still remain the same if the starter was old or just refreshed

        • Gary

          Bob

          If you ever tried to make the sour dough pancakes which are out of this world in flavor, the reciepy calls for two cups of starter. Then if you want to make a loaf of bread or two loafs you would need anywhere between 1/3 -2/3 cup of starter. So, it helps to have at least a quart of starter around. I do not pour any off it doesn’t last long enough for me to have to do that. As far as old vs. new you can always try two batches and judge for yourself. They do not need to be large batches just enough for what ever type of baking you do. Good luck let us know how you make out.

    • Anita

      Hi Bob -I think that’s a great idea because I don’t want to waste ingredients either. Right now I’m trying to whittle down the abundance of starter in my refrigerator by only feeding part of it that I will then use in a recipe and leaving the rest for the next time. So far it has worked fine. It just takes some planning and maybe increasing the recipe to fit the amount of ‘ready’ fed starter you end up with. As far as flavor goes, couldn’t you just let it ‘sour’ longer on the counter or in the refrigerator to get a stronger flavor?

  11. Colin

    I bought your San Francisco starter and am using it for baking. I have heard that I will eventually lose the original wild yeast and the starter will become my local wild yeast. How soon does this happen? Can I dry some of the first feeding starter and regain the original yeast or do I need to keep purchasing it?

    • Hi Colin,

      Some people say that happens, some say it doesn’t. You can certainly dry some now to reactivate later if you think it’s necessary. That way you shouldn’t have to purchase any again.

  12. Sandy

    Brand new to sourdough baking Received my first starter fed it and made a couple of loaves, which turned out perfect, but misread the directions and put it in the refrig without feeding it. It has been about 5 weeks and I wanted to use it. It does not have any liquid on top and looks like about 1/2 cup – if I feed it and wait a few hours and feed it again will it be ok
    Thank you

    • Deonia Copeland

      For sure Sandy. Eric has said in one of his videos that if you add about a third of a cup of flour and a half cup of water that your starter will be good for a few weeks in the fridge. And even then, if left longer without feeding, it can be brought back to good health with a few feedings. Watch all the videos he has on his site and you’ll find that one. I tend to keep my starter kind of thick so i’m not real sure about the proportions I have quoted here, but they’re close I think.

      • Anita

        Hi Sandy – I just revived my starter after 4-5 weeks and it only took 2 feedings in under 24 hours to bake with it. I had 1-1/4 C of starter, so for the first feeding I gave it 1-1/4 C water, and about 2-1/2 C flour. It rose slowly to not quite double. Then it started to collapse, so I gave it a small feeding of only 1/4 C water and about 1/2 C flour to see what would happen, and it rose rapidly to more than double in less than 2 hours! I couldn’t make my bread for about 3 more hours, but it worked out just fine. The reason I tried the small feeding was so I wouldn’t have too much starter for my recipe (or have to throw anything away). I ended up with 20% more starter than the recipe called for, so I just increased all of the other ingredients by 20%, and got a little more great bread-

  13. Cynthia

    Thank you for these videos! Your website is my new baking bible! I just received a dried starter from my friend in Korea and woke it up according to your directions. It’s so happy now – I can’t wait to bake with it! The whole process seemed incredibly intimidating. But I just watched your video on caring for starters and the veil of mystery is removed. Thanks again!!!

  14. Mary

    While visiting the Hollywood Market in CA, a vendor told me I could use any fruit juice for sourdough starter. I tried pomegranate. My problem is that I read that if your starter is pink or gray, it isn’t good. I never thought of that when I made it. It all seems to be doing what it is supposed to do. Should I start over to be safe?

  15. Enav

    Got my starter from a friend few weeks ago, was feeding it regularly and baking from it, (some baking more successful then others, just starting the “bread journey”), thanks to your website it had so much helpful info. i had to change few things, i think its the different climate, very hot here, for instance, the bread proofing for over 12H makes a very sour bread…
    My mistake with managing my starter was, i guess, that i neglected the part of throwing half of it, just kept feeding it all the time, until it had a really bad smell and it became too sour, also the bread had bad taste. so i throw everything to the trash, well, so i though, i forgot i had small can in the fridge i put aside few days before the tragic death of my starter.
    today i found this can, about a week old in the fridge, with the starter bursting out of the can! it just kept growing in the fridge! I opened it and the lid blew out nearly hit me, like champagne, and the starter and starter steam spilled right out of it… fortunately no harm done, actually the starter have a nice smell and i’m now feeding it again…
    i feed my started with half rye half white flour,
    Does started continue to grow in the fridge? do you think the can i used is too small, should or shouldn’t it be vacuumed sealed? do you see any reason why i shouldn’t use it?

