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

☞ LEARN MORE, READ: HOW TO DRY SOURDOUGH STARTER 

Rye Sourdough Starter

A small rubber-sealed jar of 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.

Prep 10 mins
Cook 6 d 23 hrs 50 mins
Total 7 d
Sides
American
16 servings
51 kcal
4.89 / 18 votes
Print RecipeBuy the The Rye Baker cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Ingredients 

Day 1: Make the Rye Sourdough Starter

  • 2.5 ounces whole grain rye flour preferably organic
  • 2.5 ounces warm water (105°F or 41°C)

Days 2 to 7: Refresh the Rye Sourdough Starter

  • 2.5 ounces whole grain rye flour preferably organic
  • 2.5 ounces warm water (105°F or 41°C)
  • 2.5 ounces Sour Starter from the preceding day

Days 8 and Beyond: Maintain the Rye Sourdough Starter

  • 2.5 ounces medium or whole-grain rye flour preferably organic
  • 2.5 ounces warm water (105°F or 41°C)
  • .25 ounces 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.
Print RecipeBuy the The Rye Baker cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1batchCalories: 51kcal (3%)Carbohydrates: 11g (4%)Protein: 2g (4%)Fat: 1g (2%)Saturated Fat: 1g (6%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 1mgPotassium: 50mg (1%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Calcium: 4mgIron: 1mg (6%)

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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.

Originally published March 28, 2020

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Comments

  1. I have a sourdough starter that I have been using for the past 3 years. I have not used it for 3 months and now I cannot get it to activate. I have fed it multiple times and been keeping it warm. It bubbles abit but does not rise. Any assistance would be appreciated.
    Thank you.

    1. Did you feed it at all during those 3 months, Josephine? It may need a lot of feeding and love to get going again.

      1. Hi Angie, thanks for your reply. No I did not feed it during those 3 months. I just left it in the fridge. I will try further feedings. Thanks.

        1. Josephine, don’t give up! I did the same thing after the Great Sourdough Boom of 2020! I let my starter languish for months. It took quite a while, but I got it going.

          Of course, the alternative is to start anew; that may take less time. But if you want to have the great–great–great–great–granddaughter of your original starter, keep feeding!

          1. Thanks, David. I was close to giving up, but after one week of feeding, I am ready to make bread. Thanks for your encouragement.

            Josephine

  2. Can I do anything with the portion of the starter I’m discarding? I mean, it’s probably not ready to make bread with, but it seems a waste to just dump it.

    1. AK, there are lots of things that can be done with sourdough discard. If you feel like it’s not strong enough to use for bread yet, store it in the fridge, and when you have enough, try these sourdough chocolate chip cookies. Once your starter is stronger, you can use it in pancake or waffle batter.

  3. Hi. My starter has doubled in size in 2 days. Should I continue to feed it? I did the water test and it’s floating on top in a full glass of water.

    1. Prathana, it sounds like your starter is ready to use, however, you’ll always need to continue to feed it in order for it to stay alive.

    1. It will probably be ok, Annika. The consistency might be a little bit more watery, but at the next feeding, you can get back on track.

  4. My starter was doing wonderfully for the first four days. I switched to wheat flour and it stopped growing. I switched back to rye, and still nothing. Both flours were fresh milled.
    I live in Florida so I add new flour and water in the evening, sit the jar out with the lid open for one hour, then close the lid and let it sit out overnight. The temps are in the 79’s overnight.

    1. Barbara, it sounds like you’re doing everything right. Your temperature is good, and if you’re using fresh flour, the only other thing I can think of is the water. Are you using tap water or distilled? Chlorinated water has been known to kill starters in the past.

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