Rye Sourdough Starter

This rye sourdough starter can change your life. Seriously. It not only creates a traditional rye bread with all the flavor of classic bread but it yields health benefits as well when compared to commercially made wheat bread. Here’s how to make it.

A small rubber-sealed jar of rye sourdough starter.

It’s not hard to make a rye sourdough starter from scratch. Some sourdough starters rely on wild yeasts that live in the air, others on acid-producing bacteria present in buttermilk, yogurt, pineapple juice, and the like, and still others start with commercial yeast or store-bought starters. Fact is, none of these additives is necessary. All it really takes to build a delicious and robust rye sour culture, or starter, is some whole-grain rye flour, water, a warm place, and patience. [Editor’s Note: And when your traditional rye sourdough starter is complete, the very first thing you’re going to want to do is use it to make this Galician rye bread.]–Stanley Ginsberg

Rye Sourdough Starter

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 10 M
  • 7 D
  • Makes enough to bake bread
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Ingredients

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  • Day 1: Make the Rye Sourdough Starter
  • Days 2 to 7: Refresh the Rye Sourdough Starter
  • Days 8 and Beyond: Maintain the Rye Sourdough Starter

Directions

Day 1: Make the rye sourdough starter
Start with equal amounts of organic rye flour and water by weight. Dump them in a nonreactive (glass, porcelain, stainless-steel, plastic) container, mix by hand into a stiff paste, cover, and let stand at room temperature (68 to 72°For 20 to 22°C) for 24 hours.
Tester tip: Occasionally the yeast normally present in whole grains fail to establish itself in a new culture; if, after 3 or 4 days, the culture darkens, develops a mold, or smells bad, dump the whole batch and start over. After a week, the culture, or sourdough starter, will be ready to use or to be stored refrigerated in an airtight container for a couple days. [Editor’s Note: If storing the sourdough starter for more than a couple days, you’ll need to maintain it, which we explain how to do just below.]
Days 2 to 7: Refresh the rye sourdough starter
The next day, discard all but 70 grams of the culture and mix the remainder with the refresh ingredients, cover, and let stand. Repeat each day, discarding all but 70 grams of the preceding day’s culture.
Tester tip: The most important point to remember at the early stages is to feed the sourdough starter daily. Even when it shows no apparent fermentation, the yeast is busy multiplying and consuming nutrients at a very high rate. By the second or third day, it will swell, show bubbles, and give off a clean sour smell. Over the next few days the activity will become more and more vigorous and the smell more intense.
Days 8 and Beyond: Maintain the rye sourdough starter
In a perfect world—or in a working bakery—sourdough starters are refreshed daily. That said, daily feedings demand both a degree of dedication and abundant flour supplies that are impractical for all but the most committed home bakers. You can get by refreshing your starter every 36 hours or so.
Mix the rye flour, water, and rye sourdough starter by hand until incorporated. Cover and ferment at room temperature (68 to 72°F or 20 to 22°C) overnight or for 10 to 12 hours. The sponge will be very bubbly, have a clean sour smell, and will have tripled in volume. Store refrigerated in an airtight container and it will last indefinitely. Originally published January 21, 2017.
Print RecipeBuy the The Rye Baker cookbook

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Recipe Testers Reviews

The rye starter was easy to make and quick. It took about 5 minutes each of the 7 days. Mine smelled great and seemed consistent after the week of feedings. I switched to the refresh amounts after that and it stayed nice and healthy.

During the buildup, you end up tossing about 2/3 of it away. I definitely recommend a scale versus just using volume measurements.

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Comments

  1. Have you any other rye sourdough bread recipes that use more rye flour? I like the Galician Rye but I’m trying to cut down on wheat. I know rye doesn’t have much gluten but I’ve had scalded rye breads that I loved and was wondering how to expand my sourdough rye starter usage.

    1. Hi Mary. Thanks so much for asking. We do have a milk rye bread recipe by the same author on the site, and it uses more rye flour. You can find the recipe here. Let us know if you try it and how it turns out for you.

      1. Thanks!! Printing it now. I’ll post a picture when I’ve made it(still using up the latest Galician Rye loaf).

  2. Hello all. I built my rye starter in March and it took two tries because our house was too cool. The second time, I nestled my starter in a kitchen towel above (not in) a crock pot set to warm. That did the trick. This time of year, our house is plenty warm — starters seem very happy at about 75 degrees. I don’t do all that discarding. I just keep a small amount — maybe 2-3 tablespoons. A couple days before I’m ready to bake, I mix in the amount I will use. For example, if I need 100 g of starter, I mix in 50 g flour and 50 g water. I let it sit on the counter during the day and it gets really happy, usually tripling or at least doubling in bulk. Then, I use the 100 g and put the rest back into the jar for next time. I bake about every 5 -7 days, so it keeps my starter fresh and happy. I never discard and all that and it seems to work just great.

  3. I’ve Just started to make this and the starter is a thick sticky paste is this the way it is supposed to be as the last time i made a sourdough starter it was wet. I am using organic rye flour.
    Thank You
    Joe

    1. That looks about right, Joe. As it grows and feeds it should loosen up a bit, but it is a very stiff paste to begin with.

      1. Thank you Angie was also concerned it may have been too cold as it dropped to 2 deg c last night. Have it out in the sun so will bring it back in. Cheers
        Joe

        1. You’re welcome, Joe! I’m in Canada, so even though we are in summer now, my kitchen is often very cold too and I’ve managed to maintain a starter. They’re more resilient than we give them credit for!

          1. I think my problem maybe its in a bowl rather then a jar so will keep an eye on it for a few more days and see.

            1. It should be ok in a bowl, Joe. It may take a few days longer than expected if your kitchen is on the cooler side.

              1. Thank You Angie. Just home from work will feed and put into a jar with a lid and keep in the oven for a change with the lid open. Appreciate your feedback. Cheers.

