Hello and welcome to everything I have ever known about making a gluten free sourdough starter from scratch. Although there is a starter recipe (and lots of sweet and savoury recipes) in my cookbook, I wanted to create this guide to answer every and any question without any space constraints. I hope that you will find this gluten free sourdough starter recipe helpful. If you have any burning questions, please ask me! I love chatting all things gluten free sourdough.
How to make 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 grows in size. It forms large bubbles which are capable of raising a loaf of bread. A sourdough starter is essentially a living version of packet yeast. It is, however, 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 leave deposits on the carpet or make any noise.
What is gluten free sourdough starter?
Gluten free sourdough starter is wild yeast made from fermenting gluten free flour with water. Over the course of 7-10 days of feeding and discarding, the mixture gains enough strength to work in the same manner as commercial yeast. When added to sourdough bread recipes, it will enable to loaf to rise, creating an airy crumb.
Is it easy to make a gluten free sourdough starter?
Making a gluten free sourdough starter is an easy process. It involves a bit of attention to detail in the beginning, but once a starter is established it can be quite resilient.
The hardest part of making a gluten free sourdough starter is knowing when to be patient and when to give up in the formative stages. Some starters never take off (it has happened to me) and some do. I would say this is the only difficult part. Aside from, of course, remembering to feed it.
What is hydration?
You will often see sourdough starter recipes (and bread recipes) mention hydration. 100% hydration means that you have added equal parts flour and water. 125% hydration, as an example, would mean you have added 100g flour and 125g water.
Gluten free sourdough starter recipes often need more hydration than regular ones. This is because gluten free flours generally absorb more water than wheat flour.
What is 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 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 and stronger. It is 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.
How to use your gluten free sourdough discard
‘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 or brownies 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 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.
How long does it take for a gluten free sourdough to be ready for baking?
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 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. This will be a speedier process in summer and a slower one in winter. When you stir it, it should feel thick with air and bubbles. 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.
How to maintain your gluten free sourdough starter
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!)
Things to consider when making a gluten free sourdough starter
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 little 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. This 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 culture in your starter thrives and grows faster 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 6 or 7 anyway, just to make sure you have a strong starter. You also need to have enough starter for bread.
In winter, this process can take a lot longer. It might take 10-12 days. You can lend a helping hand by giving your starter some warmth and a bit of honey or maple syrup. The warmth will help speed up the fermentation process. The sweetener will give the cultures something to feed on and do the same.
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.
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 slow to ferment.
In another 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. Sorghum flour 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.
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. 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 measuring jug which I keep in a ziploc bag. Clear vessels are great because I can see the bubbles easily, and know my starter is in good shape. I like using a ziploc bag because it gives my starter space to breathe without anything getting into it.
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.
Gluten free sourdough starter questions and answers
Which gluten free flours can I use to create a sourdough starter?
I have used white rice flour, brown rice flour and quinoa flour.
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. 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.
The one flour I do not recommend is buckwheat flour. It feeds a starter incredibly well and looks the most like a wheat starter, but it has major drawbacks. For whatever reason, buckwheat starters seem to go mouldy at a much quicker rate than regular gluten free ones. I had a lot of close calls using buckwheat so I do not recommend it.
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 at 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.
Can I mix up the flours that I feed my 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.
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.
Another caveat: starters do not like starches. Think tapioca flour, potato starch or cornflour.
Why do I need to discard starter?
Put simply, 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. Discarding starter removes some fermentation waste byproduct. It replenishes the starter with fresh food to become stronger. 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.
What can I do with all the leftover starter I have?
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 size, consider that you either need to start baking or put the starter in the fridge. Excessive size 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.
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.
Dare I say that on my recent trip to the USA, I left my starter in the fridge for 3 weeks and it survived without issue. I simply overfed it before I left and crossed my fingers. It took about a week of daily feeding to return to it’s former glory, but it worked!
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.
What are the differences between a gluten free starter and a regular 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.
Gluten free sourdough starter troubleshooting
Why isn’t my starter growing?
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. Sometimes starters really do just fail to take off. It has happened to me more than once.
Why does my starter smell like eggs? Why does my starter smell like 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 the 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.
What do I do if 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 cause for concern and 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.
Why is the liquid on top of my starter brown/grey/murky?
According to 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.
