Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you may want to try creating your own sourdough starter from scratch. Baking bread from scratch is satisfying in its own right, but when you’ve also had a hand in the creation of one of the most fundamental components, the leavening agent itself, you’ll feel an even greater satisfaction and connectedness to the process.

Are there kids in your house? This little science project is ideally suited to sharing with any children you can convince to join in. Culture their budding scientific minds while creating your own bread culture.

This video outlines one simple method that worked for me the first time I tried it. In the video, I give credit for this technique to Peter Reinhart. It has since come to my attention that Debra Wink, a chemist and accomplished baker, is the mastermind and author of this Pineapple Juice Technique. A lot of research and testing went into developing and refining the technique. The choice of pineapple juice over other juices is from much trial and error. Debra was kind enough to email her essay on the Pineapple Juice Technique. Click here for a printable copy of it.

As I mention in the video, the wild yeast spores and lactic-acid bacteria that give your starter its leaving properties are all around you. You are simply creating the conditions ideally suited for them to thrive and multiply. I used whole wheat flour in this recipe because fresh whole wheat flour may harbor greater numbers of yeast spores than ordinary all-purpose flour and so increase your likelihood for success. It worked for me, so you might try the same. If, at any time, you wish to transition your whole wheat sourdough starter to a regular white flour starter, it’s super easy to do so.

I’ve listed the ingredients and approximate steps here to save you the note taking.

  • Step 1. Mix 3 ½ tbs. whole wheat flour with ¼ cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for 48 hours at room temperature. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. (“Unsweetened” in this case simply means no extra sugar added).
  • Step 2. Add to the above 2 tbs. whole wheat flour and 2 tbs. pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for a day or two. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. You should see some activity of fermentation within 48 hours. If you don’t, you may want to toss this and start over (or go buy some!)
  • Step 3. Add to the above 5 ¼ tbs. whole wheat flour and 3 tbs. purified water. Cover and set aside for 24 hours.
  • Step 4. Add ½ cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 to 1/3 cup purified water. You should have a very healthy sourdough starter by now.

Notes: I do wonder if the fact that I bake all the time with a sourdough starter (and so theoretically have wild yeast floating around our house by the gazillions and covering everything we own) would increase the likelihood that I would have success creating my own sourdough culture from scratch. So I anxiously await feedback from anyone who attempts this process at home. (You’ll see a nifty little form below for comments and feedback. If you’re shy; you can use the Contact link at the top of the page. While I may report your (mis)adventures, I’ll keep your identity anonymous ;).

{ 1980 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter August 19, 2014 at 8:40 pm

I have seen on a bread show istead of pineapple juice they used a wholemeal flour, water but used a small cut of a rhurbarb stem thrown in the dough for 24 to 48 hours…I guess rhurbarb is acid base but would have spores of bacteria being fresh from the garden…..have seen or heard the same…..at present I am in middle of makeing a W/wheat and P/juice starter….I’m on day 2 at present.

Reply

Barbara August 18, 2014 at 10:45 am

This will be a strange question. My son has been making bread from a starter for about six months now. He is very good at it. Recently, his wife has developed a “yellow” tongue. Literally. Two days ago, my son’s tongue turned yellow. I’m wondering if this could, in any way, be related to yeast spores in the house?

Reply

bro. Augustine Rohde August 19, 2014 at 8:24 am

Dear Barbara,

I am a nurse and have seen from time to time what is called, hairy tongue. I found this info below and would suggest the same & not the bread itself. Peace.
————————————-
Symptoms
Yellow tongue
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Yellow tongue — a yellow discoloration of your tongue — is usually a temporary, harmless problem. Most often, yellow tongue is an early sign of a disorder known as black, hairy tongue. Rarely, yellow tongue may indicate a problem with your liver or gallbladder. Self-care is usually all that’s needed to treat yellow tongue.

Medical treatment for yellow tongue usually isn’t necessary. If tongue discoloration bothers you, try gently brushing your tongue with a solution that is 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 5 parts water. Rinse your mouth with water afterward. Quitting smoking and increasing fiber in your diet also may help by decreasing the bacteria in your mouth that cause yellow tongue.

Schedule a doctor’s visit if:
•You’re concerned about persistent discoloration of your tongue
•Your skin or the whites of your eyes also appear yellow, as this may suggest jaundice

Reply

Barbara August 19, 2014 at 9:08 am

Thank you so much for your response. I will pass this along to my daughter in law. The odd thing is, that my son had also developed a “yellow ” tongue just about 5 days ago. Daughter in law has had it for a little over two weeks. They are both very healthy eaters! The only thing I could think of that they had done that was new , was the bread making! Thank you again.