  4. Well, this is how it came out of the oven; should it be this short/low/shallow? It smells great and the dough I scraped off my fingers tasted great, I’m just wondering whether I was too eager to try the recipe and should have fed my starter for a few more days.

    1. It looks really good, Mary! Were you pleased with the flavor and texture of the bread? Your starter may need a little more time to be active enough to give you the rise you’re looking for, but that’s the beauty of bread making. Now that you have an active starter, you can keep working with the bread recipe to get that perfect loaf. Just make sure that your starter is bubbly and doubling in size before using it. If you’re refrigerating it between feeds, it may take a couple of feeds to get back to that very active stage.

      1. Yes, my husband and I both like the taste. In fact, it’s going to be dinner tonight, along with some salads. Thanks for the advice! I’m leaving the starter on the kitchen counter between feedings so I hope to have it up to strength in a few more days, by which time we should have eaten this loaf and i can make another one!

        1. Wonderful! Enjoy your dinner. I’m at the mercy of whatever my teenage daughter decides to cook tonight, so I’m kind of jealous!

          1. Well, it was a bit hard to slice because it was a little underdone in the center. But I’m sure that’ll mean it will toast well. I’ve made some notes for the next iteration.

            1. I love that you’re already thinking about the next time. Keep at it and you’ll have that loaf perfected in no time!

  5. I can’t believe it took me until Day 7 to realize that I’d done the starter wrong. I started Day 1 just fine but on Days 2 – 7, instead of using equal amounts of starter, flour and water, I used the maintenance amounts — equal amounts of flour and water but only a quarter ounce of the starter. It smells fine and sharp and sour, but do I need to adjust it in any way if I want to start the Galician rye bread recipe today?

    1. Hi Mary. It sounds like your starter is behaving normally, and if it looks and smells like a starter, then you’re definitely on the right track and it’s possible you’ve managed to establish it with a smaller amount of starter at each refresh. Is your starter bubbling and doubling or tripling in volume each day?

        1. Mary, I think your starter is doing well, but likely is not yet active enough to get a loaf of bread to rise. I’d suggest giving it a few more days of feeding with equal amounts starter, flour, and water, and see if the starter is doubling in size between feeds. Do let us know how it goes.

          1. Will do! Thank you so much. I couldn’t figure out why I had so much more starter-discard in the fridge, and then I realized…sigh. Live & learn.

            1. It’s always an adventure, isn’t it?! We’ll look forward to hearing about how it eventually turns out.

  6. Hello,
    Thank you so much for this starter recipe. A long time ago I made a starter (after months of trying and failing) and dried it. I tried to revive it but it was dead and I no longer had the recipe I used. It took me two weeks to find yours!

    Question: I’m going to hit my 7th day on Friday. The starter looks great, is doubling daily and smells like beer (:-) ). I’d like to make my loaf on Saturday. In order to have 360g of starter per the bread recipe (around 12.7 oz.) I’m thinking of discarding all but 4.5 oz, then adding 4.5 oz of rye and 4.5 oz of water to give me 13.5 oz of starter (removing .8 oz). I’d leave that to sit till it’s at its peak (around 12 hours later at 9:00am on Saturday) and start the recipe.

    In the meantime with the remaining .8 oz, I’ll only need to discard .55; leaving .25 to feed and put in the fridge for maintenance. Is that what you would do?

    I’m hoping to make a white sourdough — should the 4.5 oz be AP flour instead? Thanks!

  7. Hi David! Only 7g starter on day 8? Once refrigerated, do we continue to mix only 7g starter with 70g water and 70g rye flour every 36 hours? And does it need to be brought back to room temp in order to use it? (Can you tell that I’m new to sourdough?)

    1. My dear Alice!! So sorry for the delay. Yes, only 7 grams of starter from day 8 on. Think of it as giving free reign to 7 college basketball players at an all-you-can-eat buffet. They’ll devour it. If you use, say, 50 grams of starter, that’s like having 50 basketball payers at the same buffet. Each won’t get as much to eat.

      I don’t bother letting the starter get to room temp. The water will warm it up nicely. Please keep us posted!

      P.S. BTW, folks, Alice, if you don’t know, is one of the baking world’s greats.

  8. Help, I just purchased a rye starter from a local bakery, but it came with no instructions. It’s 12g of a well-fed “20 year old rye starter” in a jar. (My friend picked it up for me, otherwise I would have asked this there.) Now what? It’s a very thick paste. I have rye flour and other flours. Do I just go straight to a maintenance feeding? Thank you!

  9. Hello,

    I’ve reached day 7 without missing a feeding! My starter smells like sourdough (although not super strongly) and doubles in volume after feeding, then deflates back to its original size after 24h. Is it ‘ready’, or should I keep feeding?

    1. E, let her rip!!! It’s ready. BTW, what’s the name of your starter? Mine’s Marilyn. (When Marilyn Monroe was married to Arthur and Miller, they lived in Roxbury, CT, which is where we live now.)

  10. I’m so confused about my starter. The first 2 days it was rising beautifully and things were going great but the last 2 days there’s basically no growth at all. I didn’t change anything, it sits in the same place, I used the same measurements. I don’t know whats going wrong.

    1. Joel, I feel your pain. I’ve had the same thing happened to some of my starters while others take off like a shot. I’ve consulted many sourdough experts over the course of the lockdown, while so many people are making bread, and the common refrain is: give it time. When asked how long does it really take for a starter to get moving, the answers ranged from seven days to three weeks. It truly depends so much upon the environment, the bacteria and natural yeast in the air, ambient temperature, etc.

      So, if you can hang in there, please do. I think you will be rewarded with a marvelous cooking buddy.

  11. Hi David! I just started my starter today after trying to use part of a friend’s and not seeing results I felt were right. I have a few questions:

    1. We feed the starter once it has deflated right? what if it is deflated for more than 12 hours?

    2. what is pre-ferment?

