Sourdough: Achieving an Active Starter and Why We Discard


Last week, we began the first stage of the rehydration/activation in starting a sourdough culture. This week lets continue on from there and take a look at what happens next.

First of all, at the end of the steps performed in the last post you most likely should not expect to have an active, bubbly starter. Instead it should look like the above photo. You have just completed early rehydration. It takes a few feedings, some time, and plenty of warmth for the starter to become fully established.

The next steps – discarding a bit of the old starter and refeeding – are ones you will continue on a daily basis so it is good to grow accustomed to them. Once you do, whether daily with a countertop starter or weekly with a refrigerated starter, you will sink right into a rhythm of caring for your starter.

Before we get into that, I’d like to share the real purpose of discarding starter as you attempt to achieve an active starter.


Why We Discard Starter

Now, I know it seems wasteful to discard that starter. First of all, it doesn’t have to go to waste. I like to make pancakes regularly from the discarded starter, as part of our morning breakfast.

Secondly, there is a reason for discarding the starter. Not only do you need to make room for more water and flour as you continue to feed it and allow it to double in volume, but it also creates a healthier starter, some claim.

When you feed your starter you have a certain number of microorganisms that need feeding. Getting the correct amount of food for that number of organisms can be challenging when your starter gets larger and larger.

So, by eliminating all but a small portion of the starter, you cut down on the mouths to feed, so to speak, and keep your starter well-fed and happily bubbling.


Continuing the Process

Now that we’ve covered all of that, this is what you’re looking for next:

  1. Mix in 1/2 cup water and scant 1/2 cup flour. Be sure to incorporate a significant amount of air into the mixture. Cover and return to the warm spot for 12 hours. Be sure to use a large enough container and place a cloth or paper towel under the container as active sourdough starter may bubble over.
  2. Discard all but 1/2 cup of the flour and water mixture. (See the pancake recipe on page two for a way to use extra discarded sourdough starter.) Mix in 1/2 cup water and a little less than one cup flour. Repeat this process every 12 hours until the mixture becomes light and bubbly. If the mixture is kept quite warm, this process may be concluded within the first several days. For cooler spots, it may take several more days to complete the process. It is common for sourdough starter to take 3 to 7 days to activate.
  3. Once the starter is bubbling reliably within several hours of being fed, feed the starter for two more cycles then either begin baking with it or cover loosely with a lid and place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake with it. The lid may be tightened once the mixture becomes dormant and minimal carbon dioxide is being produced.

Now we are ready to move into using our sourdough culture as a leavening agent to make delicious baked goods.


Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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