The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Starter

  • Pin It
HunkeredDown's picture

Sourdough Starter

I am curious, as to why I have to throw out perfectly good starter in the feeding process. If I start out small enough, (I don't have to start with a cup of flour and one of water), could I not just feed it, adding to the starter and not throwing any out, at all?  I know that I will have massive amounts of starter, but, I am planning on making massive amounts of bread. My sisters and I will be baking all day long. I guess we plan on using up all the starter during our bread baking marathon. We have a large family, and they love our bread. We like being frugal and can't stand the thought of throwing something good out. Can anyone help us understand why we have to throw out the starter as we feed it? If it is thrown out due to the subsequent feedings creating a large volume, that is okay with us to have. We will use it up quickly.  Help!

bassopotamus's picture

If you are growing it faster than you are using it. This summer when I was baking quite a bit of sourdough (16 loaves a week plus using a bit to flavor some other pre ferments) I had it to where there was almost zero waste.

KenK's picture

Edited to move to the bottom, this is a new bb format for me.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

from feedings.  I collect it in a separate container, and whenever I have enough I use it for something.  One of our favorite uses is for sourdough pancakes or waffles.  We also eat a lot of sourdough and berry (blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries or whatever we can find) muffins.  I have not thrown out any starter in the month or so I've been maintaining my active culture.

As you can see from the young age of my starter I've way more enthusiasm than experience, so I'll let someone more knowledgable answer your question about why you should keep your starter small, and just wish you good luck and joy in baking.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Then you won't want to keep that discard for the first 5 days.  Some of it can be downright nasty stuff in bread or anything.  Later, once it has established itself it will taste better. 


Davo's picture

Using a fridge to store my small amount of starter, I almost never throw any out. I build the starter from dormant in the fridge with a couple of feeds, so that I have just more than I need, for bread. I remove what I need, feed the very small remainder, and after a couple of hours put it back in the fridge. These days I rarely reclaim from the levain.

andrew_l's picture

I never throw out starter. Over the years, I've evolved a way of keeping starter and baking which pretty well eliminates waste.


I make a stiff starter 150 grams weight and leave it out for a few hours before refrigerating.


When I want to use it I scrape it into a bowl, add 150 grams water and 150 grams white bread flour, mix, cover and leave overnight. By morning it is really going and is the basis for my loaf.


To the "empty" bowl I add about 30 grams water, stir well, and pour into a clean bowl then I add 50 grams white flour. Cover, leave overnight. In the morning add another 30 grams water and about 45 grams white flour. Cover, leave a couple of hours and refrigerate.


The cycle begins again! If I've left it a long time, it gets a layer of alcohol smelling liquid on top, which I pour/ scrape off - then proceed as above. If it is less than 150 grams when scraped into the bowl, then increase the water and flour to make a total of 450 grams. 


It's been going like this for a couple of years and I love the bread it makes....



Yumarama's picture

One method of feeding says to discard half your starter and add that much fresh flour/water again. We'll assume we're basically adding about the same amount of flour+water, so doubling our starter each feed BUT not removing the original half because we "don't like to throw anything out". We also keep the starter out and feed twice daily and go one week. 

We'll start on day 1 with a small amount of starter: 2 tablespoons or 1/8 cup. At each feed, we give it an amount of feed equal to the starter, made of 50% water and flour by weight. But for this example, just so we have a better idea of the volume, we'll assume the volume added is calculated correctly to be by weight, so in that 1/8 cup, there's, say, 15g flour and 15g water. This is, in effect, a 2:1:1 feeding ratio. If you prefer to do 1:1:1 or 1:2:2, the amounts will increase even faster.

And just for fun, before you read the rest, take a guess at how much starter you'll have at the end of one week, starting with just 2 tablespoons and feeding twice a day. Ok, got an amount in your head? No cheating, can't look at the end or change your mind, now!

Alright, let's have a look.

  • Day 1, Feed 1: we start with 1/8c starter, just 2 tablespoons, so we add 1/8 c of feed so we end with 1/4c of fed starter. Whew, saved from throwing out 1 tablespoon of starer!

