I’ve been studying what the best flour for sourdough starter is for some time. I think I have a good handle on what works best for me!
I’ve been wondering for a while what the best flour for sourdough is. I have always used unbleached, unbromated white flour to feed my starter and it has worked great.
But rye is supposed to be amazing. And whole wheat flour is said to give it a boost. So I decided to take it upon myself and find out.
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How I found the best flour for sourdough starter
I decided that the only way to really see what would be the best flour for sourdough starter was to actually start cultures with the different types of flour and take it all the way from the original flour and water, to a loaf of bread.
I had the best of intentions to be crazy strict and make sure I was feeding it at the same time every single day. But wouldn’t you know that life happens, and I even forgot a few days!
The most amazing thing about sourdough is that it’s like having kids. They always forgive you, and sourdough does too. So my forgotten days didn’t ruin anything. It all still worked out great!
I used these 3 flours:
Light Rye similar to this flour
If you’d like to make your own starter, sometimes it’s hard to not get lost on what day you are in the process. I made up this sweet Sourdough Starter Checklist to help you stay on track!
Download my printable PDF (below) to help walk you through the process!
Day 1 Begin the starters
I put 100g. of flour and 100g. of filtered water in each mason jar and stir, stir, stirred. After I took this photo, I did cover them with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out and to keep stuff out of it. I let it sit in the warmest part of my kitchen for 24 hours.
(as a totally unrelated side note, can you believe I spent $500 on my whole kitchen counters? We built them with MDF and used Stone Coat Epoxy to make it look like Carrara marble! I will be posting soon on our unbiased review on them!)
Unbleached White Flour Day 1, then 24 hours later
Rye Flour Day 1, then 24 hours later
Can you tell that certain flours are thirstier than others? White flour is consistently more liquidy. The rye is always more pasty. Whole wheat is kind of in the middle. It’s so interesting to see how different flours react!
Whole Wheat Flour Day 1, then 24 hours later
Day 2 Feed the Starters and keep it all
On day 2, I didn’t see much activity at all and that wasn’t surprising. I saw two little bubbles in the white flour, but everything else seemed inert.
I wanted to keep all that wild yeast that had gotten into my cultures, so instead of discarding any, I just added another 100g. of flour and 100g. filtered water to the cultures.
Day 3 Holy Cow!!! Discard & Feed the Starters
I was shocked at what I found on day 3 – it wasn’t even 24 hours later! They were huge! Honestly, last time I made a sourdough starter, it took close to 9 days for this to happen, so please don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t happen right away when you make a sourdough starter.
The wild yeast is present in the flours, but there’s also yeast in the air. I think that because I bake a lot of sourdough now, there’s more yeast in my air so it happened super fast. Additionally, it was summertime, so my house was really warm. That helps a lot!
The crazy thing about sourdough starter is that even though this looks bubbly and active, it’s not even close to being ready to use yet.
White Flour Day 3
Rye Flour Day 3
Whole Wheat Flour Day 3
How to know when my sourdough starter is ready to use.
Some people may think that they are ready to use now because of all the bubbles. That’s not true. The test to find out if a sourdough starter is ready to put to use is to see if it doubles in size in 6-8 hours. Remember, this had taken about 17 hours to double. So they definitely were on the move, but not ready to use.
Put 100g starter in the mason jars and fed with 100g flour and 100g filtered water
DAY 4 – Discard and Feed
11 hours later
25 hours later
Continue the process for 9-10 days total
I just continued this process over and over. It is super painful to discard starter, but it’s not active enough to make things like bread that need rising. However, you can absolutely use this to make my sourdough pancakes, or sourdough pumpkin waffles, or sourdough overnight chocolate chip cookies! Please don’t feel like you have to throw it away!
At the end of my 10 day period, my sourdough starter looked like this. At this point, which one would you guess is the best flour for sourdough starter? My guesses were not 100% accurate! I felt like the whole wheat and rye were both super bubbly and active, so they would be the best. Although the white flour one seemed to have the most rise, but the bubbles seemed little. So I guessed Rye, Whole Wheat, then White.
