There are many different types of sourdough starters - from liquid starters to stiffer starters, as well as starters that utilise starches and sugars from fruits and vegetables.
While you may not want to use these different types of sourdough starters, it's always good to know about them and understand how they fit within sourdough bread baking. This sourdough glossary is also very helpful if you're new to sourdough baking.
While it is true that you really only need one good sourdough starter (and from this you can create offshoots and levains), it can be fun to experiment with different types of sourdough starters!
Here's a summary of the different types of sourdough starters you might come across:
- Liquid Sourdough Starter (most common)
- Stiff Sourdough Starter
- Rye Sourdough Starter
- Pasta Madre
- Potato Flake Starter
- Amish Friendship Bread Starter
- Yeast Water
- Chocolate Sourdough Starter
- Whey or Yoghurt Starter
How Do You Know When To Use Different Types of Sourdough Starter?
There really are a myriad of sourdough starters. One thing they all have in common is yeast - it's the source of the yeast that is their point of difference.
While I haven't listed them here, I've seen someone use a carrot sourdough starter and even a tea leaf sourdough starter!
The type of sourdough starter you choose will depend on the application or recipe you wish to use it for, as well as how much time you have to create your starter.
Different types of sourdough starters will have different qualities and components including:
- Levels of hydration
- Acidity levels
- Sources & strains of yeast
- Food sources
- Level of sourness
- pH Levels
10 Different Types of Sourdough Starters
Traditional Sourdough Starter (Liquid Starter)
A traditional sourdough starter is made using just flour and water. It is generally referred to as a "liquid" starter because it is 100% hydration, meaning you use equal amounts of flour and water.
It's simple, easy and cheap to make which is probably what makes it the most popular choice when it comes to making sourdough bread.
You'll find instructions for making a traditional sourdough starter from flour and water here.
You can literally make a sourdough starter from any grain based flour - you can even make it gluten free by using rice flour or a blend of gluten free flours.
This is perhaps the easiest sourdough starter to make because flour and water are generally easy to come by. Make sure you choose unbleached flour though as you want to colonise lots of yeast from the start.
The most common choice of flour for a traditional sourdough starter is all purpose, plain or bread flour.
This method does take a lot of time and patience - but you will be well rewarded for your efforts with amazing sourdough bread!
This is a handy resource if you're looking for instructions for making a smaller sourdough starter.
You can read more about the history of sourdough starter here.
Recipes for Liquid Sourdough Starter
Traditional sourdough starter can be used in any sourdough recipe, with some of the most popular recipes being:
- Traditional Sourdough Bread
- Sourdough Baguettes
- Sourdough English Muffins
- Overnight Sourdough Bagels
Stiff Sourdough Starter
A stiff starter is generally kept at 50% hydration, or less. This means that you use half as much water as you do flour - so it's fed at a 1:2:1 ratio.
If you had 50g of flour you'd only use 25g of water.
The benefits of a stiffer starter are that it is generally more mild in flavor, so you avoid the sour flavors in your bread. It can also give it a better crumb structure. A stiff starter also peaks for a lot longer, meaning you have a bigger window to bake with. It can tolerate a little more neglect than it's liquid friends.
How to create a stiff starter from a liquid sourdough starter
You can easily create a stiff starter from your liquid sourdough starter - just transfer 50g of your original sourdough starter into a jar and feed with 100g of flour and 50g of water. Continue to feed it in this way until it's active.
If you are having trouble finding time to feed your starter regularly then a stiff starter can be the answer due to its later peaking timeframe. It avoids you having to place it in the fridge where it will go to sleep.
Recipes for stiff sourdough starter
A stiff starter can be used in virtually any sourdough recipe, but is best in bread recipes where it gives a mellow flavor and strong crumb structure. You could use a stiff sourdough starter in this simple sourdough bread recipe or in this sourdough brioche loaf.
How to use stiff starter instead of liquid starter
You can use stiff starter in a regular sourdough recipe by using 75% of the amount of liquid starter listed and then adding 25% of the starter's weight in water.
For example - if your recipe calls for 100g of liquid starter, you could use 75g of stiff starter plus 25g of water.