  16. Rachel

    I got my starter going pretty well after receiving it, even used a bit in a recipe and the bread came out well (though not sourdough-y). A day or two after that, I noticed a slightly orange coloration to the top layer…it had not done this before, and while the smell is not exactly pleasant, it’s more pungent and sour. Can there be a coloration but still be ok? I don’t want to throw it out if it’s fine. Also, I had split it in two when it looked healthy, and both containers have the color now (I’ve fed them but stirred with different spoons in the past – before the color showed up – in case one got contaminated). Anyone have suggestions/personal experience with this? I’m a starter newbie! Thanks!

    • Hi Rachel,

      Discoloration like that is not a good sign. I’ve never heard of any ill effects from a health standpoint, but it’s an indication that your starter needs help. I’d take a small amount of what you have (maybe just a few tablespoons) and feed that with a 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup water and let that sit out until it’s bubbly and spongy. Repeat that process a couple more times until your starter looks good and there’s no discoloration.

      Once it’s healthy, it’s usually easier to keep it that way. If you’re not baking frequently, keep just one starter active so you can focus on just one good one. You can dry some starter for backup if your live culture croaks.

  17. Linda

    Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate it a lot and find all of your suggestions and comments helpful in learning the bread making process. Good luck to all : )

  18. Linda

    I am new to Sourdough baking, and have made a Siff starter. I have been expanding it somewhat as the last time I used it in a recipe, I nearly ran out of it. So I have now about 1 1/4 cups of it that I have refridgerated for just over a week now.

    I had forgotton to feed it the last couple of days as we have been busy, and when going to feed it today, found that it had a crust on top of it, even though I oiled the top last thing. I just went ahead and fed it anyway and stirred it into itself, is this ok ? Thank you for any feedback, it’s appreciated.

    Linda from NC.

    • Hi Linda,

      That should be fine. I probably would have done the same thing. If you ever find that the crust is pretty yucky (advanced culinary term) looking, you might want to skim it off before feeding. I’m not sure oiling is useful, but I’m not sure it isn’t either.

  19. Norman

    I am a total novice with sourdough and working to get my new in the package mail started. I have questions on getting my sample active. I have sample in the jar, I’ve feed it once and I’m at the 30 or so hour point and the instructions say my mext step is discussed in a video, but I cannot find the video on the website. Advise me where to find in starting instruction video mentioned on the insturction sheet with my starter. Soon please before I loose it

    Thanks
    Norm

    • Hi Norm,

      It’s at the top of this page. Is it not showing on your computer?

  20. Anita

    Using your starter in a recipe is the same as feeding it, because you will be giving it more flour -food- and it will rise again and then be baked. So, as long as it is strong and vital, and rose at least double after feeding, it is ready for a recipe. My understanding is that when the starter collapses (from doubling or tripling, even) is the ideal time to use it, as long as the recipe gives it as much or more flour than the volume of the starter itself. There can be a window of several hours when it can be used or even ignored (while it is collapsing more and more). I have been following this regime for awhile and I find it gives me enough leeway, along with retarding the rising of the dough in the refrigerator sometimes, to bake the bread when it is more convenient for me. I’ve been making a no-knead ciabatta lately, and I’m very pleased with it, but still working on getting a crisper crust. Hope this helps-

    • Bob

      But do you think starter should be fed again if it has doubled and starting to collapse within a couple of hours since the last feeding. I start several days before I’m going to use it I’ve worked out a schedule feeding it every 12 hours. Just wondering if it would benefit from more feedings seeing as it rises and starts to fall after a couple of hours

