Making gluten free sourdough starter is an easy process that just takes 2 ingredients. You can use it for all of your gluten free breads, buns, and pizzas!
Making a traditional sourdough started can be intimidating—let alone making a gluten free sourdough starter. But the principles behind making a gluten free starter (and gluten free sourdough) are actually very simple. With just two ingredients and a little time, you'll have a the base to make any gluten free sourdough item your heart desires.
Gluten free sourdough starter is a simple process where you mix equal parts gluten free flour and water together. Over a few days the mixture will gather natural yeast from the air and become alive! This is what gives sourdough bread its rise!
You'll need 2 ingredients to make the starter—flour and water! Plus the natural yeast found in the air and a little time—and voilà, gluten free sourdough starter.
- gluten free flour of choice (see below for options)
- water (filtered is best if you live in an urban area)
Starter—A starter is a combination of flour and water that has gathered wild yeasts from the air. The natural yeast eats up the sugars in the flour and release carbon dioxide which is what gives the bread it's lift.
Hydration—Hydration refers to the ratio of flour and water in both your starter and final bread. Most starters are 100% hydration, or equal parts water and flour (by weight), but different loaves of bread will call for different ratios.
(Un)Fed—Because your starter is "alive" you will need to feed it flour and water for it to survive. A starter that has recently been fed wont be very active as the sugars in the flour haven't been eaten up and covered into gas.
Similarly, an unfed starter won't be very active as it is hungry and needs more to feed on. Most recipes will call for a starter that has recently been fed (or active), but has had enough time to ferment after feeding—usually a few hours to overnight.
Active—You'll know your starter is "active" when it is bubbly and full of air. At this point it will be doubled the size it was prior to being fed. It will usually be "active" a 4-10 hours after being fed.
Hooch—You may notice a liquid that forms on top of your starter. This liquid can vary from a clear to a greyish or pinkish colour. It is called hooch and is totally normal. It occurs when your starter is hungry. You can either stir into the starter or pour it off before feeding.
Discard—When you feed your starter often, you will have some extra starter you no longer need. This is discard and can be used to make muffins, pancakes, waffles, or a number of other recipes. You can gift it to other people so they can make their own bread or compost it in your green bin.
To make your gluten free sourdough stater, the most important thing you'll need is a good quality gluten free flour. Whole grain flours work best, but there are many of options to choose from. When choosing a flour avoid any flour mixes— they contain gums which we want to avoid as they can affect the fermentation.
Buckwheat—Buckwheat flour is super earth and nutty, and it isn't' for everyone. Because of it's strong flavour, I'd recommend mixing it with another, more neutral, flour.
Brown Rice—Brown rice flour is great because it is very neutral and easy to find. It is also inexpencive and a great flour to mix with a more flavourful flour.
White Rice Flour—White rice flour is great as it has all the benefits of brown rice flour but I do find it a little more gritty.
Millet—My favourite gluten free flour is millet. It is inexpensive and does't have too much flavour, but it might be a flour you want to avoid if you have thyroid issues. I use it here in my 6 Ingredient Millet Bread, both for my gluten free starter and final loaf.
Sorghum—Sorghum has a mild and sweet flavour which makes it a great all around flour to use in a gluten free sourdough starter.
Quinoa—Quinoa is a a great flour but it is more expensive than the others. It also has a distinct flavour which makes it a great flour to combine with a cheaper, more neutral flour like brown or white rice.
- digital scale for weighing both dry and wet ingredients
- wooden, or non-metal, spoon for mixing
- glass, or non-metal, jar or container for mixing
How to Make a Starter
Day 1—Begin by mixing 50g flour and 50g warm water in a large glass jar—I like to do this in the morning—and mix until it is a thick pancake batter consistency. Cover your jar with a breathable lid, I like like beeswax wraps, or a small plate. Place it on the counter or somewhere you'll see it daily.
Day 2—Feed your starter another 50g each water and flour. Cover and place back on the counter.
Day 3 and Onward—Continue to feed your starter 50g each flour and water until you begin to see a good around of bubbles. This will happen anywhere around 3 to 5 days in.
After your starter is very bubble and has a slight sour smell, discard ½ the mixture (see below for suggestions) feed it another 50g each flour and water and let it sit overnight. The next day you can use it or pop it in the fridge for longer storage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I weigh my flour?—when making a starter (and with most baking) you want to ensure accuracy. By weighing flour and water we know that they make up equal proportions of the starter. If we used equal volume measurements (like cups) for both ingredient, we'd end up with a ratio that wasn't 1:1. Some recipes convert grams to cups, but depending on the type of flour used and how much someone has packed it, these can vary and aren't going to yield consistent results.
