Using sourdough is one of the pillars of healthy eating in our family because it is the best way to get rid of phytic acid, which is in all grains (and basically anything that is a seed) and prevents us from accessing the much needed phosphorus located in grains and leaches minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium. (Read more about phytic acid in my blog here.) Not only that, but the souring process breaks down all of the sugars in the flour and makes it much easier for the body to digest. Making sourdough can seem like a daunting task at first, but once you get the sourdough starter established, it can become a very easy part of your routine.
I got my first sourdough starter from a friend, and things didn’t turn out so well. The problem could have been any or all of the following: 1) the starter flour was different than the flour I was using to bake with, 2) my gallon size jars were too big, 3) my hard winter wheat grain was too dense, and/or 4) I didn’t feed it enough. So I scrapped the project and waited until I had more time to do it properly. Now, I have an excellent starter that’s nice and poofy, some great containers, the perfect grain, the time to feed it regularly, and some great sourdough recipes that I love using.
- Sourdough Starter Packet (I got mine from Breadtopia via Amazon)
- Wide Mouth Mason Jars (I use 2 jars at a time. You can get some here or in the canning aisle at your local grocery store.)
- Coffee Filters (To cover the mason jars. This keeps out the fruit flies and lets the sourdough “breathe”.)
- Fresh Ground Grain – (I get my organic prairie gold wheat berries here, but you can find some similar here too. I use my Wondermill Grain Grinder to grind it up, but you can also get a hand operated grain mill if you’re looking for a cheaper option.*I’ve tried hard winter wheat berries, and they just didn’t work as well.)
- Filtered Water (We have city water that fortunately has no flouride, and we bought a simple filter to get the chlorine and other chemicals out. You can also let water sit out for 24 hours to evaporate the chlorine.)
Starting the Starter:
- Put 1 t. of dried starter into your mason jar(s) and add 1 T of lukewarm filtered water. Stir until softened.
- Add 1 T of freshly ground flour and stir. (You can grind a big batch of flour and keep it on your countertop, which is what I do, or you can get a little coffee grinder and grind some fresh every day. The more freshly ground the flour, the more phytase will be available to break down the mineral leeching phytic acid. Don’t freeze your flour, this will “kill” all of the phytase.)
- Cover the mason jar with a coffee filter, screw the cap on to keep it in place (or place a rubber band around it), and let it sit for 24 hours.
- For the first few days, you’ll just add tablespoons of water and flour, but once your starter is established (you will notice the bubbling action of the fermentation), you can increase the amounts to 1⁄3 c. of flour and 1⁄4 c. of water. *You want the consistency to be soft but not soupy, and you want to be able to mix it easily.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is my sourdough established? After you feed your sourdough and let it sit for 24 hours, you should see it get poofy, double in size, and there should be little holes dotted throughout. Because of this, you never want to let your jar(s) get too full.
- How should I maintain the starter? If you’re like me and want to use the starter as often as you can for things like sourdough muffins, sourdough pancakes, and sourdough pizza crust, you’ll want to leave it on the counter in warmish place (not near a drafty window) where it can be left undisturbed but remain within easy reach, and feed it 1⁄3 c. of flour and 1⁄4 c. of water every day. If you won’t be using it very often, you can keep it in your refrigerator. When you want to use it, take it out of the refrigerator, feed it, and let it sit out until it gets nice and poofy again, preferably 24 hours. Try not to let more than 2 weeks go by between feedings.
- What if I need more? You can always double the amount of flour and water each time you feed your starter or feed it every 12 hours if you need a quick boost in volume.
- What should I do if I forget to feed my starter every day? If you miss a day here and there, you should be fine. But if you miss more than a couple of days and the starter starts to turn black, you are getting near the point of no return. But still, try to feed it, stir it really well, and see if it will come back.
- How do I know if my starter has gone bad? Make it a point to really stick your nose in your starter and smell it when it is first established. It should have a pleasantly sour smell. If it goes bad, it will have a rotten and putrid smell. When this happens, you just have to throw it away and start over.
- When should I clean out my jars? When wet sourdough dries, it is VERY hard to clean! This is why I highly recommend cleaning any measuring cups with sourdough starter in them right away! If you notice that the inside sides of your jars are getting caked with lots of dry sourdough and especially if the dried sourdough is turning black, it’s time to clean your jars! Get a fresh clean mason jar(s), transfer as much of the wet starter as you can into the new jar, and soak the dirty jar in hot soapy water. Warning: It will not be easy or fun to clean! It will require a lot of scraping and perhaps even some more soaking, but you will be glad you did it when it’s over. 🙂
- Why should I go to all of the trouble of using sourdough anyways? All grains (as well as seeds, nuts, corn, oats, tubers, and bean…even coffee beans) contain phytic acid. Phytic acid is found in the hull of the grain and protects it. If we eat phytic acid without breaking it down first, not only can we not access the phosphorus inside (which is needed by every cell in the body), but it leaches valuable minerals (such as calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium) from our bodies. By making sourdough, we are releasing the phytase within the grain which is the only thing that can break down the phytic acid. I did an insane amount of research to learn more about this fascinating topic and you can read more about what I learned in my blog: The Dangers of Phytic Acid and What to Do About It.
- Where can I find some good sourdough recipes? Well, I’m glad you asked! It just so happens that I have a collection of my favorite sourdough recipes here. I especially like my sourdough muffin recipe.