How to Make a Rye Sourdough Starter


This is for all bakers who are looking to work with a rye sourdough starter. Making your own rye flour based starter is the first step in the process of making rye sourdough breads. It’ll take you roughly five days to make the starter but you will be rewarded with wonderfully tasty natural rye bread loaves and will no longer be reliant on bought yeast.

Rye sourdough starter
Rye sourdough starter

The first bit of good news is that you will only have to do this initial work once. Once you have a starter, you will be able to keep it in your fridge for all future sourdough baking.

Secondly, the steps are really easy to follow and each step will only take a few minutes out of your day. So, without further ado, here’s how you make your own rye sourdough starter.

Rye Sourdough Starter Recipe

This is based on Andrew Whitley’s step-by-step guide in the best book on bread baking out there, Bread Matters. Use organic flour and spring water for best results.

Day 1

  • 25g wholemeal rye flour
  • 50g tepid water (35°C/95°F)

A note on water by Andrew Whitley in his book Do Sourdough – Slow Bread For Busy Lives:

“Tap water is treated with chlorine… which isn’t great for the bacteria that we want to nurture. There are two ways to reduce the chlorine threat: leave a jug of water standing overnight and most of the residual chlorine will evaporate; or use still spring water from a bottle. Once a starter is up and running, it will cope with water straight from the tap. Using a little spring water for the first few days will give your starter the best possible chances.”

Using a medium sized plastic bowl with a lid, mix the flour and water, put the lid on and keep at a warm temperature for 24 hours.

There is no need to add anything else to your starter mixture as the wholemeal flour contains all the yeasts and lactobacilli needed for the fermentation process.

The optimal temperature for fermenting rye sourdough is around the 30°C mark. Don’t worry if this is not the temperature in your room (it isn’t in my flat in Edinburgh!). The process will just take slightly longer.

Day 2

  • 25g wholemeal rye flour
  • 50g tepid water (35°C/95°F)

Add the above ingredients into the bowl which contains the 75g starter mixture from Day 1, cover and keep at a warm temperature for 24 hours.

Day 3

  • 25g wholemeal rye flour
  • 50g tepid water (35°C/95°F)

Add the above ingredients into the bowl which now contains 150g starter mixture from Day 1 and 2, cover and keep at a warm temperature for 24 hours. At this point, you may already start to see signs of the starter fermenting (small bubbles).

Day 4

  • 25g wholemeal rye flour
  • 50g tepid water (35°C/95°F)

Add the above ingredients into the bowl which now contains 225g starter mixture from Day 1, 2 and 3, cover and keep at a warm temperature for 24 hours.

Day 5

You should now have an active starter that has bubbled up overnight, slightly subsided again and smells fruity. You are the proud owner of a viable rye sourdough starter – the sourdough baking can begin!

If you have some questions and are in need of a little sourdough troubleshooting, you can come to this Sourdough FAQ page or invest in Andrew Whitley’s sourdough guide book Do Sourdough: Slow Bread for Busy Lives.

Rye sourdough starter recipe
Rye sourdough starter recipe

Also published on Medium.

  • Claire Wells

    Hi there, I used tepid water for the first mix and for every other feed I used just room temp water – should it be tepid water with each feed?


    Claire 🙂

    • paemsn

      Hi Claire, I use tepid water every time (I will update my post now to clarify). Good luck and best wishes! Pam

  • maria

    Hi how would i maintain it afterwards?

    • paemsn

      Hi Maria, please keep it in the fridge. I usually place it into a plastic bowl with lid. I also try to use a bowl which isn’t too big for the amount of sourdough starter so I don’t have an unnecessarily large amount of air (and associated bacteria) with the sourdough. Keep it in the fridge until you need it for your next bake. It keeps really well and doesn’t need to be refreshed or ‘fed’ at regular intervals. I use mine every week, but it shouldn’t really go off even if you don’t use it that regularly. Let me know if you have further questions and enjoy! Pam

  • paemsn

    Hi Jim, thanks for getting in touch!
    Are you referring to my ‘easy sourdough bread’ recipe? If so, you are right, the recipe uses 100% hydration sourdough whereas this original rye sourdough starter recipe comes out at 200% hydration.
    You will only need 30g starter for the easy sourdough bread recipe, so using 200% versus 100% hydration starter will not make a big difference in this case and will change the overall dough hydration by only about 1.6% (from 67% to 68.6%).
    So, feel free to proceed with the 200% hydration starter or if you would like to bake an exact 67% hydration sourdough, I would recommend adjusting the starter refresh ingredients to 55g wholemeal flour and 45g water.
    Hope this is useful and sorry for any confusion caused.
    Best wishes, Pam

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