The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

1:2:2 vs 1:3:4 feeding

aryaya's picture

1:2:2 vs 1:3:4 feeding

I am trying to figure out the differences/benefits of these feeding ratios. I see some people just say 'double it' / 1:2:2, while others say to go with a 1:3:4. I was told to do the latter, and thats how I'm feeding my little sourdough starter right now (2 tbs starter, 1/2 cup flour, a little less than 1/2 cup water)... but I'm so curious why some recommend one over the other? What is the difference????

Thanks for any input!!

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

My normal feeding routine of my mother starter is 1T starter, 1T water, and 2T flour. This gives me enough starter to build up a levain for breads, yet it doesn't use so much flour that I'm buying 5 pounds per week just to feed it. My building technique goes a bit more in depth, going by weight.

I buy 5 pounds per week because I make that much bread now. :D

karladiane's picture

Hi there:

I think that the main things to keep in mind for feeding protocols are:  What fits your schedule, and how do you use your starter (both how often and for what kinds of breads). 

These items can only be answered over time, with experimentation.  I feed my 2 starters once a week (one rye, one wheat), and I like them a little on the wetter side, just because of my baking preferences.  That way, I can use them as seed for both dry and wet starters when I bake.

Just remember, a sourdough is a living population of organisms, and as long as they get food, water & air, on a regular basis, they'll be fine.  Beware of advice that is rigid & iron-clad!  Personally, I love the fact that I have grown to have a "feel" for my cultures and baking.  It has made my bread-baking learning adventure so rewarding.

Try them all and see what you like - and have fun.



gaaarp's picture

Not to be OCD, but a 1:2:2 feeding doesn't double your starter.  In order to double, you would feed 2:1:1.  So, for example, if you started with 10 oz of starter and fed 5 oz each of water and flour, you would have 20 oz, or twice what you started with.  A 1:2:2 feeding, starting with 10 oz of starter, would net 50 oz, or 5 times what you started with.

As far as which to use and why, as noted above, it's really a matter of personal preference.  A firmer starter will be able to go longer between feedings, as there is more flour for the yeasty beasties to eat.  But it really comes down to what you want to work with. 

I currently have 4 starters, one at 175% hydration, two at 100%, and one at 65%.  I have been experimenting to see what I like the best.  The 65% hydration starter is easy to work with and mixes in well.  The high-hydration starter is a bit high maintenance for my liking.  It develops hooch after about two days in the refrigerator.

Separate your starter into a few containers and try different hydration levels to find the one you like best.

aryaya's picture

ocd appreciated gaaarp haha - that makes sense. So why is it that some sites recommend 2:1:1 and others 1:2:2 ?? I am just trying to understand the technical aspect of this more than anything (curious by nature I guess!). It seems if I just 'double it' then it would run out of food much much quicker??

Are some of the tips out there just picking a ratio thats of no real crutial importance? I ask this because I've even read some places that you start out at the very beginning with 2:1:1 and then switch to 1:3:4 when its mature. Whats the purpose behind this?

I guess I'm trying to see if this is more than just a hydration/preference issue - does it prefer a certain way to stay more 'in balance'?

Thanks for the help :)

dghdctr's picture

Hello aryaya,

We've been having some discussion about the why's and so on over at this thread:

Having directed you there for specifics, I'd pretty much agree with what's been expressed in this thread by others.  There are no ironclad rules about feeding schedules,as long as you're getting good results.  Of course, it can be a good idea to use someone else's experience as a starting point (bad pun), but, once you've learned how to manipulate things to your liking, go ahead and experiment to move things over to what you prefer.

People either use different schedules "just because", or they are consciously trying to force things like yeast and bacterial activity in a certain direction.  What's really important, no matter what schedule or ratios you use, is that you find what works and then use that routine for maintenance consistently to get consistent results.

--Dan DiMuzio

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Hi Aryaya -

Understanding what the numbers mean will help you here.

1:2:2 means "1 part starter, 2 parts flour and 2 parts water. The arguments start when we try to define what a 'part' is. Is it volume or weight? You will find many websites that go one way or the other (and no doubt, they are getting successes both ways), but the end of the argument is that it SHOULD represent weight, and I'll tell you the reasoning. If you need to be able to express your starter with a hydration percentage, you MUST weigh those parts.

The internet folks who promote volume maintenance for their starters all generally agree that baker's percentage formulas base dough hydration on the weight of the liquids against the weight of the flour. Why don't they view their starter the same way, since it's purely water and flour? It doesn't make sense.

Now, is this important, or is this just something we like to rant about? Well, it's important for you to know whether their starter 'formula' (x:x:x) is based on volume or weight, or possible a mixture of both! Make sure you ASK before you assume (which also assumes they didn't clarify with examples). Now, the next important question you have to answer for yourself is very simple: what hydration do YOU want your starter maintained at? That question will directly dictate a certain formula. That formula is usually one way to start, and then might change slightly as you make choices about maintenance and storage.

