Sourdough Discard: Everything you Need to Know

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Have you ever wondered “what is sourdough discard”? In this post, I will be answering the most common questions I get on sourdough discard including how and why I add it to recipes and the difference between active starter and discard. But first, to understand discard we need to understand the basics of a sourdough starter.

sourdough starter on marble with a tea towel

What is sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter is a live fermented culture of flour and water. An established sourdough starter is maintained with frequent feedings of flour and water. The water activates the good bacteria and wild yeast from the flour and the surrounding area. Over the span of 4-12 hours, the microorganisms in the starter eat the flour and release carbon dioxide, producing bubbles. Once the starter is bubbly on the sides and top, and doubled or more in size, the starter is considered at peak. This is the ideal time to make bread with your starter.

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What is sourdough discard?

Sourdough discard refers to the excess starter that remains after it doubles in size and begins to fall back down. This term can be deceiving though as “discard” doesn’t mean it’s unusable or wasted. A better way to think of it is as leftovers.

Sourdough discard can look different depending on how long it has gone since a feeding. If the starter was fed 18 hours previously, the discard will most likely have some residual bubbles. On the other hand, discard that has not been fed for several weeks will be flat.

What’s the difference between active starter and discard?

sourdough starter life cycle

Active starter and discard both come from the same sourdough starter. However, they are in different phases. Active starter has been fed flour and water within the last 12 hours or so and is growing until it hits its peak. Once it begins to fall it is considered discard.

When sourdough starter becomes sourdough discard you have two options.

  1. Refeed all of the discard. If you used up most of your starter to make bread and only have a little bit left you can refeed all of your discard to reactivate the starter.
  2. Refeed some of the discard and save some of the discard. If you still have a lot of starter in your jar after using it you most likely will want to get rid of some starter before refeeding it.
sourdough starter and flour with a cup of flour spilled out in the front

Do I have to discard every time I feed my starter?

If you are making a new sourdough starter you will need to discard every time you feed. While some people think this is wasteful you will actually end up using less flour this way and it will prevent you from having buckets of sourdough starter. Check out how to make a sourdough starter for detailed instructions.

If your sourdough starter is mature it is not essential you discard with each feeding. But if you are not removing some of the starter frequently to make bread or other recipes I would recommend discarding.

There are two reasons discarding can be helpful.

  1. Discarding can prevent your starter from becoming overly acidic. If your starter becomes weak and smells strongly of vinegar it most likely is too acidic. An overly acidic starter can become problematic when making bread, often times causing it to over proof prematurely. When your starter becomes too acidic discarding and feeding the starter larger amounts of flour and water (like a 1:5:5 ratio meaning 1 part sourdough starter to 5 parts flour to 5 parts water) can help.
  2. Discarding helps prevent an excessive buildup of sourdough starter. When feeding your starter, you will want to feed it, at the very least, the same amount that currently resides in the container. For instance, if your starter weighs 10 grams, you should ideally feed it 10 grams each of flour and water or more. When dealing with a minimal initial amount, such as 10-50 grams, you can skip the discarding step before feeding. However, in scenarios where the jar has an excess amount of starter pre-feeding, I recommend discarding a portion before feeding it. This ensures that you won’t end up with an excessive amount of starter post-feeding.

When can I start saving discard?

When in the process of making a new sourdough starter you should not save the sourdough discard. During the beginning stages of making a starter it is more susceptible to mold and other bad bacteria. You will want to wait until the starter is doubling in size and bubbling with each feeding.

How do I store sourdough discard?

You can store mature sourdough discard in the refrigerator indefinitely. As long as there is no mold, it is good to use. It may develop a grayish liquid on top called “hooch” which can be poured off before use or stirred in. If you stir it in, the flavor will become more sour. You can continue to add more discard to the jar just pour it in and give it a stir before placing it back in the fridge covered.

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Why use sourdough discard in recipes?

I love adding sourdough discard to everything! Seriously… I have an addiction. In addition to ensuring no sourdough starter is wasted here are 4 reasons to use discard in your recipes.

  1. The acidity of the sourdough discard helps prevent tough gluten strands from forming. This results in tender and moist baked goods!
  2. When discard is coupled with a long ferment, it can aid in digestion and help the nutrients to be more bioavailable to our bodies.
  3. The tang of sourdough discard can enhance the flavor of any recipe and balance out sweeter treats.
  4. Recipes that add sourdough discard have a slightly prolonged shelf life, resulting in a fresher product for longer.
sourdough discard bran muffins in a bowl next to sourdough discard in a jar

Check out some of my favorite Sourdough Discard Recipes

How to add sourdough discard to recipes

Sourdough discard can be added to almost any recipe that has flour and a liquid. Adding discard to a recipe can change the texture and flavor so sometimes it can take some trial and error to get it right.

Here are the steps to add sourdough discard to a recipe.

  1. Convert the flour and water in the recipe from cups to grams. This can easily be done with a quick google search. If the recipe doesn’t include water you can reduce the amount of another liquid.
  2. Decide how much sourdough discard you want to add. A good rule of thumb is between 100-200 grams.
  3. Divide your discard amount by 2. For example if I add 100 grams of discard, that’s 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water.
  4. Subtract that number from your total amount of flour and water. So going along with our example I would subtract 50 grams of flour from the total amount of flour in my recipe and 50 grams of liquid from my recipe.
  5. Keep the remainder of the recipe as normal. For non-yeast recipes you can add in an overnight ferment to provide the additional health benefits of sourdough if desired.

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