The Fresh Loaf

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Discarding Starter...why?

chris d's picture
chris d

Discarding Starter...why?

First, let me say that I've done some searching and not found an answer to this specific question, so please read on  before directing me to an existing thread.  I know this topic has been discussed exhaustively.

Lots of natural levain methods described in the literature require the "discard" of a good portion (usually more than 50%) of your starter each time it's fed.  For months now, I've adopted a system of managing my starter by reserving a very small amount (less than 50g) of the starter from what I developed for the day's baking for the two to four loaves I bake each day. 

I keep revisiting Chad Roberston's "Tartine" and Ken Forhish's "Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast" and despite having given it a LOT of thought, I cannot for the life of me figure out why they have you make so much levain.  For example, in Forkish's formula and method for his Overnight Country Blonde, he calls for the baker to make an entire KILOGRAM of levain, then use only 216g of the Kg for the final dough.  In other words, if you save 100g for your next bake, you're left with almost 700g of levain that you have no use for.  Forkish specifies that you can reduce the amount of levain you maintain (he suggests cutting it in half on p.136).  Great. Now I'm only throwing away a little less than a pound of levain every day.  

If, as Forkish claims, "you can pare down the amount of levain, fresh flour, and fresh water used with each feeding as long as you maintain the same ratios" (75% white and 25% whole wheat flour, 25% levain, 75% water...did i get that right?  I'm extrapolating it from 100g levain, 100g whole wheat flour, 400g white flour, 400g water) why doesn't he recommend that bakers making the two loaves his formula provides for each day produce just enough levain for the bread they're baking and the levain to start the next bake?  If you round down the levain that Forkish requires for the final dough in this loaf to 200g for convenience of discussion, that would require that you start with:

20g levain

20g whole wheat flour

80g white flour

80g water.  

Actually, since you're going to need an extra 20g or so for tomorrow's bread, you'd want to go with a little more of everything in proportion, specifically:

22g levain

22g whole wheat flour

88g white flour

88g water.

You get the idea.  That gives you the 200g levain for the final dough, and leaves 20g levain to do the same thing the next day.  

I am actually doing this, and it works great.  I have not tried the wasteful mountain of levain that the formula recommends.  Should I?  Why would the results be different?  I can think of no reason other than some magical/mystical explanation that includes the microscopic organisms in the starter somehow behaving differently in larger quantities of consumable material, which I will not buy.

I would really like to believe that there's a reason to produce hundreds of pounds of levain each year beyond what I actually need, since I really respect these books and their authors; they've improved my baking dramatically.  I don't want to make pancakes or english muffins or compost.  I want to make bread.

So what am I missing?

Thanks in advance.

balmagowry's picture

I think that in real life the practice of discarding a lot of the starter is chiefly relevant to people who don't bake often enough to keep it healthy any other way. You bake with yours every day, so it naturally gets refreshed when you develop it for each bake. But if you only used it once a week and didn't refrigerate it between uses, it'd starve without regular feedings. So you'd feed it daily or twice daily just to keep it alive, and it would grow and grow and keep using up nutrients and spitting out waste, etc. etc. After a certain point you'd have to remove some out of sheer self-defense! In effect, of course, you are already accomplishing the same thing by baking every day - that conveniently uses up what would otherwise become excess. I haven't read Robertson or Forkish, so I don't know that this is the full answer to why they do it the way they do. But as a practical matter, the basic logic should apply.

doughooker's picture

Here is how I avoid discarding starter. All it takes is a little management, and you don't need to bake every day.

I replenish my starter just before baking and make just enough for the next batch of bread plus a bit more. The leftover starter is mixed with the "storage starter" and sits in the fridge. There is no discard.


