How To Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast Starter

KJ Barber
By KJ Barber October 27, 2020 08:54

How To Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast Starter

Due to the world-wide pandemic, it seems every time I go shopping, there is another hot item that is extremely hard to find, if you can find it at all. Items like toilet paper, paper towel, canning supplies, and various foods such as meat or bread have been on my “grab it if you see it” list.

So it’s no surprise then, that more and more people are attempting to make things from scratch at home. I was all excited to show my young teenage son, who is interested in cooking and baking, how to make homemade bread. A perk of quarantine, if there is one!

But, apparently my thoughts were not unique as there was a rush on even more items, making the list above grow longer. A shortage of bread, combined with boredom while stuck at home, led to shortages of ingredients for making the homemade bread that I was so eager to make.

Such as yeast. The local stores were out of it every time I tried. And what I could find online, the prices were ridiculous. Then, I found out I could make my own!

Related: How To Make Yeast For Long-Term Storage

I also found that cultivating a homemade wild yeast starter has a few more advantages than simply having it on hand, such as the following:

  • More natural
  • Less processed
  • Inexpensive to make
  • Easy to make

In addition, many people are finding that their sensitivities to baked goods are less severe with a natural yeast, rather one bought at the store with additives.

One of the easiest ways to get your own starter is to grab a scoop of a friend’s, then feed it. I will address feeding later down in the article. However, if you don’t know of anyone who has the starter, or if you just prefer to start your own from scratch, it’s quite easy and doesn’t cost much at all.

So, let’s get started on your starter!

Supplies Needed

How to Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast StarterThe supplies list is quite short, which is especially good when you never know what items might be hard to find.

Here is what you will need to cultivate your own wild yeast starter:

1 Quart Jar 

That is the minimum size, and will depend on how much baking you actually do in a week’s time. However, the jar should not be airtight. If you use a wax jar, remove the seal. Or, if you use a canning jar with a cap and lid, do not tighten it. You could also use a cloth or plastic wrap to loosely cover the jar when it’s sitting. Oxygen needs to be kept in, but CO2 needs to be able to get out.

Distilled Water

Water that is not distilled, or highly filtered, has chlorine in it. Chlorine will inhibit growth and actually kill your yeast.

Flour

You can use any flour for this. So, if you prefer all-purpose, or a hard white, it doesn’t matter. If your palate can tell the difference between flours, then use what you prefer for baked goods. Otherwise, just use what you have on hand.

Unsweetened Pineapple Juice (Optional)

You have the option of using pineapple juice in place of the water for the FIRST day. But, the first day only. This will add just a little natural sugar, which will help kick start your starter to act a bit faster.

The mix of ingredients (flour and liquid) is equal parts by WEIGHT. For example, I am adding 3 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of water or juice.

Day 1

Add 3 tablespoons of flour to the quart jar.

How to Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast StarterAdd 2 tablespoons of water or juice to the flour in the jar.

How to Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast StarterWhisk the flour and liquid together.

How to Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast StarterLightly cover the jar, with an untightened lid, cloth, or plastic wrap.

How to Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast StarterSet the jar on the counter, keeping it at room temperature, lightly stirring the mix 2-3 times within the next 24 hours.

Day 2

Repeat the steps from Day 1, with the exception of not adding any juice. Use water in place of the juice from now on. The juice is only for day 1, if you use it at all.

How to Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast StarterDay 3-7

Repeat this process every day, adding more flour and water, and stirring 2-3 times a day. In 3-5 days, you should start to see air bubbles or pockets in the mix through the jar. At this time, you should also be able to smell a yeast aroma.

How to Cultivate Your Own Wild Yeast StarterOngoing Feedings

After a week, what you do next will depend on how often you bake.

If you bake about once a week, the ongoing feeding should consist of the following:

  • Store the jar of yeast in the refrigerator, which will stop the growth, because you have enough now.
  • Feed it once a week, by adding equal parts of flour and water by WEIGHT, basically replacing what you take out for use.

If you bake more often than once a week, the following could be done for ongoing feeding:

  • Store the starter jar out on the counter.
  • If there’s too much in the jar, discard or use half.
  • Feed the starter daily with equal parts of flour and water by WEIGHT.

Related: 6 Backyard Plants You Can Turn Into Bread

Extra Tips

  • If the starter is not active – Try switching flours, if you aren’t seeing an active yeast after a few days. Rye flour is a good choice for stubborn starter situations. Or, make sure that it’s not too cold. With cooler months, the house might be colder than normal and can slow growth. If that’s the case, store it in a warmer part of the house.
  • Clear or yellowish liquid on the top – This is common, and also referred to as hooch. Since this is normal, the liquid can just be discarded if it’s just once in a while. If it’s continuous, your starter is hungry, so feed it.
  • If the starter is covered with a white’ish colored film on top of a liquid – Feed it immediately, because it’s hangry, not just hungry.
  • The starter goes bad – if you notice a bad smell, or see unusual coloring or fuzziness, throw it out and start over.
  • If you see fruit flies or maggots in it – Discard the entire batch and start over. Try covering the new batch with a thicker cloth. Keep in mind, if you have fruit flies around, they love this stuff as much as you will!

