How To Make Sourdough Bread Starter From Scratch Using Wild Yeast

Rye Sourdough Starter

This is going to be a two-part tutorial, so put on your aprons and let’s get baking! OK, not quite yet. In this part, I’m going to show you how you can make your own sourdough starter from scratch. Trust me, you’ll feel so accomplished when it’s fully grown.

It’s a bit like successfully growing a pet. Kind of.

A sourdough starter like this doesn’t require any commercial yeast. All it needs is just two ingredients, and a bit of TLC. Making bread is so easy that every single household could make their own.

Excited? Let’s jump right in!

You can watch my video tutorial here:

Why We Forgot About Sourdough Bread

Since I started doubting the Paleo dogma and dabbling with some grains, beans and lentils again, bread has always been one of the dominating thoughts in my mind. I grew up in Eastern Europe where dark rye sourdough bread has been a staple for centuries. People in Germany and Switzerland used to traditionally eat very similar bread, too. Sourdough has always been a staple in Europe.

How To Make Sourdough Starter From Scratch

Freshly baked sourdough bread and homemade kefir – two traditional European staples.

Then, at the beginning of last century, industrial yeast was invented. It could make the bread softer, lighter, and more suitable for the sandwiches as we know them now. Industrial yeast also needs considerably less time for rising compared to the natural sourdough which is based on natural yeast, and it needs much more time to ferment and rise naturally.

So bakeries went for the option that saved them money and time. And us people were the ones that were robbed of the wonderful nutritious thing that a natural sourdough bread can be. Luckily, sourdough bread is having a serious renaissance at the moment, and I’m so happy being able to take part in it by telling you everything I know about it.

Benefits of Sourdough Bread

So why is sourdough bread better than the regular bread?

  1. It’s much easier for your body to digest, and the natural long fermentation is able to almost completely destroy the phytic acid, which means that much more nutrients become available for your body to take and use.
  2. It tastes soooo much better. I’ll tell you a story. When I went to the Western world for the first time after the fall of the Iron Curtain (I was around 11 or 12), I tasted some square white sandwich bread for the first time in a hotel for breakfast. What do you think I thought of it? I hated it. In fact, I thought it tasted like paper. Which basically means it tasted like nothing. (Has anyone tasted paper before?)
  3. It won’t spoil as easily as regular bread. You can keep it on your worktop in a paper bag for at least a week, and it will be perfect. It will get a little hard, but just warm it up a little, and it will be oven-fresh again. In Part 2 I’ll also show you how you can warm it up quickly without using an oven or a toaster (because it’s evil). Sourdough bread will get hard, but it will never get mouldy. Compare that to the bread made using commerial yeast! I won’t even tell you how many loaves of bread I’ve discarded throughout my life after finding those ugly green spots of mould. Sourdough bread will never do that to you.

Yeah, sounds great, but there must be some kind of cons to the sourdough bread, right?

Sourdough bread is heavier than the bread made using commercial yeast. But for me that’s a pro. I know it can be a con for some people, though. It’s denser and more filling, which is wonderful. You’ll get used to it quickly. If you want a lighter loaf, more suitable for regular sandwiches, you’ll need to use lighter flours, such as spelt or hard winter wheat, but I’m a huge fan of rye bread, which is what I’m going to show you in Part 2.

How To Make The Sourdough Starter

All you need to make a sourdough starter from scratch

All you need is two ingredients:

  • 2 cups of wholegrain rye flour (preferably organic)
  • 2 cups of filtered or bottled cold water

You’ll also need two quart-size (or 1 L) mason jars, a wooden spoon, a kitchen towel or a paper towel, and an elastic hair band. That’s it!

Rye flour is the best one for starting a sourdough starter because it’s lower in gluten, which the wild yeast seems to prefer.

You might be wondering where the wild yeast is going to come from. Well, from the air and from the flour (wild yeast lives on all the grains). Organic grains will have more of it, so that’s another reason to go organic.

The starter will be ready in 7 days, so you’ll need to plan ahead. If you want homemade bread very soon, like tomorrow, it’s not going to happen, so be patient. Once it’s ready, it will start getting better and better with each week. I heard it only reaches its full depth of flavour in around 2 or 3 years! I’ll get back to you regarding that in a couple of years…

Start by mixing 1/2 cup of the flour with 1/2 cup of water in your jar. Mix it until it’s smooth, and cover it with a kitchen towel securing it with a hair band. You can use whatever will let the air through, but will stop insects, dust, and other unwelcome guests. Leave the jar at room temperature for 24 hours. Then, it’s time to feed it for the first time (I told you it’s like a pet). Add 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water, mix until it’s smooth, cover it again, and leave it at room temperature for another 24 hours. Keep doing it for other 5 days, and at the end of it, your sourdough starter will be ready.

