The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Managing Sourdough Starter Properly

Lobarr's picture

Managing Sourdough Starter Properly

I am brand new to this forum and haven't had much time to peruse the site, but do like what I see thus far and am hoping to gain much information as I have time to read and learn.  Hopefully someone is online now and can give me some feedback ASAP.  Previously, I baked the Sourdough Banana Bread someone posted and it was the best banana bread we've ever eaten!  It rose good and had such great flavor!  I'm getting ready to bake more of it, which brings me to this post!   I'm new to using and maintaining Sourdough Starter so there is much I do not know regarding taking care of it.  How do I know my starter is okay to use if I have not fed it recently?  I've "heard" it is important to feed Sourdough Starter at least once or twice the day or night before you are to use it.  I haven't fed my starter for about 3 or 4 days.  Does that mean I shouldn't bake with it today and should instead feed it today and bake tomorrow, or is there a way to tell it is healthy and okay to use today?  I would prefer not to waste ingredients if the starter is not okay to use, thus my question.  Thanks in advance for feedback.

Janknitz's picture

Are you storing your starter in the fridge between feedings, or out on the counter?

If it's on the counter, you are probably starving the poor little yeastie beasties because they need a constant supply of food and water.   They should be fed every 8 to 12 hours, depending on how warm it is in the environment (they eat faster when it's warm).   In the fridge, their metabolism slows down and they eat and drink very little.  If you are starving your yeastie beasties on the counter, they will be making hooch (alcoholic liquid on top of the starter) and eventually they will start dying off.

So here's what you do:

1.  Discard 1/2 of your starter (preferably measure 1/2 by weight, not volume).

2.  Feed your starter with equal weights of flour and water so that it is at least the original weight.  In other words, if your starter weighs 100 grams, you discard 50 grams and feed your starter 25 ml of water and 25 grams of flour.  There are other feeding ratios, but this is the easiest for beginners. 

3.  If you plan to use your starter very soon, leave it on the counter until it gets bubbly and doubles  8 to 12 hours on average.  When you stir it up, it should be loose but also a bit sticky and stringy like marshmellow creme.  That starter is ripe.  You can now use some (not all!) of it in your recipe.  Feed the remainder as above.  Or just discard 1/2 and feed it as above. 

4.  If you are not going to use the newly fed starter within the next 8 to 12 hours, stick it in the fridge for up to 1 week right after feeding.  When you take it out, leave it on the counter until it's bubbly and doubled.  Now you are back to step 3. 

I hate to throw starter away, so I try to plan to use it when it's time to discard and feed.  If I must throw some away, it goes in the compost, not down the drain, because it can gum up your pipes.  You should maintain enough starter so that when it's time to discard and feed, you will have enough to use in your recipe, plus enough to feed up for the next use. 

I hope that helps. 

Lobarr's picture

Thanks for your response.  My starter is always kept in the fridge and it is very bubbly, not flat at all and no hooch on it.  I believe I fed it last Thursday or Friday night.  From all appearances it looks very healthy.

wally's picture


Until recently I too was keeping my starter in the fridge and feeding it at intervals of 4-5 days when I wasn't using it.  The problem I came across is that while the yeast was very healthy, the lactobacilli that impart the sourness apparently were not.  My starter had no tang at all.

During a recent class I attended at King Arthur Flour, both Jeffrey Hamelman and James MacGuire arched their eyebrows when I told them about my feeding schedule.

James suggested adding whole wheat flour to the starter to increase sourness/acidic content. He favors a stiff levain (starter) that uses proportions of 100% flour to 65% water.  He also keeps his starter out of the fridge unless he is going to be away for a period of time, and he favors twice daily feedings at 12 hr. intervals.

Currently I've modified my starter so that I refresh it with 50g starter, 65g water, 95 g sir galahad flour, and 5g whole wheat.  That's a manageable size starter that for the home baker should be sufficient for one's needs.  At the same time, if you're not using it constantly, it still amounts to feeding nearly 2 cups of flour per day that you're tossing out. (I've found that the discard can be put to use immediately in making sourdough pancakes in the morning if you have the time and desire!)

Still, my once 'tangless' starter has a wonderful sour aroma and is much happier than it was previously.

James also suggested that if you intend to refrigerate it (and he indicated that a stiff levain could exist up to two months without feeding in the fridge), you should replenish it and wait one hour before  putting it in the refrigerator.

