The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Why discard starter?

gmvoros's picture

Why discard starter?

Hello, Everyone:

I am fairly new to bread making and have been working with both the Ken Forkish FLOUR WATER SALT YEAST book and Tartine's Book 3 on using ancient grains. 

One thing that mystifies me is the vast quantity of flour that must be thrown out in the course of both their processes for creating levain. I can't imagine that people in former times who invented these processes could be so cavalier with their flour as to thrown away hundreds of grams of it daily. Forkish says to think of it as "spent fuel," but since the part you're throwing out is exactly the same as the part you keep and keep working with, it is apparently not completey "spent."

I would appreciate an explanation. Thanks!


Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

First of all I hope you haven't started down the Forkish route of creating a starter. All your points are valid and there is no need to go down the Forkish route of creating barrels of the stuff.

At the beginning it is necessary to discard some of the starter. Your starter will need feeding and it might take a week or two before its viable. If you don't discard then before long you'll be building too much. But once it's viable then you only need to keep little and work out a schedule where you won't need to discard again, or at least not as much.

For example: A "typical" feed is 1:1:1 by weight. If you don't discard then see how much it builds up quickly...

  • Feed one: 10g water + 10g flour (20g)
  • Feed two: 20g starter + 20g water + 20g flour (60g)
  • Feed three: 60g starter + 60g water + 60g flour (180g)
  • Feed four: 180g starter + 180g water + 180g flour (540g)

See how quickly it builds up and it might take quite a few more feeds before it becomes viable.

But if you start off with a normal amount and with each feed you discard some of it then it's more practical and in the long run less wasteful.

You never need to build as much as Forkish does in his recipe. By all means follow his method for creating the starter but on a smaller scale.

Before the starter is viable then it won't leaven bread. But once it's past the smelly stage (if there is one) then by all means you can use it up in other recipes without throwing it away.

If you are feeding viable starter on a daily basis then the discard is not spent. If your starter is an established one but has been sitting in your fridge for a long while and it needs refeeding to wake it up then the discard can be called "spent" I suppose as it is past the optimal stage of making bread but yes it still has potential as the bit left behind is nursed back to strength.

gmvoros's picture

Thank you, Abe. That is very useful information, and the next time I make starter, I'll use your numbers.

BGM's picture

I save the discards until I have a several hundred grams and use it to make whole wheat crackers using my modification of a King Arthur recipe.

gmvoros's picture

Thanks! That's a good idea!

Ambimom's picture

I've been exclusively sourdough for about 12 years.  I bake two loaves every 10 days or so.  The starter is kept in a jar in the refrigerator until I am ready to make dough.  By the time I'm ready to bake, my starter usually has a layer of "beer" on top.  I pour that beer into a bowl along with 290 grams of starter [by weight on a scale] which is the amount I need for my two loaves.   That is the so-called discard, but I don't discard it.  I use it to make my bread.

I feed the starter in the jar and leave it on the counter overnight to ferment before returning it to the refrigerator.

I then add flour, water, and salt to the "discard" in the bowl.  I like to mix and knead it because I like to feel it transform into dough.  I'll either cover it and put it into the refrigerator to ferment for 12 to 14 hours, or leave it on the counter to ferment, depending on the time of day.  Once the fermentation is completed, I form loaves and set it to ferment some more.  Depending on the environmental temperature it will double in volume anywhere from six to ten hours later and be ready for baking.

Like I said before.  I've been doing this for 12 years.  I also use the starter for pancakes, biscuits, flatbreads, pizza,  You don't have to throw your "discard" into the garbage -- unless it is moldy or stinks.




gmvoros's picture

Thank you, Ambimom! That is very useful!

I have another question, possibly a dumb one.  Tartine makes a disctinction between "starter," which is the from-scratch mix you start a week before you want to make leaven, feeding every day (and then twice a day two days before you want to make leaven), and then the "leaven itself," which you actually mix into the flour to make the bread dough. 

When people write about saving their starter, do they mean the "starter," or the "leaven"? (I have saved both, just in case.) 


