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Gluten Free Sourdough Starter | Wild Yeast

Gluten Free Sourdough Starter | Wild Yeast

How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from scratch, step by step. Make it for love of the taste or for lack of commercial yeast. Get started today!

Simple Wild Yeast Gluten Free Sourdough Starter, active and bubbling, ready to be used in baking.

What is a wild yeast sourdough starter?

A wild yeast sourdough starter, gluten free or otherwise, is a combination of flour and non-chlorinated water that is combined to creative an environment conducive to the growth of the naturally occurring yeast that is all around us and in gluten free flours.

It’s essentially a controlled rot, like kombucha, but if you think of it like that, you may not ever want to make it so let’s move on. When yours is good and active, as described in the recipe card below, you’ll be ready to bake fresh gluten free sourdough bread with it!

Are all sourdough starters gluten free?

No! They’re not. If a sourdough starter was made with gluten-containing flours, it contains gluten and should be avoided if you are on a gluten free diet. Period.

The wild yeast does not remove the gluten from gluten-containing flours. Please consider the source if anyone tells you otherwise.

Why bake with wild yeast?

Commercial yeast, like the instant yeast granules that we use in our gluten free white sandwich bread and many other gluten free bread recipes, is a single, isolated strain of yeast.

A pure “wild yeast” starter contains no commercial yeast at all. A wild yeast sourdough starter is great when you can’t get your hands on commercial yeast because the cupboards are bare.

Once it’s “active,” a sourdough starter can be used to create sourdough breads of all kinds. I have a whole chapter of pure sourdough breads in my bread book, GFOAS Bakes Bread.

Those recipes are more complex, and use my gluten free bread flour blend which contains some harder-to-source ingredients. This recipe is for a simple, liquid wild yeast gluten free sourdough starter, and the recipes are not interchangeable.

It does take time to cultivate, though, so it’s not a quick fix. It also must be maintained by being refreshed at least once a week. Otherwise, it may become inactive or over-active and spoiled.

Gluten free wild yeast sourdough starter being fed with spring water and gluten ree flours, and then being mixed with a nonreactive spoon.

Tools and ingredients + general rules

Flours

I have always found it easiest to create a sourdough starter using a combination of sweet white sorghum flour and teff flour, and following it up with our gum-free gluten free flour blend. I have also successfully made a starter using brown rice flour, and I have read good things about using buckwheat flour.

Water

You will need to use bottled or at least distilled water. Regular tap water contains chlorine which will kill yeast. Make sure that all of your tools that were washed with tap water are dried completely.

Container and spoon

You will also need a nonreactive container and spoon. Stainless steel is nonreactive, and it’s really fine. In an abundance of caution, I tend to avoid all metal, especially before the starter is fully active. But don’t make yourself crazy.

How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from scratch, step by step. Make it for love of the taste or for lack of commercial yeast. Get started today!

Troubleshooting

My starter hasn’t become active at all

Yeast bread baking is an art as well as a science, and has a (sometimes very frustrating) learning curve. Creating a pure wild yeast sourdough starter is doubly so. The most important ingredient is patience.

If you do have a bit of commercial yeast on hand, you can add a few grams to the mixture to give your starter a boost. Over time, the commercial yeast will be replaced by wild yeast.

If you’re tempted to try to increase the ambient temperature surrounding your starter in an effort to help it grow, you can try lining a heating pad with multiple layers of towels and keeping it on low. Be careful, though, because all yeast will die at very high temperatures.

Wild yeast gluten free sourdough starter showing a rise line after the starter rose overnight.

My starter hasn’t doubled

The doubling sometimes happens so quickly and can be so fragile with this type of simple wild yeast gluten free starter that I couldn’t even manage to get a photo of it as doubled.

If you assume it must have doubled because it’s so active, try noticing whether there is any residue on the jar above the top of mixture that looks like it could have been left from a risen starter level. You can see in the photo above that there’s a “rise line” that is above a cleaner section of the jar.

