Sourdough bread starter

October 15, 2012

I attended a bread baking course some time ago and I have been baking bread regularly (once, maybe twice a week) since then.

I used to bake bread using instant yeast but now I use wild yeast.  The preparation process takes a bit longer, in time (not effort) but the end result and depth of flavour is definitely worth it.

This will be the first of a couple of posts.  I thought I’d start with documenting how to get a wild yeast starter started.

“When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.”
– Chinese proverb

Here is some information that I gathered about sourdough bread:

Sourdough bread is the outcome of a fermentation process that happens as a result of the activities of wild yeasts and other micro-organisms, transforming the mixture of flour and water from an unpalatable mass into a nourishing food that is easy to digest and packed with vitamins and minerals.

When making sourdough, a starter is added to the mixture of flour and water and to speed up the process and allows more control of the flavour and texture of the bread.

It is often the chemicals used in commercially baked bread that causes people to have wheat/gluten intolerance and when eating a more natural/whole type bread may reduce/eliminate many of the side effects of eating commercial breads.

The most common way of making bread is by using a fast fermentation process, using large amounts of commercial yeast together with flour, water and other additives to make bread that is not easily digested and goes stale or mouldy very fast. Yeast is used as a rising agent because time is not allowed for the natural fermentation process to take place.

Sourdough bread is made by using no commercial yeast at all; instead a small amount of pre-fermented starter, made of flour and water, is introduced into the dough.  The bread has a unique flavour due to the natural fermentation process.  The fermentation process releases enzymes crucial for our digestive system. (The fermentation process serves a similar purpose of soaking nuts prior to using them.)

The starter used in the bread is usually used and replenished from one baking to the next, each time feeding it with flour and water after each baking and then left to develop. It can be kept in the fridge and replenished at least once a week, to keep the starter active. It may seem like a lot of effort but the flavour improves if it is used and replenished more often.

The sourdough starter likes a routine (and it makes it easier for you to remember as well), so even when not using it, it should be replenished anyway.  There are many fantastic resources available for suggestions of what to do with the sourdough starter.
(I will try veganise some of the recipes and post them – watch this space 😀 )

Making a sourdough starter

(If you are lucky enough to know someone that already has a starter, I suggest you beg, borrow or steal some from them, it certainly is much easier in this instant gratification society that we live in… it is torture waiting for 7 – 10 days before you can actually start using it the first time.)


  • ½ cup white or whole wheat unbleached flour (it seems like a good starter flour is flour that includes malted barley).  You can substitute for rye flour, if you do not want any wheat flour in the starter
  • ½ cup rye/spelt flour
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 tbsp pineapple juice (fresh not sweetened)


  1. Mix all together in a glass jar and set in a comfortably warm place for 24 – 48 hours, mixing it once or twice a day.
    Do not use a jar that seals to tightly, you need to allow the culture to breathe.
    You should see bubbles on top of the mixture and it should have a pleasant smell.
  2. After the initial stage of 24 – 48 hours, add ½ cup water and ½ cup flour (could be rye flour, if you want a rye only starter).
    Mix well and leave for a further 24 hours.
    At this stage, you should see some rising and bubbles and the smell should be slightly sour but pleasant.
  3. Repeat the feeding (½ cup water and ½ cup flour).
    Leave for a further 24 hours.
  4. Discard half of the mixture and add 1 cup water and 1 cup flour.
    Mix and leave again for 24 hours.
    It should rice nicely during this time and be ready for use.
    If the starter is not rising, repeat step 4 again.
  5. Put the starter in a bigger jar (up to 4 times its size) and mark the level of the starter in the jar after mixing (this is a handy tip to see how much it has risen).
    The starter should rise at least double before using it.
  6. Feed the starter one more time before baking with it, just to ensure that it is active.


