Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter: a four-day culture shock

One of the most frequent subjects in question on our baker’s hotline is sourdough starter. How do I start my own? How often do I need to feed it? How can I travel and still maintain it? What if it dies on me? What other ways are there to use my starter and the discard?

The great news is that other than using different flours, starter care is the same for both gluten-free and wheat-based starters!

With gluten-free baking on the continual rise, we’re always looking to improve your baking experience. I’ve found that using a gluten-free sourdough starter can lend flavor to many different gluten-free recipes. It’s not just for yeast breads anymore!

Here’s a long-awaited story of creation: my quest to build a gluten-free sourdough starter.

It began in my kitchen at home after I had developed a gluten-free English muffin recipe and was intrigued by the thought of using sourdough starter.

This is my sourdough starter after weeks of sitting in the refrigerator, feeling neglected. As you can see, it has one lonely bubble and a lot of hooch or alcohol on top. It’s like wet clay at the beach. I’ll have it active again in no time!

The truth is, sourdough starters are hard to kill. Lack of maintenance can lead to a reduction of lactic acid and wild yeast – the two main components of a starter that, when drastically reduced, cause the potency of the culture as a yeast and its sour quality to be compromised. However, after waking it up with a few feeding cycles, you should see a happy starter that’s ready for work!

I always stir the hooch into the starter rather than pouring it off (which is also an option). Our dough whisk is invaluable for this task, among many others.

I discard about a cup (about 1/2 the volume), then feed with 1 cup King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour, and 1/2 cup cool water.

Within a few hours, it should look something like this.

When I began my gluten-free starter project, my expectations were low, to say the least. I had visions of  a somewhat runny, barely-daring-to become-sour papier-mâché-like substance wearing maybe a bubble or two on the surface.

After countless calls on our baker’s hotline, both requesting and sharing personal experiences of failed gluten-free pre-ferments, I knew it was time to get to work on this one.

My first starter took off like a horse in the starting gate. Within just an hour of mixing, it was already fattening and bubbly.

The first thing I took note of was that although it lacked the elasticity of wheat-based starter, it was quite similar in appearance. I figured this was a pretty good start already, and let it sleep on the counter.

Like a kid at Christmas the next morning, I went to look under the lid of the jar. The mass had risen almost to the top and was covered in ripe, sour bubbles that were popping and hissing to greet me.

This is the dry starter that I used to begin my culture. Follow along as I create a gluten-free sourdough starter.

Whisk 1/4 teaspoon French sourdough starter into…

1 cup Ancient Grains Flour Blend.

Stir in 1/2 cup cool water.

Ancient Grains Flour Blend, a whole-grain, gluten-free mixture of amaranth, millet, quinoa, and sorghum, will increase enzymatic action during fermentation, much like whole wheat flour would. It’s a great choice to feed to your starter with occasionally, to maintain a good pH balance.

Blend this mixture together evenly, and allow it to sit at room temperature overnight.

You should begin to see results within hours.

The following day, you can discard half the starter and feed it again with the same amounts of Ancient Grains Flour Blend and water. Repeat this process for one more day; then, on the fourth day, switch to feeding with gluten-free multi-purpose flour, which I recommend you use as a regular meal for the starter.

When the starter becomes active following this feeding, you’ll finally be able to use it in your first recipe.

I substituted 1/2 cup starter for 1/2 cup of the flour and 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of the liquid in our gluten-free blueberry muffin recipe. The resulting muffins were tangy, tender, and high-rising. I would suggest this substitution amount for any quick bread recipe- waffles, pancakes, muffins, banana bread, etc.

For yeast breads and cakes, I suggest using 1 cup starter in place of 1/2 cup of water/liquid and 1 cup of flour.

GF-Choc-Waffle_900w

For unbelievable sourdough pancakes or waffles, try this substitution in our well-loved gluten-free recipe. You may never make them without it again! Sure, go ahead and make the chocolate version!

ChocolateStoutCakeC1W

Looking to put a tangy twist into that gluten-free chocolate cake? I dare you!

Store your starter in a stoneware crock such as the one pictured, or in a glass jar with a loose-fitting lid to allow for air flow; starter is best stored in the refrigerator.

I’ve found this culture to be as forgiving as a wheat-based starter, and the same rules apply for care and maintenance. If it gets left behind for a week or two, it will still love you when you return; though for an extended vacation, you may consider hiring a sourdough sitter.

It would make me happy to have a blog-fan suggested name for my starter, since it will be used in future blog recipes. So if you could post your suggestions along with questions and comments, I would be so grateful. I’m working on developing some more recipes to use with your starter, but that’s another blog.

Please read, rate and review this recipe for Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter.

Print just the recipe.

Amy Trage
About

Amy Trage is a native of Vermont where she spent much of her childhood skiing and training for the equestrian event circuit. With a strong desire to pursue food writing, Amy took her English degree from Saint Anselm College to the New England Culinary Institute ...

comments

  1. Roberta (Bobbie) Jones

    I think I asked this question before, but I can’t remember the answer and can’t find the response.

    Why do you keep feeding and throwing away the starter mix? It seems counter intuitive, considering the process for wheat sourdough starter. Being gluten free is expensive enough and throwing away a rather pricey starter mix seems wasteful.

    Also, I see that there is a post about the Ancient Grains flour mix not being GF. I bought a bag in Dec and it is GF, according to the ingredients on the bag. Should I be worried that the labeling is incorrect?

