How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from scratch

Before we jump in – I’ve finally published my gluten free sourdough recipe! Like this guide, it runs through all the basics of creating a beautiful loaf from your gluten free sourdough starter. I’m so excited to share it with you – I hope you love it as much as I do.

A BASIC RUNDOWN OF A GLUTEN FREE SOURDOUGH STARTER

A gluten free sourdough starter is a simple mix of flour and water which is fed daily. Over the course of 6-10 or so days, this mixture, on a regular feeding schedule, grows in size and forms large bubbles which are capable of rising a loaf of bread. A sourdough starter is essentially a gloopy, living version of packet yeast, but way better for you and way better for your digestion.

If you’ve ever googled sourdough starters, you might have been turned off by the amount of technical feeding schedules and lingo. I know I was. However, I personally have found (on multiple occasions, so it’s not beginners luck) that the process can be a lot more free flowing than this. Once you get the hang of it and your starter is up and running, it can take a lot more than you’d expect.

To begin a gluten free sourdough starter, I use equal parts gluten free flour and water by weight. Sometimes you will see 100% hydration written, and this means that the starter has been made with equal parts flour and water. Personally I often (to the horror of precise bakers, I’m sure) add water by sight as opposed to weight – I want my starter to be thick and paste like but not dry. More on this later.

A growing starter is fed twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. Consider it your new pet that doesn’t crap on the carpet and doesn’t make any noise. I have found it useful to weigh out my flour and water, straight into the starter. You don’t have to be extremely precise, but I do think it helps, particularly in the cultivating stages.

DISCARD

We will go into this a little more below, but you will often read about discarding starter. Because you are adding 2 lots of 50g water and flour each day, a sourdough starter can quickly become unwieldy. It also requires even more food the larger it is, so discarding is a way of keeping your starter small. It also removes waste product from the fermentation process, keeping the starter nice and healthy.

Initially I was pretty against discarding so much flour. It seemed incredibly wasteful and pointless. I didn’t discard precisely (still don’t) and I didn’t do it often. So now I can say with a reasonable amount of experience under my belt: a starter that has had a good schedule of discarding makes better bread. Sure, you can make a loaf with a bubbly starter that hasn’t had any discarding. It works. However, a starter that has had the waste product removed is healthier, stronger, and in a better position to give you the gluten free sourdough you’ve always dreamed of. Given that the starter is the most critical ingredient in a sourdough, why not give it all the chance you can?

Another important thing to note with discard is that any use of your starter counts. So, if you’re baking bread daily, that counts as a discard. You don’t need to discard any additional starter. My friend works at a bakery and she says they never discard starter – they’re constantly using it.

DISCARD IDEAS

‘Discard’ to me has always implied that it’s an inedible waste product, destined for the bin. I think it’s incredibly important to point out that this isn’t the case! This is particularly relevant in gluten free sourdough baking – gluten free flour isn’t cheap.

The discard is essentially just starter that you’re not using. It is the same makeup as the starter you’re going to put in bread. So, why not put it in something else bready? Sourdough starter crackers, pancakes, waffles or brownies a-la Izy Hossack are all good places to start. You’d also be surprised by how many people would be interested in having some of your discard to make their own starter. Why not offer it to friends or family?

So yeah, I really just think it’s important to make the connection (it took me a while) that discarding needn’t mean throwing in the bin. It simply means removing from the starter jar itself. If you’re baking and using your starter very often, you probably won’t need to discard anything. Each use of the starter counts as a discard, as you’re removing some and adding fresh flour to re-feed.

ACTION

As we will go into in the in depth section, the point at which you’ll see some action is dependent on many things. These include climate, water quality, flours, luck, and everything in between. Generally speaking, you might begin to see some bubbles around day 2 or 3. Keeping your starter in a decent sized glass jar is helpful, as you can see the bubbles around the edges. It is also a great idea to use a rubber band or tape to keep track of where the starter sits in the container. This is because the starter will eventually start to grow, and having a measure is a great way of seeing overnight growth progress.

Knowing when your starter is ready to bake bread is an art that I probably haven’t mastered. In regular sourdough baking, you can drop a little starter in a glass of water, and see if it floats. Floating indicates that the starter carries enough gas to raise a loaf of bread. I haven’t had any luck doing the float test with any of my bubbliest starters – they simply disintegrate into the water. I suspect that it may not work for gluten free sourdough starters, because they don’t have the strength of gluten to hold them together.

If all has gone well, your starter is probably ready around the 7-10 day mark. When you stir it, it should feel thick with air and bubbles, and you should hear a pop rock kind of sound, as the little gas bubbles are shuffled.

An important note: most sourdough websites suggest that you probably won’t get an amazing loaf of bread until your starter is at least a month old. If you’re getting average loaves with a new starter – be patient.

MAINTENANCE

Once your starter is bubbly and ready to roll, you need to keep it that way. To do so, you have a few options. Firstly, if you’re baking often, you can keep it on the counter, and continue feeding and discarding as you have been.