  • Day 1, Feed 2: 1/4c starter + 1/4c feed = 1/2c total starter. No problem here. Good night, little starter, feed you in the morning!

  • Day 2, Feed 1: 1/2c starter + 1/2c feed = 1 cup total starter. Bah, this is easy. Oh wait, our starter is doubling in size so we have too make sure the jar is big enough. So into a quart jar (4 cups) it goes, that should do for a while.

  • Day 2, Feed 2: 1c starter gets 1c feed = 2c starter. Hmm. Hope it doesn't expand past double.

  • Day 3, Feed 1: 2c starter + 2c feed = 4c total starter. Well geez, now that quart is full and it hasn't even expanded yet. OK, into a gallon jug you go.

  • Day 3, Feed 2:  4c starter + 4c feed = 8c total. Wow, that's 2 whole quarts. If it expands to double, this gallon jar will just hold it (hopefully).

  • Day 4, Feed 1: 2qt starter + 2 qt feed = 1 gallon total starter. Gah! I need a big bucket for this stuff now. And I just added about 4 cups of flour to this thing. And we're just barely past the middle of week one. Wonder how long that 5 lb bag of flour is gonna last?

  • Day 4, Feed 2: 1 gal starter + 1 gal feed = 2 gal total. OK, into that big 5 gallon Home Depot pail now. Man, I used 12 cups of flour today alone...

  • Day 5, Feed 1: 2 gal Starter + 2 gal feed = 4 gal total. Off to the store for more flour...

  • Day 5, Feed 2: We now have 8 galons, which need at leasts a 16g container. The kiddy pool would do...

  • Day 6, Feed 1: 16gal.

  • Day 6 Feed 2: 32 gal and you used about  192 cups of flour. And you're just now getting to the end of week 1...

  • Day 7: Feed 1: we now have 64 gal of starter. We better start planning on making bread soon.

  • Day 7, Feed 2: 128 gallons of starter. That's more than your standard bathtub can hold, never mind when it expands. If you want to think about "economy", you need to ask yourself how much flour you are willing to use to feed this exponentially growing monster., never mind where you'll be keeping it in a day or two. Maybe the neighbours are a way and you can use their pool... 

Now let's keep in mind we began with just two tablespoons. Only about 40 gallons of that is water, the other 80 gallons is flour That's SIXTEEN five gallon drums. You will be running to the grocery store and buying out their flour supply in no time. That won't be cheap. 

Or you can discard a couple of tablespoons of flour at each feed and keep the starter at a fair size for your needs. Whether that's keeping it to 150g (about a half cup) or a little bigger because you bake a lot. But you'd be a bakery pumping out hundreds of loaves to be using up 128 gallons of starter.

Need a larger amount of starter for your baking day? Take one feed's discard and build that up to that amount. 

And how close were you in your guess?

And what of the future in our "no discarding" scenario? In three more days, you'd have 8,192 gallons.

By the end of week two, if you wanted to refrigerate it now so you only feed once a week, you'd need a fridge big enough to hold 2,097,152 gallons. yes, that's over 2 MILLION gallons. If you go one more week, you're at over 34.3 BILLION gallons. And of course, truckloads of flour delivered daily to feed this monster.

Now obviously no one would go that far before realizing that NOT discarding is insanely expensive but it may not be obvious how FAST this adds up when you're looking at your 2 Tablespoons of starter and thinking it's not worth throwing that extra tablespoon of flour out. Even by about day 4 you'd have got to the point where you'd need to throw out just under 1 gallon of starter to get back to a decent amount, so you'd be tossing at least 7 cups of flour away. Removing 1 tablespoon per feed over that same time is just 1/2 cup of flour.

Which is actually more economical and less wasteful? Which will give you enough extra starter to make pancakes for the family vs pancakes for the local school board?


andrew_l's picture



Just don't keep adding!

HunkeredDown's picture

I guess you thought that we were doing your recipe, but, we are more interested in this one:

Procedure for Making Sourdough Starter

Day 1: mix...
2 T. whole grain flour (rye and/or wheat)
2 T. unsweetened pineapple juice or orange juice
Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2: add...
2 T. whole grain flour
2 T. juice
Stir well, cover and let sit at room temperature 24 hours. At day 2 you may (or may not) start to see some small bubbles.