    3. What does the starter look like when it’s ready to make bread with it? i saw you say “when it is its biggest” – how do we know when it’s its biggest?

    4. I don’t have that much rye flour, so I am using 50g of flour and water for the initial and each subsequent feeding. is this ok?

    5. Once I am ready to start storing it in the refrigerator, should I do weekly feedings or is this not necessary? if I do feed it while it lays dormant in the fridge, do I just feed it (50 g water & flour) and then put it right back in the fridge? it can still eat in the cold fridge?

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    1. Charlotte,

      1. Feed the start of every 24 hours. At least initially.

      2. I pre-ferment is anything that’s added to a bread recipe to make it rise, such as sourdough starter, biga, poolish, etc. So this recipe is a pre-ferment.

      3. Sure, that’s OK.

      4. You can feed it once a week after it’s mature. I let it sit out so that it does it’s munching at room temperature. And then put it back in the fridge.

  12. I’ve been trying to grow my own stater for a number of weeks….tired with unbleached flour….did not have success…tried with whole wheat flour and too did not have success. I was hesitant to try again especially with all the past flour that I did not end up using.

    I came across your recipe and thought ok…let me try one more time using rye flour. Picked up some rye from my local store and started yesterday afternoon. Day 1 was complex this afternoon and let me tell you it doubled in size with lots of air bubbles in just 24 hrs! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Gave it another feed and 6hrs later not only did it doubled more again, beautiful air bubbles. So happy to see positive results! I do have a couple of questions as I go on that I am hoping you can help.

    1. Can I dry the discard and save for a later time? I feel terrible wasting it and know that I won’t be baking with it.

    2. My 24hr feedings is at 2:30pm. Day 7 with be on a Friday, which I will feed at 2:30pm. How does the process work in terms of know when to starter the process to make the bread? How long after the 7th feeding?

    3. I will be making my loaf of bread with regular all purpose flour with the rye sourdough starter. Can you point me in the right direction to a recipe I can follow for a beginner?

    1. Teresa, so glad you got it working!

      1. You can dry it, but it’s not up to full strength yet, so when you revive it, you’ll be nursing two starters. I suggest listening to our latest podcast episode in which we discuss what you can make with discarded starter.

      2. You want the starter to be at its peak (meaning it reaches the highest in the container) and begin the bread then.

      3. Any recipe on the interest that uses sourdough starter is fine. We have only the rye bread. I do love this one, and make it often. You would start at step 3. Also, check out King Arthur Flour.

  13. Hi David,

    I started my starter 10 days ago. Due to the pandemic, I have had to swap out different flours based on what’s available. At this point, my starter has seen white unbleached flour, whole wheat flour and rye-which I figure is less than ideal. It still doesn’t pass the “float test” and I am nervous that it isn’t rising as much as most comments are saying. Usually it rises about half an inch and only a few bubbles appear on top. I have been leaving it in the microwave to maintain a warmer temperature (house is usually at 70 degrees). It smells quite fruity, almost like apricot and is beginning to have web-like features when I mix it, but is extremely sticky. Any suggestions? Thoughts on when it might be usable?

    1. Chava, press on. It takes a while for both the starter and the starter parent (that’s you!) to get a sense of how it works. Each starter is unique. The different flours can contribute to some of the sluggishness somewhat.

      Is the cover on tightly? The starter needs to get some of the wild yeast in the air. Maybe leave it out on the counter for a day or two covered with paper towel. Perhaps your microwave is spotless and sterile!

  14. I’ve noticed my starter has developed a bit of a orangish pink color, it doesn’t smell bad just a bit sour, should I throw it out?

    1. Emily, it should be fine. It could the type of flour your using. Are you using tap water? Is your water chlorinated or hard? That can sometimes mess with the starter.

  15. I have developed my rye starter. It doubles when fed, though it does fall before I feed it. Does that mean I am not feeding it enough? Also, unsure what consistency it should be? I am using an organic, dark rye flour — consistency is a bit like frostingish, quick sticky/tacky, almost like glue! Hmmm. Thanks for any advice.

    1. Heather, it falls because it’s noshed on everything you gave it! And that means it’s time for the next feeding.

      The consistency is different from person to person depending upon the type of rye flour used. But that sound great. It’ll be ready to use when it’s gone through it 7 days and when it reaches its high mark.

  16. Hi David,

    I am on day 7 and I just ran out of rye flour. Can I substitute for bread or whole wheat flour to feed?

    1. Jonny, it will change the starter somewhat. I, too, ran out yesterday. I used whole-wheat bread flour as a substitute and it was less active with fewer bubbles. But it needs to be feed, so I say use the whole wheat.

  17. Hello again,
    Well, the second try seems to have worked. It took a while, but the starter really rallied the last three days. I have nurtured it for 7 days and now I’d like to bake the Gallician Rye bread. Here’s my question. I have been feeding the starter in the morning, so in a couple of hours, we’ll be at 24 hours. I want to start my bread in the evening so it can proof overnight the first time. What should I do? Just leave the starter alone until this evening? Refrigerate? Feed again? Please advise. Thanks!

    1. Eric, I’m glad you didn’t give up. You want the starter to be at its peak when you use it. I’d feed it now, and then use it this evening to make the dough. Best of luck!

  18. I’ve been feeding my starter once a week and other than that have just been refrigerating it. Question: can I freeze the “discard” and thaw it out to re-start sometime in the future?

      1. Thank you! That’s a brilliant idea — I freeze so many things in ice-cube trays (and then dump the lumps into another container): ghee, tomato paste, etc.

      1. Got it! Is there any harm in maintaining the starter at that size? I refreshed it last night using 2.5oz, and refrigerated it this morning. Bubbly and about the same size as past starters I’ve maintained. Thank you!