You’ll need to transfer the sourdough to a clean bowl every time you feed it or at least every 2-3 days to prevent it from getting mouldy. Trust me, it’s incredibly disappointing when you’ve been growing the starter for a while, you open it up and find mould. It will break your heart, so make sure you change your bowls.

It happened to me the first time I tried to grow a sourdough starter. It wasn’t fun. But I persevered!

What will the sourdough look like once it starts fermenting? How do I know if it’s ready?

this is what a good sourdough starter looks like

A fully grown sourdough starter

After about 3 days, you should start seeing bubbles on the surface of your starter. The starter will start smelling like wine. If  you taste it, it will be quite sour. The bubbles will get bigger and will multiply with each day. You’ll notice that it will be most active a few hours after feeding and will die down by the time you have to feed it again. The timings depend a lot on the temperature of your house, but it’s wonderful watching the starter evolve throughout the day.

It will rise a little after every feed, but if it doesn’t double, don’t worry. The amount of rising depends mostly on the hydration of the dough. In other words, the ratio of water and flour. When the sourdough starter is thicker, it will generally rise more. But when it’s more liquid, the air will be able to escape through the bubbles and there won’t be as much pressure to rise. It really doesn’t make any difference for the quality of the dough, It’s just a matter of preference. Mine rises probably around 50% (sometimes only 30%), but it’s perfectly active and delicious, so don’t fret.

If you see bubbles on the surface and on the sides, if the sourdough seems airy and full of bubbles when you pick it up with a spoon, that’s exactly what you want to see!

Caring For Your Sourdough Starter Once It’s Ready

If you’re planning to make sourdough bread fairly often (once or twice a week), you can keep the starter on the worktop indefinitely. You’ll just need to keep feeding it with 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water roughly every 24 hours. You can use it for making bread at any time. However, the taste of the bread will differ slightly depending on how soon after feeding you use it. The basic rule is that the sooner you use it, the more sour the dough is going to be.

I generally use it roughly 12 hours after feeding.

If you’re planning to make bread less than once a week, you can keep it in the fridge. You’ll need to feed it only once a week. After feeding, leave it out at room temperature for a 3-4 hours until it rises and bubbles a bit. Then, you can return it back to the fridge until the following week. If you’re planning to make bread, wait for 12 hours after feeding before you use it.

Whenever you take out some of the sourdough starter for bread making, make sure you always leave at least 2-3 tablespoons in the jar. Otherwise, it might not be strong enough to survive and to produce the next batch. Feed it straight away, and watch it grow again.

A lot of blogs and websites say you should discard half of the starter before each feeding, but I’m one of those that don’t see any point in wasting it. I don’t like throwing away food. I’d rather make more bread and give it to the neighbours. Or make some sourdough pancakes. Or sourdough pizza. Or whatever. Sourdough works for everything. Why would you want to throw away something as versatile as this?

So now you’re all equipped with knowledge. You can go and start growing your own sourdough starter. In roughly 8 days, your home will smell of amazing fresh homemade bread if you make a start right now! Part 2 will be up on Sunday, so come back for a very special recipe of the kind of bread I grew up with in Lithuania. You might want to subscribe to my e-mail updates or my YouTube channel to make sure you don’t miss it.

Until then, have a wonderful week!

By the way, here’s the question of the day for you. I’m relearning how to make healthy sandwiches. After being on a grain-free diet for a year, I seem to have forgotten a lot of my skills. So tell me, do you have any good sandwich filling ideas to share with me (and all my readers)? Any of your favourite recipes? No processed things for me, please. 🙂 Let me know!

Lots of love,

Vita xx

Take at look at other traditional food staples:

How To Make Delicious Yogurt (And Greek Yogurt) At Home

How To Make Bone Broth Part 1

How To Make Bone Broth Part 2

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  1. omg… very tempting… This recipe is new for me… Bookmarked ! I am gonna try this for sure

  2. I absolutely love your nature and healthy lifestyle. I am extremely excited to start making homemade bread and hope to learn more techniques from your site. Quick question, where do you purchase your wholegrain rye wheat?

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Jacqueline! I used to buy wholegrain eye flour from a local health shop. I seem to have gluten intolerance now, so I can’t make sourdough bread anymore. Miss it terribly. xx

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