David R's picture
David R

Normally there wouldn't be leaven to save, because you made just the amount you needed for what you're baking that day (by mixing some starter into the right quantities of other stuff). You wouldn't mix a leaven unless you intended to use it up.

But if you overshot the intended amount, or for another reason there was enough left over that it felt wasteful to throw it away, you'd just get creative and find some little thing to make with it.

gmvoros's picture

Thanks for your reply, David R. Well that's weird, because Tartine (Book No. 3) says to take 1 tblspn of starter and mix it with 200g of flour and 200g water. (What's also weird is the sudden measure of a tblspn when everything else ahs been down to the g. ) That's your leaven after it's sat for a while. 

The recipe I'm using calls for 150g of leaven. So I have about 250g left over. I put it in the fridge, but since it's leaven, not starter, do I need to use it up pronto?

Your other post, btw, about watching over the starter like a witch at her cauldron, cracked me up!

Lillkatzino's picture

I´ll usually just feed my starter equal amounts (by weight) of water and flour - but I don´t make it dependent on the amount of starter I already have. I just know that if I feed it less I´ll have to feed again sooner.
But that way I can feed a 140g starter with 20g of flour and 20g of water and don´t end up with crazy amounts.

Not sure tho if that´s the best thing to do! I´ve never had problems but it´s pretty irregular. 

David R's picture
David R

Any arrangement by which you are making good bread and not running into problems, receives the coveted "Officially Good Enough" Seal Of Approval.

The seal is happily applauding you with his flippers right now, saying "Yay! Good Enough!". (I don't know who taught him to talk; it wasn't me.)

gmvoros's picture

Thank you, Lillkatzino. Maybe I don't need to obsess about specific amounts down to the molecule as I do!

David R's picture
David R

There are times when "molecule counting" matters more, and times when it matters less. Doing it too often at first is normal. Your detail-oriented mind will certainly serve you well, as long as you remember to actually make the bread. ?

Ambimom's picture

You can make sourdough bread-making into a huge complicated process, or you can find what works for your habits and lifestyle.  Do you think the San Francisco miners spent any time worrying about their leaven a week in advance?  I doubt it.  They kept their "starter" in leather pouches around their necks and made bread on the fly.  Sourdough has been around since forever.  

Find something that works for you.  I used to do the Jim Lahey no-knead thing, but I gradually stopped using commercial yeast in favor of sourdough starter (mine is King Arthur's).  I had the parchment paper, Dutch oven thing but I found it impossible to cut uniform slices so I gradually experimented with loaf pans.  I also found that I liked to feel the dough come alive with kneading.....

Bottom line is that I found a process that works for my kitchen and my preferences.  Find something that fits your life.  

I haven't bought a loaf of commercial bread in 12 years.  

David R's picture
David R

The 19th-century miners did exactly what we're doing, regarding sourdough - compare notes, give each other advice, but mainly try to make decent bread and not ruin their starter. Most of us have fancier equipment and nicer places to stay than they did - otherwise it's basically the same old story.

doughooker's picture

"Do you think the San Francisco miners spent any time worrying about their leaven a week in advance?  I doubt it.  They kept their "starter" in leather pouches around their necks and made bread on the fly."

Thankfully the miners didn't have the Internet to obsess about such things. Nor did they have digital gram scales and there weren't many pineapples growing along the dusty trails through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and no microscopes to study the microbes. How did they ever get by?

See how Julia Child made french bread back in the prehistoric year of 1971. Like my mother, she uses these ancient devices called measuring cups.

BethJ's picture

@BGM:  I've made a verson of that KAF recipe for crackers using discard a couple of times.  Your comment prompted me to make another batch.  Always a winner, in my book.


Here's the link if anyone wants it: .