  • Just to get into the lingo – When the starter is growing, it is called a ‘culture’. Only once it is stable and mature enough to bake with, is it referred to as a ‘starter’.
  • It is important to use good quality filtered water.  You need to make sure that most/all of the chlorine is removed from the water.  Spring water is also a great option.
  • Use the best quality ingredients you can find. Wherever possible, use organic.
  • Stone milled fresh flour is the best for nutrient and flavour rich bread.
  • Use flours without improvers and that have not been fortified.
  • The temperature of the room, jar, water will have an impact on the dough.  If it is too cold, it will not be very active. If it is very cold, use slightly warmed water (not too hot, you do not want to kill the starter).
  • Rule: cold weather takes a bit longer, hotter weather shortens the rising time.
  • The tablespoon of juice is optional.  I have read a couple of sites and most of the people just stick to good quality water (with no chlorine).  One site, did not use water at all but only used unsweetened pineapple or orange juice.
  • A great idea I saw from another blogger is to make your own wheat flour to start with. Get wheat berries and put in blender/coffee grinder to produce starter flour (the wild yeast is on the grains and you just need to provide the right conditions to wake it up).
  • It does seem to be a common behaviour to name the starter.  Some cute names that I have encountered are Stinky, Monster, Seymor, Cousin It.

Replenishing the starter

  1. 1 Tbsp starter
  2. Add ¼ cup water and shake vigorously.
    The theory is that this will introduce oxygen (which promotes yeast reproduction) into the mixture.
  3. Add ½ cup flour and mix well (can be done with a metal spoon).

Starter notes:

  • If not using the starter daily, keep it in the fridge to slow down the process.
  • If the starter is acting a little sluggish, substitute whole rye flour for about 5% of the white flour, for one feeding. Rye flour is great for really getting fermentation going.
  • If you plan to use the starter in a day and you are keeping it in the fridge, leave it out to activate.
  • If you keep the starter in the refrigerator, take it out a couple of hours before replenishing it.
  • Remember to feed the starter regularly, even if you are not using it.  Replenish the starter at least twice a week to keep it active.
  • The starter should always smell pleasantly sour.
  • If the starter has a foul smell or develops any kind of mould, discard it and start again.
  • If the starter develops a crust on top, peel it off and use the centre to extend the starter.
  • If you are going away and have to leave the starter behind (as normal people would do, I hope) – make a double batch, mix it well, put it in the fridge.  To activate it again, take off the crust and use the centre of the starter to continue.
  • The starter can also be dried by mixing in some flour and rubbing it until you get bread crumb consistency, then dry on a tray and store in a clean sealed container in the freezer.

Additional resources

(These sites are not vegan, but you can get some great tips from them)

  • Raising a starter – Wild Yeast Blog – link
  • Maintaining a starter – Wild Yeast Blog – link
  • Maintaining a starter – link
  • Wild yeast sourdough starter – link
  • Sourdough for home baking – Wild yeast starter – link – you can buy many different starters from this site

What’s next?  I will post some very easy sourdough bread recipes soon.

Related posts

Basic sourdough bread recipe


Understanding Food Labels

May 24, 2012

Whenever I do grocery shopping I notice how misleading and sneaky food producers can be to promote their products.

Jeff Novick, MS, RD has produced a very informative movie clip to explain how to read and understand food labels.  The video clip is a very informative and entertaining way to understand the nutritional facts that is displayed on food packaging. This will really help make more informed choices when shopping for healthier options.  Any/All of Jeff Novick’s YouTube clips are really entertaining.  Clip

Jeff Novick also wrote an article to document how to make sense of the food label/nutrition facts on food – it is definitely worth the read.

How to make sense of the food label
Here are the basics of deciphering food labels, consolidated into ten quick-reference tips.

1. Never believe the claims on the front of the box.

What many think are health claims are actually just marketing pitches and advertisements. And government approved claims, like “low-fat” and “light,” often don’t tell you the whole story. These products may be high in fat as well as sugar, salt, and/or calories.

“Light” ice cream, for example, may still pack in 4 to 5 grams of fat per serving. And “light” and “regular” varieties of ice cream may not differ much calorically.

Never evaluate a product based on one item, such as its fat, cholesterol, sugar, carbohydrate, or salt content. Attempting to cash in on the latest diet or nutrition craze, many companies promote their products based on a single item despite other unhealthy aspects. (Remember “fat-free” foods that were full of sugar and calories?) To be truly healthy, a product must pass several criteria.

