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. 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

          2. Hema, wonderful!! I use my rye sourdough starter in all kinds of sourdough bread. The reason for a rye starter is it’s easier to work with.

          3. 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?

          4. 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?

          5. 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

          6. 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.

  2. 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. 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.

    2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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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