Which sourdough starter is best?
When you’ve mastered the art of the simple loaf or the complicated challah braid, it’s time to move on to the pinnacle of bread baking: sourdough. If you don’t have the patience to wait for your own sourdough starter to grow, it’s easy to get going with a pre-made starter.
If you want to get started baking faster, the Breadtopia Live Sourdough Starter is a good choice. It comes in a moist ball that’s ready in just a few days.
What to know before you buy a sourdough starter
Dehydrated vs. fresh
- Dehydrated: The majority of pre-made sourdough starters found online are dehydrated. This is a convenient way to ship a live organism, but they can take longer to develop into a usable starter. Some people also struggle to wake them up.
- Fresh: Fresh pre-made sourdough starters are available at your local bakery, but it is also possible to find them online. These have to be fed immediately, which may not work for bakers who need to take a minute to consider their next move.
Quantity of bread
Sourdough starters are a commitment. They need to be fed regularly, and there is quite a bit of discard to deal with. Unless you are planning on baking fresh bread every day, plan to use the discarded starter in other baked goods, such as:
What to look for in a quality sourdough starter
No genetically modified organisms (GMO)
Wild yeast thrives in sourdough starter created with non-GMO ingredients. Organic flours of all types are non-GMO, but other traditional flours may be as well.
Lab-tested pre-made sourdough starters have verified levels of bacteria. Lab tests are also used to make sure that a sourdough starter is free from harmful bacteria that might ruin your bread or make you sick.
Preservatives in a sourdough starter are not only pointless, but they can also be deadly to the yeast. The ingredients list should include flour, water and yeast. Some starters add a nominal amount of sugar for the yeast to consume, but this is not usual.
How much you can expect to spend on a sourdough starter
Properly fed and cared for, a sourdough starter is a minimal investment in a lifetime of delicious, homemade bread. Expect to spend $10-$12.
How to make your own sourdough starter
- Assemble your tools: Unbleached flour, water and a one-quart or larger glass jar.
- Day one: Add 1 cup of flour to half-cup of water and stir. Make sure the flour is completely mixed. Cover it loosely with a dishcloth or plastic wrap and let sit in a warm room (70 degrees or so)
- Day two: Discard half of the flour and water, then add another cup of flour and half cup of water. If your house is cold, use lukewarm water. Again, mix well and let sit for 24 hours.
- Day three: By the third day, you should see some activity. The flour may be bubbly, and it might smell fresh or fruity. On this day, start feeding twice a day, removing half of the starter and adding a cup of flour and a half cup of water at each feeding. You can also use the “discard” in other baking.
- Day four-seven: Keep discarding and feeding two times a day until the starter is vigorous and bubbly. You can slow its growth down by storing it in the fridge, or speed it up by placing it on the kitchen counter.
- To use: When you are ready to bake, discard and feed as usual, then wait six to eight hours with the starter in a warm place. Look for active bubbles that break the surface to ensure a lively starter.
Sourdough starter FAQ
Is it better to make your own sourdough starter?
A. Some home bakers prefer to make their own sourdough starter. This lets them control the ingredients that go into the starter as well as its development and feeding schedule.
However, making a sourdough starter is a commitment of time and attention. If you don’t have either, purchasing one is a great way to go. You still need to follow directions for feeding and care of the starter, but it skips the significant first step of the initial fermentation.
Is it possible to make a gluten-free sourdough starter?
A. Yes. Yeast doesn’t care whether the flour you use in your starter has gluten or not. The temperature and sugars present in various types of gluten-free flour work in the same way that traditional flours do.
It’s best to use a single gluten-free flour such as:
- Sweet white sorghum
- Brown rice flour
Some gluten-free flour blends have gums and other additives that might deter or even kill the yeast.
What’s the best sourdough starter to buy?
Top sourdough starter
What you need to know: This is the best choice for bakers who don’t want to wait to wake up a dried starter.
What you’ll love: This includes a ball of moist starter that is made with non-GMO, organic ingredients. It’s made with natural wild yeast, lactobacillus bacteria, and organic wheat flour.
What you should consider: This starter needs immediate care upon arrival, but that means it’s ready to go much more quickly than other starters.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top sourdough starter for the money
What you need to know: It’s a San Francisco-style starter that results in a tangy flavor and stretchy crumb.
What you’ll love: This dried starter can be activated when you receive it, or you can take some time to plan your baking before you feed it. Keep it on the counter if you bake frequently, or store in the fridge to slow growth. Head to their website for easy instructions and recipe inspiration.
What you should consider: Some bakers wanted more clear directions on how to know when the starter was ready to bake with.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This uses heirloom flour that has naturally occurring prebiotics.
What you’ll love: Starter is dehydrated upon delivery. Activate by feeding with gluten-free flour and water once or twice a day. It’s ready to go in about a week. It’s lab-tested to verify that it’s pathogen-free.
What you should consider: Some bakers had a hard time keeping this starter alive.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Suzannah Kolbeck writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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