8 oz storage starter in fridge

Remove 4 oz, use as inoculum (leaving 4 oz unused)

Add the 4 oz inoculum to 4 oz fresh water & flour (you now have a total of 8 oz. starter)

Use 4 oz to bake (leaving 4 oz)

Add 4 oz leftover new starter to 4 oz unused storage starter (total 8 oz starter back in fridge)

The amount of lead time required to make up your starter will depend to a great extent on the ambient temperature and may require some experimentation.

rossnroller's picture

I do much the same as you, but without the precision.

ie: Whenever I want to make a new bread, I get the stored starter out of the fridge, add water (weighing as I add) to make up about half the quantity of leaven needed for my dough, stir in, then add the same weight of flour and stir until integrated. I leave out the starter until I mix my dough about 8 hours later, then after taking the required leaven, put it back in the fridge. I deviate from this only when needing a starter at a hydration other than 100%, or a different flour mix - then I begin with a small weighed quantity of stored starter as per Forkish et al.

I routinely bake bread about 3 times per week, pancakes every Sunday morning and pizzas fortnightly, and my starter is always raring to go 8 hours after feeding. Haven't discarded any at all for years now.

Last time I went away (4 weeks), my fridged starter leapt back into action after a single feed. A healthy, regularly used starter is a resilient beast!

I was reading Forkish yesterday, as it happens. He's very exact and precise, and I suspect his techniques, including starter feeding and discarding, are in the service of attaining the flavour and texture qualities he most likes in a bread. As we know, there are many variables that affect the end result in bread baking, and the way you approach feeding and storing your starter is one of them. I've been more than happy with my bread for a long time now (well, most of the time!), so see no reason to change my starter treatment. I hate waste, especially of food, and would take some serious convincing to chuck out healthy starter. But each to their own...


doughooker's picture

Ross: In practice I don't do it with as much precision as in my post. I just put the numbers in there so people could get an idea of the portions. What I do is make a slurry of 1/3 C flour and 1/4 C water and add about half of my "storage starter". I then make the dough and add the leftover starter to the "storage starter". There is very little precision to it. The only thing I weigh is the amount of starter added to the dough because this affects hydration. Like you, I bake roughly fortnightly and am always satisfied with the resulting bread which turns out nice and tangy.

Sometimes the starter is ready a very short time after mixing, depending on the temperature. I should pay more attention to see how long it actually takes. I bake when it is foamy and frothy. Pouring endless amounts of perfectly good flour down the drain is a silly ritual IMO and makes me wonder about some of these cookbook authors and web experts.

doughooker's picture

To the O.P.:

The first question I have about Forkish is why he's giving actual weights instead of giving baker's percentages accompanied by a short explanation of how to work with b.p. Agreed, it's preposterous to have a baker make 1 kg of levain only to call for 200 g of it in the recipe.

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

...Just googled the recipe and here is what I think. The recipe does not start with making the bread with active starter. The recipe starts with creating a starter from scratch. While I agree it looks like a phenomenal amount one does not have to follow that part of the recipe if you have a viable starter going already. And by no means does one have to follow his instructions on how to make a starter. There are many methods which are far less wasteful.

If you don't have a starter going yet then follow the simple instruction of mixing together equal amounts, by weight, flour and water - feed once a day no less than 1:1:1 - build up from a small amount (rather than starting off with huge amounts) - If the starter isn't viable yet and it's getting too much then discard some and carry on.

Will take you no longer then a week and will use far less than in his recipe.

Once your starter is active then build up the exact amount of levain going into the recipe making sure you save some starter for your next bake.

What is misleading is "recipe for tartine" title when it should be "recipe for making a starter and baking a tartine".

chris d's picture
chris d

Thanks all, for the input.  Glad to see that I'm not alone in finding this vexing.  Also, it makes sense that the authors may be working toward getting "slow" starters going again after a few days of refrigeration.  

Like Ross, I've stored my starter for extensive periods of time with little ill effect.  I once found a jar of "experimental" starter in the fridge that I'd forgotten about, probably for three months.  Worked fine.