Reply

bro. Augustine Rohde August 15, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I started two new batches by two different recipes. First on started using skim milk/honey in covered bowl. Second using this method. First recipe had results in 2 days. Second method took 7 days. The following week, this second method became acrid, almost smell like ethel and I was almost overwhelmed by the odor. Never smelled a starter like this. So I tried the “saving a sick starter” from NW Sourdough website. After one week, the odor isn’t as bad, but still has an acrid odor & it doesn’t rise like it first did – at all. Any ideas, or should I just start over?

Reply

Corrie August 3, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Need a little help please to bake gluten free bread using your sourdough which I have made and ready in a jar in the fridge. My question is : what gluten free flour can I use in place of wheat flour that will come close to forming a structure like gluten to make an interesting loaf.

Reply

Neil Dunstan August 3, 2014 at 10:08 am

There aren’t many places offering advice on how to make a sourdough starter that give you confidence that it’s been well tried and tested. So the pineapple juice recipe seemed worth a try.
I’ve made bread with yeast and a range of flours for years but after tasting good sourdough bread in the USA and Scandinavia, the time had come to branch out.
To put this into context, my first attempt was made during a July week in England where the kitchen temperature varied from 22C to 27C – the upper end being hot by UK standards.
The pineapple juice was from a supermarket and labelled “not from concentrate” and with “a hint of lime”.
For a novice, the process required some blind faith as the activity in the mixture wasn’t easy to spot but the end of the week and stage 4, the bubbling was obvious. One week later it has acquired a good sour smell. The real test will be in a couple of days when current bread stocks run out and the first “white” loaf is made.
But first impressions are that the recipe works well as long as you simply follow the instructions and are patient.
More feedback later!

Reply

ben July 27, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Hi. I just finished doing all 4 steps to make the starter. I finally have my first active starter….but what do I do now to maintain it. And how do I bake with it. Help pls

Reply

Cris July 20, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Hi, have made my starter about a week ago and it is only just bubbling, how do I get it vigorous. It smells good but is not active enough. Hope u can help

Reply

Lisa July 9, 2014 at 8:52 am

Hi what are some tips to intensify the sour flavor?

Reply

Steve July 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

When I followed this procedure on this site I found that the sour flavour was not strong initially. I found that the sour flavour got stronger over the course of about 3-4 weeks of use.

Reply

Gayle Lee June 29, 2014 at 4:26 am

Hi Eric,
I was wondering if it made any difference to the success of the culture if the pineapple juice contained pear juice in the tin. I didn’t see that when I bought the tinned pineapple.

Reply

Breadtopia July 2, 2014 at 5:38 am

Probably not.

Reply

Gayle Lee July 14, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Hi Eric,
I thought I would let you know that the starter didn’t work the first time, however, adding 100% pineapple juice only worked like a shot. Thank you. I am so enjoying this foray into bread making.

Reply

Jodie June 12, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Hi there. I’ve recently begun using a whole wheat starter I made from directions on another site. I’m so glad I found another one showing how to do a sourdough starter but I’m confused. I thought wild yeast was captured from the air and have never covered my starter. But you cover yours. Yours is also MUCH thicker. I’ve produced edible bread but wonder if I should adopt some of your advice and end up with a more lively starter? I guess it won’t hurt to experiment, what’s the worst that can happen? I lose a starter and have to begin all over again :) Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Doing videos is also so much better than just reading words!

Reply

Breadtopia June 13, 2014 at 4:27 am

Hi Jodie,

Thanks for the nice comments. I’ve read somewhere that it’s more likely that wild yeast is present in the flour than in the air. And more prevalent in whole grain flour than white (AP) flour. I keep my starter on the stiff side only because a thick starter traps the bubbles from fermentation better so it rises better and so it’s easier to tell when it’s healthy. A more liquid starter can be just as healthy and effective but it’s harder for me to tell how well it’s doing from just looking at it. Whether your starter is healthy or not usually has more to do with the feeding frequency and how much its fed than anything else.

Reply

sherri June 12, 2014 at 7:15 pm

I used Kombucha for my starter liquid.. Worked great.

Reply

Breadtopia June 13, 2014 at 4:18 am

That’s interesting, Sherri. Is it the only leavening you used?

Reply

sherri June 13, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Yup. My kitchen is a mass of culture varieties right now between my Kombucha Tea and my ginger bug and such I thought why not try it. I was wanting it to be ready for when my husband gets home on the 22nd, so I figured I had some time. One of the things I read about making Kombucha Tea is that adding some of the more stronger KT to the new brew prevents bad bacteria because of the low PH and it has traces yet of sugar I thought that is the same thing you are getting out of the pineapple juice. But with it comes its own yeast as well. The smells were all dead on through the brew period and I was unfortunately not spot on with my feedings due to my uncertainty of being a noob at this and all the variety of the information out there.. but I still am getting great results.. The smell today is enough to make your glands water. I found you when I was doing some follow up research. Great site.