Secondly, if you’re only baking a loaf every week or so, you can store your starter in the fridge. This will slow fermentation considerably, meaning that you will only need to feed your starter around once a week. No point feeding and discarding a starter every day that isn’t being put to use. If you go down this road, make sure you bring your starter to room temperature a day or two before using. It will need to be fed at least twice, but there is no hard and fast rule for this – you need to pay attention to your starter and make sure it’s ready to make bread. This Youtube from Tartine’s founder was very helpful for me. It is not a gluten free starter or bread, but helpful nonetheless.

Finally, you can actually spread your starter into a thin layer on baking paper and dry it out. Once it’s dry, snap it into pieces and place it in an airtight container. When you want to use it, rehydrate it, feed it, and wait until it becomes it’s normal, bubbly self before using. This site is extremely helpful (although ignore anything that daunts you!)

How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from scratch! www.georgeats.com @georgeatsGluten free sourdough starter guide from www.georgeats.com

CONSIDERATIONS

All that inspirational stuff said, there are a few considerations to take in when starting up a gluten free sourdough starter. Don’t be frightened by them, but do pay a lil attention to them.

CLIMATE AND KITCHEN

My experiments with gluten free sourdough began in Australian winter, and have continued through to our sweltering summer. As a result, I have experienced first hand the affects of the climate on sourdough starters. Making a starter in winter tends to take a lot longer than making one in summer, which can be cause for panic as a newbie. But fear not (within reason!) be patient, be reasonably accurate, and be a good starter parent. You’ll be fine. The yeast in your starter thrives in warm temperatures, which is why it will take longer in cool climates.

In summer, you might notice that you have quite a bubbly sourdough starter in the first couple of days. That’s great! Continue feeding as usual until day 5 anyway, just to make sure you have a strong starter, and to make enough starter for bread.

If you have the option, a few hours in the oven with JUST THE LIGHT on will do wonders for the fermentation. Just make sure you leave a note on the oven to remind yourself (and others) that it’s in there.

FLOUR

I have trialled a couple of different gluten free flours for my starter. The number one recommendation on the internet is brown rice flour, which was the first flour I tried. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely ended up doing the job. However, I felt that oftentimes it created more of a watery sludge that was rather begrudging to make itself into a starter.

In my first attempt at making a gluten free sourdough starter, I used exclusively quinoa flour. I had read somewhere (backed up here, although the sourdough lingo is a bit above my pay grade) that starters benefit from a high protein flour, as it feeds the yeast nicely. I ground quinoa grains into a flour in my Nutribullet – this saved money and enabled me to create the quantity of flour I needed. Starters are hungry critters!

This time around, I have been using half quinoa flour and half sorghum flour, which can be found at health food stores. Personally, I have found that combination creates a fantastically bubbly sourdough starter that rises really well in the jar, more so than my original starter did. It is a cold winter here, so the fact that my starter was bubbly on day 3 or so is testament to this flour combo.

Whichever flour you use, I would highly suggest following a few of the basic flour storage suggestions in my gluten free flour guide. Namely, if you happen to be in a warm climate and have ever seen a small moth flying in your kitchen, freezing your flour. I recently had the very unfortunate experience of having to throw out an entire, mature quinoa flour starter. Why? Because it started sprouting weevils. A sight I will never forget.

ISOLATION NOTES

Because of everything that’s going on, I have tried to be practical with my flours and use what I have on hand. I started my current starter on a quinoa and sorghum combination, and have since moved it to a 100% white rice flour feed. This is because I can easily find white rice flour. It has been going pretty well and baking nice loaves – I just feed it with a bit of quinoa flour every now and again for a bit of ‘whole food.’

WATER

Most sourdough starter tutorials suggest that you will need filtered or bottled water to create a sourdough starter. This is because tap water in urban areas often contains additives that can have an adverse effect on the growth of natural yeast.

Personally, I didn’t notice a difference between bottled and tap water. I hate using unnecessary plastic bottles, and I don’t have a water filter. I found that my starter using tap water here in Melbourne wasn’t adversely effected at all, so I’ll continue down that path. That said, I began my starter experiments using bottled water, so if you’re feeling cautious or if the water isn’t great where you live, you can definitely use bottled or filtered.

VESSEL OF CHOICE

Sourdough starter needs to be made in a glass jar or bowl, because it doesn’t play well with metal. A lot of people also suggest you use a wooden spoon to stir your starter, although I had forgotten this instruction until I was writing this post, and my starters have been fine with a metal spoon. As with most aspects of sourdough starter, I’d suggest starting cautiously (with a wooden spoon) and then doing whatever suits you best as you become more comfortable with the process.

If you are using a glass jar, make sure it is well cleaned and sterilised before use. Here are some instructions on how to sterilise a glass jar. This will ensure that there are no germs or general bits and bobs lurking around from the previous use that may negatively impact your starter. Make sure not to put any jar in the oven with any form of plastic attached to it.

I currently use a medium sized jar with a wooden lid. Jars are great because I can see the bubbles easily, and know my starter is in good shape. There is also only a small mouth to cover, meaning I have control over any potential bugs (read WEEVILS) getting in.

On that note: your sourdough starter should be covered. Most people suggest muslin cloth or something that will allow air to get in and circulate. I have gone through stages of being a bit lax with covering my starter, and I fear I invited weevils to populate as a result. Currently I keep the lid on the coffee jar that I keep my starter in, and all seems to be well. Every now and again I pop it open just a tiny weeny bit, and keep a nut milk bag over it while I do.