2. Always read the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredient list.

They contain information that can really help you determine how healthy a food is. Crackers, for example, may advertise on the front of the box that they’re “trans fat free”, but in the ingredient list you may find fats, like palm oil and coconut oil, that are just as artery-clogging as the trans fats they replaced.

(Tips 3 through 7 show you how to read the Nutrition Facts label.)

3. Check the serving size.

Though the government standardised most serving sizes years ago, many products still post unrealistically small sizes. A serving of oil spray, for instance, is .25 grams. That’s about 120th of an ounce — far less than most people could, or would, spray on a pan with even just one squirt.

4. Check the amount of servings per package.

Decades ago, many products were in fact single servings. A bottle of cola was one serving. One small candy bar was one serving. Today, many products are “super-sized” and contain multiple servings. A 20-ounce bottle of soda contains 2.5 servings, at 110 calories each. Now, in the real world, who’s going to drink just one serving of that bottle? Is it any surprise that many of us are super-sized ourselves?

5. Check the calories per serving.

All too many people think the “110 calories” posted on that 20-ounce bottle of cola means they’re drinking 110 calories. Hardly. You’ve got to multiply the 110 calories by the total number of servings, 2.5, to realise that you’re actually downing a whopping 275 calories. Don’t get too comfortable with “0s” either. Because some manufacturers use ridiculously small serving sizes (remember that 120th of an ounce of cooking spray?) and because the FDA states that manufacturers can “round down” to zero, some products advertised as calorie-free or fat-free are not. If you eat multiple servings — if, say, you coat an entire skillet with oil spray — you may be tallying up quite a few calories.

6. Check the calories from fat.

It’s on the Nutrition Facts label. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you “percent of calories from fat”, which is how all health guidelines direct us to limit fat. You’ve got to do a little math. Divide the number of calories from fat by the total calories. (If the serving’s 150 calories, 50 of which are fat, your product is 33 percent calories from fat.) If division trips you up, go by grams. Use this easy rule. If a product has 2 grams of fat or less per 100 calories, its fat content is within these guidelines for processed foods: the fat, per serving, is 20 percent or less of total calories. You don’t have to be a mathematician to realise that 4 grams of fat per 100 calories is double the fat I recommend. Don’t be fooled by claims like “99 percent fat-free” soup or “2 percent fat” milk. They’re based on percent of weight, not percent of calories. So that can of 99 percent fat-free soup may actually have 77 percent of its calories from fat, or more. And 2 percent fat milk actually has about 34 percent of total calories from fat; 1 percent milk has about 23 percent calories from fat.

7. Check the sodium.

Don’t bother with the percentage of Daily Value (DV) of sodium. Don’t bother with Daily Value percentages, period. They’re based on government standards, which are generally not the healthiest guidelines to strive for. Instead, look at the number of milligrams of sodium the serving contains. A great rule of thumb: Limit the sodium in milligrams to no more than the number of calories in each serving. Your daily goal: less than 1,500mg of sodium.

(Tips 8, 9, and 10 show you how to read the ingredient list.)

8. Check the types of fat.

Make sure there are no saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, or tropical oils in the ingredient list, including lard, butter, coconut, cocoa butter, palm oils, shortening, margarine, chocolate, and whole and part-skim dairy products. Polyunsaturated fats (like safflower, soybean, corn, and sesame) and monounsaturated fats (such as olive and canola) are less harmful and would be acceptable, but make sure the percentage of calories from fat are still in line — 20 percent calories from fat or less — or your waistline may start getting out of line. All oils, even “good” oils, are dense with calories.

9. Check the sugar.

Limit caloric sweeteners. Watch out for sugars and other caloric sweeteners that don’t say “sugar” but in fact are, such as corn syrup, rice and maple syrup, molasses, honey, malted barley, barley malt, or any term that ends in “ol,” such as sorbitol or maltitol, or “ose,” such as dextrose or fructose. Try to limit all these added, refined, concentrated sugars to no more than 5 percent of total calories (essentially, no more than 2 tablespoons daily for most folks). Don’t be concerned about naturally occurring sugars in fruit and some non-fat dairy products. However, on the Nutrition Facts label, added sugars and naturally occurring sugars are all lumped together as “sugar.” Your best bet: Look at the ingredient list. Try to avoid foods with added, refined caloric sweeteners in the first three to five ingredients. Because ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, the lower down the label you find added sugars, the better.

