Most of us have probably heard that fermented foods are healthy for us, increasing the biodiversity in our microbiomes. Fermentation is also an exciting way to see nature at work – seeing an inert mixture develop bubbles and start to smell heavenly is a fun science lesson and provides a tasty cooking ingredient.
Sourdough also has to be one of the most ancient ferments, and using it allows us to connect back to our deep heritage as a species. I love how basic sourdough starter is – it is nothing more than flour, water, and the natural yeasts in the air, yet it creates such delicious foods.
Making gluten-free sourdough starter is one of the biggest revolutions I have had in my kitchen, ever. I use sourdough starter to make gluten-free sourdough bread, of course, but also delicious pancakes, that are unlike any pancakes I have tasted before! These gluten-free sourdough pancakes are egg-centric and make the start of my day feel like a rock concert.
So how to create an awesome gluten-free starter for bread, pancakes or other gluten-free baked goods? You don’t have to travel to distant shores and go from door to door knocking at mossy little cottages in search of this culinary holy grail (though, that does sound kind of fun). You can make your own!
For this starter I use organic brown rice flour. I experimented with many other flours (buckwheat, amaranth, teff, etc) but my brown rice flour starter was always the most reliable, fastest to ferment, and produced the sweetest smells.
Organic Gluten-free Brown Rice Flour Sourdough Starter
- A wide mouthed jar
- Cheese cloth (or a thin kitchen towel)
- A rubberband
- Water (unchlorinated)
- Organic brown rice flour
- feed your starter regularly, preferably once a day, for at least a week
- use your starter at least once a week
1. ADD 2 tbsp water and 2 tbsp brown rice flour to your jar. STIR. The mixture should be somewhat liquidy, like a pancake batter. ADD more water or flour to achieve this consistency.
2. COVER the mouth of the jar with the cheesecloth and secure with the rubber band.
3. PLACE the jar somewhere warm and safe from pets and kids, but where you will see it everyday.
4. FEED your starter: The next day at the same time, ADD 1 tbsp flour and just enough water to keep a batter-like consistency.
5. REPEAT this daily until you notice bubbles forming. The mixture will be an official sourdough at around a week, depending on the temperature in your home. If you’re not sure, smell it. It should have that wonderful sourdough smell.
6. When your jar starts to get full, REMOVE some starter to use. Depending on your plans for it, you can remove just a tablespoon or most of it.
7. Make Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread if the starter smells like sourdough, or if not, use it to make Gluten-Free Sourdough Pancakes.
8. FEED the starter and repeat this cycle.
A note on feeding. Most recipes for sourdough starter will tell you to feed it twice a day. I find this unnecessary – your sourdough starter will be just as happy being fed once daily. Also, if you miss a day – or even two sometimes – it will probably be fine. It may develop a crust on top as it dries out, but you can just feed it, stir it up and it will take off again. If you forget it for a long period of time and it gets moldy, I recommend composting it and starting over.
The time it takes your starter to ferment will depend largely on the temperature in your home, and the temperature where it is placed to ferment. As a general rule, fermentation is faster in summer when it’s warmer, and slower in winter when it’s cooler. Sourdough starter is no exception!
Taking a break
If you want to take a break from making starter, you can either put it in the fridge for a few days, then start feeding again OR you can use all your starter up and just make a new one when you are ready to start using sourdough starter again.
Ancient vs young cultures
Many people seem to think that there is importance in maintaining a sourdough culture over a long period of time. While doing this is certainly an interesting way to keep a culinary lifeline open to the past, I don’t know that there is proof that an ancient sourdough is really any better than a younger one.
Enjoy your sourdough creations and Bon Appetit!