How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from www.georgeats.com

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

WHICH GLUTEN FREE FLOURS HAVE YOU USED TO MAKE A STARTER?

I have used white rice flour, brown rice flour and quinoa flour. As I’ve mentioned, my personal favourite is a quinoa/ sorghum flour combo, and that’s what I’ll continue to use for now. If you can’t find sorghum, a combination and quinoa and white or brown rice flour could also work.

At the moment my starter is mature and I have transitioned to a 100% fine white rice flour feed. I find it’s working well, and it’s a nice neutral base to bake different styles of bread from. It’s also inexpensive and easy to find during a pandemic. You can experiment with what works for you, and transition your starter however you see fit. I would definitely suggest the quinoa and sorghum combination to begin a starter, after which the world is your oyster.

WHY DO I NEED TO DISCARD STARTER?

Personally, this was my biggest barrier to creating a starter. I couldn’t see a good reason as to why I would discard perfectly good sourdough starter. My research into the topic has been unsatisfactory in getting any damning conclusion against NOT discarding, particularly if food waste is a big concern for you (as it should be.) However, as mentioned in the intro, discard assists in keeping the starter healthy and small. It also (more importantly) bakes a better bread.

As the sourdough starter grows, it produces waste products (don’t we all?) that remain in the starter. Essentially, the idea of discarding starter is to reintroduce fresh food for fermentation, while removing some waste byproduct. Here is a better explanation than I could ever muster.

Another more simple reason discarding is that if you don’t, your starter will soon become an unmanageable monster that requires vast amounts of flour to feed. The bigger the starter gets, the more flour it needs. Discarding assists in keeping a starter small and healthy.

MY PERSONAL APPROACH

I have absolutely come around to the necessity of discarding starter. If you had read an earlier version of this post, I might have written otherwise, but the proof is in the (bread) pudding. With a regular discard schedule, my starter is healthier than ever and my loaves are constantly improving.

I can be incredibly stubborn and am absolutely against food waste, so I had to come to this conclusion on my own terms. I’m glad I did, because I can now offer empirical proof on the necessity of discarding, as opposed to the wishy washy explanations I found on the topic in my initial searches.

So what is my discard schedule like? Currently I’m discarding every day, because I’m baking a new loaf every day for ‘experimental’ purposes. If by chance I’m not making a loaf, I might forget to discard. Which is totally OK, although I do think my starter becomes a little sluggish for a few days after.

You can use discard for so many things, and I have a bunch of discard recipes in the works. Or, during pandemic times, you could just bake a lot of sourdough!

 

MY STARTER ISN’T DOING ANYTHING? HELP?

There are a few considerations to make when addressing this situation. First, how long has the starter been going? If it’s a new starter, and you’re in a cold climate, relax and give it time. You might want to up the feeding schedule a little bit to make sure your starter is getting enough food to grow.

However, if you’ve given the starter a very reasonable amount of time to grow (10+ days) and fed it consistently, it might be time to admit defeat. There is a fine balance between reviving a starter and wasting flour.

MY STARTER SMELLS LIKE ROTTEN EGGS OR NAIL POLISH REMOVER?

On eggs: Depending on how old your starter is, this is a good thing! If it is in it’s formative stages, a rotten egg or sulphuric smell is totally normal. When the starter has matured, however, you should have a pretty distinctive ‘sourdough’ smell. Give it time but also trust your gut – if you smell something totally out of the ordinary or rancid after about 5 days, consider starting afresh.

On nail polish remover: this is also normal, although less of a good thing. My research indicates that this means you’re starter is hungry, so you will need to up it’s feeding schedule a little. I feed mine around 75g flour and water instead of 50g if I get the nail polish smell.

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY STARTER IS ACTIVE?

Active starters generally have a strong smell and have plenty of bubbles. You should be able to hear bubbles popping as you stir the starter, and it should pour out of the jar as bubbly sludge. As mentioned earlier, be sure to give your sourdough starter some time before panicking, particularly in winter or cold climates.

CAN I GO ON HOLIDAYS OR AM I FOREVER BEHOLDEN TO MY STARTER?

Great news! You can actually leave your starter, and you have a few options for doing so. Firstly, you can refrigerate your starter for up to a week. This is often what people do if they don’t need the starter that often – keep it in the fridge, and feed it once a week. The night before you are using it, simply feed it, and bring it back to room temperature on the bench. It should be good to go by the next day.

Secondly, you can overfeed your starter with flour (give it double or triple what you normally would, but only a little water) and leave it in the fridge for the duration of your trip. I personally haven’t tried this method, but given the resilience of most of my starters, I can see how this would work well.

Thirdly, you can thinly spread your starter on a baking sheet or silpat, and allow it to dry out completely. From there, break it into pieces, and store it in an airtight container. When you next want to use it, rehydrate it and feed it, continuing to do so until it returns to it’s original bubbly form.

I HAVE A LOT OF STARTER. WHAT CAN I DO WITH IT ALL?