The Sourdough Starters are ready
They are finally ready! After 10 days, the starters doubled in size in the 6-8 hour window!!! When I fed the sourdough this time, I made sure to put a rubber-band at the top of the mixed starter. I checked in 6 hours and then again at 8 hours and they were doubled.
The rubber-band makes it really easy to tell. Oftentimes, I find myself guessing to see if it doubled, but I can’t quite remember where it was when I originally fed it. This makes it fool proof.
One of the things I always look for in my sourdough starter is that the bubbles are all different sizes. There’s little ones, and bigger ones too. Once it fits both of those tests, I use it.
The final test for the best flour for sourdough starter – Baking Loaves!
I was trying to decide what the best way to do this was. Since I was really testing what the best flour for sourdough starter was, I decided that I was going to make 3 loaves using 3 varieties of starter but the same flour. So each loaf had their variety of starter, but then it had the following ingredients:
330g. filtered water
525g. bread flour
90g. sourdough starter
I’m not going to go over the steps of how I made the bread. Soon I’ll be writing a post on how to make overnight sourdough bread and I’ll explain it all there!
Ready to go into the fridge to bake in the morning!
My brother in law owns a sourdough bakery and he told me that he didn’t think the starter had a high enough of a percentage of the flour in it to make a difference. However, what we found was that they were all SO different!
I can’t wait to introduce you to all of them! I’m going to start with 3rd place and move down to 1st place! Here’s the loser. The crazy thing is that the loser was still pretty delicious. But still the clear loser for me.
Wheat – 3rd Best Flour for Sourdough Starter
Here is our loaf made with the whole wheat starter. I found that this loaf did not rise as much or become as puffy as the other two loaves.
If you look at the crumb structure of the slice below, you’ll see that it looks nice and airy, but as you see the other loaves, you can tell that this one looks much denser.
It definitely was a denser loaf overall, but the color of the loaf on the exterior was really nice. The crust felt like a typical sourdough loaf with a thicker, chewy crust. It was delicious, but it definitely did not hold a candle to the other two loaves.
White – 2nd Best Flour for Sourdough Starter
This was the loaf using unbleached white flour. Can you see already how much puffier the loaf is? Even though the unbaked loaf looks flatter than the whole wheat one, the oven spring made this one so pretty and domed.
The crumb structure on this one was nice and airy, and had a really pretty colored crust, but it does look a little similar to the wheat loaf in that it was a little denser.
The strange thing was that this loaf tasted a bit more sour than the other two loaves which is so surprising! They all rose for the same amount of time and cooked for the same amount of time, so I’m thinking that because the white flour is not very complex compared to the whole wheat and rye, it just ate up the flour in the starter a lot faster.
The area where this loaf was a clear winner is that the crust on the slice was so much thinner and not as chewy. I prefer my sourdough not super dry and airy. I want it to be more like sandwich bread – moist and chewy and this one hit every single thing I look for, and then had a delicate crust which added so much!
Rye – Best Flour for Sourdough Starter
I love you, rye flour. This was so heads and shoulders above the others that it was the clear winner!
Look at the color on that loaf! It cooked for the exact same amount of time as the other loaves, but the color was so much deeper and more beautiful. It’s what I expect an artisan loaf of sourdough to look like. Not just golden, but deeply colored.
And can you look at that crumb structure!? It was like biting into the most delicious air you’ve ever tasted! If you compare it to the other two loaves, you can see that it’s not dense at all. It’s just airy and soft and perfection.
It did have a thicker, chewy crust that you would expect from a loaf of sourdough, unlike the thinner crust of the white flour loaf. However, it wasn’t so thick that it cut the roof of your mouth – which I cannot stand!
It was perfection.
Different palates may have chosen a different winner
With all that said, I do have to say that different palates like different bread. If you want super thin crust and a white bread taste, you may think the winner was FOR SURE the white flour.
However, If you want to feel like you’re filling up because your bread is dense and moist, you’ll probably be crazy about the whole wheat flour.
If you want your bread to be as light as air, moist, chewy, and looking like the most perfect artisan sourdough, you’ll go with my winner – rye.
But anyway you slice it, this bread is amazing. If you’d like to branch out, try the whole wheat or rye and see for yourself what the best flour for sourdough starter really is!