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.
Gluten-free sourdough starter improves the taste and texture of gluten-free bread by:
- Breaking down whole grain flours so that they become lighter and stickier.
- Providing a nutty flavor that comes from using wholegrain flours rather than bland white flours.
- Adding a delicious sourdough flavor.
- If you are baking bread more regularly, you may want to keep your sourdough starter going. If you keep your starter out on the counter then 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. (The exact proportion of flour and water will depend on the type of flour used.)
- If you store your starter in the refrigerator then it will need feeding every 5 days.
- The sourdough starter may need more feeding in the summer when it’s warm and less feeding in the winter. Judge how much feeding is required by smelling the starter. After a few weeks, 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 every day, 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 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 the type of flour you prefer to bake with. Each flour develops its own unique sourdough starter, and it’s best to consistently feed your starter with 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 few different types of flour:
- Buckwheat and teff (affiliate link) are great at catching a 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 (affiliate link) 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 most like a wheat-based starter. Because it contains a lot of carbs, it will get really bubbly.
Fun Sourdough Facts:
Sourdough comes with a host of myths and legends, that aren’t always true. Here are a few fun (and true!) sourdough facts.
- The properties of your sourdough starter are based on the local strains of yeast and bacteria. This variability in yeast influences the flavour and leavening time, which is why every region of the world will produce a different type of sourdough bread.
- Some areas have famous strains (Montreal, San Francisco) but most regions should be able to make a decent sourdough starter.
- It only takes about 24 hours for a store-bought (or friend’s shared) starter to be taken over by local strains of yeast and bacteria. If you’re new to sourdough, it can take 2 weeks of feeding to build up a commercial sourdough starter. Because the air quality in your home matters more than the yeast in the starter, it just takes that long to build up the wild cultures in your home.
- Unfortunately, poor indoor air quality (due to pollution or mold issues) might result in a bad tasting or underactive culture. Alternatively, if you have a HEPA air filter in your home then it will difficult to maintain a sourdough culture. In either case, I recommend making a shortcut sourdough starter.
- Gluten-free sourdough culture has the tendency to get a pink hue based on the type of flour. While it’s not a good thing… it’s not bad unless it smells bad. The colour should go away as your starter becomes more 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. (Note: for some reason my buckwheat sourdough always turns a bit pink-ish, but other flours don’t.)
- A gluten-free sourdough starter isn’t as bubbly as wheat sourdough. It doesn’t have the gluten structure to hold the bubbles and grow up the side of the jar. I usually judge when it’s ready by smell (sour) and texture (some air and bubbles on top). See the picture above for a few really active gluten-free starters. They don’t look anything like a wheat starter.
Gluten Free Sourdough Starter
Learn how to make a healthy gluten free sourdough starter in your own home! It’s the secret to amazing gluten free bread, improving both the taste and the texture. Use your favourite flour: rice, oat or buckwheat.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- 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)
- Start by adding 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 together with a fork. 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 is actively bubbling. 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. See the section above for 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.
- 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 my gluten-free bread flour mix for all of your gluten-free breads, however, don’t use it for your starter. Just use wholegrain flour or white rice flour for your starter.
Keywords: starter, buckwheat, rice, sorghum, millet, quinoa, teff, oat, bread