The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (2024)


Jump to Recipe - Print Recipe

Who wants to make a blob of guck that turns into bread?! I know. Everyone does. I mean, it's the year of Coronavirus where the two most popular things in the world are baking sourdough bread and thinking about baking sourdough bread. To do it, you need to know how to make sourdough starter.

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (1)

If you already have sourdough starter and want to dry it (to preserve it) I have full instructions on how to dry sourdough starter here.

Sourdough starter hit its stride in the year ohhhhh 1500 BC or so. The Egyptians were all over it. For thousands of years it was the only way to make bread. Then something horrifying happened - progress.

With the invention of instant commercial yeast by Louis Pasteur in the 1800s, sourdough starter was abandoned by bakers.

Commercial yeast gave predictable results, was easier to use and a lot faster than the homemade levain people had been using for centuries. All but the most discriminating of bakers (the French) switched to using the commercial yeast.

What breads made with commercial yeast didn't have was the flavour of bread made with the traditional sourdough starter. But bakers were willing to give that taste up in exchange for convenience.

100 years after the invention of commercial yeast, around the 1980s, the popularity of sourdough starters began to rise again before levelling out in the 1990s.

Nobody (except every infectious disease expert around the world, plus that guy who made the movie Pandemic) could have predicted what would happen in the spring of 2020.

The entire world would shut down. And together we were alone.

Collectively, without prompting, the world knew what to do. We would bake bread.

The word "bread" spiked to an all time high in Google searches. This was partly because everyone locked inside their homes wanted to do and eat something that was comforting. What's more comforting than the smell of freshly baked bread and a warm hunk of it slathered in butter.

Even more explosive were the results for sourdough starter a week later when everyone started to realize yeast was suddenly sold out everywhere.

Overnight, sourdough starter and bread became the "it" thing. Nothing like this had happened since the Cabbage Patch doll riots of 1983.

Winter is coming again, the virus is in its second wave almost everywhere and even though you might not be in lock down, the safest place for you to be is at home.


Who wants to make sourdough starter?

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (2)

If you were alive and coherent in the 1980's you might remember the fad with people passing around a gross glop of dirty looking glue. You were supposed to take a bit out and pass along the rest to a bunch of unsuspecting friends. It was like a chain letter but with if someone accidentally sneezed on it, you were going to eat it. Blech.

THAT was sourdough starter.

Sourdough starters have been known to be passed on from generation to generation.

It's a mixture of flour and water that's been left to ferment and turn into liquid yeast. It does this by "catching" wild yeast that's in the air.

Sourdough starter, which makes bread rise, tastes different than regular yeast because it contains different yeasts and bacterias. It's fermented and has a slight sour taste to because of that. It's what gives sourdough the unique flavour it has.

O.K. NOW do you want to know how to make this miracle of nature that has you catching wild yeast from the air known as sourdough starter?

I thought you might.

By the way, catching wild yeast is a bit of a romanticism. You are in fact catching wild yeast, but yeast is pretty much in abundance everywhere. You know when grapes have that white haze on them? YEAST! Yup. The white haze on grapes is yeast.

Yeast is in the air, on your hands, and possibly on the spoon you use to stir your concoction. Which is lucky for we sourdough starter makers.

Before I get to the sourdough starter recipe I know you're going to have this question:

Table of Contents

What flour is best for sourdough starter.

What kind of flour? Most people like rye and feel it ferments more quickly than other flours. BUT you can use whatever flour you want or have; rye, whole wheat, white ...

I use rye to start my starter. Then for subsequent feedings I may switch over to white.

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (3)

How to make it

A bit about hydration.

This is for a 100% hydration starter. That means it has 1 part flour to 1 part water. Different hydrations of starter and breads create different results. A lower hydration (more flour than water) will give you a more sour taste and needs to be fed less often. A higher hydration (more water than flour) will be milder tasting and need feeding more often.

There's a LOT more to it than that, but if you're a beginner I think this 1:1 starter is a good place to start for you.

  1. Mix ¼ cup clean room temperature (filtered or bottled) water with ¼ flour.

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (4)

Stir everything together until all the flour and water have mixed well.