      • Anita

        No, the first time the starter is doubling or tripling that fast. it’s ready to go. That’s the key. You don’t need to feed it multiple times once it has ‘proven itself’. Are you measuring it -are you sure it is at least doubling? It sounds like it is quite strong and vigorous , so just use it in your recipe within a few hours. The only reason I could see to keep feeding it would be : 1) because it isn’t vigorous enough, or 2) to increase the volume, e.g., if you only had 2 cups of starter and needed 4 cups. Otherwise, if you keep feeding a healthy, strong starter, you will either have to keep discarding (wasting) more of it, or will end up with much more than you can handle. So either plan to use it or refrigerate it after feeding. One time I planned to bake in the evening, and then changed my mind. My starter had collapsed, and I felt it shouldn’t ‘wait’ another 12 or more hours – but i didn’t want to give it a full feeding and end up with too much, so I fed it with just 1/2 c if flour and 1/4 c water, just to ‘tide it over’ until the next morning. I refrigerated it overnight and then took it out and made my bread recipe soon after. I bake with starter about once every week to 10 days, feeding it one time with about equal volumes of water and flour. It usually rises/increases 2-1/2x . Actually, I have even used a refrigerated starter in a recipe without feeding it, when only 4-5 days had elapsed, and it worked great. Believe me, in the beginning I had dozens of questions and many disasters. But once I truly understood and achieved a ‘strong starter’, everything (so far) has been a breeze. Hope I answered your question ;)

  21. Bob

    I have a started that has been doing real well it doubles in about 2 hours. Is it ok to feed starter any time after it doubles in size even if it has only been a couple of hours since last fed. Im am going to use it tonight and it just finishing doubling in size after being fed this morning was thinking of feeding it again. I know I can just use it tonight as is but is there any benefit to feeding it again.

  22. Kasey

    I just received my first starter from my husbands boss and he said that i needed to feed it with fruits and honey….. although i have been researching sourdough starters and how to handle them and everything i am reading says flour and water, this starter is 14 years old so i guess he is doing something right….. not sure what to do?

    • Hi Kasey,

      Well, I’ve never heard of feeding starter with fruits and honey, but there’s lots of things I haven’t heard of. What do you think of keeping 2 starters for a while, one fed with flour and water and one with fruits and honey and see which one you prefer to bake with? Then tell us how it went.

      • Kasey

        That is a great idea. although I think i have a new problem…. I mixed some water and flour with that starter yesterday, and let it sit on my counter for about five hours and today it has a clear liquid sitting on the top……. did i kill it? if so can i rescue it? and how?

        • Kasey

          oh and i placed it back in the fridge in a sealed mason jar. could the liquid be because it was sealed or because i put it in the fridge?

      • Kasey

        ok i should have watched your video before these questions! it is awesome! my only thing is that this hooch on the top of my starter developed after i fed it and it didnt double from where i fed it….. any help on that? i am so worried that i might have just killed a 14 year old starter, it would be my luck lol!

        • It’s unlikely you killed it because starter is pretty hearty stuff and actually difficult to kill off completely. It sounds like yours might not be all that healthy though. Hootch (clear liquid) won’t form on really healthy starter.

          What I would do at this point is take a small amount of what you have, about 1/4 cup, and feed it 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water and let it sit out for several hours and up to a day. You should see it start to bubble and rise. You might have to (or want to) repeat this process a few times in succession in order to restore it to full health. This is called refreshing your starter. Once it’s really healthy, it’s a lot easier to maintain that level with just weekly feedings and storing in the fridge.

          • Kasey

            ok thank you so much! i have been pouring off the hooch cutting it back to a cup and feeding it the recommended amounts (from all that i have seen and read on your site) every day for the past three days. i have it on my counter right now so tomorrow i will cut it back to 1/4 cup. Thank you so much for all of your help! I will let you know how it turns out in a few days. :)

          • Kasey

            ok I followed your instructions and it seems to be getting worse, i have decided to find a recipe to make a fresh start and go from there. wish me luck. :)

  23. kalli

    Hello,
    I was wandering if I could use alternative flours for my sourdough starter?

    For example, coconut flour, cornmeal flour, amaranth flour? would they work?

    I’m ready to feed my very first sourdough starter…and was hoping you could shed some light on this for me.

    Blessings,
    Kalimalinali

    • Hi Kalimalinali,

      I’m not sure what you’d experience with those flours. Some would certainly work and some better than others no doubt. With typical flours, the yeast is simply breaking down the carbs to sugars for consumption. I would imagine it would try to do the same thing with just about anything you feed it. I’m just not enough of an expert to tell you. Maybe someone else has some ideas.

      • kalli

        Thank you. I will experiment and let you know what happens… will save a little starter to keep traditionally…though just in case, the little guys really cannot live on coconut flower. right?