  19. Thank you for your site. I tried making a sponge today but it has not tripled, nor double in volume. It smells ok and bubbles when I stir it. Possibly it is too cool? Should I increase the temperature and wait for another 10 hrs or start the sponge over? I have extra starter.

    1. Denise, you’re entirely welcome. Let’s start with the easiest troubleshooting. Find a warmer spot and check in on the sponge tomorrow. I find an ideal spot is in the oven with the lights turn on and the door propped open a bit with a dishtowel. My starters and sponges go berserk in there. (Maybe they dislike quarantining as much as I do!) If that doesn’t work, we’ll figure out the next step together.

      1. Thanks David. I put sponge in oven with light on and it did not do a whole lot. It had quite a bit of alcohol on its breath so i decided to put it to bed. Im starting over with remaining starter that i simultaneously fed yesterday. I dont own a scale; ive been measuring by cups. Can you give me an idea of what 0.25 ounces may be in spoons? It seems like it may barely be a Tbls.! Also, does my starter need to grow in order to use as sponge? It is very bubbly but no volume.

              1. Hi David. I did not receive an email from my last reply of “day nine.”

                I fed my starter today and put in a much warmer place and it has risen about half the amount so far. Not sure when to try the sponge. Today is day 10. Thank you for whatever advice you can offer.

                  1. Thanks David. I realize now that I have not been using the correct amount of flour. I was measuring by cups because i did not have a scale. Now, with acquired scale, I see how much more flour was needed! I did notice the starter rising and falling after a feed. How much does it need to rise?

                    1. Denise, I’m so glad you found the issue! I wouldn’t bother much about how much it rises. Rather, I’d focus on feeding it regularly and making sure it’s strong.

                    2. Hi David. One more question (maybe): what is 70 grams? I only have a scale in ounces. Ive been winging it this whole time!

                    3. Hi David. I ended up making a sponge this morning. Its much stiffer than starter and very bubbly. If im not baking with it immediately should i just refrigerate until im ready to bake? Thanx!

  20. I’m on Day 5 and my starter has been super active from the second day swelling up and bubbling after every feeding, but the smell is just not great. I’m not sure what smell is the right smell that it should have, but it’s very strong. I read about there being a lot more leuconostoc bacteria in the beginning that make the environment more acidic for the lactobacillus and yeast to thrive in, and that that bacteria is smelly, but I don’t know at what point it might change, if it’s going to change at all. So far no sign of any other slimy microbes present, just rye foam and stink.

  21. Hi David! I am about to feed my starter. I have kept it in my fridge for 6 days now. Is it really only 7 grams of starter? It seems so little. :)

    Thanks,
    Maria

  22. Hi. I am on the last day of building my starter. On day three, I noticed some proofing and a pleasant sour smell that reminded me of the sourdough rye crackers I typically buy. After that, however, there has been less proofing (it seems to stay as a paste). There is a nice sour smell in the morning, so I don’t think it’s spoiling. Just that it doesn’t seem to be doing very much. Our house is cool. 68 during the day and cooler overnight. What should I do at this point? I’m worried the starter won’t proof the bread.

    1. Eric, the temperature is too cool, that’s the problem. Sixty-eight is the lowest it should be. Do you have a “proof” setting on your oven? If so, use that. If not, you can do a few things that should help. Turn on the oven light and let the starter live in there. Or slide a roasting pan in the oven and pour boiling water in it. Then let the starter sit in the steam bath. You need to get the temperature up for the yeast to start munching,

      1. OK. I started from scratch on April 15. I rigged up a slow cooker on “keep warm” setting, with the bowl with the starter sitting atop. The bowl is a nice warm temp, but not hot. I am using stone ground organic rye flour and following the direction. The mass smells pleasantly sour, but it has not really bubbled or risen. I’m getting frustrated and unlikely to try a third time. I’m tired of wasting rye flour for something that doesn’t work.

        1. Eric, in solidarity with those who are beginning a starter, I started a new one. My old one is in the fridge in a state of suspended animation. My new one is not bubbling or rising very much either. I’m just going to keep feeding it. Eventually I know it will show signs of multiplying. But, it’s a living thing. And my only advice is it has to go in its own speed. I understand about wasting flour, especially at this time.

        2. Eric, I was just thinking: Do you know the exact temperature in the slow cooker? Also, how is your water? Is it chlorinated? Is it hard or soft? Is the starter in a bowl or glass jar? I think it would be hard to detect any rise in a bowl, as it flares out as it goes up.

  23. Hi, I just started my starter a few minutes ago – my question Is when your starter is all ready to go and healthy can u just use some of the discard for your recipe or does it need to be fed the night before u would be using the discard in a recipe. deb

    1. Deb, as you make your starter, you’ll see it rise and fall predictable. You want the starter to be as strong as possible. Use it when it reaches the peak of its rise in the jar. So most likely it will need to be fed the night before.

          1. Then I have probably killed mine because I followed what u said to Marnie because my starter was behaving similarly to Marnie’s.

            “Marnie, a few tips. Feed your starter more often, like every 8 hours. (I know, a pain in the ass, but it’s just for now.) Also, make sure the temperature is between 70° and 85°F. I have a proofing feature on my oven, but before I did, I’d turn the oven on low for 30 seconds just to warm it. Then I put the starter in. It usually worked.”

            1. Deb, are you saying that it died because it was too hot? Eight-five degrees isn’t too high. (Yeast itself will die at 140°F.) I suggested it to Marnie because hers was sooo sluggish. I was trying to help it along. If you would like to have a phone call, send me an email, and we can talk this through.

              1. Okay, I’m glad to hear that, that’s great. Mine was sluggish too – I had put mine in the oven too because my house was cold and I had one day of really great action and then the next two days have been nothing and I still kept it in the oven with the door slightly ajar–and it’s reading at 84 degrees–when I tried it with the oven door closed it was almost 100 degrees but that was the one day that I had the really great action from it.

