Sourdough Starter (Vegan)

Making  sourdough starter at home is as easy as stirring together some flour and water and letting it rest. The key to sourdough starter is the wild yeast. 

To bake with sourdough, the most important ingredient is the starter. The starter is the heart and soul of sourdough baking. Making a fresh batch of starter is as easy as stirring together some flour and water and letting it sit. No mashed up grapes, no mysterious rituals. Just flour and water (we are keeping it simple).

The key to the sourdough starter is the wild yeast. Wild yeast is present everywhere. In the air, in the flour…everywhere.  Over the years, commercial yeast replaced wild yeast because commercial yeast is easier to mass-produce, easy to store and easier to use. Wild yeast on the other hand can be fussy. It needs a medium, a starter to be useful for baking. A starter has to be constantly maintained and monitored. A starter is known by different names in different parts of the world. Poolish, Biga, Levain, Mother, Sponge, Starter, Chef and Biga. These are all preferments.  Just a mixture of flour, water and yeast.

When you make a starter, do not use it until day  7. Because before that it has good bacteria, bad bacteria and yeast all fighting for the common food – flour. After day 7 bad bacteria die off, leaving behind a harmonious colony of good bacteria and yeast. A stable starter is a SCOOBYSymbiotic Colony of Good Bacteria and Yeast. The by-products of their activities bring complex flavours and aroma to the starter dough and the resultant loaves.

Sourdough Starter

Things Required

A large-mouthed glass bottle

An electronic weighing scale (with tare function)



Day 1

25g all-purpose flour`

25g whole wheat flour

50g water.

Mix well so that no dry pockets of flour remain. Cover loosely with the lid so that the gases escape. Leave in a warm place for 24 hours.

Day 2

Add 50 g of all-purpose flour and 50 g of water. Mix well. Cover and keep in a warm place for 24 hours.

Day 3

Discard half of the starter (100 grams). Add 50 g of all-purpose flour and 50 g of water. Mix well. Cover and keep in a warm place for 24 hours.

By the end of Day3, there should be bubbles on the surface of the starter and it should look visibly larger in volume. It should feel batter like when you stir it. If you are in a warm climate, you might hear the bubbles popping when you stir it. It should smell a little sour.

Day  4

Same as Day 3. Discard half of the starter (100 grams). Add 50 g of all-purpose flour and 50 g of water. Mix well. Cover and keep in a warm place for 24 hours.

By the end of day 4, the starter should look very bubbly. It should have doubled in volume. It should smell quite sour and pungent.

Day 5 to Day 6

Same as day 3

Repeat this step 3 each day until day 6 or until the starter smells fruity, yeasty and is full of bubbles. You may test the starter. If you are in a warm place, the starter after feeding should double up in 6-8 hours.

If you feel that the starter is yet not active and ready, repeat the same feeding schedule (day 3) for day 7, day 8 and if required day 9.

A starter that is ready will become bulky, frothy, loose and will be full of bubbles. It will double in volume within 6-8 hours of feeding. It will smell sour and pungent. You can taste it too. It will taste sour and vinegary.

The feeding process works well when the ratio of starter-to-flour-to-water is 1:1:1 — equal parts, by weight, existing starter, added flour, and added water. Some bakers prefer different ratios, but this works well for me.

Storing and Feeding the Ripe Starter

Once the starter is ready, refrigerate it after fresh feeding. This is called Mother Culture. Now feed it weekly. Feeding ratios will remain the same.  1:1:1. The same quantity of starter by weight, add the same quantity of flour by weight, the same quantity of water by weight. Stir and refrigerate.

However, if you are busy and feel that for some reason you will not be able to feed the starter weekly, you may follow the fortnightly feeding schedule. In this case, the feeding ratio will be 1:4:4. That means one part of the starter, four parts of flour and four parts of water. Stir and refrigerate. 

If you are planning to bake bread, take the starter out of the fridge the night before. Then feed it every 24 hours twice or thrice until it becomes very vigorous and doubles up in 6-8 hours. Now you are ready to bake sourdough bread with your homemade starter.

An Important point here is that it is always a good practice to prepare LEVAIN to bake bread. Levain is the copy of the mother culture made specifically to bake bread. 

Take a fresh jar to prepare Levain. The ideal ratio to build levain is 1:2:2. That is one part of the mother starter, two parts of flour and two parts of water. Mix well. Levain should double up in 6-8 hours to be used for baking.

Some Tips:

Feeding the starter regularly is important to keep the culture healthy and active and to be able to leaven the dough. Weekly feeding is good practice. Set a weekly alarm for feeding.

Before baking bread, ensure that your mother culture is active and vigorous. For this take it out of the refrigerator and feed it twice or thrice once every 24 hours. Now prepare Levain. Use levain for baking bread.


Before going ahead with the starter recipe, weigh the bottle. Note it somewhere or with a marker, write the weight on the cap of the bottle.

After day 1 and onwards during feeding,  we will discard half of the starter keeping in mind the weight of the bottle. Let me explain. Suppose our bottle weighs 200 grams.

  Weight of the bottle - 200 grams

   Starter                        - 100 grams (after discarding 100 grams, that is half of the starter)

   Total                            - 200 +100 = 300 grams

  After discarding 100 grams starter, press tare and then add 50 grams flour. Press tare, add 50 grams of water.

Or, to simplify, discard all except 300 grams. Add 50 grams flour, 50 grams water, stir and refrigerate.

There are many variables in sourdough baking and there is no possibility to control all of them all the time. Initially, stick to a tried and tested recipe. Bake with the same recipe again and again. After you get it right and gain confidence, go ahead with your technique.

Sourdough Discard

If you are baking regularly with sourdough, you are likely to end up with a lot of discard. Sourdough discard is the portion of your starter that is removed and discarded before feeding. Keep storing discard in a large jar in the refrigerator. It can be used to make a lot of sweet and savoury bakes and pancakes.

You may check out some of my discard recipes.

Vegan Sourdough Discard Chocolate Cake

Sourdough Discard Whole Wheat Crackers

Sourdough Discard Sandwich Bread

Whole Wheat Sourdough Discard Naan





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