        • Good plan. The idea of coconut flour seems a bit strange in itself. ;)

  24. jj wayne

    I’m reading your excellent website on my Mac, specifically, making & managing sourdough starter. I cannot get the videos to play. I’ve tried using both my preferred Camino browser as well as Safari. I only see a black screen after clicking the “Play” arrow. Mousing over the screen brings up nothing except “Share This” in the upper left corner. Very frustrating. Any ideas?

    • Hi JJ

      They’re all playing for me on various browser on my PC. Also playing on my iPad with Safari. On the iPad, I also get a black screen after clicking the play arrow, but then the video starts playing after a few seconds wait. I suppose that wait could vary depending on the internet connection.

  25. I am just beginning to use a sourdough starter, but I bake bread as often as twice a week. If I used a cup of starter today and then fed it, when can I use it again? Does it have to sit for a certain period of time before I can use it again? I would like to make a different type of sourdough bread tomorrow, but I’m not sure I can dip into that same jar again. Thanks so much.

    • Hi Kelly,

      When you bake that often, and presumably are also feeding your starter quite frequently, your starter will likely stay very healthy. A healthy starter can be ready to use again in as little as a few hours after feeding.

      This depends in large part to how much you feed it. If you have a cup of starter remaining and only feed it a 1/2 cup of flour, it’s going to be ready much sooner than if you feed it a couple cups of flour. Even when I triple my starter in the morning, it’s ready to go again by evening or even sooner on a warm day.

  26. Miss Chievous RN

    i was under the impression that starter should never be refrigerated? altho my experience with “friendship” bread is that u might WANT to slow it down a bit… and if u can freeze it then why not…. anyway, does it really matter if its out at room temp or in the fridge? other than speed of growth and thus feeding etc?
    also, my grandmother kept her starter in a canning jar with calico under the ring for air, but keeping the un-welcomes out…. do i need to worry about mold and bad bacteria?

    • I suppose the ideal scenario is that starter is kept at room temperature all the time, but that only works if you feed it well everyday, and that probably only works for people who bake every day.

      Freezing can kill live starter. Freezing is only feasible if you make the starter dormant first by drying it.

      If you feed your starter regularly (at least once a week) and store it the fridge between feeding and baking, you shouldn’t have a problem with mold etc.

      • mary

        I started a sourdough last December and have kept it in the fridge for up to two weeks between feedings and it has been doing fine. I think I even went three weeks once because I just plain old forgot. It bubbled right up after I fed it. Just FYI..

        • Excellent feedback. Thanks Mary.

  27. sabino

    I have two questions regarding the storage of active starter.
    1.
    Main question – Does it matter what type of container is used to store starter ?
    Online I see predominantly glass storage. Is that important other than the convenience of seeing the contents?
    What about metal containers ? Or plastic storage containers ?
    Mayo jars are convenient & have wide-mouth openings but… they are all plastic now.
    Is there a problem using one of those ?
    2.
    Secondary Question
    The video on this site’s Managing Starter page showed three containers which were in the fridge. Those containers were glass canning jars. Those are generally pretty airtight !!
    I thought it was not good to store starter in airtight containers.
    Please clarify on how loose or breathable the storage container should be.

    • Plastic is fine for storage. Glass is fine. I’d avoid metal, the acidic starter might react with the metal if given enough time.

      You’re right about the air tight thing. The glass canning jars have their rubber gaskets removed so there’s a little air passage allowed. A little is all that’s necessary.

  28. Bob

    My starter has been going great for about 2 weeks just made my first loaf over the weekend’ it came out fantastic. I have been keeping my starter on the counter feeding it twice a day. I was going to start keeping it in the refrigerator after it matured a little more in about 30 days. After each feeding it has doubled in size in a couple of hours, the last time I fed it I decided to change from white bread flour to whole wheat. Now its been growing very slightly and not doubling in size, started feeding again with the white flour but still no growing very much. It smells and looks fine just not doubling. Any suggestions? Has this happened to anyone else. I froze some original starter If I need to go back to it. Just wondering what happened.

  29. Jean

    I just mixed up a sourdough starter, 2 1/4 tsp yeast, 2 cups warm water, 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour. It is bubbling nicely. The recipe calls for it sit for 4-8 days to ferment. Is it going to be a little runny when it gets to the point when it has a pleasant sour smell. I just tossed one away, my husband said it didn’t look right. It had been sitting on the counter for about 4 days and had a nice sour smell.
    How do I know if it’s doing the right thing. I am “NEW” at this whole thing. I want to bake sourdough bread bowls. Thanks for the info.