Make and eat a lot of bread? Just kidding. Kind of, but not really at all. If you have a lot of sourdough starter, you have a lot of options. Instead of discarding overflowing starter, try using it in pizza bases, loaves, waffles – basically anything that needs rising, or could benefit from the wonderful tang of sourdough. If you’re not that into baked goods? Dry the excess sourdough out and give it to friends. Find a local facebook group and ask if anyone wants from sourdough starter. I can guarantee someone will take you up on it.

If your starter is getting to an overwhelming bulk, though, consider that you either need to start baking, or put the starter in the fridge. Excessive bulk suggests that you’re feeding the live starter, but not actually doing anything with it. No point feeding something you’re not using, so see the point above on how to store your starter.

THERE’S PINK OR ORANGE MOULD ON MY STARTER?

Mould itself (which can be caused by any number of factors) is no cause for alarm. You can scoop it cleanly off, and continue as normal. However, pink or orange mould is apparently (according to my googling) cause for concern, and cause for you to discard said sourdough starter. This is because the starter has apparently lost it’s ability to fight off nasties, and it might be harbouring some within. Better safe than sorry.

If you want to dive really deep (too deep for me) into prevention of these types of issues, I stumbled across this pineapple juice method here. Worth a look, if you’re into research and very into sourdough, but not very into failing.

THE LIQUID ON MY STARTER IS BROWN/GREY/INSERT OTHER COLOUR?

According to Google (again, thanks Google) any colour of liquid on the surface (or hooch, as it’s known in the starter world) is fine. You can stir it back into your starter, and give it a little extra food and love. You can also pour it off the top of your starter, and feed as usual. If you have persistent hooch, that might be a sign that your sourdough needs more food than you are currently giving it. Time to up your feed amounts.

MY STARTER SMELLS LIKE ALCOHOL?

This is a normal part of the sourdough process. It should progress through this stage, and onto a stage of smelling yeasty, floral and generally like sourdough in the next couple of days. If it persists in smelling like alcohol, try feeding it more, or in more regular intervals. See the point on nail polish remover smells.

THERE’S A SKIN ON THE TOP OF MY STARTER?

I dealt with this a lot during my early sourdough starter making, and apparently it is because there is too much air reaching your starter. The skin can very easily be peeled off and discarded without any adverse affects on the starter, but consider transferring your starter to a vessel with a smaller opening, or with a lid, or both.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN REGULAR STARTER AND GLUTEN FREE STARTER?

As someone who has never made regular sourdough, and who has spent her whole baking career using gluten free flour, this is hard to answer. But imma try anyway.

While researching my first starter, I compared a lot of regular sourdough recipes to gluten free recipes. I found a few differences. Firstly, it would seem that regular starters are more prolific than gluten free ones, because many blog posts speak of discarding half the starter every day. That, to me, would indicate that they grow quite rapidly. I haven’t found this with my gluten free starter – it doesn’t grow exponentially every day.

In that vein, regular starters seem to give a lot more rise to bread, which means that gluten free sourdoughs will always look quite little and sad in comparison. Manage your expectations is the takeaway message here. You probably won’t (I haven’t) achieved those beautiful giant air bubbles in your loaf. That’s ok. It will still be that delicious, tangy bread you know and love.

People speak of dropping their regular sourdough starter in water to see if it floats – this has never worked for me with gluten free starter, even a very active one. I am currently unsure if this is something to do with my starter, or whether this just doesn’t happen for gluten free varieties. When I know more, you’ll know more.

Finally: gluten. Glutinous sourdough starters will always contain a lil bit of gluten. The gluten isn’t completely broken down.  Have a read of this article from Bon Appetit, about sourdough and FODMAPs. I’d recommend keeping the starter gluten free if you are coeliac, and personally I like to keep it gluten free too.

CAN I MIX UP THE FLOURS I FEED MY SOURDOUGH STARTER WITH?

Yes! Please do! But within reason. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend feeding the starter with a different gluten free flour every day, you can use different flours if you run out of your original flour. You can also combine two flours, like I do with sorghum and quinoa. Apparently, after a while, your sourdough will eat away the remnants of the old flour you were using, without a trace. So, for example, if you were to start feeding your quinoa flour starter brown rice flour, it would eventually become an entirely brown rice flour starter.

On that note, you could hypothetically transition a glutinous sourdough to a gluten free one. I haven’t done it and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it (particularly if you are coeliac) but science suggests it could be done, if you happen to be gifted a regular starter. I would do some Googling if you want to go down that path.

A caveat: starters do like consistency. Both in their feed and discard schedule, and in their feed itself. While you can move your starter to a different feed if you need to (better than not feeding it at all) for best results, don’t be too flippant.

CAN I USE A GLUTEN FREE FLOUR BLEND FOR MY STARTER?

I would not recommend. Gluten free flour blends have additives such as gums and baking powder added. I haven’t even bothered to Google this to know it’s not a great idea. If you buy flour some a bulk store, it is FAR cheaper, and you’re not wasting your blend. I’m biased against gluten free flour mixes in the first place, but this seems like a terrible idea.

Another bad idea? Using a starch like tapioca flour or potato flour. Apparently the yeast will feed too quickly which can cause problems with your starter. A gluten free, wholegrain flour is best.