It also might be worth proceeding with a small-yield recipe. It depends upon whether or not you’re willing to risk wasting some ingredients. You can also make crackers if the mixture doesn’t rise! 

I think my starter has gone bad

Remember, this is essentially a controlled rot of ingredients using available wild yeast. Don’t take chances with your health.

If you see something in your starter at any point that has a color you don’t recognize, or the odor is at all disturbing and different, please discard it and begin again.

I forgot to feed or refresh my starter

Honestly, it’s probably just fine. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you have to feed your starter every single day, or that you have to start over again if you miss a step.

If you suspect that something has gone wrong, start again if you can. You don’t want to throw good money after bad.

There’s a strange liquid on top of my starter

It’s called “hooch” and you can stir it back in, then discard and feed or just feed, depending upon which step of the process you’re completing. I prefer to drain off the liquid because it makes for a more sour starter, and my family doesn’t love that.

Where’s are the recipes for using the gluten free sourdough starter?

I’m happy to report that I’ve published the first recipe using this wild yeast sourdough starter. Here is a link to our first blog recipe for pure gluten free sourdough bread. I’ll continue to update this post with links to recipes as soon as they are ready for prime time.

Creating a wild yeast sourdough starter takes days, so I published this post right away to get you started quickly. Patience, grasshopper. 🐛 I promise more is coming!

 
How to make a gluten free sourdough starter from scratch, step by step. Make it for love of the taste or for lack of commercial yeast. Get started today!

Like this recipe?

Prep time: Yield: 1 recipe sourdough starter

Ingredients

To Create The Starter: per day, for 5 to 7 days
1 cup (about 120 grams) whole grain gluten free flour*

1 cup (8 fluid ounces) spring water or distilled water

*The best whole grain flours for a gluten free wild yeast starter are: A combination of sweet white sorghum flour & teff flour; brown rice flour; buckwheat flour.

To Refresh The Starter: per week, indefinitely, and before/after using
1/2 cup (about 70 grams) gum-free gluten free flour**

1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) spring water or distilled water

**You can continue to use the same whole grain flour to refresh and maintain the starter, but it will affect the flavor and color of the baked goods you make with it.

Directions

  • Creating the starter
    Morning of Day One: Beginning. In a nonreactive container like a glass or ceramic jar, place 1/2 cup (about 60 grams) whole grain gluten free flour(s) and 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) spring or distilled water. Using a nonreactive mixing spoon (like a wooden or silicone spoon), mix to combine well. Cover the container loosely, and allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

    Evening of Day 1: Building. Remove the cover of the container, and add another 1/2 cup (about 60 grams) whole grain gluten free flour(s) and 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) spring or distilled water. Using a nonreactive mixing spoon (like a wooden or silicone spoon), mix to combine well. Cover the container loosely, and allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

  • Morning of Day 2: Building. Remove the cover of the container, and add another 1/2 cup (about 60 grams) whole grain gluten free flour(s) and 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) spring or distilled water. Using a nonreactive mixing spoon (like a wooden or silicone spoon), mix to combine well. Cover the container loosely, and allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

    Evening of Day 2: Building. Remove the cover of the container, and add another 1/2 cup (about 60 grams) whole grain gluten free flour(s) and 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) spring or distilled water. Using a nonreactive mixing spoon (like a wooden or silicone spoon), mix to combine well. Cover the container loosely, and allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

  • Morning and Evening of Days 3 through 7 and beyond: Building and/or Discarding/Building: Remove the cover of the container, and inspect the contents by tapping the jar on the counter to see if bubbles begin to break the surface of the mixture, and smelling it to see if it has any sour odor at all. If it does bubble and have an odor, discard any relatively clear liquid that has accumulated on top (called “hooch”) + about 1/3 of the volume. Then feed it: Add another  1/2 cup (about 70 grams) gum-free gluten free flour and 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) spring or distilled water. Using a nonreactive mixing spoon (like a wooden or silicone spoon), mix to combine well. If it doesn’t bubble and have an odor, do not discard but feed with 1/2 cup whole grain flour and 1/2 cup water as directed above. Cover the container loosely, and allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

  • When is the starter ready to use? The starter is ready when you have been feeding and discarding for at least one whole day, and it has ever doubled in size. The doubling is easily disturbed, though, and typically won’t last for very long. It just has to have occurred for you to confidently use it in a bread-baking recipe (coming soon). Before using the starter, you should have fed it within approximately the previous 12 hours. After using the properly fed starter, refresh it (see the next step for instructions), allow it to sit covered on the counter for about 12 hours, and then refrigerate it until it’s ready to be refreshed or used.