Why does my starter smell 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.
Why is there a skin on 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.
These days, I use a large measuring jug or a ceramic vessel with a jumbo ziplock bag that I reuse. This seems to be a good balance between giving the starter air but not allowing it to form a skin or let any nasties in.
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 5-7. 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 on hydration
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.
Maintaining your starter
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 once 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.
Gluten free sourdough resources
To be honest, the best learning is by doing. However, here are some handy resources for making your own starter.
- A good video on the general gist of making a starter. There’s no mentions of discard but if you’re a visual learner, this might help.
- I have a gluten free sourdough recipe here, and a white bread gluten free sourdough recipe here.
- There is a sourdough website which is basically a chat forum of all things sourdough. If you have ever googled something sourdough related, chances are you ended up there.
- Not gluten free, but The Perfect Loaf has a great sourdough guide, and is an insane sourdough baker and specialist. I am a crazed Instagram fan.
Final tips for your gluten free sourdough starter
- 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. 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.
- I have written a detailed account of what to expect below the recipe card.
My gluten free sourdough recipes
- I have two whole chapters dedicated to both sweet and savoury sourdough recipes in my cookbook, Intolerance Friendly Kitchen.
- My white bread sourdough recipe
- A toasted quinoa sourdough recipe (a rice flour free recipe)
- Seeded sourdough
- Gluten free sourdough pizza bases
- Sourdough starter crackers (a great use for discard)
- Sourdough banana bread
- Hot cross buns
- Brownie cookies
Gluten free sourdough starter
- Large glass jar or bowl
- Something to cover the starter with (I use a Jumbo zip lock bag)
- A wooden spoon, or anything that isn't steel
- Kitchen scales, for weighing out the feeds
- 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)
- Combine your water and flour in a sterile glass jar or clean glass bowl that can be fully covered. The mixture should be the consistency of a thick paste – if it is drier than this, add a little extra water to achieve this consistency. Cover your starter to prevent anything getting in.
- Around 12 hours later, feed your starter again using the same measurements of flours and water . I do this in the morning and evening, but you can work to whatever schedule suits you.
- Repeat this process of feeding twice a day for around 2-3 days or until the starter begins to form bubbles and smell fermented. This will take longer in winter and less time in summer, as heat aids in fermentation.
- When the starter has begun to ferment, it's time to start discarding. This helps the starter healthy and prevents it from becoming too large.
- Just before you feed your starter after a 12 hour window, stir it up and discard around half of the starter from the jar. Immediately feed the starter with the standard measurements of flour and water to replenish it.
- Continue feeding twice a day and discarding once a day for around 7-10 days, or until it is bubbly, active and has a pleasant yeasty smell. See more tips in the body of the post as to when your starter is ready.
- 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.
- Gluten free flours vary enormously in their absorbency. If your starter is super dry, add more water to suit.
- Only discard starter BEFORE feeding it. If you discard starter immediately after feeding, you are just throwing away fresh flour. Discarding removes waste products of fermentation from the starter.
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? 🙂
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?
Hi Neroli! I’m working on the recipe for that sourdough for my next cookbook so you will be able to get it soon 🙂
Very informative! Question about feeding ratios: For wheat starters it is common to feed 1:2:2 as this makes them more active; am wondering if the same applies to gluten free starters? Would feeding 1:2:2 help at all, or is 1:1:1 sufficient for gluten free? I haven’t found any info on this anywhere; all the posts I’ve read simply say to maintain it using 1:1:1 ratio… is there any point to feeding it 1:2:2?
Hey Georgia, have you tried making sourdough hot cross buns? Any tips / would you share a recipe? 🙂
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!
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!
I’m two HCB tests deep already, watch this space!
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?
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 🙂
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?
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 🙂
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!
Thanks Lisa! Good luck with the quinoa flour. It tastes AMAZING toasted in a sourdough loaf!
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.
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 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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!
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 🙂
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?
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!
Hi Georgia! Do you happen to have a good GF pizza crust recipe using the sourdough starter?
Hi Kelly, not yet! I’m working on one 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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. 😀
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!
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
Wow, just what I was looking for. Many thanks for putting this blog together.
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?
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!
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?
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?
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?
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
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?
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?
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!!
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! 🙂
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!
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!
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.
Wonderful recipe! Your post covered all things I concern. Thank you. So informative!
