How to Make a Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter From Scratch

by Kaitlynn Fenley

This homemade gluten-free sourdough starter recipe makes it easy to make gluten-free sourdough bread. You only need a few ingredients and one week to make your gluten free sourdough starter from scratch.

Does Sourdough Starter Work With Gluten-Free Flour?

Yes! You can make a sourdough starter from scratch or adjust your regular starter to gluten-free flour feedings. If you change a starter fed with gluten-containing flour, it works well, but it won’t be safe for people with celiac disease.

The main differences you can expect with a gluten-free starter vs. a regular starter:

  • The starter will be thicker and chunkier after feeding & fermentation. Gluten-free flour is not as smooth.
  • There are more funky smells when first getting a GF starter going. Just keep discarding and feeding in the beginning; the smells get better.
  • There is always a semi-thick dry layer on top of the starter after feeding & fermentation.

Sourdough Starter for Gluten-Free Bread

When it comes to sourdough, everyone likes to focus on the wild yeasts, but a sourdough starter isn’t all yeast; it’s a mix of yeasts, lactic acid-producing bacteria, and acetic acid-producing bacteria. In wild sourdough starters, yeasts first ferment wheat carbohydrates into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Then, bacteria in the sourdough starter metabolize the alcohols produced by the yeasts into acetaldehyde and then into acetic acid, making it sour. 

Have you ever experienced your starter smelling like acetone (nail polish)? That means that the bacteria in your starter need more oxygen to finish converting alcohol into acetic acid. If there isn’t enough oxygen, the bacteria get stuck in the middle of the conversion process, with a build-up of acetaldehyde. Once you expose them to more oxygen by stirring or feeding, they can finish converting acetaldehyde into acetic acid.

Have you ever experienced your sourdough starter rising and expanding twice after one feeding, probably after waiting longer than 24 hours to discard and feed? This is a good sign; it means lots of good bacteria are in your starter. But you should probably feed it asap. Here’s what’s happening microbially: when yeasts start to metabolize the flour into alcohol, they also produce carbon dioxide, which is the first expansion of the starter. You may notice the sourdough starter fall and then rise again. The second rise is from bacteria metabolizing built-up alcohol into acetaldehyde. More carbon dioxide is produced as a byproduct when they do this, which adds more bubbles to the starter. Cool huh?

Microbes in Gluten Free Sourdough Starters

Fermentation in sourdough starters doesn’t happen in succession. As soon as the yeasts produce alcohol, the bacteria metabolize alcohol into acids. So things do get sour early on. It’s not like the yeasts make all the alcohol first; then, days later, the bacteria start metabolizing it. It’s simultaneous since it is a rich, wild, mixed culture.

Yeasts make bubbles and visible expansion in a starter, but bacteria produce all the flavor. Bacteria start making things sour on day one. The bacteria can also metabolize carbohydrates from the flour into acids outright, and then wild yeasts metabolize the lactic acid produced by bacteria for energy. When more good bacteria are present, they can help boost yeast populations by feeding them usable acids and eliminating waste products (alcohol). The point of discarding and feeding is to refresh the functional substrates available to all the microbes so that the accumulation of waste products does not kill the yeast and bacteria. Sourdough is fascinating because so many different types of microbial metabolism and fermentation are happening all at once. 

Ingredients and Tools to Make a Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

  1. Flour: I use a mix of gluten-free flours that I developed based on my best flavor results in GF bread tests.*See GF sourdough starter flour mix discussed in the section below*
  2. Water: Filtered water is best, but you can use tap water if you have good tap water, and I use tap water that I filter through our water filter pitcher.
  3. Glass Jars and Cheesecloth: I like to use a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar with some cheesecloth on top to grow my sourdough starter. The mixture needs access to air to increase, so you cannot use a traditional mason jar lid. I just secured the cheesecloth to the jar with a rubber band. I use two jars and switch back and forth between feedings, so I always have a freshly clean jar.
  4. Kitchen Scale: If you frequent our blog, you should already have one of these on hand. You can find a good kitchen scale option HERE. If you’re going to master fermentation and baking, you need a kitchen scale. If you’re going to experiment with different flours for your GF sourdough starter, you should use your kitchen scale for measurements. Some flours are denser, so you must weigh them for recipe consistency. Nobody enjoys a dense loaf of bread.
  5. Environment: Temperature is critical when growing healthy yeast and bacteria in a sourdough starter. Your kitchen temperature should be between 68-78 degrees F, and it can be warmer or cooler, but the rise time will be affected.

three small jars of gluten free sourdough starter covered with beige cloth lids.