Rye Sourdough Starter
A rye sourdough starter is made in the same way as a traditional liquid sourdough starter, however you use rye flour to make it instead of all purpose or bread flour. You can use dark rye or light rye flour. Organic rye flour will give you the fastest results.
Rye starters are a little different to liquid sourdough starters because they are typically more mousse like in structure and less liquid.
Rye flour is a fantastic way to boost a liquid sourdough starter.
Recipes for Rye Sourdough Starter
You can virtually use a rye starter in any sourdough recipe, but it will usually do better with a rye recipe like these:
Lieveto Madre or Pasta Madre
Pasta Madre translates to "dough mother" in Italian. Pasta Madre is a stiff, low hydration starter generally used to make Panettone and other dairy and egg enriched dough. This type of sourdough starter is generally 50% hydration or lower. It gives a very mild flavor profile.
You can make a Pasta Madre from your liquid sourdough starter. You use the liquid sourdough starter to create a lower hydration version which is rolled up and then kept either in cloth tied up with string or in a water bath (this is the most popular storage method).
Find the instructions on making your own Pasta Madre here.
Recipes for Pasta Madre
Pasta Madre is typically used to make Panettone or Italian Christmas Cake, but it can also be used to make other baked goods including sourdough cinnamon rolls.
Potato Flake Starter
There is a type of bread starter that is made with dried potato flakes. It is dairy and gluten free.
To make a potato flake starter, you generally use dehydrated potato flakes, mashed potatoes or even the starchy water from boiling potatoes. There are several different methods. They often contain sugar as well.
This is a good introduction to potato flake starters and how to use them.
Whichever version you go with, it's the starch in the potatoes that feed the yeast and bacteria.
Many families have a potato flake starter that has been handed down through generations. Some of these potato flake starters are also a hybrid of Amish Friendship Bread Starters (see below).
Recipes for Potato Flake Starter
Potato starters are good for making soft sandwich type breads, although it could be argued you can create the same soft effect with a good milk sourdough bread or even yudane method (scalding part of the flour with hot water).
Amish Friendship Bread Starter (Herman Starter)
This is not technically a sourdough starter (because it contains commercial yeast), however many people are first introduced to the concept of a starter by this particular bread.
It's a really old recipe and most of the time you'll find it written in cups. Now if you've been following The Pantry Mama for a while, you know I'm not a fan of measuring in cups ... but this recipe is rooted in Amish history - and they aren't a fan of modern technology.
To make an Amish Friendship Bread Starter you can use this recipe. You'll need flour, milk, sugar, water and commercial yeast.
Traditionally, you would add a small package of yeast to the initial mix - however - you can totally convert a portion of your sourdough starter into an Amish Friendship Bread Starter. Why? Because I'm all about experimenting, trying new things and playing with flavors ... so why not?
How to make sourdough starter with Amish Friendship Bread Starter
You can convert an Amish Friendship Bread Starter to a liquid sourdough starter and vice versa. You do have to realise that if you are using Amish starter to make a sourdough starter, it will contain commercial yeast strains - which would mean it's not technically a sourdough starter. But it would be an easy way to kickstart it! Here's how to do it:
- Amish Starter to Sourdough Starter - Take 50g of Amish Starter and feed it with 50g of flour and 50g of water. Continue this twice a day (follow the daily feeding regime here).
- Sourdough Starter to Amish Starter - Take 50g of your sourdough starter and then feed it with the milk, sugar and flour specified in your recipe - leave out any water required for at least this first feed. The sourdough starter will replace the commercial yeast. Then after this feed, you can proceed as per normal - but your Amish starter will be made with wild sourdough yeast rather than commercial yeast!
Recipes for Amish Friendship Bread Starter
You can use your Amish Sourdough Starter in any sourdough recipe once it's active or you can make traditional Amish Friendship Bread.
An Amish Friendship Bread Starter will work really well in these sourdough discard recipes:
- Fluffy Sourdough Discard Cinnamon Rolls
- Easy Sourdough Discard Sandwich Bread
- Sourdough Discard Carrot Cake Muffins
Poolish refers to a type of bread starter that is made using commercial yeast. It is made with equal parts flour and water and a small amount of commercial yeast. It is also referred to as a preferment.
It has many applications and is often used to make French bread, and specifically baguettes.