Gluten free sourdough starter guide from www.georgeats.comA recipe for this caprese toasted sandwich can be found RIGHT ERE 

Print Recipe
5 from 5 votes

Gluten free sourdough starter

I have used quinoa and sorghum flours here, but what you'd like to use is up to you. Feel free to experiment as you get the courage. I'd recommend half quinoa and half something else like brown rice flour, if you can't find sorghum. Quinoa and a hefty wholegrain gluten free flour seem to provide a great balance for a healthy starter.
Prep Time5 mins

Equipment

  • Large glass jar with a lid
  • Muslin cloth, to keep bugs out when 'airing' the starter
  • A wooden spoon, or anything that isn't steel
  • Kitchen scales, for weighing out the feeds
  • An elastic band or tape, to measure starter growth (the funnest part!)

Ingredients

  • 25g quinoa flour (see notes on flour)
  • 25g sorghum flour (or another wholegrain gluten free flour, like brown rice flour)
  • 50g water (see notes on water)

Instructions

  • Combine your water and flour in a sterile glass jar or clean glass bowl. Ideally, you'd do this in the morning, and then feed the starter the same amount again in the evening. If your starter is not the consistency of a thick paste, add more water. It should not have a dry, crackly top - add a little extra water if it does.
  • Continue this pattern of feeding until the starter begins to bubble, and become active. It should be roughly the consistency of a thick pancake batter. After 2 or 3 days, or when there are considerable bubbles on the starter, discard around half of the starter (see intro on what to use discard for) and feed the starter as per usual. Discard once a day for optimal results.
  • To keep your starter alive, continue to feed it once or twice a day, with the same 50g flour and water measurements. Stir well to incorporate after each feed. The starter should look like a thick paste but without a dry crackly top - you can add more water to achieve this consistency if necessary. Every gluten free flour is different (including each bag) so I often eyeball how much water I add. Discard or use starter every couple of days, and feed after each discard. Most gluten free bread recipes I have seen ask for 1 cup of sourdough starter per loaf, so make sure you have enough to make a loaf and also keep the starter going.
  • To store the starter, see notes and links in the introduction.
  • Make sure the starter is fed and in it's peak 'rise' before you use it to make sourdough. See the links in the resources section for more information.
  • After every use (discard or sourdough) feed your starter straight away to replenish what has been taken. Always ensure you have more than enough starter for a bake, otherwise you'll have to begin the process again.

How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from www.georgeats.com

MORE (!!) NOTES AND INSTRUCTIONS

A recipe plugin is not the place for verbose instructions on sourdough, so I thought I’d discuss a feeding schedule here. This is a loose idea of what to expect on which day. I say loose, because climate, water, flours, and luck all have a lot to do with the speed at which your starter will progress.

DAY 1 – 5 (or up to 7-10, depending on your starter)

Begin your starter by adding 50g flour and 50g water to a clean glass vessel of choice. My recipe asks for 25g of quinoa and sorghum flours, but you can mix this up and experiment as you see fit. You can use all one variety of flour (i.e 100% quinoa or 100% brown rice flour) but as with most gluten free baking, I find a mix to work better.

Feed your new starter this flour and water combo, 2 times a day, roughly at the same time each day. Always stir to incorporate and add more water (to make that paste consistency) as you see fit. A new starter is more vulnerable, so do try and make sure you stick to this for the first week, if you can.

Depending on the weather (starters are more prolific in warm temperatures) you should start to see some bubbles and activity within the 2-5 day mark. Don’t stress if you don’t – keep feeding it regularly and keep your eyes peeled. You may also experience a strong vinegar tang, a rotten egg smell, or just a general unpleasant odour. Persevere past this and continue feeding – this is normal, and it will dissipate. I promise!

Even if your starter is bubbly on day two, continue the feeding schedule until day 5. It needs to be mature before you use it, and you also need enough volume to not use the entire starter up when you bake bread.

By day 5, there should be lots of bubbles and they should pop when you stir the starter. It should be a living sludge. It should smell like a strong loaf of sourdough. There should be no liquid on the top – feed it well before using it if there is.

Personally, I like to wait until around day 7 to start using my starter. I want to give it the best chance possible

A NOTE

100% hydration starter is a little more complicated in gluten free sourdough than it is in regular. Gluten free flours are often incredibly thirsty, meaning they’ll need a lot more water than regular flour. Your starter needs to be the consistency of a thick paste in order to ferment. It can be wetter, but it can’t be drier. So please take the 100% hydration as a guide. If your mixture is dry, add more water. Use a bit of intuition, and give your starter the liquid it deserves!

This might mean that your hydration 100% is not as precise as it could be, and that’s fine. I was never a maths person anyway.

ONWARDS

Congratulations! You’ve persevered through the most unpleasant stages of making a gluten free sourdough starter. Your starter should now be a bubbly, thick paste and it should smell like sourdough. To maintain it, feed it twice a day as usual. Keep an eye on any hooch/vinegar smells and up the feeding quantity if these arise. Once you get in the groove, you’ll realise that you can often feed your starter by intuition. If it’s looking runny, I add flour but no water. Looking thick? Add a little extra water.

If you don’t plan to use your starter for the week, see the instructions about keeping it in the fridge. On that note, make sure your starter is well fed and at room temperature before you use it, so it is nice and active. Much like me before breakfast, you cannot ask a starter for a stellar performance while it is hungry.

