Monday, May 19, 2014

Make It Sourdough - The Gluten-Free Starter

Gluten Free Whole Grain Sourdough Starter
The above sourdough starter was made with a a blend of gluten-free flours and warm filtered water, nothing added to encourage the fermenting process.  (The recipe can be seen below). The starter has a doughy and yeasty aroma -- great!  It is a little over 2 months old. 

Sourdough bread is made by fermenting dough.  Remember the symbiotic relationships you learned in biology?   Naturally occurring strains of lactobacilli and yeast work together to make the starter. Done properly, the bread has a tangy to sour taste with a hard crust.  It's texture is somewhat like French bread.

The Food Science of Sourdough Starter

When flour and water are combined and left to ferment, natural enzymes in the flour break down the starch to glucose.  The yeast uses the glucose as food and gives off by-products which the bacteria can use.  The bacteria then gives off by-products which the yeast can metabolize and produce carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide then helps the bread rise. The lactobacilli in the dough produces acetic acid, which gives sourdough bread its mild sour taste. The long natural fermenting process of water and flour, without any additives, will produce a starter. The sourdough starter is then used to leaven and flavor bread.

The starter of flour and water will usually live as the maintenance of feeding occurs either on the countertop or in the refrigerator.  The feeding and temperature help keep a balance between the bacteria and yeast, thus becoming and remaining a balanced and stable sourdough starter. That symbiotic relationship is very important for the sourdough starter.  If it fails, the sourdough starter will die, sour too much and will have a rotten smell. The starter then must be discarded and started again.

Research is showing that sourdough breads are better for diabetics and celiacs because the fermenting process improves digestability and lowers the glycemic index of wheat  flour (and some gluten-free flours.)  This research states that fermenting lowers the glycemic index of sorgham and teff flours.  Even though research is showing that the fermenting of wheat flour improves the digestability and glycemic index of the flour, those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance should not eat wheat sourdough breads, for now.

Differing Opinions on Making Sourdough Starters

The opinions for making sourdough starters are endless.  If you research, explore and experiment making sourdough starter, you will find your easiest and favorite way to make it. If you don't succeed the first time, try again using the same method or try another method. I found I prefer the simple, nothing extra added, method.  Your choice could be different.  Use your choice of methods, as long as you get a good tasting and lasting starter. If done correctly, a sourdough starter should take only a little attention after the starter is balanced and working.

In the past, I used wheat flour to make the sourdough, but those days are gone  I now have to go the gluten-free route.  Several authors and bakers state that gluten-free starters are more difficult to make and sustain. Several bakers state that it is best made only with rice flour, white or brown.  Other authors are a little more lenient in the flour they say must be used.  I do not make it with rice flour because rice flour has a high glycemic index and it also contains a higher percentage of arsenic.

I feel I have to be careful in stating whether to use wild yeast or commercial yeast when making a sourdough starter.  I found collecting wild yeast relatively easy because I have made bread for years.  The Joy of Cooking cookbook states that making a sourdough starter is easier with wild yeast organisms if yeast baking has often occurred in the kitchen.  The wild yeast are plentiful in the air where yeast baking has occurred. The Joy of Cooking recommended using commercial yeast if little to no yeast baking had occurred in the kitchen.  Sharon Kane, The Art of Gluten-Free Sourdough Baking, says that commercial baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), a more powerful yeast, can't be fermented completely as wild yeast (Saccharomyces exiguous) can.  Bob delGrosso states that a simple starter of water and flour can last for a very long time if maintained correctly.