                1. I’ve had the same thing happen to me, Deb. When I turned on the oven lights and forgot about the starter, it got up there in temp. But it was perfectly fine.

                  Another thing to consider is water. Some folks find hard water to be hard on a starter. Our water’s not to bad, but if your is hard, consider filtered or spring water.

                2. Thanks for the tip regarding water – I have well water at my house, it tastes wonderful but it has a very high degree of hardness. I’ll get some bottled water. Deb

                  1. Hi – once i stopped using my tap water which mine is from our well and is extremely hard water and started using bottled water and i kept mine in the oven with the oven light on and the door only slightly ajar- i used a towel to keep it that way; because the first stop in the opening the door was too wide making the inside of the oven too cool – everything is bubbling and rising nicely. Today i am going to start to make the “leaven” for Sarah Owens Table Bread recipe. Thank u David for your help!!!

                    1. Well, yesterday I used my rye sourdough starter to make a leaven for Sarah Owens sourdough table loaf, and today I started on the bread, WOW. A lot of time involved for bulk fermentation and shaping, etc.–not hard just a lot of steps. It’s in the refrigerator right now. I’ll bake tomorrow in a preheated Dutch oven. If I ever do this recipe again, I’ll do about four loaves at a time, otherwise it’s too labor intensive waiting to do the next step. We will see tomorrow how it goes. Everything looks and feels right so far.

                    2. Deb, I don’t know Sarah’s recipe, but most of these types of bread take time, but that’s the good part, in away. It’s meditative. If you want something fast, try the no-knead artisan bread.

  24. I am following this recipe…my starter is on its 4th day…it smells like sour vinegar…not too much action going on with it, just a few bubbles. Should I chuck or wait?

          1. I will give it two more days then its down the toilet…some people name their starter… I am gonna call mine lazy…doesn’t want to work!

            1. Marnie, a few tips. Feed your starter more often, like every 8 hours. (I know, a pain in the ass, but it’s just for now.) Also, make sure the temperature is between 70° and 85°F. I have a proofing feature on my oven, but before I did, I’d turn the oven on low for 30 seconds just to warm it. Then I put the starter in. It usually worked.

  25. hi! thanks for the great recipe. a question: when i bring it out of the fridge to make bread, the advice is to feed it for a couple of days. can you share what are the percentages for those feedings? thanks a lot!

    1. Hui, maru. You’d follow the ratio in the “Day 8 and Beyond” section: 1 part starter to 10 parts water and 10 parts rye flour. So, in the section it’s .25:2.5:2.5–meaning .25 ounce of starter to 2.5 ounces of water and 2.5 ounces flour. Make sense?

      1. makes total sense, thanks for your advice! im very excited about this as i love this type of bread and cannot find it where i now live (pamplona). the quarantine has brought sthing good! stay safe and thanks again.

          1. Hi David! The starter has turned out fantastic. I´m going crazy making a variety of breads looking for the perfect one, but I don´t think I ever will because they are all perfect in their own way.

            Do you have any advice on how to freeze a starter? I´d like to leave a frozen one just in case something happens to the one I´m working with.

            Warm regards!

            Maru

            1. maru, I love that starter turned out great for you! And freezing it is easy. Just put 1/2 to 1 cup of in a zip-top bag, squeeze the air out, and freeze it. Let it defrost and continue to feed as usual. You can also dry it for really long-term storage.

              1. Hello David,

                I’m sorry to jump in on this older question, but I am a little confused. I thought the .25:2.5:2.5 was only to keep it alive but it says here that is enough to get it going to bake? the last time I started feeding it 1:1:1 until bake day to get it up.

                1. Hi, Pat! No need to apologize for jumping in on an older question. It’s always good to revisit things.

                  The .25:2.5:2.5 is to keep it alive. And if you make the Galician Rye bread this is for, it’s more than enough for that, too, to make the levain.

                  I asked where you got the 1:1:1 ratio? That’s my personal ratio, is that what you’re referring to?

                    1. Patti, that was my personal starter ratio…at the time. Now I’m 1:10:10. (I’m always experimenting.) So I now use 5 grams starter, 50 grams flour, 50 grams water. But I’m not making this loaf; I’m making a different type of bread. I’d stick to the original ratios if you’re making this loaf. Does that make sense?

      2. Hi! Why are there so many different ratios? I often see 1:1:1 or 1:2:2 and you suggest 1:10:10. I have been feeding mine 1:1:1 and am just reading your feed. Confused. Also – how do i when my starter is ready to bake with? Thanks!

        1. Heather, there are different ratios due to several things: baker’s preference, the type of flour, length of time the baker wants the starter to mature, etc. As far as your starter, you want it to rise and fall in a regular pattern and be as strong as possible. My personal starter is also 1:1:1. When I want to bake, I take it out of the fridge two days before and fee it every 8 to 12 hours. It will be at its maximum potential as it reaches its apex.

  26. Hi, David! I just need a bit of clarification. Following Day 7 I have around 7.5 ounces of Sour Starter. According to the recipe, on Day 8 I use 0.25 ounces of the starter. Where the rest of the starter (7.5-0.25=2.25 ounces) goes?

    1. Erin, it would be discarded, as in the previous steps. You can use some of it to make a loaf or two. But to get the starter in fighting condition, you need to keep adding new flour.

  27. Hello David! Can you use the rye sourdough starter for just plain sourdough bread? I’ve been reading about how to create a starter and most just use AP flour. All the options and reading about starters, are a bit intimidating! Any advice for a beginner? Thank you!!

  28. Hello! In step 4 it says the starter will keep indefinitely, but the previous step says you have to feed it every 3 days. Is there any way to keep the starter for future use if you expect a long time to pass before you use it again?

    1. Sherry, you do need to feed it to keep it indefinitely. (It’s kind of like kids…they’ll stay around, but you need to feed them!) If I’m not planning to bake for a while, I’ll feed mine once a week then when I want to use it, I make sure to feed it once a day for two or three days prior to wake it and strengthen it.