I suppose it's a bit more math than most people would be willing to deal with, especially with the different quantities of levain called for in different formulas, but I'd still like to see a more reasonable and less wasteful approach presented in the literature.  

Before I started really getting specific about managing the starter culture, I just kept a "mother" culture that I would maintain in the fridge in a mason jar.  Whenever I needed some, I'd dig a bit out and throw the mother back in the fridge.  Every couple of times I baked, I'd feed the mother.  Now that I bake much more frequently, I find it a lot easier to steal a little starter from the current batch of levain just before it goes into the autolysed dough.  When I started doing this, I'd put a piece of blue masking tape on the container of levain to remind me to cut out the starter for the next batch.  So far, I've managed to not forget to save some.  :)  Even though I bake pretty much every day, I still store this small quantity of starter in the fridge.  Force of habit, I guess.


dabrownman's picture

tossing 3/4 of his levain in the video saying it is 'spent fuel' and then using the other 1/4 to make his bread  i dubbed it the 'Spent Fuel Bread'  What Chad and Forkish do is just plain wasteful with so many hungry people in the workd and why I kieep a small amoiut of stiff rye sour starter in the fridge and bake out of it for up to 12 weeks with no maintenance, building exactly the levain I need form a smal amout of it every week and never throwing anything away,  I prefer the no muss, no fuss, no waste, no maintenance SD starter method.  Makes better bread too :-)  

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

Yes the Forkish regimen is a big waste.

I never knew it was possible to have a "no maintenance" starter and still get good results. I have to try this.

Do I recall correctly @dabrownman that you do multiple levain builds to get a vigorous levain out of a practically dormant starter?


dabrownman's picture

throwing anything away.  The idea is to get the levain or starter at 84 F to double in volume after the 2nd build in 4 hours or less.  IF it can't do it then you throw away the 2nd build and repeat it before going on to the 3rd build.  You then refrigerate the starter (for up to at least 12 weeks) and the levain for 24 - 48 hours after it rises 25% in volume after the 3rd build. 

This does 3 things.  First it ensures that the levain and starter are in top notch condition before being refrigerated and it makes sure that both start out with plenty of food and a higher Ph  before hitting the cold.  At 36 F the LAB, although very slow, reproduce at 3 times the rate of the yeast which are even slower but the LAB and yeast have to have food to last them that long and a low Ph can make life hard for the LAB.

This method of stiff starter and 100% hydration levain favors LAB over yeast in order to make a more sour bread.  Tartine and Forkish have their method to make the least sour bread possible using a young liquid starter and levain so they favor yeast over LAB.  Today folks like less sour bread and these bakers are in the business of making a living off of less sour bread - just as they should be.  It is much less sour than what used to be the classic SFSD of the late 1960's and early 1970's - before the great bakeries of that age closed namely; Parisian, Colombo and Larraburu.  But those of us who remember the way it used to be can still make it even though it wouldn't sell too well today.

Here is how I do a starter build for 12 week storage and a levain build with a 1-2 day retard after the 3rd feeding to make a loaf of bread.  The more levain you use in the dough the faster things will happen but the sour is still there becuse you use so much more starter.  The starte mouts are based on ho much you bake.  I use the 100 g one snce onky use about 6 g a week and want the starter to age in the fridge and get sourer over 12 weeks as i use it up.

Levain Build followed by Starter



  FirstFirst 2nd2nd 3rd3rd  Lcvain
Dough Build Build  Build Build  Build Build % of



Build1st 1st 2nd2nd 3rd3rd  
Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

@dabrownman you had shared this before, but I had completely missed the concept of a "no-maintenance" starter, with no daily waste. I definitely plan to experiment with this. Many thanks.


Behnam's picture

This is from Tartine Bread.... It's basically what balmagowry said...

