Keeping a sourdough starter in your kitchen is the first step to long term gut health.
As a mother who works at providing healthy food to five children, the fact that sourdough starter is not readily used in all family kitchens is a little maddening, the benefits are huge!
- sourdough has a superior nutrition profile. Wheat and other grains contains phytic acid, which is called an “anti nutrient” because it actively prevents us from being able to absorb other nutrients available in the grain, the fermentation process in sourdough and the many probiotics in sourdough starter drastically reduce phytic acid and allow us to absorb nutrients in grains.
- Sourdough improves our immune system. Our gut protects us from external pathogens, everyday we accidently eat germs, and the bacteria in the gut kill them off, however if your gut is unhealthy from an overload of the wrong type of bacteria (lack of fermented foods and poor diet) then these pathogens can be released into the body (leaky gut) causing chronic inflamation, eating sourdough reguarly increases the good bacteria and helps us in our ability to fight pathogens.
- Sourdough can regulate blood sugar. everyone knows that carbohydrates, bread, and many baked goods we eat everyday can massivily spike our blood sugars, and regularly doing this will lead you to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. The fermentation process in sourdough creates a resistant starch, which does not spike blood sugar anywhere near as drastically, and eating this over regular white flour is a huge way to control your insulin levels.
- sourdough starter and wholegrains are a way to improve aging and lowering disease. the mederteranian diet is considered the best in the world for aging, the people who eat this way and live in the blue zones, age better, live longer, and have far less disease. This diet includes wholegrains, and sourdough is a diet staple, wholegrains eaten without fermantation are high in phytic acid and can cause chronic inflamation and is why in our western diet they dont do well at all.
- Sourdough aids in digestion. Gluten intolerances are on the rise thanks to the overprocessing of many item’s in our diet, and while many of us who have an intolerance are not celiac, we can just feel not great ( pain, gas, bloating) eating regular gluten products, if this is you, then try sourdough starter, it is basically partially digesting that gluten for you by consuming the sugar in the grain, this is how it is able to rise without yeast and it means that you can enjoy gluten products using sourdough and sourdough discard, which trust me, is way better then the gluten free substutes (think, pancakes, waffles, wraps, bread, pizza.)
You really can’t get an easier ferment in my opinion.
- remove half (sourdough discard)
can it get easier?
I keep a jar of starter on my bench, ready for baking but you can keep it many different ways, according to how much you use it. (more on that in the storing section)
I have at least a cup of discard a day, and I almost always use it in some recipe or other and if I don’t, I give it to my chickens.
Obviously, having larger quantities doesn’t suit everyone, 20 grams is enough for any good baker to feed and keep.(you keep 20 grams of unfed starter, then you feed it, it doubles in size, you use 20 grams and you still have 20 grams to feed again) You can choose exactly how much starter you want and how often to feed it.
You can fridge your starter and completely forget about it for weeks, get it out, feed it once or twice and you’ll be back to baking sourdough goodies in no time.
What should you start your sourdough starter with?
To start a sourdough starter, you want to use organic flour. It can be wholegrain, spelt, rye, white, whatever you choose.
I use white, simply for cost, being winter, which for me is baking season, I feed my sourdough every one or two days. which means I use a lot of flour, that and I prefer to work with white flour in a lot of my sourdough discard recipes for taste.
Water. filtered or boiled. You don’t need to weigh your water like you do your flour, you measure it in millilitres, 50mls of water = 50 grams of flour.
THE PROCEDURE to start a sourdough starter.
- Add 50 millilitres(=50 grams) of boiled water to 1/3 of a cup (=50 grams) of organic flour.
- Sit for 12 hours in a jar or covered bowl.
- At 12 to 18 hours remove half of the volume from jar = 50 grams.
- Add the same again of water and flour as you did the first day.
- repeat for 7 days.
- Mix in a glass bowl or jar, you don’t want to store your starter in metal or plastic.
Discarding and using sourdough discard.
You discard half each time you feed and either throw it away or cook with it. (note it won’t do anything to your baking just yet but if you don’t want to waste it you can add it to any recipe as half water half flour replacement.)
You will know when your flour glop is turned sourdough.
The flour paste will smell funny at first like a light yeast beer smell, then a few days later like a malty vinegar kind of pang and then when it’s rising and falling and bubbly it should smell good and sour.
It will have bubble and rise and become light and fluffy, you need lots of space in your jar to let it rise (don’t have more than half your jar filled with starter after discarding) which is why too, you want to discard, as to keep space and keep a limit on your starter you can have as little as 50 grams in a little jar or you can have up to a litre.
INCREASING THE SIZE OF YOUR STARTER WITH FEEDING
If you want more starter for lots of sourdough discard for recipes, then every second feed don’t discard, and feed with one to one, just the same if you had discarded, and then stop when you reach the amount you want.
Feeding your sourdough starter
When I first started I read to just measure in a measuring cup equal parts water and flour, that is only half right, you need to WEIGH equal parts, not measure equal parts, it’s made easier by knowing that water weighs what it measures, but flour does not.
So, I keep around a cup and a half of sourdough starter at all times. That’s around 220 grams. so that means, 220 grams of flour and 220 millilitres of water.
Don’t think that you have to be all spot on measuring, you don’t.
I hardly measure anymore, I know that sourdough starter should look like thick lumpy cake batter when correctly fed. and I know that I need just under a cup of water, so I dump a cup in and add flour till it’s thick and a little lumpy.