For purposes of ease of your management and knowledge curve, most recommend a 100% hydration from start to maturity (maturity being defined here as a starter that can definitely hold its own and can take some abuse). A starter that is too wet can be harder to maintain, and can also be more prone to abrubt changes in its acid and/or other environmental levels. One that is too dry takes an expert to know when it needs fed (it can be tricky to guage it's overall strength, too). The one right in the middle, the 100% hydration starter, is just right for the beginning culturalist! The environment is much slower to change, which makes it easy to catch and correct problems, and it also gives very clear visual cues as to what phase (or stage) it's in.

So forget all those other websites... understand the numbers!

Let's leave out the first number, the weight of the starter, and instead concentrate on the actual hydration numbers. Those last two numbers in the formula represent the actual hydration we want to END UP with, and if we want 100% hydration, those numbers need to match exactly. They also need to represent weight (in grams or ounces) instead of volume (teaspoons, tablespoons, etc). If you are familiar with working with baker's formulas, I'm sure you would agree that if you mix 80 grams of flour with 80 grams of water, you would have a dough (or rather, a batter) of 100% hydration. Ok? So forgetting about the first number in the starter formula, we can just simply mix flour and water, and we will have a hydration level.

This whole starter 'formula' in a ratio format is ( I guess...) easier for new sourdough bakers to grasp, but in reality, it would be much easier to get them to understand baker's percentages, and then give them a baker's formula for their starter. Why? Because it's so accurate! You can have a starter at 95%, 115% or 72% hydration easily!

More examples (because eventually a light bulb will go off here...). Let's say we want an 80% hydration starter. Flour is always 100%, so we want the water to be 80% of that. If we want to use 80 grams of flour ( the flour weight is always decided on and provided by YOU), then we can simply apply some math:

80 grams of flour TIMES .8 [80%] = 64 (80 * .8 = 64)

So if we mix 80g of flour with 64g of water, we will have a either a very thick batter or an extremely wet dough, but in the end, it will be 80% hydrated. Want 120% hydrated starter batter? Use 96g of water against the 80g of flour:

80g flour TIMES 1.2 (80 * 1.2 = 96)

Again, the last two numbers of the starter formula commonly used is just setting up the hydration of the finished starter, so realistically, we can just use our normal baker's percentages that we are more comfortable with. They are just two different ways of representing the exact same thing.

Now that we have a batter or dough that will be the food for the beasties, we need beasties! So back to the first number we go...! The first number represents how much OLD starter we want to add to the food supply we built. This is referred to as innoculation. Basically, we are taking our batter/dough and infecting it with some beasties! This process is absolutely no different than adding commercial yeast to an entire recipe. We are, in fact, just raising little loaves of bread every time we feed/maintain a starter! There's no voodoo here at all... it's the same, just on a much smaller scale to be manageable and economical! Ok, so if we isolate the first number, and group the other two numbers, we get this:

The last two numbers together create a hydration percentage, and the flour by itself dictates the amount of FOOD that will be available to our innoculation.


Starter ratio of 1:1:1 - Simply, equal amounts (by weight) of old starter, flour, and water. Hydration will be 100% (last two numbers are EQUAL), and we are providing the amount of mature beasties that will typically exhaust this food supply in about 8-12 hours on the counter, depending on temperature.

Starter ratio of 1:2:2 - The last two numbers are EQUAL, therefore we are going to end up with 100% hydration. The flour number is TWICE the first number, so we are providing TWICE the amount of food available for the beasties. This is also commonly referred to as a 'double feeding'. To acheive this formula, and assuming our target flour weight is again 80g, we would provide 40g of mature starter, 80g of flour and 80g of water.

Why would we do a double feeding? Well, some folks might double feed a starter before refrigerating or if they otherwise know they cannot be there for the next regular feeding. You cannot over feed your starter!

Let's connect the dots here. Maintaining a starting is no different than having a dough that is constantly leavening. The flour weight is the central number that we need to know. Once we know that, the last number indicates how much water to use to acheive a particualr hydration. The first number relates to the flour in a way that defines how much food will be available, and how 'saturated' our innoculation will be with mature beasties.

Mastering this formula is not mandatory for maintaining your starter. Where it will come in handy is when you start playing with different hydration percentages to satisfy a recipe, or doing complicated multiple build preferments.

For a person new to building and maintaining a starter, I'm going to highly suggest you use a 1:1:1 ratio and stick to it. Over the course of a month or more, you will become an expert on the look, feel, and behavior of a 100% hydration starter. Using this as your base of experience, you can then branch out and experiment with other hydrations and feel confident when you are faced with a recipe that calls for something new.

