The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Fed vs unfed starter

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GerryR's picture

Fed vs unfed starter

Is there a general rule about using a starter?  I recently made a sourdough bread recipe that called for "unfed" starter.  Simole enough, but I have seen other recipes that don't specify fed or unfed.  Unless otherwise stated do you normally use "fed" starter?

PaddyL's picture

I have used unfed starter in some breads, but mostly with added dry yeast.  Generally, sourdough bread needs a fed starter.

GerryR's picture


DavidEF's picture

There is a possibility that I'm wrong, but from what I've seen, it seems that most recipes prefer unfed starter. In order to understand what is going on, you need to establish what the terms mean. AFAIK, the terms are talking about the time-frame of the bread baking event, and comparing the starter to that. So, "fed" starter would be starter that was fed recently compared to when you begin making the bread recipe, and "unfed" starter would be starter that was due for feeding right before you begin making the bread. In other words, it is mature and active, and (almost) out of food.

With those definitions in mind, we can use some simple logic. Let's say I feed my starter 1:2:2 of Starter:Water:Flour, which I do. If I take 100g of this "fed" starter and try to use it to make bread, I'm only actually using 20g of starter, and 40g each of fresh flour and water. By contrast, if I use the starter right before feeding time, it is at the height of strength and vitality, and 100g of starter will actually be 100g of starter. Also, we usually don't think of it this way, but when I mix this with the ingredients for bread, I am actually feeding the starter. So, if I use 100g starter with 300g water and 500g flour to make bread, it can be looked at as a feeding of 1:3:5 and can be expected to act that way. Then also, if the starter is "fed", the result will actually be 20g starter, 340g water, 540g flour. That bread will take a huge amount of time to rise by comparison.

I think a mistake we sometimes make is assuming that "unfed" equates to "starved to death" but I've never seen it used that way except in conversations like this. In recipes that call for "unfed" starter, the assumption is that the starter is just off peak, ready for some more food, which the bread dough provides.

baybakin's picture

These term problems are difficult to work through.  I read "unfed" as "starved/spent" and "fed" as "active and ready to use"

more approporate could be "young" (only a few hours after feeding), "mature" (at the height of activity, just before it would fall), and "spent" (needs to be be fed before it can be used again, too acidic and does not contain enough activity to levian bread sucessfully)