The Best Gluten-Free Flour for Sourdough Starters

I make my mix of gluten-free flour for feeding my GF sourdough starter. It’s a simple mix of:

NOTE: Cornmeal is not the same thing as corn masa. Masa is a finer grind made from corn that has gone through nixtamalization (a process where you soak corn with lime before grinding). Masa is used for dough, while cornmeal is more like polenta and you must cook it for it to absorb water. You must use corn masa in this recipe, not cornmeal.  

I usually make this mix, then store it in an air-tight glass container specifically for sourdough starter feedings. This sourdough starter recipe does work well with feeding 100% Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-Free Flour.

gluten-free sourdough starter in a round glass jar, covered with a beige cloth and rubber band.

Can Gluten-Free Flour Rise with Yeast?

Yes, gluten-free flour can rise with packaged yeast or wild yeast in a sourdough starter. And with the right bread recipe, the rise is beautiful!

Here’s the thing about gluten-free flour rising with yeast, though: you MUST shape the bread before allowing it to rise. This is NOTHING like glutinous bread dough. There is no punch-down, no stretching or folding, no pre-shaping then shaping, and there is only one rise.

I chose the loaf-pan method for our gluten-free sourdough bread recipe, and it allows for higher water content and no need to try and shape something that includes no gluten to hold everything together.

How to Discard and Feed Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

You discard and feed a gluten-free sourdough starter like a regular one. See the section above on the best gluten-free flour for sourdough starters.

Step One (Day 1)

  1. In your glass jar, combine the following: 
    • 50 grams of gluten-free flour blend
    • 100 grams of water 
  2. Use a spatula to combine the flour and water. Stir until there are no clumps and the mixture is smooth. Make sure to scrape down any mixture from the sides of the jar.
  3. Secure a breathable covering to the jar (i.e., cheesecloth or any tight-weave cloth) and leave the mixture on the counter for 24 hours.

Step Two (Day 2)

  1. Stir the sourdough starter mixture; you may notice that the texture is thicker and “chunky.” This is normal.
  2. Add 30 grams of gluten-free flour and 60 grams of water. 
  3. Mix and scrape down the sides. Replace a breathable lid. Leave the mixture on the counter for 24 hours. 

Step Three (Days 3-7, Feeding and Discarding)

  1. In a clean jar, add the following: 
    • 50 grams sourdough starter mixture 
    • 50 grams of gluten-free flour 
    • and 100 grams of water 
  2. Stir until evenly combined, and scrape down the sides of the jar. Replace the breathable lid and allow it to ferment for 24 hours. *if you want to see the bubbles and rise in the starter, check it at 8 to 12 hours.*
  3. Discard any remaining original starter mixture. Or you can find fun ways to use sourdough starter discard. 
  4. Repeat every 24 hours through day 7.

Step 4 (The Night Before Baking)

  1. (you will want to use a bigger jar here) 12 hours before baking, add to your starter:
    • 50 grams of gluten-free flour
    • 100 grams water 
  2. Stir until evenly combined, and scrape down the sides of the jar. It should be about the consistency of cake batter. Replace the breathable lid and allow it to ferment for 12 hours

Day 8 (Baking Day)

  • If your starter shows bubbling and rising, you can use it for baking.

How to Make Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread

I developed our gluten-free sourdough bread recipe with four priorities in mind. I wanted this bread to be:

  1. Soft but sturdy and easy to cut
  2. Full of sourdough flavor
  3. Extremely easy to make with minimal ingredients
  4. No eggs.

I can say that I nailed it. Our gluten-free sourdough bread recipe checks off all my standards. It is delicious, soft yet able to hold together, egg-free, and straightforward to make. Seriously, this gluten-free sourdough comes together in just 5 minutes. Then, let it ferment and rise before baking.

Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter Problems

With gluten-free sourdough starters, the troubleshooting is about the same as with regular sourdough starters. If you encounter any issues with your gluten-free sourdough starter, check out this article: The Most Common Sourdough Starter Problems and How to Fix Them.

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Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter From Scratch

It’s easy to make gluten-free sourdough bread with this homemade gluten-free sourdough starter recipe. You only need a few ingredients and one week to make your gluten free sourdough starter from scratch.

