Look at any package of store-bought bread and you’re likely to turn up your nose in disgust after reading the ingredients. From artificial flavors to preservatives you can’t pronounce, there are a lot of reasons to make homemade bread instead.
Besides the health benefits that sourdough provides, it’s also undeniably tasty. It might not be the easiest bread to make but the effort is certainly worth it.
If you’ve ever made a delicious sourdough recipe, however, you may have been left scratching your head in confusion over what to do with all the excess starter.
What is discarded starter, you might ask, and why do I need to get rid of it? We’ll cover all of that – and then some – in this guide.
A Brief Introduction to Sourdough Starter
When you make a loaf of sourdough, it requires you to nurture a “starter” in order to begin baking. Unlike a standard white loaf, which is made with yeast and only takes about a day to make, sourdough requires a starter that acts as a leavening agent.
Although sourdough starter takes more time to create – it’s usually a seven-day process – you can make it with just some flour and a bit of water. The flour and water will begin to ferment and bubble over a week’s time, providing you with all the yeast you need to bake a loaf of bread.
The process sounds complicated, but when you follow our simple sourdough starter recipe and spend some time practicing it, it will eventually become something you can practically do in your sleep!
Why You Should Find New Uses For Your Discarded Starter
As you care for your starter over time (believe it or not, some people keep their starters going for multiple years on end), you will need to occasionally dump some of it out.
There are several reasons for doing this, as difficult as it might sound to throw out something you’ve worked so hard to replenish.
For one, your starter will grow to overwhelming amounts over time. If you don’t discard your starter from time to time, you are going to have a culture that takes over your entire kitchen. In addition, if you allow your starter to grow unfettered for months on end, the pH balance in your mixture can be thrown off. This can alter the flavor and leavening capabilities of your loaf of bread.
How to Know if it’s Time to Use Up Some Starter
There are several telltale signs that it’s time to get rid of some sourdough starter. A good rule of thumb is to toss half the starter every time you feed it during the first week (generally twice a day).
Every twelve hours, measure out four ounces of starter, toss the rest, and feed the remaining starter. This should allow you to maintain a good pH balance in your starter and it will also make the volume easier to manage.
You might also need to discard starter if it seems as though your starter isn't quite getting going. Often, too much starter can make it more difficult for the cultures in your starter to feed – basically, there are too many mouths to feed and removing some of the starter can help allow your feedings to actually do their work. If your starter isn’t bubbling and active the way it should be, consider discarding some.
You don’t need to waste that hard-earned starter, though. By dumping it down the drain, you’re not only wasting the money and energy that you expended to nurture it, but you’re also potentially clogging your drain – don’t do it. Toss it in the trash, and you’re going to have a stinky, fly-attracting mess to contend with, too.
The Top 10 Uses for Discarded Sourdough Starter
Instead of throwing out your discarded starter, there are several easy ways you can use up that discarded sourdough starter in your kitchen. There are countless recipes that call for discarded starter, but it’s also easy to create your own.
Generally, a recipe is a good contender for a sourdough substitution if the hydration called for in the recipe matches that of the starter, or if no leavening agent is required. Often, a great discarded sourdough starter recipe is one that requires a certain level of sourness and that distinct sourdough flavor.
Here are some of the best uses for discarded sourdough starter:
1. Make Breakfast
You can also make sourdough waffles. While traditional waffles require baking powder or soda to make them rise, this recipe uses sourdough starter instead. You’ll just need to prepare the batter the evening before you make your waffles to make sure the leaven has time to work. This recipe can help get you started.
There are even cinnamon roll recipes out there that call for sourdough starter. The starter lends the rolls a unique, tangy flavor that will be difficult for you to resist.
2. Make Banana Bread
Bananas and sourdough starter go together surprisingly well – and this loaf will make your kitchen smell amazing while it’s baking. Cultures for Health has an excellent recipe for sourdough banana bread that ends up being tangy and savory at the same time.