  29. I just used a cup of my starter remnant to make biscuits, and am using the rest to make crackers tomorrow. You really don’t have to throw it away!

    1. Brilliant, Mary! Can you tell us more about how you used the starter for biscuits? Do you recall the amounts or proportions of ingredients that you used?! We’re so curious to try this in our kitchens!

      1. Hi, Renee, a friend pointed me to this recipe for “regular” sourdough starter, which is much more liquid than all-rye starter:

        and since the quintessential biscuit requires cutting the ingredients together with two knives or two forks or a pastry cutter, it’s easy with the softer wheat starter. The rye starter remnant is so heavy and stiff that it took a lot of upper-body strength to cut it all together by hand, and I wish someone would invent an electric pastry cutter! A mixer even with a dough hook won’t do since small pieces of butter are essential to the rising. But if you’re willing to invest the time and elbow grease, the taste is delicious with either sweet or savory toppings.

  30. Once rye starter has been made and then refrigerated after first use, can one get away with refreshing once a week while it rests in the fridge, as it could be two weeks or so before another bake.

    1. Nigel, yes, that’s fine. That’s what I do. Once week. But…when I plan to make bread, I make sure to refresh it two days and then one day before I use it. You want it to be at its peak of strength.

      1. Hi David, many thanks for your reply, glad I’m on the right track. In making my rye starter it more than doubled In size after day one. I have reduced it by half and re fed with 75g water & rye flour each day, but to my surprise it hasn’t risen that much on each of the last three days, only by about a quarter. Would that be normal and nothing to be worried about, and hopefully it’ll be ready after day 7. Thanks Nigel

        1. Nigel, lucky you! Mine never doubles on the first day. You should be fine by the end of the week. If not, just go a few more days. Also, make sure to keep it in the same place. A warmer place will accelerate the rise.

          1. Cheers David, the starter did very well and tried to break free overnight!!! Do you reckon I could try a bake tomorrow being the 6th day, as the starter seems to be doing well, or should I wait another couple of days? Much appreciated Nigel

  31. Hi. Thanx for sharing this recipe. I’m making my first sourdough starter. When you say “cover does” it mean that I should close the lid of the jar or cover with a cheesecloth? Should I keep the jar on the counter or in a cupboard where it’s dark and out of reach somewhat?

    Lastly, would I be able to use the starter in a bread maker? We have a gas shortage issue going on so I can’t use my oven :(

    1. Thouraya, you don’t want to tightly cover the jar while the starter is growing; the accumulating gas needs to escape. I loosely cover it with the lid. I only tightly cover it when I place it in the fridge for storage. Cheesecloth will allow too much air in and might dry the top. I keep it on the counter, making it easy to feed.

      1. Thanx, David. I will do that. What about using a bread maker to make sourdough bread? Would that be doable?

        1. Sorry, Thouraya. I forgot to answer that. I’ve never used a bread machine, so I can’t speak to it personally. But I see many recipes out there for sourdough bread in bread machines. So I say, go for it!

  32. At what point can I used the discarded portion of the starter in baking and is that ok in any recipe? I also am curious how little starter I can leave left when baking (like on day 15, can you leave just a few grams of the starter to feed and bake with the rest)?

    1. Evan, you want a fully mature starter, so use part of the starter from the eighth day. You can use the mature starter in any recipe that calls for a starter; just make sure to use the correct amount. I’m confused by your second question. Can you clarify?

      1. Thanks, David. To clarify, I meant, how much starter should I leave to continue building moving forward?

        1. Oh, I see. It’s always best to have a full recipe of starter, regardless of which recipe you’re following. For example with my starter (different from this one), I always keep it at about 200 grams so that I can use part of it and then build from that.

  33. Maintenance question:

    So when you are on day 8 and beyond, you have to maintain the starter….does it get stored in the fridge or at room temperature? Do you refresh every 36 hours indefinitely?

  34. Why do you discard some of the mix each day? Why don’t you just keep feeding and building the starter? Then use the starter to make bread. One can tell that I don’t like to waste ingredients.

      1. Shirley, it’s also a matter of quantity. If you use that much starter every day or several times a week then maybe getting rid of half of it is not necessary but, usually, that’s not the case and you’ll have a huge load of the starter if you keep adding and feeding…

  35. Hi David, my starter is on day 5. Is it normal that during the 7-day feeding period the starter remains very stiff with no air bubbles? There is no unpleasant smell, but also not much of a sour smell. The room temperature seems to be what you recommend, 68-70 F. Is the starter supposed to become airy and bubbly after day 7? I can not see how, since it is stiff and pasty. Thank you in advance.

    1. Elena, David is out today but I talked to him and he said there should be some bubbles by now. He suggested that if your flour isn’t fresh or if the water is fluoridated your may have problems….in addition, of course, to a million other small things.

  36. I am on Day 10 of a similar starter using 50/50 rye and all-purpose flour, feeding twice daily since Day 4. I have seen no bubbles so far. Could it be that my improvised proofing chamber ranging from 90-100°F is too warm?

    There is no mold and no off odors, can I salvage these by continuing to feed and ferment at lower temps?

    1. Adriana, you writing to the right guy. I killed just about every single starter I made–for a long time! Yes, I think the chamber is too warm. Let the starter sit at room temp. At our house, that’s about 68 degrees. Feed it today and let it go for a day or two. Also, is your water hard where you live? Or have chlorine?

  37. I am in the process of developing my first-ever rye starter. I am on day 6 and things seem to be going pretty well. The starter is active, though it is not doubling each day.

    My question is about the “maintain” phase. Do we really only keep 7 grams of the starter? and then, do we store it in the fridge? If so, are we only keeping 7 grams of starter each time we refresh?

