The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Big time beginner question

TXSREB129's picture

Big time beginner question

Okay, I hate sounding like a novice, which is EXACTLY what I am, when it comes to bread baking, especially sourdough.  I have been keeping a starter going for about 10 days now.  It is a very liquid starter.  This is probably gonna make many of you smile and shake your heads, but what is the purpose of throwing out part of your starter when you feed it?  Is it just to keep it at a manageable size?  Cuz I have been baking with it almost every day now for a week, just trying new things and getting the feel for it, but If I throw some out, I won't have much left to work with.  I know this is such a "duh" question, but I always figured it's dumber to not ask and continue to wonder!  Thanks, B

owlsprings's picture


Before you go any further, decide what terminology you are going to use. There is great ambiguity in this area. For instance, I keep  both white flour based and rye flour based cultures (or what I call the "mother" ) from which I extend in volume to make "starters" for different formulas that I want to bake. Some people call the culture that you will maintain forever (you hope) a "starter." Others will call the culture a "chef". So you have to make a decision about terminology or any advice that you receive will likely confuse you. Good Luck. Thomas

SourdoLady's picture

When you feed your starter it then consumes the nutrients in the flour and the yeast cells multiply into even more yeast cells (a LOT more). This means you have millions of hungry yeasties wallowing in their own waste (the nutrient exhausted food you gave them). During the process of fermentation that occurs as they consume these nutrients, alcohol (hooch) and acids are produced. If you don't discard most of the mixture before feeding it is no longer a very healthy environment for your yeasts. Your starter will become sluggish because there are too many yeast cells and not enough food for everyone to be happy. Then the acids will start to break down the starter, and if they aren't kept at bay your bread dough will also have gluten damage which will cause poor dough strength. Trust me, you don't want to do this to your starter!


You don't have to throw away the discarded starter. It can be used in quick breads, pancakes, and even bread doughs if the starter isn't really old. I throw my excess starter in my compost. It's good for the soil. If you keep only a small quantity of starter and then build it up before baking you will not have much waste. It is not necessary to keep a quart of starter in the fridge. I generally keep only 4 to 6 oz.

sphealey's picture

However, if the OP is baking every day he may well not need to throw out any starter.  Depending on how active it is he might be able to just extract-and-feed once per day and use the extract directly to start building the dough for a bake.  That's how Hamelman's professional sourdough recipes work (which makes them a bit hard to figure out for the home baker who refreshes separately).

If you are not baking daily then you do get into the need to discard-and-feed. 


TXSREB129's picture

Big thanks, Thomas and SourdoLady!!!  I definitely have ALOT to learn!!!  I know I have been using bread flour to feed it, rather than ap or rye.  Just trying to stick with basics right now.  I guess this would be called the mother, but I guess I haven't gotten that far, yet lolol... I guess the farthest I've gotten is knowing the difference between a biga and poolish, but again, just the basics, not the actual science of it.  I have noticed that before I fed it today, it had a very strong smell that was similar to a chardonnay.  What does that tell me???

gary.turner's picture

It tells you you have a nice, active culture going. What you're smelling are the aromatics (grain and fruit can have similar by-products) produced by the enzymes' breaking down of the starch into various complex and simple sugars, and the alcohol excreted by the yeast.



Alvaremj's picture

Found these online somewhere a while ago. I don't think the definitions are 100% accurate but it will give you a general idea. I  have been reading "Bread" by Jeffrey Hamelman and he has a whole chapter on different starters.

What do all these baker's terms mean?

Subject: 36. What do all these baker's terms like poolish, biga, chef, mean?

Poolish-- Is French for a mixture of flour and water and a little bakers yeast. The ratio of flour to water is 50 - 50 by weight.

Biga-- Italian for the same thing except the biga can be like a poolish or very firm.

The above are both yeasted.

Chef-- a dough-like starter that is either an unrefreshed levain or a piece of dough saved from the previous day's bake.

Levain-- a chef that has been refreshed with flour and water.

Biga Natural-- same as levain, but in Italian.

Mother-- this is a batter like starter of flour and water that is unrefreshed

Sour-- a mother that has been refreshed with flour and water.

Mother = chef - it only depends on the consistency (chef dough-like, mother batter-like). Most people here in the US call this just plain starter.

Sour = levain - again it depends on the consistency of the starter. (Sour batter-like, levain dough-like) - The difference between these terms and the ones above is that they represent the term that indicates that the starter is activated.

Chef, levain, biga natural, mother, and sour contain only natural yeast cultures.

All of the above are often referred to as either starters or sponges.

Hope this helps!


TXSREB129's picture

Gary & J,

Thank you so much!!!  This was VERY helpful!!!  Like I said, I am quite the novice when it comes to bread.  I grew up in the kitchen, but never around bread, so this is all quite fun for me!  My Husband and sons are really enjoying it... except for when I mess something up and they feel compelled to eat it anyway, hahahaha!!!  Thanks Again, B

richkaimd's picture

You asked a very good question and got a lot of help.  As a reader of this website for years, let me suggest a couple of things that might speed up your learning:   1.) if you buy a text book (not a cook book) of bread baking, all that you learned in these notes would be easily found without your having to look at your computer.  I strongly recommend buy DiMuzio's Bread Baking as a beginning text.  It's all there for not a lot of money.  You might even find a used one on Allibris or Powell's Books.  2.)  Use the search function when you've got a question.  Most questions have been asked and answered repeatedly.  Using the search function will get your answers quickly and teach you lots in the process.  3.)  Find a local mentor to bake with, especially one who bakes the kinds of bread you find yourself interested in.  Use TFL for that purpose.  If finding a mentor's not for you, you might consider taking a class locally.  There's nothing like hands-on experience.

Meanwhile, practice, practice, and practice.  Then tell us about your successes and failures.  It's fun!