Day 3: add...
2 T. whole grain flour
2 T. juice
Stir well, cover and let sit at room temperature 24 hours.

Day 4:
Stir down, measure out 1/4 cup and discard the rest.
To the 1/4 cup add...
1/4 cup flour*
1/4 cup filtered or spring water

*You can feed the starter whatever type of flour you want at this point (unbleached white, whole wheat, rye). If you are new to sourdough, a white starter is probably the best choice. All-purpose flour is fine--a high protein flour is not necessary.

Repeat Day 4:
Once daily until the mixture starts to expand and smell yeasty. It is not unusual for the mixture to get very bubbly around Day 3 or 4 and then go completely flat and appear dead. If the mixture does not start to grow again by Day 6, add 1/4 tsp. apple cider vinegar with the daily feeding. This will lower the pH level a bit more and it should wake up the yeast.


What do you think about this one?




Yumarama's picture

was simply to show that not discarding the excess and simply adding on would result in massive amounts of starter in no time. There are, of course, ways to avoid that ONCE your starter is good and active. One is to keep your starter smaller, and once it's mature to keep it refrigerated and use the excess weekly for baking, etc..

Note, however, that the instruction you've posted say

"Day 4:
Stir down, measure out 1/4 cup and discard the rest."

I'd guess the next question is: are you going to throw that excess out (especially while building your brand new starter) or keep adding every day for a week - possibly two - while the baby starter matures?

Another reason to not keep it AND not save it for other uses, if you're just starting up the starter from scratch, is that it's not really "starter" yet. It's a developing army of numerous different critters all fighting for ownership of the flour soup. This is not something you'd want to keep for other uses and because it will build up quickly, you also don't want/need to be feeding a couple of cups of baby starter with 4 or 8 cups of flour in the next three days. That's simply not economically sensible when discarding a couple of tablespoons will keep the starter at a manageable size.

Here's a quick overview of your next week's amounts going by the formula you posted, starting at 1/4 cup on a 1:1:1 feeding ratio BUT not discarding any:


  • Day 1: 3/4 cup

  • Day 2: 2.5 cups

  • Day 3: 6.75 cups

  • Day 4: 20.25 cups = 1.25 gallons

  • Day 5: 3.75 Gal

  • Day 6: 11.25 Gal

  • Day 7: 33.75 Gal.

Other issues that crop up: Where do you keep 33 gallons of starter (and it's 70 gallon container)? Are you willing to feed that 34 gallon starter about 20 gallons (352 cups) of flour just to save discarding 1 3/4 cups over the week? At the 7 day mark, how much bread do you plan to make and will it use up all 33.75 gallons? 

So for several good reasons you DO want to discard, especially while building a new scratch starter.


KenK's picture

I've been lurking here for a while and registered just to post on this thread.  I began a starter about a week ago.  1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup flour. I have been taking out half and feeding it twice a day. 

It started working within a day or so but it has not been rising much although it has a nice sour dough smell to it. I think because it has been too cool in the house.  

Today I fed it at lunch time and put it in the oven with the light on.  That seemed to perk it up a little.  About six hours later I took half the starter (1/2 cup) and mixed it with 1/2 cup of Bisquick.  Nothing else.  It made about three and a half biscuits.  They were delicious.  To my knowledge I've never eaten a sourdough biscuit so I have no basis of comparison but it was somewhere between a normal biscuit and a yeast roll.


simpleann's picture

I have built my starter (AP flour + water) 3 weeks ago and have used it to make bread ever since.  Being an adventurous newbie, I used the SD basic bread recipe as before but this time kept it in the fridge to retard as I have read in many of the entries here. My SD bread was just out of the oven few minutes ago and I couldn't resist just tearing a wee bit of it to taste.  It has that crunch I so love but it's sourer than those previous SD bread I have made so far.  Does starter get sourer as it aged?  or it's the retard process over the 3 days in the fridge that gave that extra tad of sourness in the bread?