3. Whip Up a Batch of Pizza
There’s nothing better than homemade pizza, and if you’re looking for a leavening agent to help the dough rise, discarded sourdough starter can be your friend. It’s easy to use and requires only a 30-minute rest. Plus, you’ll only need about a cup and a half of discarded starter to make it.
When you make this recipe by Genius Kitchen, know that you can store several cups of discarded starter in the refrigerator from multiple feeding cycles – it just might become a bit sourer over time.
4. Twist Some Soft Pretzels
The soft pretzel has a reputation as being one of the most difficult concoctions to create at home – but it’s a poorly earned reputation.
These soft pretzels by King Arthur Flour are actually quite simple to make – and you don’t need to feed your discarded starter or bring it to room temperature before you use it, either. The ingredients are likely items you have hanging around the pantry anyway, so these pretzels are treats that anybody can make at home.
5. Bake a Country Loaf
Despite everything you’ve read in this post, you don’t have to discard your starter. Instead, you can use it to make a brand new loaf of sourdough bread. Confused yet? Don’t be.
This recipe is not for the faint of heart – and definitely not for someone who has never made sourdough before. A country loaf of sourdough bread contains smaller amounts of starter but a longer amount of fermentation time, allowing you to make tasty bread using only the discard as the leavening agent.
Fermentation will be slower, so you will want to allow the dough to rise for about ten to twelve hours (about twice as long as you would with a traditional starter). However, using the discarded starter to make a new loaf of sourdough will result in a dough that nearly triples in size!
You can get more information on how to make a country loaf of sourdough from Pastry and Prose.
6. Use a Bread Machine
If you don’t want to spend the time nurturing a loaf of sourdough but you still want a loaf to enjoy for the week, consider pulling out your trusty bread machine. You will need to add extra yeast, but it can reduce the amount of hands-on time you need to spend pounding down your loaves and allowing them to rise.
7. Get Cracking
Who doesn’t love a big bowl of soup with some crackers? If you’re looking for a cracker that tastes cheesy and moist – yet only contains starter, oil, flour, salt, and baking powder, then these sourdough crackers are the way to go.
This recipe was created by Zero Waste Chef, and it's the one you’ve got to try out.
8. Whip Up Some Tacos
Taco Tuesday, anyone? If you don’t have any tortillas hanging around the house, you can always make sourdough ones. Your sourdough starter does not need to be active, although it can be. They have a light, airy texture and the dough can be frozen for long term storage.
Just make sure you follow a recipe like the one created by Pies and Tacos to make sure you’re on the right page – rolling out the dough can be a bit of a process.
9. Make Focaccia
Focaccia bread is a tasty addition to the dinner table on its own, but you can also use this herb-coated loaf for sandwiches. It’s easy to make with a sourdough starter – you will only need a couple of additional ingredients (like olive oil and salt).
There are hundreds of tried-and-true recipes for sourdough focaccia out there, but the one by King Arthur Flour has truly stood the test of time.
10. Compost It
If you don’t have time to whip up a batch of bread, pretzels, pancakes, or another one of the tasty recipes on this list, all hope is not lost. Your sourdough starter is not going to turn into the Blob, taking over your entire kitchen. Worst case scenario, you can always compost it.
It’s not the most exciting option, but composting discard is actually a great way to get the microbes in your compost – something you need for a healthy pile. Just consider whisking some cold water into the starter to thin it out to make adding it to your compost pile a bit easier.
Final Tips for Using Discarded Sourdough Starter
Make sure you follow a recipe when you’re just starting out with using your discard. Some may require you to “heat” the starter by feeding it or allowing it to sit overnight at room temperature, while others let you use it cold. Other recipes may call for additional leavening agents, too.
Hopefully, the ideas above will reduce the frustration and overwhelm that occur when it comes to discarded sourdough starter. Roll up your sleeves, and start baking!