Finally, a note of common sense: make sure you have enough starter to bake a loaf AND keep the starter going. If you use up your entire starter in a loaf, you will have to start from scratch again.

SOURDOUGH STARTER RESOURCES

Tbh, the best learning is by doing. However, here are some handy resources for making your own starter.

FINAL TIPS

  • Don’t get bogged down percentages and fancy French terms and feeding schedules. Feed it twice a day with flour and water. Experiment and have fun! Personally I think the process is much more intuitive than people on the internet make it sound. My loaves are definitely not as good as theirs, but that’s fine! The bread is still 10,000 times better than the supermarket variety, and better for me to boot.
  • Buy flours in bulk from a bulk food store. You will go through a lot of flour in this process, and that’s way too much packaging to go to landfill. Make sure you store your flours correctly.
  • Starters are more prolific in summer and take a lot longer in winter. Be patient.
  • Don’t bin your starter at the first sign of a weird smell or a dark liquid. Be chill! We’re fermenting!
  • If all else fails, make it up as you go along. That’s what I did when I started, and I learnt a whole heap on the way.
  • NOW YOU’RE READY TO MAKE A GLUTEN FREE SOURDOUGH LOAF! Find my recipe for gluten free sourdough bread here.

How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from www.georgeats.com

57 replys to How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from scratch

  1. OMG, this is the best!!!!!! I can’t wait to do this. I have so many open tabs on GF sourdough. Will you have an actual recipe for baking the bread too? 🙂

  2. Hi Georgia – thank you! I‘m excited to be starting my starter but would love the recipe for the gorgeous GF sourdough bread in the images here please?

    1. Hi Neroli! I’m working on the recipe for that sourdough for my next cookbook so you will be able to get it soon 🙂

    1. Hi Chloe! I haven’t tried them so I have no tips thus far. That said you’ve inspired me to give them a crack this week, so stay tuned!

      1. Second this! Usually don’t eat grains but going to do a gluten free starter to make sourdough hot cross buns for Easter and would love any George Eats assistance!

  3. Hiya! This is the best quarantine project. Thanks so much! You mentioned using the starter discard to make pizza bases. What ratio/quantities of the flour you use for the loaf would you use for a pizza base?

    1. Hi Nick! Isn’t it? I’m officially sourdough obsessed. I haven’t nailed down a sourdough pizza base recipe yet but it’s on my to-do list. I’ll upload it when I perfect it 🙂

  4. Hi Georgia! Thanks for this guide, it’s been the best thing I could find as my first time sourdough (and gluten free) starter! I had one question, which was when you are feeding 2 times daily in the beginning before discarding, are you supposed to stir to incorporate the new feeding with what you already have starting in the jar?

    1. Hi Katharine! Yes, you need to stir the flour and water feed into the starter. Try to use a wooden spoon if you have one because steel can disrupt the fermenting 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    Thank you for all the details included in your personal GF sourdough journey!! I have Quinoa, and will try making flour from it in my Vitamix. What a fabulous idea using Quinoa!

  6. 5 stars
    Thanks so much for all the effort you have put into this guide! I started a gf blend of sorghum and brown rice flour(I haven’t been able to get quinoa flour) about 4 days ago. It looks amazing with bubbles, just like in pictures, but it smells like puke. Is this normal? I would not consider it a sulfur or rotten egg smell.

    1. Hi Bridget! When you say it smells like puke, could you describe a little? Is it a slightly acidic smell or a kind of muted musty smell? By the description of the bubbles it sounds like it’s faring well to me. Starters always smell a little unusual, but unless there’s pink or pink coloured mould on top there’s no cause for alarm 🙂

      1. 5 stars
        Hmm, not musty. Very off-putting and nasty smelling, maybe a bit fruity smelling. When I smell it, I feel like vomiting. We make kombucha and sauerkraut and it smells nothing like either of those. It looks great. No strange color, still bubbly.

        1. Have you made a starter before? They have a pretty unique smell, so this all sounds quite normal to me. They can have a bit of a jarring smell, but it’s no cause for concern and you do get used to it over time. However, starters do feed better (and become more sour) on wholegrain flours like quinoa and sorghum. So you could try transitioning it a fine white rice flour diet and it should become a little more subtle. That said, they’ll always have a bit of funk to them – that’s the nature of fermenting. They can also smell more pungent (and a little acidic) when they’re hungry, so that’s something to consider too 🙂

  7. Hey George I don’t think I can find it in here specifically so need to ask, how many grams of starter to you use for feed of 50g flour x 50g water? Thanks so much!

    1. I think you’re getting confused Katia. This is a recipe FOR a starter, you don’t add starter to it. It will become a starter after feeding which you will then use to make the preferment/sourdough 🙂

  8. I have tried gf sourdough starters in the past, and they always get weevils, and I end up throwing the whole thing away (what a waste). Any idea why that keeps happening?

    1. Hi Amy! That has happened to me before too, it was truly hideous! Weevils are in pretty much every flour so you can’t really predict them. They’re also impossibly hard to get rid of once you’ve got them. I recommend freezing the flours you intend to use for your starter for a week (or more!) and then immediately transferring them to airtight glass or thick plastic jars. Weevils can bore through the plastic that supermarket flours come in, and if you’ve already got weevils in your pantry, they will quickly inhabit your new flours. Ideally speaking, everything flour or nut related that comes into your house should go through the freezer first. Weevils love hazelnuts (I figured that one out the hard way) so check that there isn’t a tiny bag of nuts at the bag of the pantry that they’re living on. Good luck!