You can read more about the differences between a poolish and sourdough starter, as well as how to make a poolish starter here.
Recipes for Poolish
You can actually use a poolish starter or preferment in place of a sourdough starter in any sourdough recipe. You would just need to adjust the rising times because of course a poolish will rise your dough much faster as it contains commercial yeast.
Some recipes where a poolish would work are:
You might have heard of people making sourdough starters from raisin water or even grated apple. This technique utilises the natural yeasts in dried and fermenting fruit to kick start a sourdough starter.
It's a different type of sourdough starter that can be really interesting to make, if only for experimental purposes. It's a great sourdough activity to do with your kids.
You can make yeast water in just a few days and then use this yeast water to kick start a sourdough starter. It can be fun to create a starter this way, but your sourdough starter will still require time to mature, just like a regular sourdough starter.
I have experimented a lot with yeast water and have found that while it makes a very bubbly and seemingly strong starter after just a week, it does still require twice daily feeding to reach maturity (same as a sourdough starter made the regular way).
You can find more sourdough troubleshooting advice (including crumb diagnosis) here.
Can you make a sourdough starter from yeast water?
Yes you can make a sourdough starter from yeast water. You need to use the prepared yeast water instead of regular water when making a sourdough starter. You would make it by following the instructions below:
- Combine 50g of yeast water with 50g of flour and allow to sit for 12 hours.
- Then after 12 hours, you'd remove 50g and then feed the remaining 50g of starter with 50g of regular water and 50g of flour.
- Repeat this process every 12 hours until the starter is mature.
Recipes for Yeast Water Sourdough Starter
You can use a sourdough starter made from yeast water in any sourdough recipe. You do not have to change anything. You just need to be aware of the strength of your starter - the same as you would for a regular sourdough starter.
Recipes that work really well with a yeast water sourdough starter:
- Coffee & Maple Infused Date Sourdough Bread
- Lemon & Blueberry Sourdough Bread
- Honey Oat Sourdough Bread
Chocolate Sourdough Starter
Chocolate sourdough starters are created by using an established sourdough starter and adding cocoa powder and sugar to the mixture. It can be fed and stored in the fridge like a regular sourdough starter can.
It makes a great base for chocolate and sweet sourdough breads but can also be used for regular sourdough.
You'll find the full instructions for making a chocolate sourdough starter here.
Recipes for Chocolate Sourdough Starter
A chocolate starter can be used in place of a regular liquid sourdough starter in chocolate based recipes such as:
- Sourdough Chocolate Walnut Bread
- Chocolate Sourdough Discard Loaf
- Overnight Sourdough Chocolate Cake
Whey or Yogurt Sourdough Starter
Whey is the liquid leftover from making cheese and yogurt.
Yogurt whey is referred to as acid whey and contains lactobacteria, just like a sourdough starter. If you have whey you can use it to make a sourdough starter. Or you can feed your existing starter with some whey.
You can even make sourdough bread with whey as a zero waste alternative.
Yogurt can also be used to make a sourdough starter since it is also full of lacto acid bacteria. You would use yogurt to feed your starter for the first 7 days. Then switch over to using just flour and water. You can find the full instructions for a yogurt sourdough starter here.
Yogurt, particularly Greek yogurt, can be used in some baked goods to give them a more "sour" flavor, typical of sourdough.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes every sourdough starter will taste different depending on the age of the starter, they type of flour you feed it, how often you feed it and where the yeast in the starter has come from. Each starter also has a unique level of acidity, hydration and bacteria. Starters will also have different flavor profiles from being fed milk, sugar, cocoa, rye or other types of ingredients.
Yes you can mix two different starters together. Sometimes people combine starters of different ages and flour types. Combining two or more starters together will alter their flavor and behavior.
Yes you can change the flour you feed your starter. Sometimes your sourdough starter will go through an adjustment period if you do this as the bacteria and yeast get used to a different food source. While changing your all purpose starter to rye flour may have a more beneficial effect than converting a rye starter to all purpose flour.
A Herman starter or Amish Friendship Bread Starter is typically made with milk, flour, sugar and commercial yeast. A sourdough starter is generally made only of flour and water. A Herman starter will be sweeter and more mellow flavored than a sourdough starter.