Good luck!


avatrx1's picture

Why is it necessary to throw away (or use up) a portion of starter and then add new? I guess if I understood why I'm doing that it might help put the puzzle together.  I have always needed a reason for throwing something away.  :-)

I've started a starter, but the directions I had were to feed it every 24 hours.  I have it on the counter.  No visible hooch, but small bubbles that go away after feeding.

I'm now adding 30g rye flour, 70g white and 100 g water every 24 hours, but nothing is getting any bigger.  (day 5).

should I be feeding every 12 hours if left on the counter?  room temp here in Northern IL has been about 75 during the day.  I've been using the same container.  Do I need to put all the starter and "refresh" into a clean container every time I "feed"?


At this rate, I'll never get enough starter to do much with.


gaaarp's picture

To elaborate on what David said (below), and to show why you must use or throw away some of your starter, assume you are feeding your starter at a 2:1:1 ratio (starter:water:flour), so that you are doubling it with each feeding. Further assume 12-hour interval feedings and that you start with 100 grams of starter.

If you throw away (or use up) half of your starter with each feeding, your starter will remain constant, at 100 grams.

If, on the other hand, you don't discard any starter, your first feeding will double it, to 200 grams; your next feeding will give you 400 grams, etc.  After one week of twice-daily feedings at this rate, you would have 1,638,400 grams (roughly 3,612 pounds) of starter! I don't know about you, but I don't have a bowl that big.

avatrx1's picture

I guess the theory of throwing away small amounts in the beginning to alleveiate throwing away larger amounts later on makes sense.  It just seemed that just when I thought I was getting somewhere - I had to toss out my perceived success.

Is there way to tell if you're under or over feeding? also - at what point in the beginning can you put it in the fridge?  Not sure in my directions the amount to add after it seems to be working.  am I correct in assuming that if I have 100 grams of starter, that I now add 100g of water and 100g of flour?  making the total come to 200g?  Once I've reached an amount that I believe is a useable amount with some leftover for making more, that - I'm guessing is the point at which I begin using or tossing the extra?

I've only been feeding every 24 hours, but will try my luck at feeding every 12 or so and see what that does.

I've been out all day, but now it seems that it has gotten a tad bigger. (I forgot to mark the level).


avatrx1's picture

In the event my starter begins to look like all the starters I see on this site ( bubbly and full).--when I go to measure it for a recipe - I'm assuming you need to give it a good stirdown before measuring?

I'm sure my question is a no-brainer, but just still working on the sourdough starter puzzle.

rdphillip's picture

Bubbles are good, keep with it and things should come together.  As I understand it, there are two things you are trying to encourage in a sourdough culture... certain bacteria (which contribute flavor) and yeast (which provide the rise). The chemical actions of the bacteria assist the yeast...but only to a point. As the sourdough becomes more acidic it inhibits yeast growth. If you don't refresh your starter every so often the starter would become too acidic for the yeast to grow (they don't die, but become dormant).

The time it takes for this to happen depends on a number of things including temperature, how wet your starter is, and how much flour you are adding (in proportion to the amount of starter). "Thowing away" some of the starter is necessary only to prevent you from ending up with a tremendous amount of starter by the end of the process. Throwing some away while it is relatively small means throwing out less than you will have to if you keep adding more and more flour and water. It is possible to create a sourdough starter without throwing anything away.

When you are done mixing in the flour and water, the bubbles are gone, but don't lose heart, they will come back.

 I'm now adding 30g rye flour, 70g white and 100 g water every 24 hours, but nothing is getting any bigger.   Another important piece of information is how much "old" starter you are adding to the mix. If the proportion of flour and water to "old starter" is too high you may be "drowing" the yeast culture. On the other hand, if you don't add enough new flour and water there might not be enough "food" for the yeast and bacteria. I've seen different advice on this, but you should carefully follow the directions given for the starter you are trying to create.

And yes, you should stir down the starter before measuring it. 


JoPi's picture

Should you taste your sourdough starter to see how 'sour' it is?  And, how sour should it be?  I read once that someone likes their sour dough to be tart like a lemon.  

avatrx1's picture

What is the "typical amount" of starter most people keep on hand and do they keep 2 versions.  One stiff and one average consistency (if there is such a thing)...