    TIA

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Bobbie, thanks for reaching out with your questions! If you don’t bake on a daily basis, starter needs to be discarded so that your starter doesn’t grow and grow each time it’s fed until it no longer fits into your container. That being said, you shouldn’t toss away your discards! We have dozens of recipes that call for sourdough discard on our site, from pretzels to crackers to waffles and more. Many of these can easily be made gluten-free as well!

      Regarding our Gluten Free Ancient Grains Flour Blend, this is an older product that some folks have confused with our Super 10 Flour Blend, which is not gluten-free. We are no longer selling the GF Ancient Grains mix, which has been the source of some confusion. Our gluten-free sourdough starter recipe is currently being updated to reflect ingredients that are currently available. We hope this helps clarify things! Kat@KAF

  2. Alyse

    My gluten free starter grows in size, but it never quite doubles. It also has a lot of activity and bubbles, but it never gets through to the surface, it is almost like the surface is too thick for the bubbles to reach it. I have this activity daily, and I am starter to wonder if this is the normal activity for my starter? It is cold in my house, so could this just be the “norm” for my starter? How do I know if it is ready to bake with?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Alyse! It sounds like you’ve got a pretty healthy gluten-free starter. The bubbles won’t be quite able to appear on the surface as the starter is a thick consistency, but as long as you are seeing growth (even if it isn’t quite double) and bubbles throughout your starter should be ready to bake with. You’ve got consistent activity so we’d say go right ahead and bake some gluten-free sourdough goodness! Happy GF baking! Morgan@KAF

  3. Judy Cisney

    I was so excited to learn of your gluten free starter. We have a Celiac in our family, and consuming gluten is like taking poison. In investigating your “Ancient Grains Flour Blend,” however, I must point out that it is absolutely NOT gluten free. It contains some gluten free flours, but unfortunately, spelt, rye and barley are all gluten grains. I would be putting my family member in danger using this starter. It is NOT gluten free. I believe you meant no harm but check it out for yourself. Another Celiac could take you at your word and get sick.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Judy, thanks for bringing this to our attention! The flour mentioned in this post was our Gluten-Free Ancient Grains Flour Blend, which was indeed gluten-free. We no longer sell this mix, however. You may have been looking at our Super 10 Flour Blend, which is not gluten-free and makes no claim to be. We’ll bring this up with our team to see if we can’t update this with more clear information so that there’s no confusion in the matter. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    2. K Faz

      If you do not sell the Ancient Grains Flour Blend any more, what should be used in the sourdough starter?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      You can substitute either more Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour or our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour for the Ancient Grains mix. We’ve heard of some folks having luck with sorghum flour as well, but we haven’t tried it in our test kitchen yet, so we can’t vouch for the effectiveness. It might be worth an experiment, though! Kat@KAF

  4. Chelsea Newcomer

    I’m on day 5 of my starter and just used some for a GF bread recipe that is waiting to rise.. TBD on how that turns out. Much like all the other reviewers, my starter looks very dry compared to the photos. In fact, in order to mimic the consistency of your photos, I fed mine this morning with 1/2 C cool water and 2 tablespoons of flour. That’s a massively different ratio.. 1) Will this kill it by reducing the amount of flour? 2) I live at altitude (5500′) and I’m wondering if going forward I need to feed with a ratio more like 1:1 with 1/2 C water and 1/2 C flour. Following the directions above (even with fluffing the flour) yielded a very think dough and I could see bubbles inside the starter, but it was too thick for it to bubble on the surface.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Chelsea! It is typically a pretty thick and stiff starter, so it doesn’t sound like yours was too far off. Feeding the starter with a lesser amount of flour won’t kill it but it can throw off the hydration level. For best results, we recommend using a scale for the next few feedings to get your starter back on track. You may need to adjust the amount of flour you use for feeding the starter to accommodate the higher altitude though, so maybe start out by using a 1/2 cup of flour and a 1/2 cup of water as you suggested and adjust from there. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  5. Grace Potts

    I’m wondering, If I’m using this each morning- may I just leave it on the counter? Using the ‘discard’ for my baking, feeding and then leaving on the counter for 24 hours or less?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You bet, Grace! That’s how we do it in our bakery. You’ll want to feed it twice a day ideally to keep it as healthy as possible. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  6. Linda S

    Just started the GF sourdough starter and it seems pretty dry and crumbly. After 6 hours, no activity…

    I’m using Florapan and Ancient Grains flour. Am I just too impatient?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The starter will take a while to get into good shape, Linda, but it also sounds like there might be a bit too much flour in there. If you aren’t measuring your ingredients by weight, we recommend fluffing the flour with a whisk or spoon, sprinkling it into the measuring cup, and scraping off the excess for the best accuracy. It likely won’t show much activity until the second or third day, but every starter is different so that could vary. Keep going! You can always call our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-BAKE (2253) if you have any questions. Annabelle@KAF

  7. Melissa Prohaska

    Great article & recipe for someone that has felt deprived of delicious bread for years due to gluten sensitivity! I’m just starting to toy with the idea of making my own bread with sour dough after reading about your success. I’m also wondering where I can get one of the whisk’s that is pictured in this article.
    Thank you

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad to hear you’re eager to get back into baking, Melissa. That’s a dough whisk you’re seeing featured in this post, and you can find them on our website here. Happy GF baking! Kye@KAF

  8. Dannyelle

    I am on Day 4 and about to make my first recipe, my question is: after I take out the discard, do I feed it before putting in the fridge? Or feed it in a week, letting it rest at room temperature for the night before using the discard and then back into the fridge?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Dannyelle. You’ll want to feed your starter, let it sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours, then return it to the fridge. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

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