  • Refreshing your active starter. An active starter can be used for baking, then refreshed and stored, covered, in your refrigerator for about a week. After about a week, you should refresh it by removing it from the refrigerator, discarding about 1/3 of the volume (including any clear liquid or hooch from the top), adding 1/2 cup (70 grams) gum-free gluten free flour and 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) spring water or distilled water, and mixing with a nonreactive spoon. Cover the starter and allow it to sit on the counter for about 12 hours before returning it to the refrigerator. Repeat the process every week for the life of the starter.

Much love,
Nicole

  • Lorraine
    July 26, 2020 at 1:36 PM

    No problem with making and using the starter…just not sour enough..what can i do to make it really sour? Very good texture and moist and chewy..just lacks that really sour taste..it is more like white bread…Thanks for any help.Also it is not crummy like some breads are..I do rub butter over the crust because the bread browns a lot even covered with foil..

    • Nicole Hunn
      July 26, 2020 at 5:41 PM

      Lorraine, how sour a sourdough bread will be depends upon the age and maturity of the starter. It sounds like your starter needs to continue to age.

  • Nancy
    July 21, 2020 at 9:16 AM

    Hi! My starter is established and I have baked a loaf which turned out great. Afterwards, I have kept the starter in the frig and have fed it twice; however, each time I have fed it I have forgot to remove 1/2 cup. Have I totally messed things up?

    • Nicole Hunn
      July 21, 2020 at 11:26 AM

      You haven’t totally messed things up, Nancy, no. :) You should begin discarding, though. Your starter can’t have too much competition for the new food, and you don’t want it to expand exponentially, either.

  • Blaine
    June 21, 2020 at 12:36 AM

    My starter is bubbly and smells sour but it definitely hasn’t doubled in size in any given feeding period. What am I doing wrong? It’s been several days now.

    • Nicole Hunn
      June 21, 2020 at 10:17 AM

      I’m afraid there’s absolutely no way for me to know, Blaine. But you mention “several days.” That often isn’t enough time.

  • Mary Lou Bartlett
    June 5, 2020 at 9:12 AM

    My starter is doing very well — doubling in size, smells great (well, stinky great). My question is about the consistency of the starter. When I initially touch it during a feeding time, the starter is full of bubbles and spongy looking. But as I disturb it to retrieve the discard, it turns more liquidy – about the consistency of runny pancake batter. Is this okay?

    • Nicole Hunn
      June 5, 2020 at 9:27 AM

      That’s absolutely okay, Mary Lou. You’re right on track!

  • Millie
    May 31, 2020 at 4:00 PM

    I have a starter that I have had for forty plus years. Used it all the time. Wonderful SD biscuits, pancakes gingerbread cake etc.
    However as the years passed we found out my daughter is Celiac and I am gluten intolerant. I still have the starter in My fridge. Is it possible to slowly turn it gluten free by slowly but surely feeding it with GF flour instead of regular flower. The feed for this starter is 1/4 c w sugar, 1 cup flour and one cup milk. Mix this and add to the starter.

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 31, 2020 at 4:18 PM

      I really don’t recommend that, Millie. I cannot provide you with anything approaching medical advice, but anything made with conventional gluten-containing flour is not safe for anyone with celiac disease. I would never take that chance for my son, and I don’t recommend you do that either.

  • Zoe
    May 30, 2020 at 2:45 PM

    is it ok if the original starter flour has gums in it ? (bob’s red mill 1 for 1)

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 30, 2020 at 4:23 PM

      You cannot use Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 in my recipes at all, Zoe. Please see the gluten free flour blends page. I know it’s widely available, but it is not a quality, well-balanced blend.

