Frequently Asked Questions About Sourdough

Many questions arise as you begin your sourdough journey. Believe me, I’ve been there, so I know how big of a learning curve it all is.

Utilizing a sourdough starter means learning when and how often to feed it, when to put it in the fridge, how to use discard, and how to adjust your favorite recipes so you can use sourdough. It is a lot, but that’s why talking to those who are further along in their sourdough skills can be so very helpful!

I have learned so much about sourdough in the two years of baking with it, so I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve gathered along the way.

Here you will find answers to a few common sourdough questions. These are all based off of my own experiences, mistakes, and successes. Learning from those who have used sourdough longer than yourself can be extremely helpful and set you up for further success! You’ll also find a list of more sourdough info at the very end of this post.

1. How Do I Create a Sourdough Starter?

Getting a sourdough starter going is relatively easy. It just takes two ingredients: flour and water! You can learn all the details here.

2. How Often Should I Feed It?

How often you feed your starter depends on how much frequently you use it. Here are two example scenarios and explanations for each one.

  1. If you plan to use your starter regularly, leave it out on the counter and feed it once per day. For example; I plan to use my sourdough starter for the next few days. Here’s what I’ll do: bring it out of the fridge, feed it, let it ferment for at least 8 hours, and then use it. Once I am done using it for the day, I feed it and leave it out on the counter until the next day (covered with a tea towel). I’ll then feed it once for each day that it’s out on the counter. The starter goes back to the fridge when I know I won’t be using it for a few days.
  2. If you plan to use it more sparingly, store it in the refrigerator and feed it once a week. For example; I’m going through a period when I’m not frequently utilizing my sourdough starter. I may take it out for use once every-other week, but not much more than that. Here’s what I’ll do: leave it in the fridge when I’m not using it for 2 or more days in a row. I take it out at least once per week to give it a feeding. Finally, I just put it right back in the refrigerator after I feed it. The sourdough will slowly ferment inside the fridge and remain happy!

3. What is The Gray Liquid on Top of My Starter?

That’s called hooch and it’s totally normal. You can either dump the hooch off or just stir it in to the starter. Either option will work.

This liquid forms when your sourdough starter is hungry, so just give it some flour and water and it should be just fine.

4. What Kind of Flour Can I Feed It?

Any wheat flour will work well with your starter: whole wheat, all-purpose flour, rye, einkorn, and many others for a sourdough starter. You can even mix these flours together to feed it! Starters are pretty resilient and not overly picky when it comes to the type of flour they like.

5. What Should I Cover My Starter With?

When leaving it on the counter for frequent use, I cover my starter with a tea towel. You want it to get some air, so any loose covering is best. A few other ideas: a piece of fabric, a coffee filter, napkin, or paper towel. Just use a rubber band to keep the covering in place.

I use plastic wrap and a rubber band when it goes in the refrigerator so nothing gets too crusty on the sides of the jar.

6. What Kind of Container Should I Store It In?

I store my starter in a glass jar that’s a bit bigger than a quart. You can use something smaller or larger (all depending on how much starter you want to keep around).

I suggest that whatever container you choose should be glass.

7. How Often Should I Clean My Container?

I honestly don’t clean mine much at all. Maybe once every 3 or 4 months. It becomes messy, but that won’t hurt your starter.

When you’re ready to clean the jar, just pour your starter into a different bowl, clean the sourdough container, and then put it back in the clean jar.

8. What Kind Of Water Do I Give It?

Always use filtered water. Chlorinated water will kill your starter!

I filter my water through a Berkey Water Filter.

Don’t have access to filtered water? There’s a way to get around that! Fill a vessel with water and leave it uncovered overnight on the counter. This will release any chlorine within the water, thus making it ready to use the following morning.

9. Why Should I Refrigerate My Starter?

Refrigeration slows down the fermentation process, so this means your starter won’t become hungry as quickly as when it’s at room temperature. This is why we want to refrigerate it when we’re not using it often.

One of two things will happen if you leave it on the counter (when you’re not using it frequently):

  1. You’ll feed it everyday, and if you don’t use it frequently…you’ll soon be drowning in sourdough starter!
  2. You’ll forget to feed it and it will eventually die. Now, starters are very resilient, but they do have their limits.

10. How Much Starter Should I Keep on Hand?

Enough to bake with. If you plan to use 1 cup of starter, you’ll need at least that much on hand.

I recommend having 2 or three cups at all times. That way you’ll have more than enough if you end up baking two different recipes that call for 1 cup each.

Just be sure that you have at least a small amount left in the jar so the new flour and water it receives can be properly fermented.

11. What Does Sourdough Discard Mean?

This is when you take the sourdough starter out of the fridge, skip feeding it, and use it in a recipe right away.

There are certain recipes that work well with sourdough discard, and there are others that need fed sourdough starter. Your recipe should instruct you on which kind to use.

12. Do I Have to Discard Half After Every Feeding?

Nope. Once you have completed the first 7 days of getting your starter going (instructions here) there’s no more need to discard. Just feed it flour and water, but do not discard half of it any more.

13. How Much Do I Feed It?

I feed my starter 1 cup of flour and about 1/2 cup of filtered water. I know there are many people who weigh the starter, check it’s temperature, and more in order to figure out how much to feed it…but I don’t make time to baby my starter that much and it’s always been fine!

This is the rule I stick to: keep the starter at the consistency of a thick pancake batter

14. How Can I Make My Sourdough Less Sour?

The longer you allow your starter to sit without feeding it, the more sour it will become. If you would like to avoid a strong sour flavor, just feed it more often, or don’t allow it to sit on the counter for as long.

Keep in mind that the longer you let the starter sit and ferment, the healthier the bread will be. I recommend a fermentation time of 24 hours in order to give the sourdough plenty of time to work.

15. How Do I Know My Starter Has Gone Bad?

This is a tricky question to answer because it is a case-by-case situation and it is difficult for me to tell if your starter is bad when I can’t see it.

Here are a few concerning signs to look for: mold, or an orange or pink color in the hooch.

Keep in Mind: Hooch does not automatically mean the starter is bad. A clear, gray, or even blackening liquid is nothing to be concerned about. Just feed it, stir it up, and let it ferment.

That was a lot of information, so you may need to refer to this post a few times. Don’t worry, as you gain experience with your starter you’ll begin to know what it needs, what’s normal and what’s not, and how to utilize it best!

Happy baking!

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