  30. Jenn

    I have a question regarding the odor. I recently purchased some sourdough yeast from San Francisco. I currently live in Germany and recently started baking, trying to recreate a variety of breads I cannot get here, ie: bagels and good sourdough bread. I followed the directions on the starter exactly as stated, used a proofing box and made sure the temperatures were exactly where they were supposed to be. But I am not sure on the odor. It is supposed to have a pleasant sour odor, but I have never smelled anything like this. I think it smells like yeast, but there is an underlying odor that I cannot identify & the funny thing is, I can’t tell you if it smells good or bad! Any ideas?

    • Starter can smell fresh and yeasty and also kinda “off” sometimes. The better test is how your bread turns out. Give it a shot and see what happens.

  31. Marco

    Hi there! I am new in the world of sourdough, I have got some strter today from a bakery and since it looked not very bubbly I fed it some flour and water hoping for it to double in a short a few hours and prepare my dough… But it took a long time (5 hours) to grow to less than double the volume. Then it started going down. Is it because of the flour I use? or the temperature is not warm enough? what shall I do to make it grow more and faster?

    • 5 hours is well within the “normal” range. It’s also normal for starter to drop as it depletes its food source. Getting your starter to grow more could simply be a matter of feeding your starter a larger quantity of flour in relation to what you’re starting with. Warmer temps will certainly speed things up but I’m a big fan of letting fermentation proceed at its own pace at normal room temps. In winter it takes longer, in summer it’s faster. “Normal” can mean a lot of things.

  32. Bob

    How do you measure your starter for a recipe. When it has doubled after feeding?

    • That’s a good time to use it.

  33. Bob

    Just want to make sure I’m understanding this right. If I have a starter from the fridge and I want to make sure its vibrant. I can feed it a couple of times a day a few days before I’m going to use it. Does that mean before each one of those feedings I am going to discard 1/2 of the starter or should I only discard before the first feeding.

    • It’s not that rigid. Feed it once or twice in the day or two before baking. If you end up with too much, throw some out.

      After some experience with working with starter, you can just tell when your starter is looking good or not and know when to feed it and how much. There’s a lot of latitude in the whole thing.

  34. Karen

    I was successful in getting a more sour flavor in my sourdough. I made a sponge of 1/2 cup starter and 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup water, and left it sit, at room temp, for 2 days. After the first 24 hrs I removed 2 tbsp of the sponge and replaced it with 2 tbsp of flour and 2 tbsp of water and stirred it up real well.
    The next day, I made my bread using 1 cup of the sponge and added 2 cups of flour and 1/4 cup water and 3/4 tsp salt.
    I had to add, a tbsp ,more of water when mixing up my bread, but that may or may not need to be added.
    It made a small loaf, but it was very good. You can experiment with twice these ingredients and it would work as well.

  35. Ted

    I have a quart jar of 15 year old starter (Icaught the yeast under my citrus fruit trees 15 years ago) that was fed no more than 6 times in its lifetime.It has black” hooch” on top and does not have any mold.It was kept in the refrigerator and sealed in a mason jar with a rubber seal.Has anyone tried to revialize a starter this old with jet black hooch?

    Ted

    • I have. I excavated a small spoonful from the center of the starter and fed it in a clean container and it came back after a few days of daily feeding.

      Might as well give it a shot.

      • Ted

        Breadtopia,Great idea I will follow your suggestion.Why does the achohol turn black?Do you have any idea? Ted

  36. Charlie

    I have been making and baking sourdough breads, pancakes, waffles and cinnamon rolls. Thanks to your website, I now have a live and bubbly sourdough starter.

    The one issue I have is this takes at least 30 hours start to finish, it just seems to take forever. When I bake with yeast 3 to 5 hours tops. My luck with “Artisan Bread” has been its dry and chewy to crunchy, not what I had in mind.

    So how do I speed up the sourdough process

    Thanks Charlie

    • I’m scratching my head here. Trying to figure out why a lively and bubbly starter would take so long. I guess you could try spiking the recipe with a little sugar, or malt syrup if you can find any.

  37. Eva Holmes

    I just found your website and it is FANTASTIC! Thank you soooo much! My 1st questions is, since I want to make my 1st loaf of sourdough is, should I start with a whole wheat starter or bread flour starter for the no knead sourdough bread? Thank you.

