I know not everyone will agree, but my opinion is that if a meal calls for bread, it’s always better if you have sourdough. It’s delicious as a base for grilled bacon-and-cheese, baked into bagels, dipped in soups, smothered in butter and jam, and the list goes on and on. It’s flavor just adds something to a meal.
And that unique, somewhat bitter taste is a tip-off to it’s hidden health benefits as a fermented food.
When one typically thinks of fermented foods, the mind instantly wanders to popular items such as pickles and sauerkraut, or even their favorite alcoholic beverages. Sourdough bread falls into this category as well, right alongside kombuchas and kefirs. By giving these foods the right conditions and a little bit of time to “grow” on their own, we increase the amount of enzymes, healthy bacteria, and vitamins they contain. It might take a little practice, but the method for creating your own homemade sourdough starter is fairly simple and I’m sure you already have all the ingredients you need.
How to Make Homemade Sourdough Starter
1. Mix up 1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup flour. Throughout the feeding process, you’ll want to maintain this ratio of one part water to two parts flour. I used bottled water and organic all-purpose flour. Cover and let sit for 12 hours. If you have wheat berries on hand, you can of course mill fresh flour with a blender.
2. After 12 hours check for bubbles – a sign that yeast is starting to grow. According to my biology-minded husband, these bubbles are the result of bacteria (yeast) converting the carbs in the flour to carbon dioxide. This is what gives sourdough its distinctive taste. Sounds gross, but these are like the other “friendly floras” that are found in all fermented foods. (Homemade Kefir is another tasty way to get in some extra probiotics).
The starter will have increased in volume as it grows (as in the first picture), and then shrunk back down as in this one. It should be rather thick and gooey. Halve the mixture and either add one part into another dough you’re about to bake with or throw that part away. This is actually less wasteful than it sounds, because otherwise you’d be continually increasing the amount of flour you add every 12 hours. Now add another 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour, mix well and cover again.
3. Repeat. Every 12 hours, halve the mixture, throw one part away, add in another 1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup flour, cover and let sit.
4. By the second or third day you should notice two things: the starter expands to roughly double its size between feedings and then shrinks back down, and an odd smell – which is actually a good thing! Just like the bubbles, this lets you know that the yeast is alive and well.
5. Continue to halve and feed the starter every 12 hours for one week before use. After each mixing, scrape the sides of the bowl to deter mold growth. The starter itself shouldn’t be a problem, but little lonely bits on the edges are an easy target.
Mine is a couple days shy of a week old, so it’s not quite ready to test out in breads yet. I have noticed two things though that are important to this process: Try to feed the starter as close to every 12 hours as you can. On the fourth day, I accidentally fed it 4 hours late, and, sadly, I haven’t seen it expanding between feedings like it was before. There are still bubbles and that smell, but if it doesn’t pick back up today or tomorrow it’ll be time to start on a new batch of starter. Honestly though, I’m proud to have gotten it working at all since this was a first try.
So once your starter is a week old and consistently expanding between feedings, it’s ready to throw into a good recipe!