What consistency should my gluten free sourdough starter be?—Gluten free sourdough starter has a different texture to classic starter and wont be as fluffy and stretchy. You want it to be like a pancake patter, so depending on the flour you use, you might have to add a touch more water than what is called for.
When can I tell if my starter is ready?—You know your starter is ready when their are some bubbles and a pungent but pleasant odour. Sometimes your starter will take longer to be ready. The amount of time it takes will vary depending on the ambient temperature and natural microbes in and around it. With regular feeding, it will happen!
Why does my starter smell like...apricots, nail polish remover, or sulphur?—Your starter will naturally have a funk (it's fermented and alive). A little sourness, slight apricot smell, or even a little "rotten egg" odour is totally normal and will not affect the taste of the final bread. The nail polish notes are still totally normal, but means that your starter is hungry, so give it a feed!
Why is there liquid on my gluten free sourdough starter?—The liquid that accumulates on a unfed starter is called hooch, and is 100% normal. Again this happens when your starter is hungry. Hooch is the alcohol given off the fermentation of wild yeast—it can vary from a clear, greyish, or even pinkish colour. You can either 1) poor it off before feeding or 2) stir it in and feed your starter.
Can I mix up the flours I feed my starer—You can totally use any a mix of gluten free flours to make and feed your starter. And, if you happen to run out of one, it's totally fine to replace it with whatever flour you have.
Can I start off with a typical starter?—If you're not gluten free, you can take an existing wheat starter and slowly begin to feel it gluten free flour. Overtime the ratio of wheat to gluten free flour will increase to the point of the starter being all gluten free flour. This is not recommended for a celiac as the starter will contain cross contamination, but good from someone who wants to eat less gluten.
How do I freshen up a unfed starter?—Don't worry if you haven't feed your starter in a while—you can most likely revive it. Begin by taking it out of the fridge and feed it 50g water and 50g flour. Let it sit overnight on the counter. The next day you should notice some action on the starter, but don't panic of you don't. Continue to feed your gluten free sourdough starter once a day for a few more days and you should see your starter come back to life.
How do I maintain my starter?—I like to store my starter in the fridge in a reused glass jam jar, but any airtight, non reactive container will work. I feed it a day or two before I plan on using it. If you keep it on the counter for daily use, you'll need to feed it daily. I have gone months without a feed and it has been fine, but you might want to set up a weekly or bi-weekly feeding schedule.
What do I do with discard?—you can do a number of things with your discard, the simplest which is to use it in "discard" recipes—that are, recipes that call for a unfeed starter. Try it in gluten free sourdough cookies, cakes, make pizza, buns, or even more bread! You can also give it to friends or neighbours—people love to give it a try. You can even dry it to preserve it and mail it to people.
What if my starter is mouldy?—Depending on you you ask, you can either scoop the top off of a mouldy starter, or scrap it. I'd play it safe and compost it if that happens (it has never happened to me yet!). Most likely it will be a blue or pink mould. If you see a weird texture, that could be kahm yeast, which is not harmful, but means you have a PH issue you need to address.
What if I want to go on vacation?—If you're going away for a few weeks, pop your gluten free sourdough starter in the fridge. Maybe feed it before you leave, but it will be fine. If you are going away for months you can look into dehydrating your stater.
How often do I feed my starter?—This depends on how often you want to make bread. You can keep it on the counter and feed it daily or store it in fridge and feed it when needed. If you aren't using it, feed it every couple of weeks at least.
Recipes Using Gluten Free Sourdough Starter
Gluten Free Sourdough Starter
- Digital kitchen scale
- Glass jar
- Bees wax wrap or some kind of breathable lid
- 50 grams gluten free flour of choice see above, plus more to feed
- 50 grams filtered water plus more to feed
- Begin by mixing 50 grams flour and 50 grams warm water in a large glass jar—I like to do this in the morning—and mix until it is a thick pancake batter consistency. Cover your jar with a breathable lid, I like like beeswax wraps, or a small plate. Place it on the counter or somewhere you'll see it daily.
- Feed your starter another 50 grams each water and flour. Cover and place back on the counter.
Day 3 and Onward
- Continue to feed your starter 50 grams each flour and water until you begin to see a good around of bubbles. This will happen anywhere around 3 to 5 days in.
- After your starter is very bubble and has a slight sour smell, discard ½ the mixture, feed the remaining half another 50 grams each flour and water and let it sit overnight. The next day you can use it or pop it in the fridge for longer storage.