The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Theoretical minimum size for a starter

Lloyda's picture

Theoretical minimum size for a starter

Whilst feeding my starter this evening, for fun I was pondering what the minimum size would be for a sustainable starter.  At the moment I only get to bake a loaf once a week, and use 28g of my 100% hydration starter, which I feed once a week. So in theory I guess if I kept 14g of starter at the next feed and fed with 14g water and 14g flour, my minimum size would be 42g. But would this survive?  (I've no intention of going down this route - just an wandering thought whilst stirring.  Starter stuck to the sides etc., would have a big impact on overall volume)



dabrownman's picture

using about 30-35 g of starter.  After two weeks, I have used  60-70 g of starter out of the 80 g that I build to every 2 weeks.   When i make my last loaf of bread over 2 weeks I take the 10 g of starter left and build it back to 80 g and 65% hydration over 3 builds and back in the fridge it goes for the next 2 weeks.  I've been doing this for quite some time now and know that it works very reliably.  For me 80 g works.

BobS's picture

I use 70g, bake about once a week with it. I've been toying with dropping it to 42, just haven't gotten around to it.

If you are worried you could dry some starter and keep it in the freezer for backup.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

of my 100% hydration starter on hand as stock.  I take 5 grams for seed and feed (1:3:3) with 15 gm water + 15 gm flour blend (95 parts home-milled whole wheat + 5 parts whole rye) to make the 35 gram total stock that I retain.  The discards go into a tupperware and every 10 days to 2 weeks we have sourdough pancakes or waffles to clean up the discards.   The big benefit I find is in the greatly reduced buildup of discards at these low stock levels.  Big starters generate large volumes of discards pretty rapidly by comparison.

Based on what I see with my own starter I know I could reduce the seed to 3 grams without trouble, reducing my stock starter to only 21 grams (3 + 9 + 9).  Since I usually need at least 20-25 grams for seed in the first elaboration to prepare for a bake, though, I'd have to expand it to have sufficient seed to bake with.  As it is my numbers work well for me, with my starter, in my kitchen. Your mileage may vary, but in general I don't find it necessary to keep a large stock starter on hand for my once or twice weekly bakes of up to 2kg of dough.

Sourdough is too much fun!

hungryscholar's picture

I'm maintaining around 100g, but that's because I often use around 50-75g in a recipe. Seems like there ought to be quite a few critters even in a gram of healthy starter.

Doc.Dough's picture

There is no theoretical minimum, just the practical one that depends on your refreshment process.

The scale of your bread baking determines how much starter you need to keep.

I keep about an ounce but do not refrigerate unless I am traveling.  Winter feeding is once a day at about 2:14:14; summer feeding is twice a day.

When I need starter to bake with I take 2g to start the refresh and then use the leftovers as seed for a 24:230:230 batch that matures overnight at a controlled temperature.


acook's picture

My feeding ratio is not dissimilar to yours, 2:25:12. In an attempt to reduce the frequency of feeding, I  tried lowering the inocuation amount, by diluting one gram of starter in 100g of water, then adding flour to 25g of this liquid, so the ratio was approximately 0.25:25:12 . I made four batches of starter from the diluted liquid, each successive batch being progresssively cloudier, with more particles of grain settled at the bottom. All revived, the cloudiest one being the most vigrorous. After a second feed the starters were all noticably weaker.  One curious thing was that the cloudier the water, the stiffer the starter became when I added flour to it. At first I thought this was my imagination, but I put different stickers under each glass,  then juggled the glasses around, so I lost sense of their order, but it was still possible to correctly determine which glass was which, just by stirring them. Do you know why that should be?

LisaE's picture

Funny thing, I have been pondering keeping a Nano Starter......Ok I keep fish and had a tiny little marine tank of fish and corals and crabs and snails and it was fun to see if I could keep this tiny environment alive and happy, hence.....OK Nano Starter! I have thought about maintaining the tiniest starter. Can you imagine a starter kept in a little lip balm sized jar? Yeah, you'd have to use every gram of it to build a levain but how intriguing!

Didn't mean to hijack here, I think I might sound a bit like Mini Oven LOL!


pmccool's picture

My starter quantity fluctuates, since I typically don't measure what goes into storage, but it's usually somewhere in the 30-50g range.  It's kept in the refrigerator until taken out for refreshment prior to weekend bakes.  Discard quantities tend to be very small, as a result.


Lloyda's picture

Thanks for all the comments, it has certainly encouraged me to reduce the size of my starter, and hence the amount of discards.

Lloyd's picture

When I saw this thread developing, I'd meant to point you to this alternative, if you want to grow larger levain builds but loathe jettisoning the so-(inappropriately)-called "Spent Fuel".  Baking a Spent Fuel Boule (or loaf, or batard, or whatever) is becoming part of my weekly routine.  When I do so, I of course leave behind a bit to inoculate the levain for my next 'real' bake, and that 'bit' has been as little as 10 gr of my normally 80% hydration levain.  It may feel risky to reduce one's entire precious levain stock to such a small quantity, but 10 gr is plenty to seed a 100-200 gr build.

Others like to bake crackers out their leftover levain.  Never tried it but probably great!

Happy baking!


LisaE's picture

Or...Pizza dough, or english muffins, or coffe cake. Ok, I'll be serious this time. I keep 65 g of starter as my maintenance starter. I take 5 grams, feed 30 g flour and 30 g water 1-2 times per day, depending on how warm my kitchen is. I do not throw away starter. I put the discards in a 1 qt jar which is kept in the refrigerator. I use it for english muffins, coffee cake, pizza dough and throw it into a yeasted sandwich loaf for flavor. I don't use it for pancakes only because my family doesn't like that they get sour, I should try to make them without sitting overnight.....anyway, use the discards! Yummy stuff comes from them! No waste!