A Beginner's Basic Sourdough Starter

Round sourdough loaf of bread
Jodie Coston/Photodisc/Getty Images
  • Total: 5 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 bowl (serves 15)
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
62 Calories
0g Fat
13g Carbs
2g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1 bowl (serves 15)
Amount per serving
Calories 62
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 2mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 13g 5%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 4mg 0%
Iron 1mg 4%
Potassium 20mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Homemade sourdough bread begins with a sourdough starter. Bakers are known to covet a healthy starter and care for it as if it were a treasured family pet. If you're interested in beginning your own, there is no easier way to begin than with this easy recipe.

What Is Sourdough Starter?

A starter is a homemade yeast for bread. With regular yeast bread, you go to the store and buy active dry yeast. Sourdough breads, on the other hand, get their flavor from wild yeast that is naturally found in your kitchen. It will make your breads rise and give them a unique flavor.

Capturing a good yeast can sometimes be tricky. With this recipe, you will be using a commercial yeast to get the starter going. Once your starter has had a chance to bubble up and grow more yeast, you will be able to use it in sourdough bread recipes.

A sourdough starter is not a one-time ingredient. It is something that you can keep alive for months or years with proper care. Remember, yeast is a living organism, and this starter certainly has a life of its own.


Steps to Make It

  1. In a ceramic bowl, add warm water and yeast. Mix with wooden spoon until the yeast is dissolved.

  2. Stir in the flour and mix until smooth.

  3. Pour the starter into a plastic container that is at least four times larger than the liquid amount of the starter. This is will allow room for the starter to expand.

  4. Cover with a cloth napkin and hold in place with a rubber band.

  5. Set the starter in a warm spot for 5 days, stirring once a day.

  6. Refrigerate (or freeze) and use as needed. At least once a week, feed your starter with equal amounts of water and flour.

Keep Your Sourdough Starter Alive

Sourdough starters take on the characteristics of their environment. The air in your kitchen is completely different than that of your neighbors, so your sourdough bread will have a unique taste. Each microenvironment plays a big role in the wild yeasts that develop and the subtle flavors of the final bread the culture is baked into.

As you begin to learn more about this special bread ingredient, you will quickly learn that the starter is the most important element in making great sourdough bread. Many bakers seek out and exchange starters with others throughout the world, and some starters have been kept alive for an extraordinary amount of time.

While you can certainly experiment with different starters, the key to any of them is to keep them alive. Just like your houseplants or your family pet, you need to feed and nourish your cultures. The dedication required is what prevents many people from baking sourdough bread on a regular basis.

Feeding your starter is very easy and there are three basic things that you need to remember:

  1. The yeast culture needs food. When you use your starter to bake a loaf of bread, it needs to be replenished. To feed your culture, simply add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to the container and allow it to rest at room temperature for 1 hour before returning to the refrigerator.

  2. Refrigeration requires less attention. Many bakers choose to refrigerate their starter and this slows down the culture's growth. It also means that you only need to feed it once a week. 

  3. A daily feeding is required at room temperature. If you don't have room in the fridge for your culture, you can store it at room temperature. However, you need to feed it once a day and keep it away from extreme heat and humidity.

If you forget to feed your culture on a regular basis, it can die. Often, this can take a few weeks, but yeast is a fragile organism and you may have far less leeway under certain conditions.

If you have a sourdough starter that you really enjoy, make a habit of feeding it and work this simple chore into your daily or weekly routine. It's not a difficult task, but it is easy to forget.

It's also important that you regularly use your starter to make bread. Just letting it sit and feeding it does no good for the culture or you; the culture will be healthier if used, and you get to enjoy fresh sourdough bread. If you're taking the time and effort to keep it alive, use it!

Don't have time or bake enough bread to keep a starter? You can put the starter into hibernation and freeze or refrigerate it until you need it.

Additional Sourdough Starters

The recipe above is just one way to begin a basic sourdough starter. It relies on store-bought yeast, but there are many other sourdough starters (e.g., potato, honey) you can play with.

Sourdough Starters

While this sourdough starter is very basic, nothing says that you cannot use other ingredients to cultivate yeast. Once you get the hang of sourdough, try a fun starter recipe with a resulting bread as a completely new experience.