    1. Nate–

      I have been maintaining a rye starter for years. I would not worry a lot about the 7 gr once you have a healthy starter. What I do is always refresh with equal parts starter, flour, water. Usually for me that is about 50 gr each. Yes, I keep mine in the fridge in a small mason jar. When ready to refresh I dump out most of it leaving 30 – 50 gr starter, then add the water and flour. Hope this helps.

      1. Great response! So, the maintenance phase is very similar to the first phase; we are just able to store it in the fridge and reduce the frequency of refreshing. Great!

  38. This site and other sites instruct that a rye starter should have equal weights flour and water. I read somewhere else that a drier environment encourages more of the acid-forming organisms and a wetter environment more of the lactic-acid family of bacteria. Could a wetter starter work for rye? Has anyone tried it? I was thinking about this because a nearby healthfood store sells whole rye berries, and I thought that if I added more water, I could soak the berries overnight and grind them with water in a food processor the next day. This is a method I have seen recommended for making a different fermented food (dosa or idli from India, made with a grain, usually white rice, and a de-hulled legume, sometimes de-hulled lentils). Also I live in an area with heavily chlorinated water and don’t have the means to buy filtered or distilled water. Can boiling help lower the chlorine enough to give my starter a fighting chance? If so how long should I boil and do I need to wait long after that before using the water in starter? In other words could I use the water as soon as it cools or should I wait a day or two before using it?

    1. Hi w. ally, let’s see if any readers have tried a wetter starter or experimented with rye berries. As far as your question on chlorine, many water authorities now use chloramine which is not as easily dissipated as chlorine. Perhaps using a water jug with an activated charcoal filter might help?

      1. Ah, good idea, Thank you Beth Price. Maybe I’ll use charcoal filtering and maybe boil for good measure to help with any stray bacteria too. I’ve tried a ferment with other grains and had hit-and-miss results. Maybe lingering chloramine had something to do with it. I hadn’t heard of that, so thank you.

    2. Hey, W. Ally! I saw your question, and I thought I’d chime in. I run the baking website The Perfect Loaf, and I get questions like yours frequently. Yes, you can definitely use more water in your rye starter, if you’d like. When I keep a rye starter, I typically do this because rye can be hard to mix each day–adding some water helps with this process.

      Concerning the difference between more lactic or acetic acid: changing the hydration can affect this balance, but I’ve noticed I can achieve whatever flavor I’m after in my end bread by adjusting other parameters. For example, I can modify the percentage of whole grains in the recipe for more sourness, larger pre-ferment for more sourness, and a long, cold proof for more sourness as well. So in the end, I find it’s ok to keep your starter at whatever hydration you’d like and what makes it easy for you each day you feed/refresh.

      I’m not familiar with soaking berries and then milling them, but I do mill my own flour very frequently, in fact, I currently feed my starter with 50% fresh milled (dry) hard red wheat and 50% white flour. It works extremely well. If you don’t have a mill such as a KoMo or Mockmill, you could theoretically use a high powered blender, but you won’t get near the same flour quality as a dedicated grain mill. It’s worth an experiment!

      Regarding chlorine in your water supply: this is very common here in the USA. You can fill a jug of water the night before you use it for baking (or feed your starter) and leave it out on your counter uncovered. This will allow the chlorine to dissipate from the water naturally. Boiling your water is not necessary. The caveat here is if your water is treated with chloramine instead of chlorine, in this case, leaving your water out won’t help, the chloramide has to be removed in another way. In this case, I find it easier to buy distilled water.

      I hope that helps!

  39. I cannot tell you how happy I am to have found this blog. You explain things so brilliantly.

    I have been looking for a recipe for rye bread starter for weeks. However, is there a difference between rye sourdough starter and just plain rye starter? I have recipes for both.

    Many thanks

    1. There really is no difference between rye sourdough starter and rye starter. Either one is a rye starter if it uses rye flour. Most recipes will add the word “sourdough” to the name but really either one can be used to make “sourdough” or -the more accurate terminology i think since not all naturally leavened bread is sour- “naturally leavened” bread.

  40. I have a rye starter bubbling away on my counter thanks to this recipe. However, this is the only recipe I’ve seen for a starter that says to feed every 36-48 hours once it’s in the fridge. Most indicate once a week for infrequent bakers and cold storage. Why feed so often by comparison for this one? And would it be resilient enough to handle resting a week in the fridge? I’ve got a vacation coming up which will mean leaving it for about that long.

    1. Hi Lexy, I spoke with Sarah, one of our baking testers, and this is what she had to say;
      “I am no way an expert bread baker, but have been working on sourdough the last year or two….the two resources I’ve drawn from (Bread Ahead Bakery in London – in person class and their cookbook, and the Sourdough School cookbook) offer varying methods on refreshing the starter. But, Bread Ahead says that once your starter is established it should be kept in the fridge and fed every 2 weeks (if you aren’t using it frequently). If/when using it, you should refresh/feed it around a day before using it for baking. If you are going to be away for more than 2 weeks, you can freeze the starter. When you come back, defrost at room temp and feed it daily until its back to its bubbly self (may take a few days). You can always freeze part of the starter as an insurance policy in case something happens to your fridge starter…would save you the time in rebuilding from scratch.

      Sourdough School recommends feeding/refreshing twice a week, but also says you can leave for up to 2 weeks and then bring it back with daily feeds when you return.

      The general impression I get is it is hard to kill your starter completely. It’s only no longer rescuable if, as Bread Ahead says, “it smells like dirty nappies.” :)”

    2. Lexy, Ive had a rye starter for years. It lives in my fridge. I rarely feed it more than every other week or so. No need to waste flour every 36 hours! These things are resilient. It can go for a month (mine survived a hurricane power outage for a week too) but then it’s a good idea to feed it a couple of times dumping half out between the feedings to make sure a healthy yeast culture is back in action.

      Let me know if you need more info or details of my process.