  • Jill Morse
    May 12, 2020 at 7:46 PM

    My starter has doubled already and should be ready to use tomorrow (Day 2)! I used teff flour and brown rice flour. I live in Phoenix, so maybe the climate helped. It’s 95 here today! I’m excited to bake my first loaf!
    Thank you!

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 12, 2020 at 8:10 PM

      Hi, Jill, Even if your starter is that active that quickly, I don’t recommend baking with it just yet. Continue to discard and feed.

  • Sandra Bonham
    May 11, 2020 at 2:41 PM

    Hi Nicole, I have been baking sourdough bread for a few months now and really like how it turns out. I found you and decided to try this out. I guess I missed the part about discard but fortunately it has worked. I will begin discard from here forward. My question is: When you say the dough should be “tacky” what exactly am I looking for? My dough is somewhat “sticky” but when it rose it got pretty dry looking and cracked on top. Also in baking my first loaf, I followed the instructions to a T but my bread was still “doughy”. Could I have baked longer or at a higher temp? I am trying my second loaf today. Thank you for the information and your time!

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 11, 2020 at 3:05 PM

      As I said above to Patricia, Sandra, you must discard (or at least remove) starter for your yeast to remain active. If you haven’t been discarding, that you could easily ruin your chances of a good rise. I’m afraid I really can’t know where you deviated from the instructions since there are so many variables. Tacky just means it’s not dry to the touch, but isn’t soft, wet, and weepy. It holds together, but isn’t dry. I recommend watching the video for an idea of the texture.

  • Brenda
    May 10, 2020 at 1:36 PM

    I like most of your recipes but I want to have one problem with them they don’t tell you what flours to use if you don’t have a blend , I would very much like to make a starter but I would like it to be a smaller one do you have a similar recipe or can I just cut this in half I and what flours can I use if I don’t have a blend

  • Mary
    May 9, 2020 at 11:15 PM

    I am on day 7 of my starter. Since the 3rd day, I have seen active bubbles and it has risen up, but the texture seems a little strange. It has bubbled and doubled for 2 days now, but it never falls back down. Even when I touch it with a spoon. When I stir it isn’t very fluid, but it’s not solid either. The top always seems dry so I’ve added a little extra water the past two feedings but the texture has not changed. Do you think this texture is normal? Is it ready to make bread?

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 10, 2020 at 8:35 AM

      It sounds right to me, Mary. I would avoid adding more liquid, though, other than when you’re feeding it. If your ripe starter is ultimately too hydrated, your bread dough will be too wet.

  • Connie Phillips
    May 8, 2020 at 8:51 AM

    Hello Nicole,
    This is my 8th day of my starter. I haven’t received my flour (Better Batter ) yet to make the bread. Do I put the starter in the refrigerator then take it out when I am ready or do I let it stay on the counter and just keep feeding it until the flour arrives and I can make the bread.
    Thank you

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 8, 2020 at 9:00 AM

      Hi, Connie. If your starter is good and active, and you expect your flour to arrive any day, I’d keep it out and keep feeding/discarding daily. If you don’t reasonably expect it that soon, then I’d refrigerate it and feed it once a week until your flour arrives.

  • Carmel
    May 8, 2020 at 5:54 AM

    Hi Nicole, I tried a starter with homemade brown rice flour. I dont think it was fine enough as it absorbed all liquid and nothing else really happened. Going to try crackers with this mixture – do you have a recipe for this? Starter with buckwheat flour for attempt #2! 🤞

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 8, 2020 at 8:08 AM

      That’s a shame, Carmel. I guess you kind of made … rice? I’m afraid no, I don’t have a suggestion for what you can do with it.