If it’s out by a few tablespoons or half a cup, it doesn’t matter, sourdough that is healthy will eat away and ferment whatever you feed it.
To maintain my starter, once a week, I empty my jar, into a bowl, wash and dry it, pour back in 200’ish grams and discard the rest. It’s not something you need to do at all but I like to keep my jar clean since It always sitting on my bench, I don’t want mould starting on the top of my starter.
Sourdough starter troubleshooting
Starting your sourdough starter with organic flour is encouraged, just because its free from chemicals and therefore the bacteria that you are trying to grow are able to establish.
Once your starter is established you don’t have to use organic. You can use any flour or a mix of white and another.
A whole grain, spelt or rye flour will actually become a starter quicker and they take slightly longer to ferment.
This gives you a little more room with feedings, this being because these flours, unlike white flour, have more nutrients, white flour gets eaten slightly faster and therefore turns vinegary a little quicker.
You don’t need fancy water, I just use boiled tap water and it works just fine. I did try not boiling it, straight from the tap, it didn’t kill my starter but it did slow down the rise and I found my starter is not as healthy after a few days.
Some people advise using alkaline water but in my opinion, it’s complicating a simple process.
- HOW SHOULD A STARTER SMELL?
Sounds odd, but smelling your starter will be something you do often.
As you begin with your flour and water mix, it will gradually smell yeasty, then like a malty beer, then it will become distinctly sour.
If it smells so sour it burns your nose, an OVERLY SOUR starter means you need to boost your feedings, perhaps to twice a day until the smell gets into a normal sour smell, which should be sour, but not enough to feel as though your nose hairs are being singed with an inhale.
It may have come about in the first place if you aren’t using enough flour, or too much water when feeding or not feeding often enough.
- An acetone smell in your sourdough starter
Is nothing to worry about, it means that your starter is lacking oxygen. The fermenting process has paused and the bacteria is letting off that nail polish/acetone smell. Just mix your starter and discard and feed and it should smell fine. You may need to give your starter a stir mid ferment if this problem persists.
Changing the jar may work. One with a nice wide lid. Note! just place it on, your jar fills with gas! If you screw on your lid nice and tight it could actually crack with the pressure over time.
- WHAT IS HOOCH?
Is the liquid that yeast gives off as it ferments. When you see it at the top of your starter it’s nothing terrible, it just means your sourdough starter is hungry and needs a feed.
Hooch is almost always accompanied by an overly sour or vinegary smell.
It can be just a little on the top or a lot. Just pour it off and feed your starter. Hooch can be grey, brown or even purple depending on what flour you’re using.
- PINK DISCOLOURATION IN SOURDOUGH STARTER
Isn’t good, unless you’re using 100% rye flour which will take on a pinkish, reddish hue. IF you’re not using rye then unfortunately you need to throw away your starter. Pink discolouration is the growth of a bacteria called Serratia marcescens and it’s not healthy to consume.
A little mould on the top of your starter is no real cause for concern, it may be that the lid wasn’t clean or not on and bacteria got in, or your jar wasn’t cleaned properly, just remove the mould from the top and clean and dry your jar, discard and feed your starter and you should be good to go.
If you have mould all through your sourdough starter, you should throw it away as mould is a killer to fermentation.
- THE STORING TEMPERATURE OF YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER
temperature does affect your starter. The warmer the room the faster the rise
(you can counteract this with a starter that is thicker, less water=slower rise time if you added 30 to 40 % more flour than water it will take longer to rise)
If it’s hot you may have to feed your starter more often, which is why in summer, I decrease the size of my starter and refrigerate whenever I am not using it.
The colder a room you may have trouble with a vinegary smell.
this is because the bacteria in your starter is made up of two main types, (yeast and bacteria) and when cooler, one (bacteria) can multiply quicker than the other and that can lead to an unhealthy starter, finding a warm place in your house will fix this just continue discarding and feeding as normal.
MISSING A FEEDING OF YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER Isn’t going to kill it, you can miss a day or two if it’s not in the fridge. In winter I feed mine every 24 to 36 hours a few times a week and it does just fine. If you forget about your starter for a few days and you find it overly sour with a brown or grey liquid on top (hooch) pour off the liquid, discard half and feed your starter just like normal, and if you want to use it for baking be sure to feed it twice at least, inside 24 hours so its back to being 100%.
The picture below is my starter at around 48 hours you can just start to see the beginnings of hooch around the edges, the smell is tangy but not offensive or overly burning. Just discard and feed as usual.
Storing your sourdough starter.
There are a few ways you can store your starter.
If you’re going away for a few weeks and want to resume regular baking when you get back, just pop it in the fridge.
If you’re a once a week or once a fortnight baker.
You can keep your starter on hand and not have to feed it daily. To do this, add flour to your starter until it is very dry, and then sprinkle some extra flour on top. store in the fridge for several weeks, no more than five or six.
When you’re ready to bake again, simply add water, until it’s back to the thick cake batter consistency, one or two feeds and you should be golden!
If you want to store it for longer, months/years then you can take a small amount, 30-50 grams of starter, spread it out on baking paper and let it dry out, when it’s dry break it up into crumbs and place in a ziplock bag and refrigerate
(Don’t ever freeze your starter!)
when you want to use it again, place the crumbs into a jar, and rehydrate and feed for several days and the starter will resume.
that’s all you need to know, sourdough is really such an easy and forgiving ferment!