    • I’d start with bread flour starter, just because it’s easier to work with. Once you feel like you have it down, vary it all you want and see how you like the differences. You’ll be better able to judge it against the simplest and most basic recipe and procedure.

      Good luck!

  38. Bob

    If you are going to be feeding your starter a few times to get it vibrant how much time should pass between feedings? If you feed it once and it doubles in size in a couple of hours is that good enough to use, then just use what you need and feed again and refrigerate?

    • Yes! Doubling is a good indication that’s it’s raring to go… or be fed again.

      • Bob

        How long do you wait in between feedings?

        • It depends on the room temp. For me, the minimum time between feedings is typically a few hours in warm weather. It might run several more if the room is cold. If I don’t need to use it anytime soon, I’ll stick it in the fridge right after feeding where it might sit for several days before I feed it again.

  39. Karen

    Hi Russ,
    I have been successful in getting a more sour flavor by making a sponge with the starter and some of the flour, and leaving it 22 hrs to 24hrs, on the counter, and then adding the rest of the bread ingredients and making the bread the next day. Hope that helps.

    • Hi Karen,

      Thanks for your reply. We get a lot of inquiries about how to make bread more (or less) sour and your method sounds great. I wanted to get a bit more detail from you. In a recipe that calls for, say, 3 cups of flour, about how much of that would you use for your sponge?

      • Karen

        Well now, I feel like I might have steered you wrong. I use a recipe that calls for you to make a sponge of 1/2 cup starter,
        1 1/2 cup flour and 1 1/2 cup water and leave it on the counter at room temp for 12-18 hrs. I left it on the counter for 24 hr and it was more sour, than the typical recipe.
        However when it come time to make bread you use only 2 cups of the starter and put the rest back in your original starter. Then you add 4 cups more of flour and 1/2 cup more water and 1 tsp salt.
        This recipe makes two loaves.
        I just felt like I might have given you the wrong measurements and didn’t want your bread to flop.
        I have been experimenting, but haven’t tried only 3 cups flour, but will try it next.
        I am convinced that it makes a difference in the sour flavor to make a sponge and leave it out for 24 hrs.
        That was the major point I was trying to make and didn’t want to give you the wrong formula.
        If you are brave you can try the formula I gave you for 3 cups flour. However I might only use 1 1/2 cup of the sponge in the recipe.

    • Karen

      Now I have to admit that I have been experimenting, but I would use your starter, then maybe 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup water in your sponge.
      Leave it out 24 hrs and then the next day add the rest of the ingredients and follow the recipe. You might have the add a
      bit more water (tblsp at a time) or a little flour, but that is what I do.
      The bread has a more sour flavor, when I have done this method.
      I hope that is clear, to you, and doesn’t confuse you.
      I am going to experiment with leaving it out on the counter longer for more sour flavor, and I will let you know how it
      works.

      • That’s very helpful. Thanks!

  40. Anita

    Finally! Now I know what it means to have a strong, “active” starter – it actually doubled overnight in the refrigerator and I am ecstatic! It has taken 3 weeks and lots of trial and error, but to anyone out there who is frustrated, just stay with it and have PATIENCE. I began my starter with equal parts bulk whole wheat flour and water 3weeks ago,then tried bread flour and lately just AP flour for the feedings -my feeding formula is: to 1 part starter, add 1 part water and a scant 2 parts flour, about every 8-12 hours. At first it didn’t rise much, and I spent a lot of time creating a ‘warm’ environment in plastic bags and in the oven to help it along- yesterday it finally doubled in 12 hours – and last night I had the bright idea to use some potato water in a bread recipe and for the feeding – no wonder it went crazy overnight! Now I am thrilled that I can store it in the refrigerator. About a week ago I did make Eric’s Rye Bread (with just caraway and some fennel) and it was wonderful, but I know now that my starter wasn’t 100% ripe – just goes to show what a great recipe that is. Also, I have been baking everything on the outdoor grill, so that has been a little tricky getting that technique just right – and I have been trying to make ciabatta, which was deflating terribly from handling, but my starter just wasn’t strong enough. This website is such a great resource and help- without it for support and encouragement, I might have given up and resorted to packaged yeast again!

  41. Gary Masters

    is there ever a time when you add or feed using yeast in addition to equal parts H20 and Flour?

  42. Hi Polly,

    Just what’s written here.

