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5 Simple Sourdough Starters to Get You Baking

A sourdough starter next to some fresh bread.
Zagorulko Inka/Shutterstock

Feeling ready to make sourdough but not sure where to start? We’ve got the basics covered, with a simple recipe, a gluten-free version, and a few exciting variations—all suitable for complete beginners.

Bread is a common staple in many households, offering warmth and comfort during this time of global distress. However, many stores are failing to keep bread in stock, forcing people to turn to making their own. The best part about sourdough is that you only need flour and water to get started, eliminating the need for yeast packets or expensive bread mixes.

The time it takes to activate your starter depends on many factors, such as the temperature of your house, the type of flour you use, and how often you “feed” it. However, most people have a ready-to-use sourdough starter within a week. And then it lasts forever—as long as you store it in your fridge and feed it weekly.

What Is Sourdough?

Sourdough dates back to ancient Egypt, making it the first type of leavened bread. Its discovery was most likely an accident, with someone leaving bread dough out too long, thus inviting healthy microorganisms (also known as wild yeast) to invade the mix. The result: a tasty bread that was light and fluffy.

There’s no denying that sourdough’s unique and tangy flavor is delicious; it’s a direct result of friendly bacteria at work. You can tweak it further by adding a range of flavors, such as yogurt, vinegar, or sugar.

Did you know that sourdough has many health benefits? This is due to its high levels of lactobacilli bacteria and lactic acid, which are known to promote a healthy gut, thus improving the digestibility of your bread.

Furthermore, the fermentation process in sourdough lowers the phytic acid usually found in traditional bread. Phytic acid reduces your body’s ability to absorb certain minerals. This makes sourdough a nutrition-packed addition to any bread recipe.

Lastly, sourdough bread takes longer to digest, making you feel full and satisfied longer while preventing blood sugar spikes. It’s also a perfect alternative for those with yeast sensitivities. (The wild yeast in sourdough is different than the standardized yeasts used in commercial bakeries.)

So, now that we’ve discussed the many merits to sourdough, here’s how to make it. (Trust us, it’s not as hard as it seems).

What You’ll Need

Sourdough bread along with a sour dough starter and other tools on a wooden table.

We’ve already mentioned the basics of making sourdough: flour plus water. The exact kind of flour depends on the specific recipe.

Keep in mind that sourdough isn’t an exact science—although scientists are definitely interested in it. Although a recipe might recommend a specific brand or type of flour, it’s okay to mix and match (which might be necessary due to current flour shortages). Deviating from the recipe shouldn’t result in a total disaster; it just might take longer to cultivate the natural yeast, or change the overall flavor of your bread. And that’s okay.

All sourdough recipes suggest covering your starter while it ferments. We suggest using cheesecloth, giving your starter more air to breathe. This, in turn, will speed up the yeast activation process.

You’ll want to store your starter in a decent-sized container. Remember, it’s going to grow and expand! A large bowl, a glass jar, or even plastic Tupperware will work. When you store your starter in the fridge, make sure to cover it loosely, avoiding tight-fitting lids.

A whisk is a handy tool to have on hand, allowing you to thoroughly mix in any flour lumps.

Most recipes will instruct you to discard part of your starter as you go. This is to allow a smaller portion to feed more effectively, thus developing an appropriate amount of natural yeast. If you can’t bring yourself to throw out any starter (hey, nobody likes throwing out food), you can use it for these sourdough discard recipes, or gift it to friends and family.

All ready? Let’s do this.

The Most Basic Sourdough Starter

For your very first attempt, we suggest following a bare-bones recipe that has day-by-day instructions with easy-to-understand pictures, such as this one by King Arthur Flour.

The above recipe recommends starting with whole-grain flour, such as whole wheat. Whole-grain flour has a richer environment, thus creating a more sustainable environment for the wild yeast to grow. Can’t get your hands on a whole-grain flour right now? You can start with all-purpose flour, just know it’ll take longer to activate the natural yeast.

It’s advised you feed the starter every day with an all-purpose flour. Again, don’t worry if you have to change brands. Try your best to be consistent, but know that it’ll still turn out okay. If anything, you can always donate your failed batches to science.

Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

If you follow a gluten-free diet, then having fluffy delicious bread is a must.

Once again, we vote for a King Arthur recipe, which requires their brand of measure-for-measure flour for creating the sourdough starter. (But feel free to use another brand if you have it on hand).

If you’re looking for a richer, more flavorful, gluten-free sourdough starter, we highly recommend this recipe. You’ll need gfJules All-Purpose Flour, plus water, apple cider vinegar, and yogurt (dairy-free yogurt works, too). You also have the option to use dry yeast, if you wish.

Be mindful of ready-made sourdough starter dry mixes. Unfortunately, most of them are not gluten-free.

Sourdough Starter with Yeast

One benefit of making sourdough is that you don’t need commercial yeast to activate it. That’s because the microorganisms create natural yeast in the fermentation process.

However, if you’re struggling to get a starter activated, or if you simply want to jumpstart the process, go ahead and add in some dry yeast.

Make sure to follow a recipe that specifically includes yeast. Don’t simply sprinkle in yeast to your already-growing starter as it can throw off the delicate balance.

Here’s an easy recipe to try, with all-purpose flour, yeast, and warm water being your only required ingredients.

Extra Sour Sourdough Starter

If you’re in love with the sour taste that comes with freshly baked sourdough bread, then here’s the most sour starter recipe for you!

It requires all-purpose flour and water, plus added yeast and sugar. The extra ingredients help cultivate even more bacteria, taking the tangy flavor to the next level. Read more tips on how to manipulate the sour level in your starter.

Yogurt Sourdough Starter

We’ve already learned that the natural fermentation process of sourdough produces tons of healthy bacteria. Why not take it a step further and toss in some yogurt, which is known for its high-probiotic qualities?

Plus, the addition of yogurt in the starter produces a delicious moist loaf. Using warm milk provides a perfect environment for the yeast to multiply and grow at record speed. Watch as your starter bubbles to life—it’s quite exciting. You can check out the full recipe at CDKitchen.

Even though starting your sourdough journey may seem overwhelming at first, it’s fairly easy once you get the hang of it. Just be willing to go with the flow, seeing where your wildly growing bacteria takes you. Keep in mind that the Ancient Egyptians created it by accident and it became history. So, don’t be afraid of what you’ll whip up. We’re sure it’ll be tasty either way.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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