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! 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, and this is what gives sourdough bread its rise.

Making a traditional sourdough starter can be intimidating—let alone making a gluten-free starter. But the principles behind making a 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 GF sourdough item your heart desires.

Image of gluten free sourdough starter ready to use in a glass jar, sitting on a kitchen scale.
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Ingredients

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 starter ingredients with labels.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Gluten-free flour: there are several options that work here. See below for more information on flours.
  • Water: filtered is best if you live in an urban area.

Starter Terminology

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 lift and rise.

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.

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 converted into gas.

Unfed: 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 double the size it was prior to being fed. It will usually be "active" about 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 that 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.

Flour Options

To make your own 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 its 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 inexpensive and a great flour to mix with a more flavourful flour.

White Rice: 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 doesn'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 Millet Bread, both for my starter and final loaf.

Sorghum: sorghum has a mild and sweet flavour which makes it a great all around flour to use in this recipe.

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.

Tools

  • Digital scale: for weighing both dry and wet ingredients. This is not optional for gluten-free baking, especially sourdough.
  • Spoon: use a wooden, or at least non-metal, spoon for mixing. Metal can sometimes interact with the starter.
  • Container: glass, or non-metal, jar or container for mixing. Glass is great because it doesn't absorb smells but you can easily see how the starter is doing.

How to Make a Starter

Homemade sourdough starter steps 1 to 4.

Day One: 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 Two: feed your starter another 50g each water and flour. Cover and place back on the counter.

Day Three 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.

Maintaining: after your starter is very bubbly and has a slight sour smell, discard half 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.

Sourdough 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 unfed 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.

To dry your starter, simply spread active starter in a very thin layer on parchment paper. Let it dry completely in a cool, dry, and dark place. It should be entirely dry and brittle, no sticky patches remaining, when it's ready. Take it off the paper and transfer to a jar or plastic bag and keep it in a dark place.

To reactivate dried starter, mix with enough water to get that pancake batter consistency again, and then feed it as usual for a few days, until it's active and bubbly again.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need to weigh flour for starter?

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, scent. 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) pour it off before feeding or 2) stir it in and feed your starter.

Can I mix up the flours I use to feed my starter?

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 make gluten-free starter with regular starter?

If you're not gluten-free, you can take an existing wheat starter and slowly begin to feed 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 Coeliac as the starter will contain cross contamination, but fine for 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, as long as it isn't mouldy. 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 if not. Continue to feed it 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 if my starter is mouldy?

Depending on who 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 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.

More Gluten-Free Recipes

If you make this Gluten-Free Starter or any other bread recipes on Wholehearted Eats, please take a moment to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It’s such a help to others who want to try the recipe. For more WHE, follow along on Instagram or subscribe for new posts via email.

Recipe

Image of gluten free sourdough starter ready to use in a glass jar.
Print Recipe
5 from 5 votes

Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

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!
Prep Time5 minutes
Fermenting Time4 days
Total Time4 days 5 minutes
Servings: 1

Equipment

  • Digital kitchen scale
  • Glass jar
  • Beeswax wrap or some kind of breathable lid

Ingredients

  • 50 grams gluten free flour of choice see above, plus more to feed
  • 50 grams filtered water plus more to feed

Instructions

Day 1

  • 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.
    50 grams gluten free flour of choice, 50 grams filtered water

Day 2

  • 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 amount of bubbles. This will happen anywhere around 3 to 5 days in.
  • After your starter is very bubbly 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.

Notes

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 that what is called for.
When can I tell if my starter is ready?
You know your starter is ready when their are some bubbled and a pungent but pleasant odour. Sometimes your starter will take longer to be ready. Time will vary depending on 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 mean that your starter is hungry, so give it a feed!
Why is their 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) pour it off before feeding or 2) stir it in and feed your starter.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Sophie thanks for indepth sourdough starter post but I have one doubt regarding feeding the starter once we start maintaining it in fridge. Do I have to discard the half before I feed the starter everyweek?

    1. Hey Rashmi, you only have to discard if you have lots. You can instead use the extra starter to make levain for a loaf, or a discard recipe such as crackers, pancakes, or cookies.

  2. Thank you so much for such a helpful and informative post!
    Just a question. If I'm not currently using the starter and hence storing it in the fridge, when I feed it every few weeks to maintain it, do I feed it then put it straight back in the fridge, or do I need to let it sit out for a few hours after feeding before returning it to the fridge to store?
    Thanks!

    1. Hey Kirilly, after feeding it, keep the starter out on the counter so that it can eat up the sugar in the flour. I like to feed before I go to bed and them pop it into the fridge the next morning 🙂

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