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (5)

2. Cover it with a cloth and let it sit for a couple of days in a room that's approximately 23C (75F).

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (6)

I'm using a bowl but you can also use a glass or mason jar.

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (7)

After just 8 hours you can see tiny bubbles starting to form.

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (8)

3. Once you notice bubbles and a yeasty smell (after 2 or 3 days) you can get rid of half of your mixture. Just scoop it out and throw it down the drain. It may have dried out a bit. That's O.K. Add ¼ cup of water and ¼ cup of flour to the remaining starter, mix and cover up again. This is called feeding the starter.

Continue feeding the starter in this exact way every 8-12 hours for the next 2 weeks or so.

Remove half the starter, then add ¼ cup water and ¼ cup of flour. Wait 8 - 12 hours and do it again.

After several days of doing this you'll notice the bubbles are starting to get bigger.

Starter not rising?

If you don't think your starter is doing much you can:

  1. Put the starter close to an open window so it has more access to wild yeast. (no idea if this is a fable or not, but I did it and it worked)
  2. Put the starter in a warmer part of the room, or warmer room in general.
  3. Increase the amount of flour and water you add from ¼ cup of each to ½ cup of each.

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (9)

By day 12-15 you'll notice your starter will start to double in size after you feed it. It won't just get a bit bubbly, it will literally double in size!

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (10)

Once your starter reliably doubles in size for several days, you can break out the cigars because you are the proud parent of glop. Some people suggest you keep feeding it on the counter like this for up to a month to really get the sour taste.

Those people must not have a life. Because just feeding this starter twice a day for two weeks is enough to make a person crazy. Trust me. By the end of two weeks you'll be as sick of feeding this starter as you are of feeding your family every night.

Once you have a successful starter you can stick it in the refrigerator until the day before you're going to make bread.

Reviving it

The day before you make bread the starter should be removed from the refrigerator and brought up to room temperature. Once it's warm, add ¼ cup of bottled water and a ¼ cup of flour. This will help activate the starter and get it bubbly again. 8-12 hours later, do it again. Your starter should now be ready to use.

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (11)

Sourdough Starter

5 from 7 votes

Print Pin Rate

Total Time: 17 days days

Author: Karen Bertelsen


  • Bag of flour
  • Filtered tap water or bottled water


  • Day 1 - Mix together ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup lukewarm water. Let sit for 2-3 days until bubbles form and it smells of yeast. During this time, stir the mixture whenever you think of it.

  • Day 4 - Remove half the starter mixture and dump it down the drain. Feed the remaining mixture with ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup water. Mix.

  • Continue to dump and feed exactly the same way every 8-12 hours for 2 weeks or until the mixture reliably doubles in size after feeding.

  • Store the sourdough starter in the refrigerator until the day before you're ready to make bread. The day before, remove the starter, let it get to room temperature and then feed it. (add ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup water) 8-12 hours later, feed it again. It is now ready to use in the sourdough bread recipe of your choice.

So there you have it. Sourdough starter glop. Pass it on.

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (12)

The Rise & Fall of Sourdough Starter. | The History & Recipe (2024)


Why did my sourdough starter rise then fall? ›

The starter fills with air, was not used in time, runs out of energy, and deflates. Deflation destroys the airy structure of the sourdough starter. By feeding it again, your sourdough starter regains its energy and builds its structure again. This is necessary for rising your bread dough.

What is the history of sourdough starter? ›

The oldest known sourdough starter is said to have originated from clay pots unearthed in Egypt. Seamus Blackley baked a loaf of sourdough bread using yeast harvested from 4500 year old clay pots. If you want to read more about this 4500 year old sourdough starter, go here.

Is sourdough supposed to rise and fall? ›

This rise is expected and is a good indicator of strong fermentation activity. However, depending on the type of flour you are using to feed your starter, it may not rise all that high and fall all that far—and that's okay.

What is the oldest sourdough starter still alive? ›

Blackley's sourdough starter, created from 4,500 year-old yeast, is considered the oldest sourdough starter, per Oldest. Other starters like the Saint Honoratus Wheat also are quite old. A bakery called Chrissi's Farmhouse Bakery uses it and said, “This noble starter dates back 900 years.