Do you discard on day 1 or day 2?
Thanks for getting back to me. Will try the suggestions, and get back to you
Hey! I have celiac disease and love your flourless brownie cookie recipe so I was so excited to try this out! It bubbled perfectly on the second day but has had no activity since yesterday. I have no idea what I am doing wrong, when should I know to start again or if I can revive it?
Hi Evie, 2-3 days is definitely not enough time for a starter to mature. Depending on the temperature in your region/kitchen they can take up to 2 weeks just to get going.
That said, starters can be luck of the draw, sometimes they fail for no apparent reason. I’ve had a couple fail on me before. I’d give it at least 8 or 9 days before you give up on it. In that time, look for bubbles and a sour or rotten egg smell. Both are signs that it has life. But definitely don’t panic so early on, trust the process 🙂
This bread has been life changing for me. I cannot thank you enough! Crust! What heaven. I’ve made two delicious loaves, but for the past few days my starter has begun smelling like nail polish. I followed your suggestion to feed it more, to no avail. How many days does it usually take to shift it back to “normal”? Can I cook with it when it smells like this? Grateful to you!
Hi Marlo, I’m so glad you enjoy it! Always lovely to hear.
Have you been discarding starter? If you can’t get rid of the vinegar smell despite feeding, you might have too much starter to feed. I would suggest discarding a hefty amount and then giving a generous feed to the remaining portion, even if it means adding more flour and water than there is starter.
Technically speaking you can bake with a vinegary starter, but it won’t be at peak strength and it might add too much additional sourness to the loaf.
I find that with a really good feed you can get it back on track in a day or two (although this does depend on the climate and the condition of your starter to begin with.)
Let me know how you get on with it!
Thanks so much for your speedy, thorough reply! Maybe I wasn’t discarding enough starter – will try that. Fingers crossed. Again, thank you. I’ve been GF for three years and this pleasure of eating a GF crusty crust has been a sublime joy, particularly during these trying covid times. I’ll take all the small delights I can! Thank you!!!!
Huge success! Thanks so much for this detailed recipe, I’ve tried a few GF starters and have not had any success. Your recipe has been amazing and my starter (Doris!) is thriving! Some days she’s almost busting out of her huge jar. Thank you 🙂
Hi there, my question is how large container do I need to grow my wild starter in? I’m thinking it must be really large. Also what container would you recommend. I have your cook books but don’t see size listed. Thanks
Hi there, my question is how large container do I need to grow my wild starter in? I’m thinking it must be really large. Also what container would you recommend. I have your cook books but don’t see size listed. Thanks
Hi Chelsea! I use a 500ml measuring jug just because it’s easy.
I have also used large glass jars in the past, but ideally one where you can leave the lid slightly ajar to allow the gases from fermentation to escape 🙂
Realistically any decent sized glass vessel is fine. Once you’ve got it started they are quite resilient so you can move it to a larger container if need be.
I was excited to make this – it did seem awfully dry as others have noticed. Now I have a huge quantity of GF sourdough starter. Do you have any recipes using this starter to suggest?
Hi Kelly! A bit of troubleshooting. In the recipe card (step 1) I mention that if the starter isn’t the consistency of a thick paste, you should add water until you reach that consistency. Have you done that? Gluten free flours (down to individual packets) vary in their absorptive qualities so I find it best to add water by sight rather than by the letter.
Also, have you been discarding starter? I’m not sure what a huge quantity means but if you have a huge amount then you might need to discard a little extra. How long have you had your starter? Is it ready to start baking with? (A weather side note: starters are more active and grow a lot faster in hot kitchens and climates so if you’re Australian, the quantity might also be related to the weather).
In terms of recipes, I have a discard cracker recipe on my site and am about to publish some starter pancakes. A lot of people make English muffins – I don’t have a recipe yet but there are plenty online 🙂
This is a great recipe! I didn’t know you could make gluten free sourdough! Thanks to your sharing , iI believe I can do it. Hoping it keeps working out for us.
The recipe worked great, thank you for the instructions.
I made this last week and it was delicious! So easy but full of flavor.
Can you use only 100% white rice flour in making sour dough bread?