  9. OK I am officially obsessed, I now have a 5 day old starter with sorghum and teff that’s going totally crazy active, made muffins today with the discard- a solid B- which I am taking as a win. I am looking at your hot cross buns recipe and thinking I may need to have a *second sourdough starter with a white rice blend.

    1. Isn’t it the most addictive process?! I have to say, I’m really enjoyed my white rice starter at the moment. You can easily start an offshot starter by dividing your current starter in two (think of it like a discard) and then feeding the new starter exclusively white rice flour. It will transition completely within a few days/a week 🙂

  10. So happy to find this a few days into my own GF sourdough journey – thank you! I would be really helped, though, by some pictures of the starter as it’s developing and when it’s ready to use. 😀

  11. 5 stars
    My starter is now on Day 11, and I’m baking my first loaf of bread right now (made pancakes and muffins with some previous discards that turned out well). I just want to add that my starter showed activity starting on Day 3, but by Day 5 had stopped rising. I did some googling and apparently it can be normal for this to happen as the microbiome is being established, but you should keep going and continue feeding. By Day 7, my starter was active again and getting large bubbles! Thanks for such an informative and well researched recipe!

  12. Hi Georgia, it was so refreshing to find your blog and all the info you shared of your cooking adventures that coincided with my own experiments. I have used a friend’s old brown rice starter he made over 10 years ago in India and which he keeps revamping…as do I. I am delighted with the idea of combining quinoa with sorghum & just got given sorghum seeds to plant…I hope you don’t mind that I have briefed your ideas and with your personal web details etc have put together a small article for our Bio-Dynamic ‘Who Flung Dung’ quarterly magazine. I will wait for you to answer me by email and send you my brief seeking your permission to print. Meanwhile, my son in Kauai will now learn to make his gluten-free starter having not eaten bread for years! Warm thanks for your passion and sharing, Kate in far north Qld

  13. Just wondering if your quinoa flour has a very overpowering musty smell? I milled my own in the thermomix from quinoa that I have had in the cupboard for a few months and my starter smells very strongly of this (as does the packet of quinoa). My starter is at day 3 and I baked your sourdough brownie using a discard which had a strong flavour that tasted the same as this smell (If that makes sense). The texture of the brownie was great and it rose really well. I obviously haven’t baked a loaf of bread yet but the starter is super bubbly and is rising well, but have had to use brown rice flour instead of sorghum because I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. Do you think there is something wrong with my quinoa flour that could be causing the smell and taste?

    1. Have you used quinoa flour before? Without knowing that it’s hard to say if you’re just unfamiliar with it (it is unique) or the quinoa is a bit rancid. Quinoa flour has a strong (but generally not overpowering) grassy kind of smell. Some people don’t like it, others do. It serves a purpose beyond taste in the sense that quinoa flour is high protein which is important for loaf height and structure. Oftentimes gluten free flours are also devoid of nutrients at all, whereas quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse. I didn’t want to develop a loaf with nothing good in it, which is why I included it. It also supercharges a starter and, in my experience, speeds up the process when compared to a basic white rice flour.

      You could try toasting the quinoa flour over a low heat in a skillet and see what happens. Generally toasted quinoa flour smells very pleasant, kind of like a wheat biscuit. It also softens the flavour. That said I guess the only real way to know if this batch is ‘bad’ or if you just don’t like it is to (eventually) buy a bit more fresh quinoa and try again.

      Once I got my most recent starter going I transitioned it to a white rice flour diet for cost effectiveness, which is something you can consider when it’s ready and if you’ve decided you don’t like quinoa flour.

      Good luck and let me know how you get on!

      1. Thanks heaps for getting back to me Georgia! Update is: I think the quinoa was maybe a little bit off, so I bought a fresh lot to mill again. I have cooked your quinoa chocolate brownie cookies before and loved it so was/am very keen to try the sourdough using quinoa flour! My starter is currently going well and I currently have a preferment going that I am waiting to bake with tonight, however it is quite runny and the water has risen to the top, so I am uncertain as to whether the starter was active enough. It’s currently on day 10 and is super bubbly, but there are no large bubbles – could that be an indication it needs more time?

  14. Hi Georgia! Thank you for your detailed post, providing so many pointers! I had my starter for about 9 days..I had it bubbly, a good rise and fall, the bubbles bursting sound..all good but it never got the breast yeasty smell that the starter eventually develops (as in my whole wheat starters) ..also the subsequent bread didn’t get the bready sweet smell while baking..it just smelt sour..the starter itself smelt really potent and sour..it’s hot summer’s in India right now but I was feeding it 4 times a day and feeding it more (like I did with my wheat starter)..any tips on this? Does a gf starter not get the sweetish smell ? Anyway I can reduce the really sharp sourness? Do I need to keep feeding it for longer?