Can I bake with starter that has fallen? ›

There is probably a one-hour window post-peak, where the starter may be at its strongest. Past-Peak and Falling: If your starter/leaven is past-peak and is beginning to fall in height, it is beyond the optimal point to use it for baking, but it will still work.

How long does it take for a sourdough starter to rise and fall? ›

When your starter is reliably rising to double or triple its size and falling in the jar anywhere between 4-8 hours after you feed it (dependent on your ambient conditions and the flour you feed with) it is ready to bake with. When the starter is at the peak of its rise, it is called ripe, fed, or mature.

What is the original sourdough starter called? ›

The preparation of sourdough begins with a pre-ferment (the "starter" or "leaven", also known as the "chief", "chef", "head", "mother" or "sponge"), a fermented mixture of flour and water, containing a colony of microorganisms including wild yeast and lactobacilli.

How did pioneers keep sourdough starter alive? ›

Some early miners were even known to sleep with starters in their pockets on cold nights so that the yeasts and bacteria didn't freeze to death—giving the prospectors a somewhat sour smell, which may also be part of the reason they earned the sourdough nickname.

Who made sourdough bread out of 4500 year old yeast? ›

Seamus Blackley shared on Twitter that he had baked bread with a 4,500-year-old microbial combination of yeast and bacteria. With the help of Dr. Serena Love, an Egyptologist, and microbiologist Richard Bowman, Blackley literally brought history to life.

What is the best flour for sourdough starter? ›

Whole wheat flour is an excellent choice for creating a sourdough starter due to its nutrient-rich composition and potential for fostering a robust microbial community. However, it's important to note that the quality of whole wheat flour can vary between brands.

What is the hardest bread to make? ›

What is the most difficult bread to bake? In my experience, it would be sourdough bread. Sourdough uses a starter made from wild yeast instead of active dry or fresh yeast. It takes much more time and is more involved.

Can I let my sourdough rise overnight? ›

You can absolutely leave sourdough bread to rise overnight - but as always - there are some things you'll need to do to make sure that your bread is successful with an overnight ferment.

Does sourdough starter taste better with age? ›

For most bakers, the answer is a clear no. Maurizio Leo, author of the award-winning bread cookbook The Perfect Loaf, still uses the first starter he ever made; it's now 12 years old. And while he's sentimental about that starter, he says its age doesn't really impact his bread.

What is the dark liquid on sourdough starter? ›

Reviving your sourdough starter

Speaking of color, what makes hooch dark? Hooch is mostly alcohol and water, but it's not pure liquid: There's starch, sugar, and even some undigested flour suspended in the mix as well.

How do I know if I killed my sourdough starter? ›

How to tell if your sourdough starter is dead?
  1. Even after 5 refreshing periods the starter isn't bubbling or showing signs of activity.
  2. If the starter smells rotten. ...
  3. If mold is growing.
May 18, 2021

Can I use my starter after it has fallen? ›

Yes you can use sourdough starter after it falls. It's best to use it at its peak when the yeast colony is at its greatest, but using it after it falls is also possible. Using the starter after it's started collapsing is often used as a technique to make sourdough more sour.

Why does my sourdough fall flat after proofing? ›

In the described loaf, the flat result after proofing suggests that it's over-proofed, that is, proofed for too long. Try less time, or less size (depending on the method you use to determine the endpoint that it's proofed.) Leave some life in the dough for oven spring.

Can I feed my starter without discarding? ›

If you don't get rid of the excess, eventually you'll have more starter than your feedings can sustain. After a few days, your daily 1/4 cup flour and water won't be enough to sustain your entire jar of starter, and your starter will be slow and sluggish, not much better than discard itself.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Allyn Kozey

Last Updated:

Views: 6011

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Allyn Kozey

Birthday: 1993-12-21

Address: Suite 454 40343 Larson Union, Port Melia, TX 16164

Phone: +2456904400762

Job: Investor Administrator

Hobby: Sketching, Puzzles, Pet, Mountaineering, Skydiving, Dowsing, Sports

Introduction: My name is Allyn Kozey, I am a outstanding, colorful, adventurous, encouraging, zealous, tender, helpful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.