The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Waste free sourdough starter

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andrew_l's picture

Waste free sourdough starter

I have  a new way of looking after my starter, following an experiment /  accident in December! Results in no flour being dumped at all, and a starter with attitude!

I keep about 100 grams of starter in the fridge. When the starter comes out of the fridge to be used (usually about 6.00 pm), I scrape the starter into the bowl the bread will be made in.

Into the now "empty" container I pour 40 grams water and stir this about to get any tiny remains of starter, then pour this into a small bowl which has a lid. Add 63 grams of organic white bread flour, stir to mix, cover and leave for about 4 / 6 hours, then pop into fridge. That's it.


To the 100 grams of starter that has been scraped  into the bowl which the dough will be made in, I add 175 of water and 175 of flour, mix well, cover and leave - usually just overnight, though anything from 12 to 24 hours works well. It looks ready to go after just 4!! It will be covered in little holes and look very active.

Next morning add 405 grams water, 675 of flour (usually made up of just over half wholemeal with some rye, kamut and spelt) and salt, then knead etc as usual. It rises fast, behaves well and bakes lovely tasting loaves - I'm delighted! I'd be interested to know if this works for anyone else, or if it is something particular about my Sussex, England local yeasts??!!




I am astonished by how vigorous the starter is with this regime and there is absolutely no flour wasted. 

MaryinHammondsport's picture

How often do you bake using this method? Are you on a more-or-less regular schedule and what's the longest interval your starter has gone without refreshing since you started this routine?

I have to say I find this very interesting.


andrew_l's picture

as such. Usually, I bake once a week and the starter comes back to life immediately it is fed with  175 grams water and  175 flour - no refreshing is used other wise. The longest I've left it is almost 3 weeks and I had doubts but decided to go with it - and it worked just fine.


I DO keep a spare firm starter just in case - would hate to lose my trusty culture! But I find it is almost miraculous.



This method actually stems from an experiment MONTHS ago when I was interested to see just how small an innoculation of culture would make an active dough. But I've been using it constantly since December and it seems to improve, if anything. 

MaryinHammondsport's picture

Andrew, in thinking it over, I think I've done something similar to this myself, a time or two, but not systematically.

I think I will create a couple of backups to my starter and give your plan a try with the balance.

I generally do sourdough once a week (or every 6 days more or less) and something else in between. Your method would work for me.

I'll let you know what happens.

Just out of curiosity, is your part of Sussex rural or suburban? We are pretty rural here, in spite of being in New York State. We have vineyards all around us, to which I attribute my former luck with wild yeast. Of course, that's not a factor this time of year, but on the other hand those little beasties must hang out somewhere over the winter months.


jonquil's picture

As a trained microbiologist, my thoughts are:

The smaller the innoculation, the more possibility of contaminant bacteria taking over or your ratio of wild yeast and bacteria becoming skewed.

You would generally not want to dilute more than 1:100 grown culture to new medium (flour/water) for an overnight culture. So if there are 3 or 4 grams left in your starter, that sounds do-able. I would probably dilute it less, like 1:10. Since your way sounds like it is working, however, keep it up. I like the idea of a firm starter as backup.

Is anyone keeping starter cultures in glycerin in the deep freeze at home?


rideold's picture

I keep 5 oz in the fridge and then use that as my base for the first build in a two build routine.  The 5 is refreshed at 1:1:2 to 20 oz and then 5 is pinched off and returned to the fridge the remaining 16 oz is left on the counter for 8-12 hours and then added to the final build.  It works with pretty much any routine.  You just have to figure out the math.  If I need more for a larger bake I can just take it out earlier and refresh it twice to become the volume I need in the end.  I haven't thrown out any starter in a while now.  In the event I do have some extra I mix it up as an enriched dough and then use it to make cinnamon rolls or some kine of savory cheese roll.

andrew_l's picture

Mary, this area is very rural - I look out of my windows at fields of cows, woodland - and a busy road! 


Jonquil, glad to hear that the small amount of starter left in the container is a safe amount! It certainly seems vigorous and  rapid - two details I like.


Rideold, yours sounds a good method too. Anything to save wasting flour - to think people used to go out gleaning for grains after the main harvest - I'm sure they didn't have a dumping starter habit!





Bushturkey's picture

Hi Andrew.