  43. Polly

    Eric,
    Since I cannot view the video on my computer because I am on dial-up, do you have a printed version of instructions on making the sourdough starter and maintaining it for those of us who live in the backwoods?
    Thanks for much,
    Polly

  44. Anita

    Thank you Michael – I have read that a thicker starter can work better – So to 1 cup of starter I will add 3/4 c flour and 1/4 c water and see what happens. I have been putting the excess starter aside and feeding that also, so will make some pancakes and waffles and see how they perform. I am assuming that I should try to get the starter as active as possible before refrigerating, correct?

  45. Michael

    Anita, from my experience if your starter is bubbly but not doubling, it could be that your mixture is too wet and thus the bubbles are rising to the surface a popping. The doubling happens because the gasses get trapped in the mixture, if your starter is on the wet side try using less liquid than flour on your next feeding to get a thicker mixture

  46. Anita

    I made a starter a week ago and have kept it on the counter and been feeding it. It gets nice and bubbly, but only increases in volume slightly, by about 25%. Isn’t it supposed to double – increase by 100% or more? The room temperature is 70-75 degrees. First made it with stoneground ww flour and am now using white bread flour for feedings – I feed with the same amount that is in the container, e.g, to 3/4 c starter, I feed with 1/2 c flour and 1/4 c water. How do I get this starter to double and when should I refrigerate?

  47. Russ

    I have starter that I purchased in February of this year, I’ve been feeding it regularly and been baking about once every 2 weeks. The starter smells sour enough and the bread proofs well and appears to have enough spring when baked but doesn’t have the sour taste. The bread taste fine just not sour. Have I missed something?

    • Hi Russ,

      Sourdough starter doesn’t necessarily produce sour tasting bread. Some bakers consider sour flavor in the bread to be a somewhat failed result.

      This doesn’t always work, but you might be able to produce sour flavor by prolonging the proofing time by retarding the dough in the fridge overnight (or so) and then resuming proofing at room temp until it’s ready to bake.

    • Robyn

      I discovered quite accidentally that allowing the bread to do it’s first rise in the refrigerator makes a *wonderfully* sour bread. It also makes the dough a little less sticky when shaping the loaves and you wind up with a smoother loaf. When I’m wanting a really sour bread, I’ll actually let it sit in the fridge all day and overnight. It will definitely rise to more than double when left that long and working with cold dough for the second rise means it will take hours, but I think it’s all that extra time that gives it that delicious flavor.

  48. Gary

    To the guy who wrote to Mike about the taffy like dough. I use the pineapple starter and use five 5 gallon batches per week. I do a lot of volunteer baking. Anyway, I purposely make my starter into a taffy like substance and then thin it out later. I do this because 1. I want to be sure we have enough starter and 2. The starter is relatively young and I want it to develop with age making a better bread each time. The starter is never refrigerated but, for home bakers refrigerations is good and I have some in my own refrig. Getting the hooch I find is a matter of having to much alkeline in the water best to use sterlized or spring water. You can also boil your water in batches as long as everything cleans out, that is too much work. Just buy the stuff. Anyway, this is a great site to be on. Hope this info helps.

  49. Deonia Copeland

    Hi everyone, I played around with starters for the last year and I have to tell you, Eric’s is the very best. After so-so starters and much exhasperation I decided to order one from him. It floated around in the mail. in i’m sure very high temps, for a full 5 days before I received it. Still, it is sooo strong and viable. I have made about 6 different loaves of bread sinc receiving it and I can’t tell yo uhow happy I am that I finally got a starter from Eric. I cannot imagine anyone not having success with one of his starters. I even dried and froze some just in case I foul up and do something to destroy my origional. Although I cannot see that happening. I have also found two recipes I can make to use the (unfed) starter right from the fridge that you have/need to discard before feeding for use. Sourdough pretzels and Cinnamon-Apple flatbread. Thank you again Eric for this great starter. I’m in sourdough heaven!!

  50. My wife acquired some starter (a small amount of hooch at the top) from a friend and we baked our first loaf of bread (yippie!). It tasted good and both the dough and baked bread had a slight beer smell to them. After feeding the starter and letting it sit in the fridge for a week we made our second batch of bread. To our surprise (at room temperature), the starter had become taffy-like in its consistency, thick and elastic. It still smelled like beer so I added warm water until it resembled its earlier batter-like consistency. At all points it seemed to have the gas bubbles. The dough did rise (proofed?) and baked with no problems. I guess my question is this: Is the starter abnormal or still good when like taffy? Any thoughts? thanks!

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