Hello! I’ve tried this and it resulted in a really pudding like weird loaf so I don’t recommend it. Some people have success using just white rice flour and brown rice flour but I haven’t attempted that yet
Hi Georgia, thank you for this wonderful starter guide!! I am on day 10 of my starter now. I am still feeding twice a day but after reading your post again, I realize I should go down to once a day. My question is – my starter rises to double in size within a couple hours of feeding it, and then it falls almost completely to its original height (pre-feeding). Is this okay? When is the optimal time for me to use the starter for baking? Should I remove starter when it is at its optimal height? It is very bubbly when I mix it and I think it smells okay (though I don’t have much experience with sourdough to reference the smell).
Hi Helena! Sorry for my delayed reply, I just found your message. That sounds like an active starter to me – it should be ready to bake with if you haven’t already. I generally use my starter at peak height, but you can also use it just as it’s starting to fall as well. If it doesn’t smell actively unpleasant (more mildly yeasty and sour) then you’re onto a good thing. Happy baking!
Georgia, this is the most thorough and fun blog post I’ve seen. You are truly and authority! Thank you for sharing so much info. My questions are all answered and I’m going into the kitchen to begin my starter. I will be looking at more of your recipes tonight. Love and blessings to you 🙂
Thank you so much for such a detailed recipe and tips! I’m on day 3 of my starter – I have quite a large jar but it is full by day 3. There are definitely bubbles inside, that I can see through the glass jar, but not very many on top, so definitely not ready to use yet! Should I start with the discard now even though it’s not quite ready, or am I better to transfer the starter to a bigger jar and keep feeding it without discard until I have more bubbles on the surface??
Thanks so much!
Hi Jess! Is the jar full because the starter is growing after feeds? If so, I would say you are ready to discard. By the sounds of the bubble action going on, it sounds as though you are ready regardless. The top will never be full of bubbles like the side of the jar, but it might look like a pancake batter. If you’re concerned though, you don’t strictly need to discard half – you could start with a few tablespoons.
Let me know how you go!
I’ve heard you can use kombucha to start your starter. Have you tried it and how does it compare scientifically?
I have never tried this method so I have no idea how it compares, sorry Lana. I’d say you would have to make your own kombucha so it doesn’t contain any flavourings or artificial sugars so that might be a bit of a project in and of itself. If you do try it let me know how it works out!
Hi Georgia, I’m sorry if I missed this question above… I have an existing starter that’s about a month old (just found your site) that uses Bob’s GF 1:1 flour mix and rice flour. Can I start feeding that with your recipe blend instead, or should I follow a more gradual conversion? Thank you!
Hi Brad! I have never had any issues with changing the flour I feed my starter with. If I ever run out of rice flour (which is what I use on an ongoing basis) I feed it with whatever I have on hand with no ill effects. Mine is about 5 years old now so it’s fairly resilient but I’d say a quick switch would be fine.
I’m not sure what Bobs has in it or how it’s working for your starter but I generally try to avoid anything with xanthan gum or starches in it for starter making. I don’t know what xanthan gum would do (aside from make it gluey?) but starches often send starters into overdrive. That said if your starter is healthy then I guess that’s what matters!
Thank you for this detailed post! I’m going shopping today and will buy some quinoa to mill into flour. Like you, I like the idea of the added nutrients to my starter and bread. In your discussion of transitioning to feeding with rice flour, you said eventually the new flour overtakes the previous. Does this mean the nutrients from the qunioa and sorgham are lost?
Thanks again, I’m excited to get started!
Hi Nicole! I can’t say for sure if the nutritional component of the starter is diminished by switching flours. I know that sourdough starter itself has lots of nutritional benefits either way, which you can amplify by adding a variety of more complex gluten free flours (wholegrains as opposed to starches) into your loaf. But as for the precise nutrients in a starter, I’m afraid I don’t know for sure!
I am in Australia & struggling to find either quinoa or quinoa flour, and when I do find it, it is ridiculously expensive, so I’m wondering could I substitute brown rice flour?
Where in Aus are you based? I’m in Melbourne and quinoa is everywhere! You can grind the whole grains in a Nutribullet if you ever find some on special.
You can use brown rice flour, but I find an all rice flour can be quite silty textured and trickier to start. This is particularly noticeable in winter, when starters take longer to kick off as it is.
If you have access to sorghum flour or millet flour, these should be OK as they have a decent protein content too 🙂