I asked the same question in another node (I don't know what a node is, but there is one called "sourdough"), but no one's answered. I don't know if it's because it's an old topic and no one looks at it any more.

I have a white leaven that's 6 months old. Like you, I refresh it once a week and use it to make a firm starter 24 hours later.

I want to start a rye leaven , using the organisms in the white leaven, so yesterday, I took a little bit (1/2 to 1 cup) of my white leaven into another jar and added rye flour and water. Is this the way to do it?

The rye seems to be bubbling away (after 6 hours) and I can smell the alcohol and other aromas from the leaven. Can I use it to make a rye firm starter?

It will be 24 hours in a couple of hours, so I'll give it a go anyway, but I like to ask.

Russ's picture

I've gone waste free with my sourdough recently as well. My method isn't quite as well measured out as yours, but so far seems to work well.

What I do is I keep my main starter (about 3 cups) in the fridge at all times, and when I want to make a sourdough bread I'll scoop out about 1/4 to 1/2 cup and put it into another container and add enough water/flour to double the volume, give it some time to at least double again (usually 8-24 hours, mostly depending on when I get time to work on the bread) then use that in whatever bread I'm making. I also scoop 1/8 to 1/4 cup from my starter in the fridge and add it to commercial yeast based breads (I read that sourdough helps to preserve the baked bread). I'm baking a good bit lately so usually after a week the main starter is down to around 1/2 cup. At that point, I refresh it a couple or few times over a period of the next 2-3 days until I have a nice big starter to pull from again.

Like I said above, I'm baking a more than usual lately, but I've done this through periods of light baking as well and it still works out. I just ended up not refreshing the main starter for 2-3 weeks. It still seemed healthy. I haven't needed to throw out any starter in months!


Bushturkey - sorry, but I don't know much about rye, so don't know the answer to your question.


bnb's picture


 Count me in. I will give your waste free method a try. I hate to see perfectly good starter go down the drain.

One question: how many loaves does your recipe make? What size are the loaves? 


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Andrew_I wrote:

Into the now "empty" container I pour 40 grams water and stir this about to get any tiny remains of starter, then pour this into a small bowl which has a lid. Add 63 grams of organic white bread flour, stir to mix, cover and leave for about 4 / 6 hours, then pop into fridge. That's it.

I am astonished by how vigorous the starter is with this regime and there is absolutely no flour wasted.


I am surprised also.  Dr. Sugihara noted that mature starters tended to fare more poorly than fresh starters when frozen.  I believe that applies to refrigeration as well.


I would suggest cutting that feeding in half, doing it twice, and putting the starter in the fridge immediately after the second feeding.


While reducing waste is a good thing, it is very easy to be penny wise and pound foolish.  A virourous and healthy starter is more valuable in the bread that it produces than the flour used to make it.  Discarded starter can be used to make pancakes, waffles, quick breads, cakes, pizza shells and more, so with a bit of care, the discarded starter some other methods use can be put to good use and therefore aren't wasted.

Personally, I am leery of new ways of handling starters if the person recommending the technique hasn't used it for at least a year.  Let us know in another 9 months how the technique is working out.  Too many techniques have looked promising, but then you read later posts from the people about their new starter that was started up after their previous one died.




bottleny's picture

This was mentioned long time ago here. Now the price of flour has gone up quite a lot. This should be a good practice.

bnb's picture

Hi Andrew,

 Gave your recipe a try. Pretty good. I added a few tsps of oil to keep it moist. I wasn't sure about the salt content, due to which I had to try the recipe twice. The first time I added a tsp of salt. This caused the dough to rise very slowly resulting in a very,very sour dough and the tsp of salt actually also made the loaf too salty.

The second time I cut salt to 1/2 tsp. This time the rise was much quicker,very little sour flavor and the salt turned out to be insufficient. But the texture was great, light, moist and soft. Good for paninis. To bake - heated oven to 500 f and reduced to 425 for first 10 mins and then baked 25 more minutes at 400.

I used durum wheat flour for the sponge and unbleached AP flour for the dough. My starter(1:1) is a mix of several flours. It had not been fed for several days and was sitting in the fridge. I used it straight out of the fridge w/o reviving it.

Overall a good basic recipe that needs some tweaking to suit my personal taste.

Here's the picture of my second attempt.