  • Christine R
    May 6, 2020 at 5:25 PM

    My sour dough starter is 2 weeks old, I’ve seen it double, it has leaked hooch on my counter. I’m using a quart jar and am almost running out of room. I want to confirm that I need to refresh with gum free flour the day before using and again after I’ve used it. After discarding the liquid, should I stir the starter completely before taking out the required amount?
    Lastly, your recipe starts with 1 cup (about120 g) and then switches to 1/2 cup (about 70 g ) to refresh. I’ve only used the 60 g which has worked well. Is that just a typo?
    2nd loaf was a great improvement and the taste, OMGosh! Thank you for your work.

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 6, 2020 at 6:00 PM

      The 1 cup (120 g) is the approximate weight of one cup of whole grain flour. That is how you begin. The 1/2 cup of gum free flour (which weighs 70 grams) is to refresh. There’s no typo. If your starter is 2 weeks old, you should have been discarding and feeding for quite a while now. The overflow is part of the reason to discard. Yes, you need to feed the day before using the starter, and then feed after you use it, just as directed.

  • Karen
    May 6, 2020 at 1:30 PM

    I accidentally fed it too much flour. About a cup of flour and a cup of water…do I need to start over? For now I split it in two different containers.

  • Lisa Trussell
    May 5, 2020 at 1:07 PM

    I made the starter and was able to make the sourdough bread. It turned out great. I took my starter out of the fridge today and it wasn’t liquid, it was more like a thick paste, almost solid, not like regular flour starters I have made, is that normal? I noticed when I fed it that 70 g of the flour was over 1 cup. Should I decrease the amount of flour so the starter has a more liquid consistency?

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 5, 2020 at 1:50 PM

      No no you’re okay, Lisa. I’ve been meaning to add this to the recipe notes because it’s going to confuse people! It does turn into something of a separated solid when it’s cold. Just let it sit out at room temperature until you can stir it with a nonreactive spoon and proceed as normal! It will loosen up as it warms to room temperature. 🙂

  • Robin
    May 4, 2020 at 8:38 PM

    Any advice on what to do if the starter was going well until I made the mother starter? I have a starter that’s been going for almost a month and doing great. I’m trying to follow the recipe in GFOAS Bakes Bread for pain au levain. My mother starter rose for 6 hours and then I made the bread starter and it won’t rise. I put it in the oven set to proof (100F). I’m not sure what I did wrong. I used better batter flour as the base for my bread flour. Was that my mistake? Any tips for my redo? Thanks!

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 5, 2020 at 8:54 AM

      You really don’t want to proof anything in an oven. Oven temperatures are not accurate enough, especially at lower temperatures, to justify the risk that you’ll kill the yeast. Trust your wild yeast and give it the time to rise. You can always try my “microwave trick” that I quite honestly haven’t used in many years (I’d rather just wait and wait, if necessary, as patience is almost always rewarded with yeast bread) but if it makes you more confident…

  • Rachel Brown
    May 4, 2020 at 10:24 AM

    Hi. Great instructions and I want to give this a go. I can get gluten free bread, but still only have one slice a week or it gives me stomach pains. The same thing does not happen with pastry, cakes and crackers because they don’t have yeast. Over the years I’ve concluded that it’s the yeast my body hates!
    As I live alone and have very little g/f flour left, could I start this using less flour and water but in the same proportions? I’m thinking maybe a tablespoon of flour, then maybe I could keep adding and feeding without the need to throw anything away.
    I hate any sort of waste and can’t see anyone at the moment so no one to give it to!
    I’d appreciate your feedback – thanks very much.
    Rachel Brown

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 4, 2020 at 10:40 AM

      That’s a good question, Rachel. You can probably get that to work (i.e., grow wild yeast), but you won’t have enough to use it in a recipe unless you really build it up, which will take some time since it doesn’t behave like conventional wild yeast starter, where you may only need a tablespoon or so in a recipe.

  • Connie
    May 3, 2020 at 9:06 AM

    Hi Nicole,

    I began my starter this past Thursday. Today will be the fourth day. The 2nd day it doubled but it didn’t double on the 3rd day. Does this mean I did something wrong and need to start over again.

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 3, 2020 at 9:08 AM

      Nope, Connie! Keep pressing on.

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