Reply

Sherri June 13, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Here is the current result

Reply

Breadtopia June 14, 2014 at 3:29 am

Looks great. Very active. Thanks for the info.

Reply

Christy July 15, 2014 at 11:37 am

Hi Sherry I am just starting my cultured foods adventure. I harvested my first batch of kombucha about 3 days ago and it was perfect. Did you follow the same ratios listed above with the flour and kombucha for your starter?

Reply

Corrie June 9, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Can this process be speeded up or improved by adding some dry commercial yeast. ??
Corrie

Reply

Breadtopia June 9, 2014 at 2:02 pm

No. Sourdough starter shouldn’t have any commercial yeast in it.

Reply

Terry June 5, 2014 at 11:16 am

Can you tell me what i am doing wrong? I have followed your instructions , however my bread when done is very flat and doesnt have any height ?

Reply

Jennifer June 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

I am wondering if this could be done in my proof box? Two reasons, one better temperature control, and two I have small very curious children and cats. Can you help?

Reply

Tammy May 27, 2014 at 7:44 pm

About 8 hours after the Step 2 feeding I noticed lots of activity and bubbling. I think it’s going too fast! It is 85 degrees here so that could be one reason.
But I do wonder if it was “contaminated” by the instant yeast doughs I’ve been proofing the last few days (pre-made dough in the fridge and I just grab a handful in the morning to reproof and bake a baguette).
Either way, I’m very excited to see activity!

Reply

Bill May 28, 2014 at 3:45 am

The higher temperature significantly increases the growing process and the feeding requirements as well.

Your growth sounds normal for 85 degrees. I’m amazed at the starter growth and dough rising action I get during summer in our open air kitchen.

Reply

Dax May 17, 2014 at 1:10 am

Day 7, Perth Western Australia. Best sourdough instructions ever, thank you.

Reply

Bunny Dimmel May 7, 2014 at 11:44 am

So today is the day I should see activity and I don’t. My house is cold. Must I pitch it or try feeding it again?

Reply

Breadtopia May 7, 2014 at 11:46 am

Cold will slow things down a lot. Keep feeding it.

Reply

Bunny Dimmel May 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Thank you. I will keep feeding it, but I switched to Dpring water instead of pineapple juice. That will be ok, yes?

Reply

Breadtopia May 7, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Yes, that’s fine.

Reply

Paula May 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Made my first loaf of sourdough bread made from orange juice and rye then went to unbleached flour starter. Only 9 days old and the starter worked perfectly. I can’t hardly believe how nice it turned out. Thanks very much for your video.

Reply

Breadtopia May 6, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Cool. Glad to hear it.

Reply

Wendy May 4, 2014 at 9:26 am

Hi, I am working on a spelt starter from fresh milled spelt, well, it’s a week old, and used orange juice to. I was on the second step and after 24 hrs it had lots of bubbles. I wasn’t sure if I should move on to step 3 but decided to follow through with 48 hrs. After 36 hours I noticed a lot less and smaller bubbles and it smells like wine. I’ve gone ahead and moved to step 3 but am not sure what’s happened and if it is okay? Did it over ferment?

Thank you.
Wendy

Reply

Paloma May 3, 2014 at 8:13 am

I made my starter! I am excited to bake for the first time! I used spelt flour for the starter and orange juice. Followed all of your instructions. Thank you!

Reply

Steve Marsh April 30, 2014 at 6:39 pm

I am following the recipie and everything seems to be going well. I am on the last step of the 4 steps. The only thing I am not clear about is how long to wait to complete for this final step before I actually use it for making a loaf of bread. I used fresh pineapple juice from an actual pineapple I had on hand . I’m not clear if this makes a difference or not but for looking it does not.

Reply

Aja Woods April 29, 2014 at 6:47 pm

It worked perfectly, I used orange juice instead of pineapple juice and freshly milled flour. Followed the instructions and now have a vibrant sour dough starter! Thanks for the directions!

Reply

Paula May 26, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Hi Aja, is the orange juice you used freshly squeezed or processed? I could use fresh pineapple juice also. Would that be ok?

Reply

SturdyBeggar April 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Greetings, bread lovers…
After several months of great success with my pineapple juice starter I wasn’t paying attention and fed it with rye flour. Will this change the characteristics of my starter ? What can I expect ?
Hope I didn’t do major damage.
Thank you.

Reply

Breadtopia April 28, 2014 at 12:12 pm

That’s not a problem. A lot of people keep a rye starter for recipes that call for it. You can easily convert it back just by continuing to feed it whatever flour you were using before. In the mean time, you should be able to use what you have as effectively as before.

Reply

SturdyBeggar April 28, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Thank you very much for your reply. Back to the wheat and water diet for my starter.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Optionally add your bread image (.jpeg image format)

{ 6 trackbacks }