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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  • 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


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.

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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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  1. The liquid separated and on the 6th or 7th day the liquid turned dark. Is this mold? I used it in a soup, will it make me sick?

    1. Ang, this sounds like hooch, which is a naturally occurring alcohol. The presence of it indicates that your starter is hungry and should be fed. The hooch is harmless but should be poured off and discarded before you feed your starter.

  2. Hi! I live in Manila, Philippines so the normal room temp in our kitchen is about 26-28 C. I’m wondering if that will be an issue for my starter, or if it’s even possible to grow the starter given our kitchen temperature.

    1. Nicole, you shouldn’t have trouble getting your starter going. Starters love warm temperatures, however, it will likely grow quickly and require feeding more often if you leave it at room temperature permanently.

      1. Does that mean from Days 1 to 7 I shouldn’t wait for 24 hrs until the next feeding? Maybe I could feed it every 12 hours?

        1. Nicole, start out following the instructions because you need that time to get it established. Feeding it too often at this stage won’t allow that necessary bacteria to establish itself. Once you’ve got it going (ie. it’s bubbly and happy and doubling after a feeding), if you find that it doubles very fast (ie. in 2 hours) then you’ll want to feed it more often, though if you’re not baking frequently with it, you may choose to just keep it in the fridge and feed once a week.

  3. Under the ingredient list at the top, under “maintain” you list 0.25 ounces (7 grams) of the initial starter to be used each day. Under the actual instructions, you say to keep 70 grams and toss the rest. Which quantity is it?

    1. Michael, the instruction where it indicates to keep 70 grams of the starter is in the refresh stage, for the first week or so until your starter is established. The maintain amount (7 g) is later, once you’ve got a healthy starter.

  4. I’m on day 3 and so far it looks like things are progressing well. The one question I have is should I be removing/isolating the 70g each day and cleaning out the jar before putting everything back in or does it matter? Seems neater…

    1. You have a couple options, Phil. You can try to scrape down the sides to keep everything as clean and tidy as possible, but it does get a little messy and will need to be cleaned eventually, but you don’t have to do it every time. Or you can have a second jar, which you transfer your new starter to for the refresh (this is also a little easier for weighing), then you can clean out the old jar and have it ready for the next refresh, and so on.

    1. At this point, you’re just maintaining it and not growing the starter, Michael, so you only need a small amount. Otherwise, you’d end up with more starter than you knew what to do with!

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