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
  • (3)
  • 10 M
  • 7 D
  • Makes enough to bake bread
5/5 - 3 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. 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!

  1. 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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