The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why do we discard part of the starter?

hortstu's picture

Why do we discard part of the starter?

Is it just to make room in the container?  Is it so we don't need to add back as much flour?  If I wanted to share my starter with others could I just divide it in two add back to each and then have 2 starters?

wally's picture

I don't know how you refresh your starter, but most formulas call for a ratio of around 1:3 of old starter and new refreshment.  Do the math.  If you don't discard a substantial amount of your starter, it will consume all the space in your house in a very short time.

That said, you can always use the discard (why not pancakes for breakfast?) or, to answer your second question, give it to a friend (or two or three).


Bakersman's picture

YES, sour dough pancakes!! They are SOOO good!! When I refresh my starter I start it on say a Friday night with a equal weight of flour and water to the weight of the starter, and in just a few hours it is climbing near the top of a LARGE bowl. I will then knock it down and double it again to make several cups, a cup or so for the bread I plan to make and enough for pancakes( about four cups) to feed four hungry people and enough to put back in the crock. Some times I don't touch it for two weeks , then refresh it a couple times and so on and so on.. It keeps on going....



Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

is wasteful of food. Apparently we in overfed countries (the industrialised west) throw away a huge percentage of our food, which I (and others) think is a bad thing to do.

In the cast of a starter there's no problem, nothing has to be discarded. Feed as usual then when bread needs to be made remove all but the original amount of starter and use it for the bread. 

It's not a problem. 

Throwing away food IS a problem, it's insulting to the grower of the wheat/rye, the processors and the hungry part of the world.


Deka's picture

I also had issues with throwing out the disgard until I read the post above. It then made perfect sense to me.


Chuck's picture

Here's what we college students sharing a house near San Francisco did decades ago (I'm sure there are better ways, and I even suspect more than a few folks will be completely horrified at this, but it worked for us):

We dedicated a fairly small jar to our starter. Every few days we'd remove half of what was in the jar and bake bread with it, and refill the jar with with fresh feed mix so it was the other half the starter and half new flour and water.

We never even used measuring cups, let alone a scale. Our unit of measure was simply "the starter bottle full".

Everything I've ever read says we should have killed our starter for sure many times over by so much mistreatment. But we didn't know any better, and we apparently benefitted from a huge dose of beginners' luck.

silkenpaw's picture

I think people make too much fuss over their starter. I've never babied mine and it survives just fine. I just don't expect it to raise bread immediately after being neglected for weeks - it needs to regenerate a while.

hortstu's picture

Good link there.  I figured abundance was part of it. 

dzolotas's picture

When I started my own starter, I was very happy. After a while, I faced the problem with discards. Throwing out precious flour seemed to me not "right". With time I learned to use it. In every feeding, I collect the discarded starter into a large jar, and I keep it in fridge. Every 5-6 days, I take it out, and I make ciabattas, bread, pancakes, pizza shells, etc. Just leave it out of fridge for 1-2 hours to get room's temperature first, and then use it. It's not so active of course like a starter prepared on purpose for a recipe, but it serves me well enough.

That's my way



K.C.'s picture

I too never toss out starter. I feed, take the extra and bake something. If I don't need bread then a neighbor must. Nobody never argues when I show up at their door with a fresh loaf of bread in hand.

Cooking202's picture

How about drying some of it as a back up. Spread it thin on parchmant, let it dry completely...crumble and throw into a zip lock bag. That way if (horrible thought) anything should happen to your mother starter, you wouldn't have to start from scratch.  Just a thought.

varda's picture

I keep a small amount of starter (half cup) very dry in the refrigerator.   When I need to use it, I take around a tablespoon of it out and then feed it on the counter for a day until I build it up to a bit more than I need for whatever I'm baking.   Then when I add whatever I need of it to the dough I return around a tablespoon or so back to the tub in the refrigerator  and mix it up with what is in there.   I have been doing this for months and have never thrown anything out.    Oh, and over time this starter has been getting more and more active so sometimes I think I have accidentally replaced it with silly putty or whatever that substance was in that Eddie Murphy movie from way back when.

dzolotas's picture

Attack of the alien starter !!! Beware humans, for thy claws can consume us like starch !!!

My starter was born (happy birthday I hear?) around 2004 and was used for two years. After that because of my job, and my laziness (I admit) I abandoned it. But before that I dried some and I stored it to fridge. Six months before, I reactivate it successfully and since then I used it daily.

Yes, those beasts are strong enough. I wonder, how many of them I've killed until now ? Bad Karma !!!!! 

pjkobulnicky's picture

a bakery.  If you were a bakery, baking every day, you would schedule all refreshments so that at baking time you would have just enough starter to bake that day's schedule plus enough so that the refreshments between baking one day and the next would yield enough to start the whole process all over again with no waste.