Storing the starter under refrigeration regularly or for weeks at a time will promote bacteria and yeast that thrive at lower temperatures; favoring the production of acetic acid. To restore a less-sour flavor balance, after the starter is removed from the refrigerator, much of it should be discarded. The remainder, about 20 percent, is used to seed the next feeding to make a fresh starter. Discard about 80 percent of the refrigerated starter and add equal amounts of water and the 50/50 flour blend, following step 3 on page 46.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Because DaBrownman likes his bread very sour, unless your tastes run as his do, you would not want to follow his procedures.

I don't discard anything myself, and my breads tend to run the range of tangy to mild.

For my Forkish loaves, I use 1/4th of all the ingredients listed to make my levain and this leaves very little over when removed and mixed with the dough.

For my tartine loaves, I usually make the full levain using a tablespoon of the starter, and either use the other half of the levain  for waffles or bake another two loaves of bread with it.  I have not tried (that I recall) using 1/2T of starter and halving the other levain ingredients, but assume that would work fine.

dabrownman's picture

How much starter and levain you use, what temperatures you ferment and proof at, how much whole grains in the starter, levain and dough, hydration of starter, levain and dough how much salt all play into how fast things will happen and how sour and flavorful the bread will be.  The way you do it depends on what you want but there are limits. You can'r over ferment your dough or over proof it without bad things happening.  You can't make it too sour or the other flavors developed by the yeast and grains will be lost.

I don't like my bread very sour at all but I do like it sourer than the very light sour of Tartine and Forkish and, the reason for this post and my response, I don't like throwing away any food of any kind, I don't want to maintain my starter and Idon'twat to be chained to it.  What I do makes my starter life easy as possible over 12 weeks time and I still gt very nice bread with little effort.  If I use a no knead methods and just do a one stage build, SD doesn't get easier than that when using a no muss no fuss starter method.

There are plenty of other ways of accomplishing the same thing depending on how often and how much you bake.  Building a little extra starter and or using old dough and fridging them till the next bake works great as long as you remember to do it and don't use all your leaven in the bake:-)   One thing is for sure, Chad and Forkish don't bake commercially the way they spell out in their books.  These books are for home bakers.

The relative part come into play with long retards.  It sounds like my long retards of the starter would make it very sour but that just isn't so.  The amount of sour over a full 6 weeks of 36 F storage is the same amount of sour I would generate in 24 hours on the counter since LAB reproduce at a rate 42 times less than they do at my kitchen temperature of 86 F.  So the starter is more sour but just marginally so and I do inoculate the levain and dough with more LAB than most but since I do the starter and levain builds at kitchen temperatures - the sour taste is just marginally more than the light sour of today's SFSD.  It certainly isn't 'very' sour.  The bread benefits from having a little more acid does strengthen the gluten strands - but too much will eat them away - so little more acid is good.

Once the Ph gets to 4.3 or so it starts to inhibit LAB reproduction too. And at 6 weeks it is at 4.3 so not much more sour comes out of it after that. 

Now, if I want it really sour, for 100% rye and whole grain breads, I will do some of the starter and levain builds or the ferment and proofs at 93 F where the LABs are out producing yeast 13 to 1.  Now that is some pucker bread if made as a white loaf for sure but the whole grains aren't over powered by it and the overall flavor of the bread is better.  But things happen very fast and you have to watch it closely.   

Since i usually do things at room temperature for starter and levain builds, gluten development, fermenting and final proofing  my SFSD breads come out a little more sour than Forkish or Tartine does but exactly like SFSD used to be in the late 60's and early 70's.  For me, those breads were far superior than ones today and I have had both.  But they aren't very sour just moderately so.  As luck would have it, we can make bread any way we want by manipulating time, temperature and what we feed the beast.

But most folks, sometime after newbie stage, give up being chained to their starter and wasting so much food one way of another as time goes on.  We are all too busy, lazy and hate waste too much to do otherwise.  Plus I make better bread by far this way.  It just takes longer to get the starter to 6 weeks old:-) 

chris d's picture
chris d

This is how I think, though you definitely know a lot more about it than I do.  Years ago when I first got my starter going, I baked delicious sourdough breads without any more guidance than some stuff I found on the internet.  The loaves were not pretty, by any means, but people certainly got a kick out of them, and much of the fundamentals of making the culture work for you seemed somewhat intuitive.