    1. Hi Meghna, four times a day sounds like a lot of feeding. In my guide I suggest 2 times a day until maturity and then once a day onwards. I can’t say what would happen with excessive feeding but perhaps although it is bubbly it isn’t very strong. More isn’t more when it comes to feeds – if you’re discarding a lot and removing a lot of the more mature starter as you discard, it might not gain enough true strength.

      Is the starter discoloured (a light pink on the top maybe) or does it smell really off-putting and wrong? If the smell is something you’ve never encountered before, I’d suggest throwing it out and starting again – better safe than sorry. In terms of troubleshooting, I suspect the excess feeding has something to do with it, so I’d recommend dropping back to 2 x 50g feeds a day.

      A gluten free starter should go through a process of smelling funky (like sulphur or rotten eggs) before eventually becoming sweet and bread like in smell. So the fact that yours did not (particularly in the oven, it should smell amazing in the oven!) suggests something isn’t quite right.

      Did you feed the starter prior to using it in the preferment? In my experience, starters are particularly sour when they’re hungry and unfed. It might even be that in the heat of a hot summer, your starter is burning through food at an exponential rate (they progress faster in warm temperatures) which is the cause for excessive sourness? Have you noticed anything like that in your gluten-ous bread making?

      1. Hi Georgia! Thank you for your response..so I do think I understand what you mean by reducing the feeds and also discarding too much mature starter..the smell itself was not off putting, no mould or anything..just a very strong sour smell-like nail paint varnish as you mentioned and it never got the lovely bread yeast smell (which I know is the final step of sorts) ..so it was 44c hot here in the day and around 37c at night..with my gluten sourdough I managed the feeds and got a beautiful starter by feeding it regularly as it was feeding at a super fast rate..sudden Temperature change here with the early onset of monsoon so maybe it’s going to be a less of a challenge now..will drop the feeds to two a day and let you know how it goes..maybe it needs for time and patience to mature. Thanks again

  15. I think I need to start again with your recipe – I followed the Dove’s Farm GF one and on day 3 got bubbles, but constancy was very thin, I think I then over-fed it. It went flat and not bubbled since and has gone from smelling right, to smelling of nothing (flour and water), and now just smells a bit tangy but faint and not as it did on day 3. I tried not feeding it for a couple of days, but at 11 days now I think it’s dead in the water – would you say so?

    1. Hi Elle, I’d say you’d be right to start again. Given the brand name I’m assuming you’re in the UK summer – starters should be more prolific in the heat so 11 days should be plenty of time to create a healthy starter. What sort of flour are you using?

  16. Hello 🙂 I have finally started my first starter. Living on an island in Fiji does not make it easy to access gluten free bread… so here I go!
    I am using all white rice flour, on day 3 and things are looking bubbly and beautiful. I just have two questions… On what day should I start discarding I was thinking day 5??? and do you think I can feed it the odd feed of Quinoa flour?
    Look forward to your feed back! Thank you!!

    1. Hi Emma, What a lovely place to live! Lucky you. Considering I imagine it’s quite warm and you say the starter is bubbly, feel free to start discarding now (or if you feel more comfortable, day 5 is fine too). You can feed it the odd quinoa feed if you need to, but starters generally like consistency. If you think the starter is thriving with just a rice flour feed, there’s no need to add in quinoa just for the sake of the high protein content. That said, it’s fine to feed it something different occasionally if you run out of rice flour or whatever.

      Let me know how you go! 🙂

      1. Thanks for the feed back! I baked a loaf yesterday and it was quite a fail…. I was sceptical when I did my pre ferment. The loaf didn’t rise and was gummy and for some reason gritty like you are crunching sand (can’t escape it on an island haha)
        I am thinking my starter isn’t established enough. I am using a course psyllium husk, not sure if its the correct one, it doesnt state powder on the bag but I am unsure of the difference between psyllium husk and psyllium husk powder.
        I gave the starter a feed of quinoa for the first time last night and this morning it is so bubbly and has a nice little dome on it (first dome I have seen) I will persevere I guess with the rice flour and see what happens…. all fingers and toes crossed.
        On the plus I made the sourdough starter crackers and ate the whole lot in one sitting, YUM!

        1. Hi Emma, sometimes it takes a starter a while to get going which is an unfortunate reality! A few other things though:

          1. Grittiness shouldn’t be an issue which makes me think you have a coarsely milled rice flour. I would think that aspect could be resolved by buying a finely milled one, but that’s easier said than done on an island! haha. My bougie inner city lifestyle is showing, but if you have access to any health food stores, their rice flour is generally finer milled. Otherwise it might be worth ordering some online (Bob’s Red Mill is good). The reality of the coarsely milled ones is that you can’t really outrun them, they’ll always add some grittiness.

          2. I’m wondering if perhaps humidity has an effect on your loaf. I haven’t baked in humidity before so I can’t say for sure how it would impact it, but it might be worth (once your starter revs up) proofing your loaves in the fridge? It takes a lot longer (24-48 hours) but it might prevent any issues arising from humid climates. Just a thought!

          3. If your psyllium husk is course and looks like little flakes, you’ve got the right one!

  17. Hi there! I’m allergic to wheat, rice, almond, corn, pea, and so many other things, so I’m restricted in the flours I can use. Do you think using Bob’s All purpose baling flour would work? It’s made of garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, whole grain sorghum flour, and fava bean flour.

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