After a feeding, a 100% hydration starter will have very easy to see visual indicators as it moves through different phases. It will first bubble a bit (fairly large bubbles). Then after about an hour, it will start producing a tremendous amount of much smaller bubbles. The top will begin to swirl, almost like looking at a radar image of a hurricane. The top will form a dome that arches upwards, and it will start climbing the container as the volume increases. Once it reaches its peak, or 'break point', the dome will invert (begin pointing down) and the mixture will begin receding back down. If you stir it at this exact peak, the mixture will have a definite elastic batter feel to it. If you wait until it goes all the way back down, it will be very liquid and offer little resistance to your whisk. Becoming an expert at recognizing these phases and how long each one takes to transition to the next (based on the temperature you commonly keep it at) will build you a great deal of confidence. Not only will you know how to use your starter per a recipe's instructions, but you will also know when your starter isn't behaving correctly. If you need help or have questions, you will be able to adequately describe what phase you're questioning. The list of pros goes on and on here...

You will eventually find a formula that you are most comfortable with to store your starter (whether on the counter or in the fridge). This might be 100% hydration or something different. This stored starter is also commonly referred to as the 'mother'. If a recipe calls for a different hydration of starter, we simply use a small portion of our mother and add it to a new hydration. We feed the mother as per HER typical stored hydration, and put her back in storage. We then start maintaining the new starter specific to our needs. After 2 or 3 regular feedings of 1:1:whatever for the new hydration, you will be very close, if not exactly on the mark you need to be at, and can proceed with your recipe.

Here's how I maintained my starter at first. I used a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup, because it was sturdy, glass (metal isn't good for maintaining starter, and I'm not a big fan of plastic), and had a nice wide open top. When I needed to feed, I poured about 100g into a different measuring cup and set it aside. I then completely rinsed out the pyrex container (I didn't wash with soap, just rinsed and then lightly dried with a paper towel). I put the pyrex container on the scale, then zeroed the scale. I added 80g of cool tap water. I then added 80g of the set aside starter. Using a small whisk, I briskly whisked the water and old starter until it developed a frothy top and was well combined (whipping air into the mixture promotes growth and balance). 80g of quality flour (I used King Arthur All purpose) was weighed out and added to the pyrex container. Again, the small whisk was used to combine well. This batter is fairly thick and resistant, so a bit of muscle was used. A bowl scraper was used to quickly scrape the excess from the sides and dropped into the middle. Plastic wrap was loosely draped over the top (surgical cleanliness not needed.. just keeping out dust, dirt, cat paws, etc...). Done until next feeding. I did this for about 2 months until I transferred to a mason-type container for the fridge.

If all of this is a bit much, just try the schedule I outlined above, and then re-read this a time or two over the next few weeks. It will all sink in, and good luck!

- Keith

jj1109's picture

great post Keith!

I've always called my old starter an innoculum, as opposed to an innoculation. Each to their own :)

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Looks like we could both use a spell checker! According to, it is inoculum and inoculation.

I used the word twice, and I believe my usage was correct:

>The first number represents how much OLD starter we want to add to the food supply we built. This is referred to as innoculation.

2. The introduction of a microorganism or an agent of disease into an host organism or a growth medium.

>The first number relates to the flour in a way that defines how much food will be available, and how 'saturated' our innoculation will be with mature beasties.

2. an instance of inoculating.

Inoculum refers to the actual substance being used in the inoculation, and is also interchangeable with the term inoculate.

- Keith


gaaarp's picture

Keith's explanation is very thorough and way more than I ever could have put together, but I do feel compelled to point out one small error:  in the ratio, x:y:z, x is the starter, y is the water, and z is the flour (water before flour).  Not a big deal, but it's often confused.

avatrx1's picture

I was trying to come up with a certain hydration rate for a recipe that I've found, but couldn't remember which came first.

I used 1 part starter to 3 parts flour and 4 parts water.  I think I got my numbers backward since this starter is so much looser than my 100% starter.  I was trying to achieve a drier starter.

Is there a good way to fix this or should I take some of my 100% and try again?

I don't recall what the hydration rate was in the recipe.  I only know the poster said they used 1:3:4.

is it always water before flour?



Janknitz's picture

If I want to repalce a portion of regular flour and water in a formula with my 100% starter--say 40 grams of starter--I would replace 20 grams of flour and 20 ml of water?

Thanks for all the great info here!

dghdctr's picture

You got it.

aryaya's picture

That was just about all the information one could hope for! Thank you! I was able to sit down finally tonight and read through it all and comprehend it haha. I wanted to reply as soon as I could though so you didn't think I ran off! The hydration thing makes perfect sense.

Now out of beginners curiousity once again, why do people choose to feed it once to twice daily instead of doubling or tripling it and feeding it say, once a day or every other day, or just sticking it in the fridge with a big feeding? I'd assume that it keeps them more vibrant I guess? But it'd sure be nice to maintain something a little less often, unless it does cut down on the quality... I read somewhere that a mild bread is made from old starter and a quick rise, and a sour bread from an actively fed starter and long rise, so I suppose thats what it is... ?