The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starting a starter

MilesMonkMIngus's picture

Starting a starter

I'm attempting to start my own starter.  I've found a raw potato starter that was very simple (1 1/4 AP flour, medium potato grated, 1 cup water, 1 tsp of sugar and 1 tsp of salt).  Mind you, I used water that I had boiled potatoes in early in the day, but was reheated to 110F

This morning 'sponge' is very dark! (almost black or purple) 

Is this normal? 


clazar123's picture

That sounds like oxidized potato-it happens when raw potato is left exposed to air. I'd start over.

Are you dead set on a potato starter? There are excellent directions on this site for starting a starter but here's mine:

Always have clean hands when working with food!

  • 1-2 tbsp flour of choice (I use UNbleached AP as it is the cheapest)
  • Water to make a pancake batter consistency.
  • Mix both in a 1/2 to 1 pint sized jar

Cover lightly so flies don't get in and so it doesn't form a dry skin. (I use a paper coffee filter and a rubber band). Do not let it skin over! If it looks dry,stir it up. If it looks like the water is evaporating (thickening) add a little more.

It will go through several phases-nothing,slight bubbles,vigorous bubbles,crazy rising,much less rising,consistent rising.Some phases take a few days and some phases take a few hours. The whole process can take 7-21 days,depending on many factors.

Stir vigorously several times daily for as many days as it takes until you see bubbles starting to form when it sits. You are looking for bubbles from fermentation-not the ones you stirred up.  I actually take mine to work and sit it on my desk and bring a spoon for the stirring.

When it is starting to ferment,start a process called "Discard and feed".

Discard about half the paste (down the drain) and add a small amount of flour and water to get the pancake batter consistency, again. Keep stirring several times a day. What is happening is that you have some yeasty beasties growing from the flour you used. There should also be some lacto bacteria growing that is making the paste somewhat acidic. Taste it and see by taking a tiny dab on your finger. Some people use pineapple juice or orange juice instead of water at this phase to discourage growth of bad bacteria. I never did that but feel free to try it,it you want. More importantly-CLEAN hands!

Discard and feed once a day unless it is becoming active. This means it is actively bubbling, rises when fed or produces a liquid top layer (called hootch). If hootch happens, it means your beasties are HUNGRY and need more food! Go to discarding (equivalent to cleaning a cage) and feeding twice a day. It should still be a small amount in the jar but it may start doubling the level when fed. It will go through a phase where it REALLY seems active but that is the lactos multiplying-you want them even though they won't raise bread but eventually they will balance out with the yeast component. They actually make the environment favorable for the yeast to grow.

After the crazy,active phase, it may seem to become LESS active when the yeasts and lactos are in balance and the yeast is actually doing the raising of the "dough". Keep going-feed twice a day, in small amounts. When is seems to be consistent ( feed-double-fall), then it is young but ready to be built up into a larger amount for use in a recipe by taking some for use and leaving some behind to become "the mother". That is a different topic! As is the maintenance feeding schedule.

Have fun!

MilesMonkMIngus's picture


Potatoes were browning as quickly as I could grate 

I may try a yogurt based 'starter.'  Per the author, very good for French bread (my ultimate goal)

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

You may turn me into mashers,

or boil me in hot water.

A gratin?

A lowly a plate of French fries?

Bien sur mon ami!

But if you think me open to your festering pot of yeast, decay, and stink, I manifestly say it will not be so!


See me rot first!

dabrownman's picture

Hear me roar!

FlourChild's picture

I concur with the suggestion to craft a grain-based starter, it's thought to be good to culture beasties that are endemic to grain.  

I just made one that I started from a mixture of whole rye flour and bran flakes that I sifted out of whole wheat flour (and water).  I used a little lemon juice in my water (first day only) per the pineapple juice solution.  It was reliably tripling in five days, and is still going strong two weeks later.  First loaf I made from it actually doubled in less time than the recipe's minimum time frame.  :)  I used a proofer, so I think the warm temps (81F) helped too. 

fuzzy_whiskers's picture

I have a very old book called Breads and Coffee Cakes with Homemade Starters from Rose Lane Farm by Ada Lou Roberts. This book has a lot of interchangeable starters. There are cooked potato starters and uncooked potato starters. The one I use is called the peach leaf starter.  I call it a "ferment" instead of  a starter even tho it is a starter as I understand starters. I have had it for about 20 years. It makes a 6-cup batch that you refresh when you use it down to 1 cup. It is kept in the refrigerator when not used.  The bread made with these interchangeable starters is very good and anyway the one ferment that I've made from the book works very well for me.


Tango14's picture

Hi Kathy

I'm desperately seeking a recipe for an uncooked potato starter, without using instant yeast to start the process off.  Would you be willing to share a recipe from your book Breads and Coffee Cakes with Homemade Starters, with me please?



pjkobulnicky's picture

Folks ... always keep in mind that the best bread, like the best beer, is three things: Grain, water and yeast (and maybe salt in the case of bread).  So ... starters should be just the essentials ... flour and water (pancake batter consistancy to begin as above) until it ferments naturaly. Forget the grapes, pinapple, or other secret ingredients. Useless, actually. I have only two start-the-starter suggestions. One is to use the most natural whole wheat flour you can find ... lots of good bacteria in it and the other is to ALWAYS use unchlorinated water. Do this and it will start like a new car. Once it is bubbling away, you're off and running and into maintaining your starter.

MilesMonkMIngus's picture

Why not use good old fashion tab water? 

We have a well--the water is hard, but a number of use think it is quite good.

dabrownman's picture

to kill off things like bacteria and yeast.  Tap water is fine to use, I prefer it along with mineral water, just let it sit out for 12 hours so the chlorine dissipates.

Boleigh's picture

Oh great thread - thank you just what I need to get going. 

Boleigh's picture

and my starter is bubbling away nicely. Quite a bit of 'hooch' and I have started feeding it twice a day now. I'm anxious to know when it is fit for me to be able to use - more forum trawling needed! 

Boleigh's picture

Well, day seven and it's been very quiet for the last few days... I've switched to bottled water to eliminate any trace of chlorine (and our water is quite hard which may affect the ph?). I'm still using the 85% organic flour, but may switch to white as the common knowledge seems to support this. I'm also being more careful about proportions - actually measuring out rather than guessing.  I still have a cold but the kids tell me it smells kinda weird!


MilesMonkMIngus's picture

I'm on the fourth day and my starter is bubbling nicely.  But the smell is very distinct odor.  How can I tell good from bad? 


I'm following this recipe:


Boleigh's picture

I'm a real beginner, but certainly to begin with I think that the smell is not particularly nice - mine was kinda vinegary and sometimes yeasty. I think if you have bubbles then things are going in the right direction. 


Boleigh's picture

Found this and have now started with pineapple juice!