  41. Hi David,

    It’s me again. So I have tried the sourdough rye bread and Galician rye bread and both tasted superb. Can you please recommend a good sourdough sandwich bread recipe?

    Thank you.

    Hema

  42. I’ve just started the process today, if I were to throw 70 grams out the 2nd day then I’m left with none? Am I getting the steps wrong?

    (Days 2 to 7: Refresh the rye sourdough starter)

    2. The next day, discard all but 70 grams of the culture and mix the remainder with the refresh ingredients, cover, and let stand. Repeat each day, discarding all but 70 grams of the preceding day’s culture.)

    1. Hema, on day 1 you use 70 grams of flour and 70 grams of water, for a total of 140 grams. The following day, you discard roughly half (70 grams). On subsequent days, you have a total of 210 grams of starter, of which you discard all but 70 grams to refresh the starter. Does that make sense?

          1. Hi David

            My starter is looking very happy and bubbly, my next question would be; can I use them in any bread recipe that calls for sourdough starter or only with bread recipe that uses rye flour. Its my first time experimenting with sourdough starter.
            tq

              1. Hi David

                Thank you for the response and I have additional question, its day 8 and to maintain the starter; Step 5. But if I haven’t used them, what is the next step?

                1. Hema, what I do is add 70 grams of flour and 70 grams of warm water to 70 grams of the starter once a week to keep it going. When you’re ready to bake, refresh once or twice more. Does that make sense?

                  1. ok, do I discard them, like below or just refresh them as per your instruction?

                    2. The next day, discard all but 70 grams of the culture and mix the remainder with the refresh ingredients, cover, and let stand. Repeat each day, discarding all but 70 grams of the preceding day’s culture.

                    Thanks again.

                    P.S. hopefully all my queries in enough to satisfy the rest of the novice sourdough maker

                    1. Hema, you would discard all but 70 g, just like step 2. That way you’re keeping the same amount of starter week to week. If you’re planning to bake a lot, you can have two jars with starter, each with 70 grams of starter, water, and flour.

  43. My starter gets white mold on it every night. I have it in a large plastic cup, covered with plastic wrap, and it sits out at room temp. I live in Charleston, SC, so maybe it’s too warm here? Should i put it in the fridge instead? Should i just stir the mold in, and keep moving? Its thick white mold.

    1. Hi Laura, although many bakers will say to scrap the mold off and feed as normal, I’m reluctant to advise this. Are you using organic flour and filtered water? Are your utensils and containers super clean? What does the starter smell like? It should smell sour.

    2. This is in response to Laura Hunt’s question about white mold growing on a starter in a plastic cup covered in plastic wrap. I have three thoughts. First, I have heard that the most dangerous molds are usually orange, yellow, red, or pink. The blues and the whites are not so bad. You’ll want to remove what you can see because you don’t want it to compete with the other, souring microorganisms you are trying to cultivate. If it were in the orange-pink family though I’d throw out the whole thing. I wonder why it grew there. Maybe like you said it has to do with heat and humidity. You could move it to a cooler spot if available, the fridge would be too cold to keep the starter humming along and growing/fermenting quickly, although it does say that it’s fine to store it in the fridge once the sourness is established. I think the recommended temp is about 70 so as close to that as you can get would probably be ideal. Maybe too the plastic wrap is trapping more humidity than a cloth cover would. You could cut a piece of an old cotton t-shirt, maybe clean it in boiling water, and attach it with a rubber band instead of using the plastic wrap. Also if you can use a glass cup, porcelain bowl or other glass container/jar you might be able to pour boiling water on your container before adding the flour, in order to sterilize the container and kill any invisible mold particles that might be hiding out there. Of course you want to use hopefully tempered/oven-safe glass, like a caning jar if available, to be sure the glass won’t break when the boiling water hits it.

  44. I’ve made all of our bread for several years now but have always shied away from sourdough because of the starter maintenance and waste. Dona Ks suggestion helps with the latter. Each recipe I have calls for a starter using the flour the bread will be made from. Is it possible or desirable to grow a generic starter then use it for rye, red fife, or whatever unique flour you want to use?

    1. Rick, baking is such a precise science, I suggest you try this or a different starter and stick with the bread recipe suggested for starters. Then, as you become more comfortable and experienced with various doughs, you can explore a little. But the relative densities and moistures and such all play into the resulting bread’s texture as well as taste.

      1. This article is so informative and well written but I’m still confused between “refresh every 36 hours” and “stick it in an airtight container in the fridge to last indefinitely”

        So do you still refresh it every 36 hours indefinitely? Or can you ignore it for weeks/months between using it for a recipe?

        Thank you!

        1. KM, thanks for asking for clarification, I added a note that hopefully helps to clarify. Greatly appreciate your feedback. You can stick it in the fridge and not do anything with it if you intend to use it to make bread within a couple days. You’ll need to refresh it every 36 to 48 hours or so if you want to keep the starter alive for weeks, months, even decades! I hope this helps!

  45. I know, maybe I’m a tad frugal, but I hate the thought of throwing out about a pound of perfectly good (if a tad young) starter (about what you’ll end up with by the end of the week). How about saving each day’s 2.5 oz, stick it in the fridge, and use it mid-week and end of week for bread? It won’t be a ‘full-up’ starter, but should still provide a little extra flavor for a couple loaves of bread. If that’s too much baking for you, you could lob a couple days worth of starter slag into a zippy bag, toss it in the freezer, then defrost it at a later date for a loaf. Just let it thaw, add a little more flour and water, proof overnight, and it’s good to go the next day. Just saying, no reason to chuck it out.

    1. I hated to throw out the extra feeding starter too. I saved it all together in the fridge then at the end of the week I made sourdough rye waffles that were incredible. Followed this recipe here (and doubled it).
      http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/sourdough-waffles-recipe
      We topped the waffles with thick cut bacon, an overeasy egg, a little creme fraiche and hot sauce. It was a superb breakfast and made tons for the freezer!

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