Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

by Sarah Recipes, Traditional Preparation of GrainsComments: 68

bubbling sourdough starterWhen I first got into Traditional Food nearly 14 years ago, I pretty much had to make anything and everything myself because there were few companies (and none in my local area) that made the type of food I was seeking – let alone understood what I was even talking about!

Nowhere was this paradigm disconnect more apparent than the art of breadmaking.

“Isn’t using yeast the proper way to get bread to rise?   Isn’t this the way it’s always been done?” they would blankly ask.

“If the bread is organic, isn’t that good enough?”

Uh, no, no and no!

Yeast for breadmaking is relatively new in the grand scheme of human history.  In fact, when baker’s yeast was first introduced as an alternative to true sourdough starter in France in the mid 1600’s, it was strongly rejected because the Renaissance scientists of the time knew that this quicker, more convenient approach to breadmaking would negatively affect public health.

Ancestrally prepared bread never contains added baker’s yeast!

Instead, traditionally baked bread utilizes a starter culture loaded with friendly lactobacilli – a beneficial strain of bacteria found on the surface of all living things.  Yes, it’s even crawling all over you right now if your skin is healthy and in proper ph balance.

In addition to the absence of baker’s yeast to make the bread rise, true sourdough bread as baked by traditional cultures throughout the world and by my own ancestors in Northern Europe – the type of bread ideal for my personal genome – is baked at a lower temperature for a longer period of time which protects the integrity of the proteins in the cereal grains as well as the nutritional value.  This slower, more careful preparation method also eliminates anti-nutrients such as phytic acid which interfere with proper digestion and block absorption of the minerals in the cereal grains.  It also breaks down gluten, a very difficult to digest plant protein.

Best of all?

When you eat traditionally prepared sourdough bread (not the fake sourdoughs at the store that use yeast), you only eat a little because it is so filling!

The “bread makes you fat” argument is of much less concern when consuming traditionally prepared carbs. Eating the whole bread basket like what happens at the typical restaurant would not happen if those bread baskets were filled with true sourdough (and served with real butter of course!)

Are you convinced yet that traditionally prepared bread is the way to go if you choose to consume carbs (which I do … I love bread!)

The next step then, is to get hold of sourdough starter to try your hand at making a loaf.

Below are the directions I’ve always used to make sourdough starter, adapted, of course, from the must-have cookbook Nourishing Traditions!

Sourdough Starter


8 cups freshly ground rye flour

8 cups cold filtered water


2 large mixing bowls

2 Cheesecloth


Note that making a sourdough starter really requires freshly ground rye flour.  If you use store bought, even if organic, it is likely the starter will not take and will get mold on it before it is ready.  I know this from experience!

In addition, you will get your best results from making your sourdough starter with rye flour instead of wheat.  Once your sourdough starter is ready, you can of course bake your bread with whatever grain you like.  It’s just best to use rye for the starter alone .. you don’t have to make rye bread with it, in other words.

If you really want to make your sourdough starter with wheat, I would recommend einkorn which is the only unhybridized wheat left on planet Earth and, like rye, is lower in phytic acid and gluten than modern hybrid wheats.

Note that the total time to make a proper sourdough starter is one week.  It doesn’t take much time each day, but you have to give the dough a chance to get “ripe” with lactobacilli.

Day 1: Mix 2 cups flour with 2 cups of cold water.  The mixture will be rather soupy.  Cover with a *double* layer of cheesecloth secured by a rubber band.  This will allow beneficial wild yeasts and bacteria to get into the culture but will keep critters out.

If the weather is good, set the bowl outside in the shade if you live in an unpolluted area and you don’t spray any pesticides around your yard.  If this is not possible, set the bowl in a warm, open area like an indoor patio.

Days 2-7: Every day for a total of 7 days, transfer the ripening sourdough starter to a clean bowl and add 1 cup of fresh flour plus 1 cup of cold water or even a bit more to make the mixture soupy.  Cover with a fresh cheesecloth and let stand.

After a few days, you will notice the mixture begin to bubble.  It will also smell a bit like wine.  The frothy stage will begin to subside and after 7 days, the sourdough is ready for breadmaking!

Does making a sourdough starter sound like a lot of work?

Ok, I’ll admit. Making a sourdough culture is not a fast process. Even though it doesn’t take a lot of hands on time, it takes a full week of waiting to let Mother Nature do her thing.  And, sometimes, despite your best efforts, the sourdough starter fails and gets mold on it before the 7 days is up.

If you would rather buy a sourdough starter to save time, I would recommend my friends at Cultures for Health that offer several different types at extremely reasonable prices.  Find them here.

Sourdough Starter Storage

If you need to go on vacation or take a break from breadmaking for awhile, this article on the proper way to store sourdough starter can help. Whether you need to put your starter on hiatus for a week, a month or even a full year, taking the proper precautions will save you having to make another starter from scratch later on.

Ready To Make Sourdough Bread?

This recipe for a no-knead sourdough loaf is simple and perfect for first-timers. Simply mix the ingredients together before you go to bed and in the morning, form into a rough round and bake for an hour!

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist


Sources and More Information

Nourishing Traditions

Can Celiacs Eat True Sourdough Bread?

Einkorn Sourdough Crackers with Nut Butter

The 4 Reasons Why I Switched to Einkorn Wheat

The Healthy Home Economist holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Mother to 3 healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, ABC, NBC, and many others.

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