Years (and many books about bread) later, my understanding of what's actually happening when raw materials become bread has improved (though I still marvel at the amount of "magic" that bakers rely on, despite dropping bits of science into the discussion now and then).  My loaves have definitely gotten a lot prettier and I'm able to produce a consistent product.  Still, I wish I'd kept better records of what I did back then before I learned what I was supposed to do.  There's some loaves I remember that I'd like to reproduce, but the formula/method is lost.  Alas.

Your tables in your previous post are really interesting.  I've been trying to get a more sour loaf for a while, and never considered building a stock of starter to rob daily without regularly replenishing it.  I'll have to give that a try!  

As for people's tastes trending away from sour, I don't know for sure that that's entirely the case.  Certainly, today's bread gurus lean that way, but in practice, I think your average consumer still likes sour bread.  I was in Seattle recently and stopped in at Macrina.  I picked up a loaf of the Rustic Potato to see what all the hubbub was (it was delicious) and asked for "one of whatever is your most popular loaf."  Without hesitation, the girl got me a batard of the Macrina Casera.  

If that's their most popular loaf, I'd say sour bread is still a hit.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I think the reason you don't find many sour breads in the supermarkets is because the masses don't like sour bread. If it is a specialty bread, you would expect it to be the 'most popular' bread at specialty bakery because that is not where the masses go to get their daily bread, but where those of us with discerning palates choose to go when we lack the time or inclination to bake our own superior product.

The above is said with my chin lifted up and my nose looking down.


chris d's picture
chris d

I should have been more specific.  When I mentioned "peoples' tastes" above, I was really only referring to the "people" who  frequent boulangeries that make the bon apetit top 10, not the grocery store bread aisle hoi polloi.  

I'd forgotten about them.

Are you still there?  With my head in this position, all I can see is the ceiling.  :)

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.


dabrownman's picture

wasn't it you who hit upon another easy way to to keep a starter going from one bake or week to the next?  I think you just added some flour and water to the old starter container after scraping most all of it out for the bake that day and just the remaining tiny bits were enough to make a starter for the next bake?  It is good to know if you haven't washed the container that if you use all your starter by mistake, like we all have on occasion, you can still make some more from the old bits and or hold back some old dough if you haven't baked it. 

Except for Whole Foods where they carry great Meditterra SD breads of all kinds at a premium price , all the groceries carry par baked SD bread - Kroger has La Brea.  But I am amazed that most bakeries don't carry but one or 2 SD breads and one of them is usually a rye where you need SD acid to make a good one and most of them have a commercial yeast booster too.    The only bakery anywhere near Phoenix that really does SD besides Mediterra in Coolidge AZ is Beyond Bread in Tucson where 26 of their 30 breads are SD  and their non SD breads are made with a poolish.

I think with Tartine, Forkish and no knead, being the most popular recipes for us few and far between home SD bread  enthusiasts, even most of us like bread that is the least sour possible - plus it is a lot more work to make a bread more sour than those examples a most of us are lazy like me and when you retire you're even more lazy:-)  The thing that freaks me out the most about bread is how much better the bread tastes when using home milled fresh flour instead of store bought - nothing like fresh and young in most things  - except levain of course:-)

Here is Beyond Breads website

Happy Baking David

gerhard's picture

Not really bread related but a few years ago I was talking the owner of a BBQ place and we where discussing how bland a lot food has become devoid of almost any seasoning other than salt.  He agreed but said that is what sells, if he cooked for his tastes he would sell a lot less food.  This may be same with bread, the market for milder bread may be much larger than it is for sour tasting bread and after all the baker is in business to make money and not to be an evangelist for better bread.