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

  • 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. 5 stars
    In case anyone else is using freshly ground rye flour, and is having some trouble getting the starter to double, this tip may help: sift out about 15-20% of the flour (it will be mostly the bran that gets sifted out). My starter really took off once I fed it 80% sifted flour.

  2. 5 stars
    I’m on day 3 of my starter and I was curious if anyone has any recipes to use the discard? I know it is not active enough to rise bread but I’m curious if there is anyway I can utilize it rather than throwing it out!

    1. Hi, that’s a great question. My starter is always a 50%-50% ratio of new flour and water, so I’ve found that I can replace a portion of the flour and water in a regular recipe for pancakes, waffles, crepes, English muffins, etc. quite easily. I will use 100g-200g (I usually try to keep my discard use at 25%-30% of total flour/water) of SD discard in a recipe, and reduce the flour and water accordingly,so for 100g added discard, I would reduce the flour 50g and water 50g. Let us know how it worked out.

    1. Alice, you just need something big enough to allow the mixture to eventually triple in size. A quart-size jar should provide enough room.

  3. My rye starter looks good, it’s been 2 weeks though I keep trying the float method to know when it’s ready to use but it doesn’t float… I’ve tried it at peak, slightly past peak, before peak… it doesn’t float. I used dark rye flour from Bob’s red mill. Is there a way to tell when it’s ready to use for bread?

    1. Kara, the float method isn’t 100% reliable. If your starter is bubbly and is doubling or tripling after feeding, then it is ready to use.

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