Sourdough starters are all about yeast. Basically, when you make a sourdough starter, you are making natural yeast. Not too long ago, people used natural yeast (sourdough starter) to make bread. The process of baking with natural yeast requires a little more planning and a longer rising period. When commercial yeast was developed, the bread-making industry was revolutionized, making it easier and faster to make bread. However, with the advances in yeast, an important part of the bread-making process was lost. The modern method of baking with commercial yeast eliminates longer rise times. Bypassing the process of longer-rise times may be one cause of inflammation and digestive problems.
It’s been said by some who have dietary issues such as gluten intolerance, that once they began consuming bread made with natural yeast, their symptoms were reduced or eliminated, and some have even reported losing weight after changing to whole grain breads made with natural yeast, as opposed to those made with commercial yeast.
Aside from the health benefits of using natural yeast, there are other benefits to natural yeast, including the fact that you never have to buy yeast again! Just think... in an emergency, you don’t need to stress when you run out of commercial yeast, because you won’t need anything but flour, water & salt to make a simple bread. And, it will save you money! Creating your own natural yeast, or sourdough starter, is simple, but it’s also easy to kill if you forget to feed it. Think of it as a new pet--one that doesn't bark, shed, claw at your furniture or make a mess.
For most sourdough/natural yeast starts, you start with a mixture of flour and water—usually equal parts, but some recipes vary. The type of flour you use will make a difference in how fast your starter develops, and what it will look like or smell like. In our recipe, take 1/2 cup of wheat or all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of distilled or purified water, and stir it up in a jar or crock. Make sure you stir it with a wooden or plastic spoon—no metal. Cover the jar with a coffee filter, or piece of cheesecloth and keep it in a warm location, like on top of a warm appliance like a refrigerator. It helps to wrap the jars with a towel to keep them warm, as well.
First thing in the morning feed your starter 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of water. About 4 or 5 times throughout the day, feed your starter with the tablespoon ratio. You’ll know your starter is living when you begin to see bubbles forming. The starter will smell stinky, like sour milk or a dirty diaper--that's normal.
If a layer of liquid develops overnight in your container of starter that’s what’s known as hooch. Basically, it is a byproduct or waste that develops when the starter is hungry. Some people stir it in before they feed their starter, but you can pour it off. Over time, stirring in the hooch will create a stronger flavor to your starter. Not all sourdough breads taste sour. Sourdough starters get a stronger flavor over time, or when they need to be fed.
If you plan to bake with your sourdough starter right away, increase the amount of flour per feeding so you'll have about 2 cups of starter. After using the amount needed in your recipe, feed the remaining starter 1/2 cup of flour and a 1/2 cup of water to start building the amount of starter back up. You can put it in the refrigerator about an hour after that feeding. Or, you continue to keep it on your counter, as long as you continue to feed it with the tablespoon ratio a few times a day.
For our basic sourdough starter directions, click HERE. For some great sourdough starter tutorials, click HERE & HERE. For the sourdough bread recipes from our bread class, click HERE.
If you're really interested in natural yeast baking, we HIGHLY recommend the book, "The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast," by Caleb Warnock & Melissa Richardson.