Some bakers disagree with the idea that wild yeast is in the air.  Some state that yeast is naturally on the grains of the flour. Some state that the white film on a grape is yeast.  Some encourage using whole grapes, cabbage leaves, water kefir, or kumbucha to help the yeast grow.  Once the yeast  is established, the cabbage leaves or grapes are removed from the starter. Sharon A. Kane in The Art of Gluten-Free Sourdough Baking uses water kefir to get the starter fermenting quicker.  She says there are fewer failures making the starter with water kefir. She also believes that a gluten-free starter should be made fresh with every loaf -- since she can make a starter in three days using water kefir.  She also thinks that a gluten-free starter gets weaker with each use.  Jessie Hawkins, The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread, does not share that opinion. She is a purist when making sourdough starter. She states that to get all the nutrition and healthy benefits from sourdough, it should be prepared with wild yeast as it was before the production of baker's yeast in the late 1800's,

There is a theory by some researchers that fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes,  have specific bacteria that produce lactic acid which cause the fermentation to occur quicker.  That same bacteria creates sauerkraut. I find that the natural fermentation will occur in about 5-7 days without the fruit or vegetables. I agree with Bob delGrosso that feeding the starter is the most important part of starting and keeping a healthy and balanced starter.  I like this experiment, by Bob, using the scientific method.  I think he was disappointed that he was unable to prove his hypothsis. He was not able to make a definite conclusion about not using cabbage with a sourdough starter.

Gluten-free sourdough starter is different from gluten sourdough starter.  Gluten-free sourdough starter needs to be feed twice a day whereas gluten starter is fed once a day. It, also, takes much more starter to bake gluten-free sourdough bread. For most gluten-free sourdough bread recipes, the dough is half starter and half gluten-free flour. Most wheat versions use a ratio of 1part starter to 3 or 4 part flour.) These two facts would be a reason to make a larger amount of the flour blend used in the starter mix.

Making the Sourdough Starter

My sourdough starter mix uses this flour blend:

97 grams (1 cup) teff flour
97 grams (1 cup) buckwheat flour   } or 290 grams of one in this group ( I used all three as written)
97 grams (1 cup) amaranth flour

290 grams (2 cup) sorghum flour
290 grams (2 1/3 cup) millet flour
145 grams (1 cup) oat flour
229 grams (1 3/4 cup) bean flour  } can be one kind or combination of bean flours

I've included the conversion for cups of flour but the more accurate measurement is grams. The conversions will give a smaller amount of the flour blend because I didn't include the extra teaspoons and tablespoons of flour needed for the accurate conversions.   (It took some time to convince myself to use a metric scale but I found using a scale is much easier and faster than using volume measuring.)

When I make the above flour blend, I double the ingredients. Doubling the recipe gives a huge amount of flour blend but the starter needs to be fed everyday when on the counter; the flour will be used up quickly.  If you would rather use other flours, check out these substitutions.  If you like, brown rice flour can be substituted for the teff, buckwheat, and amaranth flours.

Whisk all the flours together.  The flour blend should be one color after it is combined.  Store in an airtight container and use it when making the sourdough starter and feeding the sourdough starter.


First Day:  (It should have the consistency of thick gravy)
To make the starter, combine the mix and filtered water in 1:1 ratio.  (I used 2 cups of the flour blend above and 2 cups filtered water). Mix throughly with whisk (incorporating lots of air)  and pour in a glass container that will hold at least 1/2 gallon.  Cover with several layers of cheese cloth, an unbleached coffee filter or kitchen towel.  Secure with a rubber band.  If using unbleached coffee filter, make several pinholes so that the naturally occuring wild yeast spores can enter, if the theory is true. At any point, the yeast needs the oxygen for aerobic growth.

This is the feeder which has been whisked to incorporate air.

Let the starter sit in a warm (or at least not cold) place on the counter.  For the next three days, do not adding anything to the starter but, stir the starter at least once a day for the three days.

Second Day:
Stir the starter at least once this day.

Third Day (or the day it bubbles):  (Look for the hooch - it is the layer of somewhat clear liquid )
If there are bubbles or hooch on the third day, whisk 1 cup of Starter Mix and 1 cup filtered water in a small bowl.  Stir the feeder into the jar of starter and mix well with a spoon or spatula. Replace the cover and rubber band. Any time there is hooch, feed the starter!  Too long and to much hooch will kill the starter.  Some sourdough bakers feel that the hooch is waste from the bacteria and yeast and pour the hooch off. Others stir it in with the feeder.  I choose to stir it in with the feeder.

Fourth Day:
Stir the starter at least once a day.  Do not add anything to the starter, unless there is hooch.  If there is hooch, feed it.

