With the gaining popularity of all things sourdough, it can still be confusing to those just gets started. Here are some sourdough frequently asked questions and answers to help you better understand this amazing food!
I had no experience with sourdough prior to moving to Alaska over seven years ago. But here in the Last Frontier, sourdough is a way of life.
I have read several books about the history of Alaska and sourdough is always included. It was more valuable than the gold the prospector’s were mining for because it provided nourishment. It was worn closely in their clothing to keep it warm and ready.
What we bake up today for fun was a necessity back then. And although sourdough has become popular over the past couple of years since the pandemic, it’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Remembering this will encourage you if you encounter any struggles with keeping a sourdough starter. If the old miner’s could do it, so can we! It’s really not as technical and difficult as it is often made to seem.
Here are some questions that I often hear in conversations about sourdough. After 7 years with my starter bubbling away, I’ve learned a lot through my own trials and errors.
Sourdough is a delicious, healthy, and amazing way to bake bread and anyone can do it!
What is Sourdough?
Sourdough has been around since ancient times. It is flour and water combined and left to sit so that wild yeast and good bacteria in the air can mix with the grain and cause fermentation.
The yeast cells feed on the flour and produce the sour, tart taste that we love about sourdough.
The wild yeast captured in the flour and water mixture become a leavening agent for the rising of bread products.
In short, sourdough uses wild yeast from the air instead of commercial yeast from the store, to create rise in dough. It’s amazing!
What Are the Benefits of Sourdough?
Sourdough has many health benefits that bread made with commercial, store-bought yeast doesn’t have. These benefits include:
- It contains lactic acid that predigests the grains in the flour, making it gentler on our stomachs.
- Sourdough helps to break down phytic acid so that our bodies can more easily absorb the minerals in the grains.
- It has a lower glycemic index than bread made with commercial yeast.
- Can often be tolerated by those who have gluten sensitivities.
- Sourdough has good bacteria in it that help to improve digestion.
How Do I Get a Sourdough Starter?
There are two ways to get yourself a sourdough starter, find someone who has a starter they can share with you or make your own.
When I decided to try my hand at sourdough seven years ago, I didn’t know anyone at the time who had a starter. So I made my own and it’s still going to this day. It’s easy!
How to Make a Sourdough Starter:
- Get a glass container (quart or half-gallon mason jars work well).
- Pour 1 cup of warm water into the jar as well as 1 cup of flour.
- Mix them together well, lightly cover the jar, and allow to sit at room temperature.
- Stir the mixture a couple of times a day for 2 to 3 days. There should be some small bubbles forming now.
- Pour a little of the mixture out (don’t start baking with it yet).
- Add in another cup of flour and water, stir well, and allow to sit for another day or two, stirring every so often.
- Pour out a little more, add more water and flour, stir, and allow to sit.
- Soon there will be a lot more bubbles and a nice, tangy smell. Your starter is ready!
If you are able to get a small amount of starter from a friend, then you’re in luck! Place the starter in a glass container, feed it equal parts flour and water, and allow to sit at room temperature. Stir every so often and check for those bubbles.
Your friend should be able to tell you how they’ve been caring for the starter and help you out.
You can also purchase dehydrated starter on-line. I also see it for sale at many gift shops here in Alaska! Follow the directions for adding water and rehydrating the starter so that it’s ready to use.
How Do I Feed a Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter must be fed to be active, which means the bacteria and yeast are alive and ready to be baked with. If you try to bake with a starter that hasn’t been fed at all, you won’t have very good results!
Feeding a sourdough starter is quick and easy. There are many different methods for feeding a starter that include weighing the flour and water or using exact measurements. You will eventually find what works for you!
I’m more relaxed with feeding my starter, it shouldn’t be too complicated. It just needs flour and water and a quick stir and it’s all set.
I like to use a little more flour than water, not equal parts. But this is my preference. I like my starter to be more on the thicker side, like pancake batter. Here’s what I do:
- If I need a lot of starter for a recipe, I feed 1 1/2 cups of flour and 1 cup of water.
- If I need just a little starter for a recipe or just want to feed it before putting it back in the fridge, I feed 3/4 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water.
I have gotten to the point where I don’t need to measure. I can add the amount of flour that I want and then enough water until I reach the consistency that I like.
Avoid using cold or hot water and stick with warm or room temperature water.
I stir it well, cover it lightly (never use an airtight lid with sourdough) and allow it to sit.
After pouring or stopping some of the starter out to use in a recipe, I feed it a little more flour and water to get it going again.
You can use as much starter as you want, just be sure to leave a little in the bottom of your container to feed and keep it going.
How Do I Store a Sourdough Starter?
Unless you plan on using your starter on a daily basis, you will need to store it sometimes.
I bake with my starter quite often, several times a week. It is usually sitting out on the counter.
But if it’s not going to be used for a day or two, into the fridge it goes.
You can feed you starter after using it and then pop it into the fridge where it will be just fine until you’re ready to use it again.
If you’re not going to be using it for awhile, I would suggest pulling it out once a week, giving it a quick feed, and putting it back.
You can even freeze your starter if you’re going on a trip or won’t be able to feed it for a long time. I froze a small jar of my starter to have as a back-up just in case.
How Do I Use a Sourdough Starter?
This is the fun part! Baking with sourdough transforms breads and other baked goods into healthier and tastier foods. There are endless ways to use your sourdough starter and a recipe for just about everything.
There are two main ways that you’ll use a sourdough starter, as leavening for bread or as flavor.
If you want to use your starter as leavening for bread instead of store-bought yeast, it must have been fed and be active and bubbly.
If you just want to use it for flavor in other baked goods, it doesn’t to need to be active.
Sourdough vs Commercial Yeast
Why commit to sourdough when you can buy yeast at the store? There are a few reasons!
Sourdough is natural, wild yeast captured from the air. It contains many health benefits that commercial yeast does not (see above).
Sourdough takes longer to rise than commercial yeast so it’s not as fast. But well worth the wait.
Store-bought yeast is expensive and the containers will end up in the landfill. Sourdough uses flour that you’re already buying to bake with and water from the tap.
What is Discard?
Sourdough discard is simply the starter you have left after feeding and removing what you need for the recipe.
If you were to keep feeding your starter everyday, it would grow and grow! It must be used. Some people just pour their discard in the trash but this is so wasteful. Bake with it!
Can My Sourdough Starter Go Bad?
If left unfed for a long amount of time, it’s possible for a starter to go bad. When you’re not going to use your starter for awhile, feed it and place it in your fridge.
If you forget about your starter and it forms a layer of mold on the top, it is best to throw it out and either get new starter from a friend, order a dehydrated starter, or make a new one yourself.
However, if possible, scrape the mold off of the top and see if there is any clean starter on the bottom of your container. Even just a spoonful of this placed into a new jar can be fed and brought back to life.
If a liquid forms on top of your starter (called hooch) simply stir it back into the starter and feed it as normal.
Sourdough Frequently Asked Questions
I hope this clears up some of the mystery surrounding sourdough! There are countless books, recipes, websites, videos, and more information about sourdough and it can be confusing.
I struggled with learning how to make, care for, and bake with sourdough in the beginning. I was overwhelmed.
When I finally reminded myself that people have been using and maintaining sourdough for hundreds and hundreds of years, I knew it couldn’t be that difficult.
I hope some of your questions have been answered! If you have any more, please send me a message! Have fun and enjoy baking with sourdough!