10. Make sure that any grain is WHOLE grain.

Many bread and pasta products claim to be whole wheat, but the first ingredient in the ingredient list is often wheat flour, which sounds healthy, but it’s really refined flour. Further down the list will be whole-wheat flour or bran. Scout out products that contain only whole grains. Also look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, which often ensures the product is mostly, if not all, whole grain.

If the product sounds too good to be true, it may be. Thousands of new products come out every year, many trying to cash in on the latest diet craze. As we’ve seen with the low-carb craze, many may not be carefully regulated (if at all). In 2001 the Florida FDA evaluated 67 diet products and found all 67 were inaccurately labelled; they contained more sugar and carbs than their labels stated. And recently, consumer laboratories evaluated 30 low-carb nutrition bars and found that 60 percent were inaccurately labelled. Most had more carbs, sugars, and salt than their labels claimed.

During your first few trips to the market, give yourself extra time to evaluate products. You’ll soon speed up! Once you’ve found products that you enjoy and that meet these healthy guidelines, shopping becomes quick and easy. Your health is worth it!

Remember, WHOLE, natural, unadulterated foods, not packaged and manufactured foods, are those foods that pack the nutrient punch. Even when you pick from the “acceptable” processed foods, it should be only a minor part of your diet.

Nutrition and children (2)

May 6, 2012

“the weight gain as a child is more closely associated with heart disease and diabetes later in life than weight gain in middle age – large impact on metabolism – impact on genetic expression and causes one to be more susceptible later on in life. “ – Dr John Kelly

When kids do not follow an optimal diet they are frequently ill.  They suffer from recurring ear infections, runny noses, asthma, allergic reactions, stomach aches and headaches. We note their symptoms and haul them in to the doctor, who prescribes yet another round of antibiotics.  When parents and children learn more about nutritional excellence and how to eat for optimal health the benefits are huge.

Great site for kids health info (includes recipes, helpful tips and hints, many links/resources to additional information):  Link

Children are actually very adventurous and willing to try things

  • Here are some great ideas of how some people got kids to try different fruits and vegetables:  Link
  • Food is elementary – Students, teachers, parents, and staff demonstrate the benefits of in-school food education program:  Link
  • Dr Antonia Demas has done huge projects getting children interested in plant-based foods:  Link

Mitch Spinach

Mitch Spinach solves the age-old mystery of how to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies!  Link

The previous post also relating to nutrition and children – Link

Childhood obesity – Is it child abuse?

May 6, 2012

Here is a very interesting letter by Dr John McDougall about whether childhood obesity is a form of child abuse – Link.

It certainly made me think that children need to be equipped to make the right decisions – and it includes their food choices.

As mentioned in the letter:

  • All school age children must receive fundamental education on the proper diet for human beings: a starch-based diet with fruits and vegetables;
  • Students must understand that this kind of food (plant-based whole foods) will make them attractive, strong and fit;
  • The same kind of health education that tells kids that smoking cigarettes makes them smell bad and look old before their time, needs to be used to connect hamburgers and string cheese to oily skin, acne, body odour, poor performance, and obesity: Losers eat protein (meat and cheese) in exclusion of carbohydrate (corn, potatoes, and rice).

It is important that people (especially parents) start asking the right questions and act on them, even if it may be slightly daunting at first.  The information is available – we just need to start asking the right questions.   It is important that all responsible and informed adults perform their moral duty to take steps to fix the largest source of child abuse: food.

My next post will include information that will hopefully provide some information on how to make learning about healthy eating interesting for kids.

Nutrition and Chrohn’s disease

January 3, 2012

Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Nutritional Considerations

Nutritional factors may be important in IBD.  The factors currently believed to help prevent or treat IBD…


The last heart attack

August 30, 2011

Dr. Esselstyn’s appearance on CNN’s special, “The Last Heart Attack,” created a tsunami of interest in his diet proven to reverse heart disease!

The show is about 42 minutes long, scroll down to watch in its entirety, and take the first steps to changing your life!

Watch the documentary