Learn how to make a healthy gluten-free sourdough starter from scratch! Sourdough is the secret to delicious gluten-free bread and baking.
Want to know the secret to really delicious gluten-free bread? It all starts with a good gluten-free sourdough starter!
Why use a gluten-free sourdough starter?
Gluten-free bread suffers from one big issue… the lack of gluten! Gluten provides the structure that is usually replaced by starches and additives in gluten-free bread. However, starches and additives aren’t very tasty.
Here are a few ways that gluten-free sourdough starter improves the taste and texture of gluten-free:
- Breaks down wholegrain flours so that they become lighter and stickier.
- Provides a nutty flavor that comes from using wholegrain flour rather than bland white flour.
- Adds a delicious sourdough flavor.
Probably one of the most confusing parts of making a starter is how to feed it. Luckily gluten-free sourdough starter is really robust! Feel free to come up with a feeding routine that works for you.
Here are a few pieces of advice based on my many years of experience.
- If you are baking bread regularly, you will want to keep your starter on the counter. It will need daily feeding. Feed it half of its volume in water and flour. For example: if you have 1 cup of starter, then you will need to feed it approximately 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour daily.
- If you store your starter in the refrigerator, it will need feeding every 5 days.
- The sourdough starter will need more feeding in the summer when it’s warm. Judge how much feeding is required by smelling the starter. With a bit of practice, you’ll get to know the sour smell of a hungry starter.
- Sourdough starter is very forgiving. While weighing ingredients with a scale and precise measurements is popular, it’s not necessary. As long as you feed and stir your starter regularly, it will be fine.
- In the summer, I only bake bread about once a month, so I often start my starter from scratch. It only takes me a few days to catch a vigorous starter because, after years of baking sourdough bread, my house is full of the yeasts and bacteria needed for sourdough.
Types of Flour
I have been gluten-free since 2009… so I’ve had a lot of time to experiment with different types gluten-free flours. At this point, I mostly use GF oat flour, because I like the flavor and stickiness.
However, you should make your sourdough starter with whatever type of flour you prefer to bake with. Each flour has a unique sourdough culture, so it’s best to consistently feed your starter the same type of flour.
For example, switching a starter from buckwheat to rice is about as efficient as just starting a rice starter from scratch.
Here are some more details on a different types of flour:
- Buckwheat and teff are great for making sourdough starter. They both naturally contain strains of yeast, so it only takes about 1-2 days to get a good vigorous starter, even if it is your first time. This is why they are traditionally used for quick ferments like buckwheat crepes and injera.
- Brown rice, oat flour, millet, quinoa, and sorghum all take a bit longer to catch a starter. Expect to spend 5-7 days to get things going. They’ll never really bubble up the side of the jar. The starter is ready when it smells sour and there are bubbles on the top.
- White rice is the trickiest, in part because of the lack of vitamins and minerals. It will take at least a week to get bubbling. However, it also is the only starter that looks like a wheat-based starter. Because it contains a lot of carbs, it will get really bubbly.
Gluten-free sourdough starter has a bunch of unique challenges. Here’s some advice around the main issues that people seem to have when dealing with GF starter.
1. Slow to catch
There are a number of reasons why you may struggle to catch a starter.
- Air pollution (it’s harder to catch a starter in cities with poor air quality).
- Mold issues in your home (moldy walls and ceilings can contaminate your starter).
- HEPA air filters will remove the wild yeast and bacterial cultures from your indoor air, making it hard to catch a starter.
If you’ve tried catching a starter and it just isn’t work, then I recommend using teff or buckwheat flour (see notes above). Alternatively, make shortcut sourdough starter with kombucha or milk kefir.
2. Pink hue
Gluten-free sourdough culture, particularly buckwheat flour, may get a slightly pink hue. It’s not bad unless the starter smells rotten. The color will go away as the starter becomes active.
Don’t use a bad-smelling or moldy starter… if it’s gone bad, then you have to throw it away and start over.
3. Not bubbly enough
Social media is awful for creating false expectation.
Gluten-free sourdough starter isn’t as bubbly as wheat sourdough. It doesn’t have the gluten structure necessary to hold the bubbles and double in size.
–> The best way to judge when it’s ready is to smell it. It should smell slightly sour.
Here’s a video of a gluten-free oat flour starter. It is a very active and bubbly starter, but doesn’t look anything like a wheat flour starter.
Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter
Learn how to make a gluten-free sourdough starter from scratch! It’s the secret to amazing gluten-free bread, as it improves taste and the texture. Use your favorite flour: rice, oat, teff, sorghum, or buckwheat!
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- Yield: 1/4 cup 1x
- Category: Bread
- Method: Sourdough
- Diet: Gluten Free
- 1/4 cup whole-grain gluten-free flour (see the section above for details on each type of flour)
- 3 Tbsp filtered water (do not use chlorinated tap water)
- Add equal parts of water and flour into a glass container. This could be 1 Tbsp of flour and water, or 1 cup of flour and water. It really depends on how much starter you need.
- Mix the flour and water with a fork. Try to bring air into the flour to help with fermentation. Cover the container with a tea towel and leave it to ferment at room temperature (your kitchen counter is perfect).
- Stir with a fork twice a day until it has started to sour. The starter is ready when it smells slightly sour and has some bubbles. Depending on the type of flour you use it can take 2-7 days.
- There’s no need to feed the starter until it has started to bubble. Once it is bubbling, you will need to feed it half of its volume of water and flour. There are a few factors that influence how often you need to feed your starter. See the section above for detailed information on how to feed your starter for continuous baking.
- The ratio of flour and water is approximate. For example, buckwheat, oat and white rice absorb more water. Brown rice and teff absorb less water. Adjust the recipe so that you have a thick, yet still pourable consistency. It doesn’t have to be exact and you can adjust the flour/water ratio as you feed your starter. See the video above which shows the consistency you’re looking for.
- Most of my recipes start with 1-2 cups of active sourdough starter, so I recommend making a large amount of starter and keeping it going.
- I recommend using a gluten-free bread flour mix for gluten-free loaves, however, don’t use it for your starter. Just use wholegrain flour or white rice flour for your starter as the will feed the bacteria and yeast.
Keywords: starter, buckwheat, rice, sorghum, millet, quinoa, teff, oat, bread