But you are not a bakery and so you need to keep it vibrant and properly refreshed for the day(s) that you do bake. I want a really good, active, refreshed starter on those days that I bake and so I am more than willing to toss out a little flour and water in exchange for a powerful starter when I need it.

And, don't give it away. It is like foisting off kittens on your neighbors. People won't say no. But, those who want, and know what to do with, a starter will develop and keep their own and other folks will accept your gift, smile, put it in their fridge and then eventually discard it for you. If you are really concerned, dilute it and pour it on your compost pile for the worms.


bpezzell's picture

At the end of my baking week, I am rebuilding my starter in a 5 gallon bucket for the next week and I never throw anything away. But I bake in bulk for a living.

But really, the person who says 'I want to learn how to bake sourdough' really doesn't. If they are serious they will pester you and then you can give in and share, or teach them to build their own.

Bake extra and give it away. Surely there are people in your neighborhood who would not only appreciate the bread but who also need it. Or compost the discard, or freeze a huge batch of sourdough pancakes. The possibilities are endless.

robadar's picture


In reading through the responses I don't see an actual answer to your question, "WHY do we discard old starter?"  These microorganisms are living in a culture which contains their own waste products.  They would die in their own waste unless it was discarded and replenished.


hortstu's picture

Great answers and ideas... this thread is helping me grasp the concepts behind managing a starter.



naschol's picture

I don't bake often, so save my starter in the fridge.  I only save a tablespoon or two and build until I have enough to bake.  I put a tiny bit back in the fridge and the cycle continues...  :-)

hanseata's picture

i never discard any starter, either. I have a rye 100% hydrated one, and a whole wheat 75% hydrated mother starter in the fridge. But, of course, I bake more often than many of you, selling breads once or twice a week.

When I didn't bake more than one bread just for myself, I always saved 3/4 cup of dough as a new starter.


grimeswh's picture

You only need to feed your starter once a week if not a little less. It's better to feed every night, but you can leave it in the fridge for 1-2 weeks at a time if you want with out feeding it at all. When you feed it you only need to add 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of water (or a smaller ratio depending on how much starter your starting with) to keep the yeast working so it doesn't die on you. Just as long as you feed it every week or so you shouldn't have to discard any of it. Because if only adding 1 cup of flour at a time you should only have to make bread every couple of weeks because you'll have to do something with all that starter. Also if you only make one loaf every couple of weeks without freezing the loaf, the loaf should go moldy and you'd need to make a new loaf anyway.

Good luck =D

naschol's picture

I feed mine very heavy on the flour (to almost a bread dough consistency) and store in the fridge, sometimes up to a couple of months, and it only takes a day to get to active status.  I only save a tiny amount.



Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher


Some people think that what has been handed down to us came from the Almighty and must not be challenged.

Others of us are more pragmatic.


LindyD's picture

Mike Avery said it best here.

lynnebiz's picture

I've wondered about the same thing, and have not been able to just throw out any food whenever I have tried to do a sourdough starter. You see, I am cursed with an ability to kill just about anything - just got off the phone & made my grown son laugh so much, talking about the indoor plants I've killed. It's a wonder that my four grown children and dogs survived - I think despite me, lol. Well, anyway, I digress (as usual) - until I kill my starter (now I just expect to kill it, no matter how hard I try to take care of it), I use the excess in regular bread, not expecting it to rise the dough (still add yeast) and it's turned out delicious.

Your comment reminded me of an old joke I read many years ago. A young woman always cut off the end of the roast she uses to make pot roast. Her daughter asks her why she did that - she has to go to her own mother to ask why she taught her to do that. Her mother says, I have to ask my mom. Great-Grandma replies, "so it'll fit in the pan.."

While the starter may need to have some removed, I agree that it's wasteful to just throw it away (having been raised by my Depression born mom, and live on a small amt of money myself). What I do before I kill my starter (and now I just expect I'll kill it, no matter what, if and when I try to start another one), is I use any excess in the bread I make that day - giving it a delicious flavor. I don't depend on using this to rise the dough (still add my small amt of yeast to the dough), but it improves the flavor so much.

Wild-Yeast's picture

I've always wondered about the discard commandment.

The only drawback is the buildup of too much alcohol [deleterious to gluten development] though on the plus side it's on the very sour side [low pH].

I am now firmly entrenched in the non-disposable very sour firm poolish camp.  

A little sideline is that I used to punch the starter down when it popped the container lid. A while back I got a bigger container and for some reason better tasting results.