Fifth Day:
Feed it by whisking 1 cup of Starter Mix and 1 cup filtered water in a small bowl.  Pour in the starter and mix. The Sourdough Starter is ready to use.

Some starters take more than 5 days to be ready.  Patience and persistent monitoring is needed.  If the smell is not that of yeast and baking bread, or if there is a colored mold growing on it, throw it out, clean the container and start again.

This recipe was adapted from  The original recipe for the starter included brown rice flour and sweet rice flour.  I do not use rice flour and substituted the teff, buckwheat, and amaranth flours for the brown rice flour and oat flour for the sweet rice flour.

Important Facts to Remember About A Sourdough Starter

When beginning the starter, the combination of the flour and water, hopefully, in a few days will grow yeast and lactobacillus bacteria.  But it is important to remember that there will also be other strains of bacteria growing in it.  It does not become stable for at least a week or so.  It took mine 2 weeks to become stable. Feeding it water and flour encourages the yeast and lactobacillus to grow and overtake the other bacteria.  To maintain a healthy starter, it needs to be feed the 1:1 ratio of water and flour.

Refrigeration and Freezing of the Starter

The starter can be slowed down by placing it in the fridge but it still must be fed once a week to sustain it.  It can be feed as little as 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of filtered water per two cups of starter.  I feed it, once a week, 1/4 cup flour blend and 1/4 cup water whisked together, incorporating lots of air.  When ready to use again, it will take about 2 -3 days to get it ready.

Day 1 :  When ready to use it for baking, remove from fridge and let it come to room temperature.
Day 2:   Feed it with 1:1 ratio flour and warm water.   Feed the starter twice more this day.
Day 3:  The next morning, feed it again.  If a dome forms in 2-3 hours, it is ready.  If not ready, feed it again 3 times.  When foamy, it is ready, though, I read that the new flour added takes about 7 hours to be completely fermented.

If you are really tired of the starter, stick it in the freezer.  When ready to use it, take it out of the freezer and thaw.  When it can be stirred, follow the directions above for refrigeration Day 1- Day 3.

This is a great website with information to help with care of the sourdough starter.  Other resources are listed below that helped me. In a few days I will post recipes for soft wraps, pancakes, waffles and other breads to use with the sourdough starter. This web page gives other great uses for the sourdough starter.  Who knew -  chicken feed and compost conditioner?

Make It Sourdough - Gluten-Free Sourdough Wraps, Waffles & Pancakes
Make It Sourdough - Gluten-Free Sourdough English Muffins
Make It Sourdough - Gluten-Free Sourdough Basic Sourdough Bread #1


"Does Fermentation Break Down Gluten In Sourdough Breads and Beer" Gluten Free Web. 19 May 2014.     <

"Does Yeast Grow Faster with or without Oxygen? - Homework Help - Web.19 May 2014  <>

"Food & Function." Influence of Sourdough on in Vitro Starch Digestibility and Predicted Glycemic Indices of Gluten-free Breads - (RSC Publishing). Web. 19 May 2014.<!divAbstract>

"Foods to Lower Your Blood Sugar: Sourdough Bread | Reader's Digest."Reader's Digest. Web. 19 May 2014.   <>

"Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter." - For Dummies. Web. 19 May 2014.>>

Hawkins, Jessie. The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread: Unlocking the Mysteries of Grains, Gluten and Yeast. Franklin, TN: Thistle Publications, 2012. Print.

"Healthier Cereal Products." Potential of Sourdough for Healthier Cereal Products. Web. 19 May 2014. <>

Kane, Sharon A.  The Art of Gluten-Free Sourdough Baking:  Blending An Old World Technique with Allergen-Friendly Ingredients. eBook format by, 2012. 

"Lactic Acid Fermentation in Sourdough." The Fresh Loaf. Web. 19 May 2014.  <> 

"Potential of Sourdough for Healthier Cereal Products | DeepDyve."DeepDyve. Web. 19 May 2014. <>

Rombauer, Irma S., Marion Rombauer. Becker, and Ethan Becker. Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006. S.l.: Scribner, 2006. Print. <>

1 comment:

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