There are many recipes, either found in your grandparent’s recipe box or on the internet, on how to use your starter for wonderful homemade baked goods. Enjoy!

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KJ Barber
By KJ Barber October 27, 2020 08:54
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25 Comments

  1. Big Jer October 27, 14:23

    So how much to add to bread mix?

    Reply to this comment
    • P.A. October 27, 18:13

      Usually 1 cup of ripe starter for a loaf of bread. Basic recipe would be 1 cup starter, 3 – 4 cups all-purpose or bread flour, 1 cup water, 1 tbls oil, 1 tsp salt. Modify as needed for consistency

      Reply to this comment
    • PlainJane November 12, 20:16

      1 cup starter plus 4-5 cups flour, tsp salt. you have to knead, rest, knead, rest, allow to proof (rise) and then bake. Main thing is to be patient developing your starter. I stir the “hooch’ back in. Also, some Sour Salt (citric acid) added to the dough gives it a tangy taste.

      Reply to this comment
    • PlainJane November 12, 20:17

      You can get a recipe and instructions from King Arthur flour.com

      Reply to this comment
  2. patches October 27, 15:00

    Excellent article. I’m going to try this. Do you use the same amount of the homemade yeast as you do store bought in recipes?

    Reply to this comment
  3. Becca October 27, 15:20

    Thank you for many of your informative articles. FYI: Many of your links to other articles don’t work.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Harry October 27, 16:04

    How to use? There must be a ratio for recipe’s compared to dry yeast. 2 to 1?, 3 to 1?.

    Reply to this comment
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  6. whats it to you October 27, 16:47

    Sorry wild yeast not with people going around with yeast infections because they do not go anywhere so they do not get dirty. These are the people that have failed hygiene 101

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck October 29, 02:47

      Huh? Is it your contention that someone with a yeast infection will contaminate your batch of home grown yeast? It would seem to me that if they don’t come in contact with your yeast brewing in the jar there is not much chance of their yeast infection getting into your batch of homegrown.

      Are we to assume that following an end of the world event you are going to be subsisting strictly on flat bread, tortillas, matzo and the other unleavened breads that exist in the world because you are afraid of catching a yeast infection to use naturally growing yeast?

      4
      1
      Reply to this comment
  7. Meg October 27, 17:31

    Will this work with gluten free flour? If so, I can’t wait to try it. Thank you!

    Reply to this comment
    • red October 28, 14:20

      Meg: I’m gluten intolerant and yes, it’ll work. to boost the yeast, a heaping tablespoon of raw yogurt helps. niio

      Reply to this comment
  8. red October 27, 23:12

    If in my grandmothers’ time, a woman needed more than one pack of yeast in her life, people said she was too lazy to keep the starter going. A lot of families had their own strains of yeast kept from one generation to the next.
    We don’t eat a lot of carbs, but koji is great for fermenting a lot of things, like making soy sauce. It’s activated in rice and stored for up to 6 months while active on one batch.
    Best bet to keep a stain of yeast is to dry the starter or freeze it. niio

    Reply to this comment
  9. clergylady October 28, 00:43

    Love sourdough breads and pancakes. Good instructions.

    Reply to this comment
  10. red October 28, 14:23

    whats: Not only that, but a lot of wild yeast is toxic. this might be why the Bible commanded Hebrews to throw out old leavening each year. But, all of us carry a lot of fungus and bacteria around. niio

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck October 29, 02:50

      RED: Japanese have been using koji for centuries to make sake, soy sauce and other fermented products. To the best of my knowledge neither sake brewers nor soy sauce brewers throw out their koji ever.

      Reply to this comment
      • red October 30, 02:46

        LCC: Talking Bible, not Nipon. Nor will I toss koji. It’s technically not a yeast. No place in the NT are we instructed to waste leavening. 🙂 BTW, the koji beer came out OK. I went light on the hops. niio

        Reply to this comment
  11. Govtgirl October 29, 10:54

    Thank you for this article. Wish I had it when I started the whole sourdough thing a few months back. Was using a big mixing bowl and throwing away more than I used even though I baked extra loaves and froze them. Will try again with a quart jar and all should go much better.

    Reply to this comment
  12. TheSouthernNationalist November 2, 23:00

    If you want a good yeast starter just do what they did back in old times, get some of that foam from the top of your favourite beer or ale and mix with flour and water.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J1PNDnqsfA

    Reply to this comment
  13. Morpheous November 23, 22:38

    Getting some mold on the sides of my glass, from the stirring platters, is it too cold?

    Reply to this comment
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