MrBytchy's picture

Being almost 71, I am prepared to accept that my palate may no longer be in the same league as Gordon Ramsay, however I don't get complaints from my sourdough consumers. Probably because they are too. polite.   Having said this, I sincerely believe that there are a lot of old wives tales knocking around when it comes to making sourdough and one I find confusing is the need people have to discard any starter. It is true to say that it may make life a bit easier when birthing your mother, though when I have done this, for myself and friends, I have just started small (20g), perhaps I have been lucky, or just have yeasty fingers.

Once started why is it necessary to throw any away? I have made bread for more than 10 years and sourdough for the past 3 years. I keep a little less than 200g of starter in my fridge. The day before I want to make bread I take it out and leave it at room temp in a bowl. I take it out of its home, a glass container and put it in a bowl.  In the the morning I feed it with 90/100g water and 90/100g flour, then in 3 or 4 hours it is bubbling well.   I use nearly all of my starter, about 350g in my mix. This leaves about 25, or 30g which I then feed with another 90/100g water and 90/100g flour before putting it back to bed in the fridge. No discard ever, works fine and bread is nicely risen with open crumb.

One small note: I leave the water I use in a glass jar covered with kitchen paper, so that the Cl oxidizes out.

Comments please.


Yesterday PumpkinPumpkin Cut made in a loaf tin, regular oven

Conventional Sour dough  Standard, made in a stainless pot with lid

Freedom Loaf Made in new steam oven

As you can see my No Discard method, though simple and maybe not the most efficient, works well.


phaz's picture

An oft used method, and not the most efficient. Enjoy! 

MrBytchy's picture

Hi Phaz, thank you for your comment, but please elaborate.

Tell us your method.

phaz's picture

I've laid out the method in a few other posts, I'll leave it to you to find them (I am too lazy to do it right now!), but it's based on 8th grade logic combined with 4th grade math. If ya don't find it, you should be able to figure it out pretty quick. Enjoy! 

Gluten-free Gourmand's picture
Gluten-free Gourmand

I'm going to link you to a starter recipe that has much less waste.  But first I want to just theorize for a minute about how people have used "discard" over time. Flour has probably been a commodity that could not be wasted over the 300-40,000 year history of sourdough breadmaking.  I'm guessing that people used to always use the discard.  Either they were making some kind of flatbread fresh every day and refreshing the starter as they went, or the dough was the starter/levain and a portion was saved from cooking to make the next batch.  Maybe that's splitting hairs a bit but consider if you used all your starter for a couple loaves of bread, then just before baking you pulled a little chunk off dough off a loaf and set it aside to make the next dough.  Zero waste.  But you'd have to bake every day like your life depended on it.

Okay now that I'm done with the historical speculation, check out this method for a starter that's usable in three days.  Here's a link to someone who tried it and in the comments is a link to the original post where Ars Pistorica (aka Ian Lowe of Apiece in Tasmania) laid out the method.  I end up feeding my sorghum starter at 5g starter, 50g flour, 60g water.

alessia's picture

I have finally found a method to maintain starter that works for my needs and doesn't produce discard: I keep about 90 g starter in the fridge. I bake every three/four days. On days when I work from home I make a levain the day before mixing the dough (20g starter 50/50 flour, to make a 600g flour loaf). On days I work away from home I skip the preferment step and mix all ingredients together (in this case 40 g starter and 500 g flour, about 360 g water, 10 g salt). When I do this second recipe (from King Arthur website) I tend to mix in the evening, leave overnight to ferment, and in the morning if risen enough I'll shape and put in the fridge before work, then bake after work. If not risen enough I put in the fridge without shaping and shape/bake after work or even the following day. When the starter is down to 30 g after the two bakes, I re-feed it with 30 g of flour and 30 water, let it sit at room temp until is starts to rise, then back in the fridge. No discard, easy maintenance and loaves look nice and taste great. I'm sure feeding and discarding the starter every day creates a very powerful starter, but I know mine is strong as it doubles (in a warm environment) in less than 4 hours. 

Kistida's picture


Flatbreads like naan:

Dutch Baby

I never like wasting the flours I use in my starter. I keep the discards both stiff and liquid starters in a 1L jar at the bottom of the fridge.