7 Tips for Starting a Good Sourdough Start

7 Tips for Starting a Good Sourdough Start

Now that you have a sourdough starter going, here are seven tips to ensure your success:

Glass canning jars are good for growing a starter but stay away from metal lids.

King Arthur Flour points out, “Sourdough starter is a living entity; it needs regular feeding,”  otherwise, it will need to go into the fridge.

#1: Containers For Your Sourdough Starter

Most folks I know use glass canning jars to grow and maintain their starter. But nearly any glass or plastic container with a loose-fitting lid will work. If you use plastic, make is made from food-grade plastic.

For all that, the traditional choice is a stoneware crock. I have one that might otherwise hold coffee or tea, but a crock like the one from King Arthur Flour shown here takes up quite a bit of space in your fridge when you are not using your starter every day.

The fermentation process begins when the wild yeast from flour and the environment combine with pure filtered or bottled water in a lightly covered container—Carroll  Pellegrinelli

#2: Real Water

Use spring water, bottled water, or filtered purified water. Home tap water, from a city supply, is treated with chloramine, a chemical that does not dissipate from water when left out overnight as chlorine used too. Tap water kills bacterial like the LAB you need for a healthy starter. Likewise, if your home water supply is hard there may be too many minerals for good growth. If you have a water softener, the bacteria don’t react well to that kind of treated water. And if you don’t have a water softener but your water is extra hard, you’re going to get a really dense heavy loaf of bread. Distilled water is a bad choice because the minerals that the bacteria need to do their thing have been removed. Just stick to filtered spring or purified water for your starter and bread baking.

#3: Real Flour

To get a starter going, Caroll Pellegrinelli recommended using freshly ground whole wheat. Another author suggested a mix of half rye and whole wheat, which I did.

The reason for using whole grain, says Pellegrinelli, is that wild yeast and other favorable “microorganisms make whole-grain whole-wheat flour the best flour to use for sourdough starter. It provides a strong base to continue to build the starter. It is possible to make the entire starter with this flour, but it doesn’t maintain the desired results of a long-lasting starter. It may become too heavy with an overpowering sour smell.”

#4: Temperature Control

Starting with lukewarm water between 90-100°F (32-38°C) will help increase the rate of fermentation, although on days 2–7 and on every other day, I use filtered water that has been sitting on the counter. 

Pellegrinelli says, “The best way to boost fermentation is by increasing the temperature of the starter. Keeping the starter in an oven with just the light on will accomplish this. Be very careful. It is just as easy to kill a starter with too much heat as it is to boost the process.” Personally I think the top, near of a fridge works just as well. 

#5: Use a Kitchen Scale

 A scale helps since you will be weighing equal amounts of water and flour for these daily feedings. Using cups can work, but each baker uses them differently. For example, for daily feeding, I have a metal cup for flour and a Measure-all Cup for liquids. The way I measure water, ¾ cup of it weighs about the same one cup of flour. But serious bakers realize the need for a scale rather than cups for measuring. This will prevent too much or too little flour in a recipe.

“Every cook wields a measuring cup differently and even cookbook authors and pastry chefs use them differently from one another. If every recipe included reliable weights, and everyone started using a scale, the overall quality of baking …would improve overnight! “—Food52 

#6: Regular Feedings

Regular feedings of flour and water will aid the process of getting your starter going and keeping it healthy too. Once it’s going well, you might start an all whole wheat start or an all rye start and though you may not use them often, you can keep them for months in the freezer.

#7: Other Add-ins

Some bakers suggest that you can enhance your starter with other ingredients. Things like small amounts of sugar, or even traces of salt. Others swear by adding pineapple juice as the beginning liquid in the starter’s first mix. While these may all speed up the process, mine worked well with just four and water.

Tell us how yours is doing in the comment section below, and now I have got to run to make those English muffins for Sourdough Saturday.

Author: Darryl Alder lives with his wife in Riverside Lodge, which is their home, along the Provo River in Utah. He is a retired career Scouter and outdoorsman who spent many hours over a campfire using a Dutch oven and loves sharing recipes for the kitchen and the campfire alike. You can read many of his outdoor recipes here and on this site by searching for Sourdough Saturday or Recipes on the top right-hand side of the blog.


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1 comment

Hi, thanks for the useful article! I would note, however, that distilled water is a fine choice for starter and for baking. I see that people say it’s bad but I’m guessing they’ve never actually tried it. My starter has been flourishing on it for years and, even generally being my own toughest critic, I know that the bread I bake with it is delicious. I believe the whole thing about lacking minerals is more just repeated conventional wisdom rather than tested science. Of course flour itself is full of minerals.

Just wanted to point this out so that anyone who doesn’t have really good clean water available but they could get distilled water should go ahead and use it.

Henry Whitworth

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