  • Author: Kaitlynn Fenley
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Sourdough
  • Method: Fermentation
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Ingredients

  • Gluten-Free flour mix*
  • water

Instructions

  1. In your glass jar, combine 50 grams GF flour mixture and 100 grams of water.
  2. Use a spatula to combine the flour and water. Stir until there are no clumps and the mixture is smooth. Make sure to scrape down any mixture from the sides of the jar.
  3. Secure a breathable covering to the jar (i.e., cheesecloth) and leave the mixture on the counter for 24 hours.
  4. (Day 2) Stir the GF sourdough starter. Add in 30 grams of your flour mixture and 60 grams of water. Mix and scrape down the sides. Replace a breathable lid. Leave the mixture on the counter for 24 hours.
  5. (Days 3-7, Feeding and Discarding). Add 50 grams starter mixture, 50 grams of GF flour mixture, 100 grams of water in a clean jar. Note: these amounts result in a lot of starter discard; feel free to cut the amounts in this step by half to conserve flour. 
  6. Stir until evenly combined, and scrape down the sides of the jar. Replace the breathable lid and allow it to ferment for 24 hours.
  7. Discard the remaining starter mixture. Or you can find fun ways to use sourdough starter discard.
  8. Repeat every 24 hours through day 7.
  9. (The Night Before Baking). 12 hours before baking, do not discard and add 50 grams of your GF flour mixture and 100 grams of water to your starter. You may need to size up to a bigger jar when feeding the night before baking.  
  10. Stir until evenly combined, and scrape down the sides of the jar. Replace the breathable lid and allow it to ferment for 12 hours.
  11. (Baking Day). Gluten-free starters may not pass a “float test.” If you see bubbles in the starter, it smells pleasantly sour, and it has clearly risen; you can use it for baking. 
  12. Put 50 grams GF starter mixture aside and continue feeding as in days 3-7 for your next baking day. Use the rest for your bread recipe. Click Here for my gluten-free sourdough bread recipe.

Notes

  • *I use a mix of 1:1 gluten-free flour, corn masa flour, and sorghum flour. Please see the body of this blog post for details on the flour blend ratio I use to feed my GF sourdough starter.

Keywords: sourdough, gluten free, bread, starter

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29 comments

Julie Brown September 30, 2021 - 9:27 pm

This looks amazing! However, I live in New Zealand therefore cannot get Bob’s Red Mill flour. What exactly is that, please, so I can try to get the equivalent?
Thank you! Julie

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley October 1, 2021 - 8:11 am

Hey Julie, the ingredients in Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour blend are: Sweet White Rice Flour, Whole Grain Brown Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Whole Grain Sorghum Flour, Tapioca Flour, Xanthan Gum

Reply
Jennell November 3, 2022 - 10:37 am

Hi! I have a sensitivity to gluten, corn, white potatoes, dairy, and eggs. Is there a specific flour mixture that you recommend I use to make this recipe?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley November 3, 2022 - 3:13 pm

Hi! I’ve only ever made it with the flour mixture in my recipe here, and this is the recipe I recommend for gluten-free. I’m not sure what you can do if you can’t have potato or corn either.

Reply
Ashlee October 31, 2021 - 8:01 am

I started the process last night and am so excited to see and taste the results! Is there a way to keep the process going so I don’t have to start from scratch each time? Or is it best to make a new batch each time?

Thanks!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley November 1, 2021 - 11:20 am

yes! you can keep the process going just as you would for a regular sourdough starter. Check step 12 in the recipe. When you bake with your starter, just keep 50 grams set aside so you can continue to discard and feed daily. 🙂

Reply
Jenna December 25, 2021 - 9:22 pm

Thanks! Just to clarify, we would need to feed daily after the first batch, yes? Can it be left for a few days and then fed or stored in the fridge?

Any suggestions on what to use the discard in?

I have all the ingredients and I’m ready to finally do this!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley December 26, 2021 - 8:41 am

Yes, it needs to be fed every 24 hours. No, you cannot leave it for a few days without feeding it at room temperature. If you want to “hibernate it” in the fridge, feed it, cover it with a solid lid, then store it in the fridge for up to two weeks before feeding again. When you’re ready to use it again, just take it out of the fridge and discard/feed every 24 hours.

Reply
Laurie January 24, 2022 - 6:40 pm

Hey, have an issue with buckwheat starter, the top always turns pink I assume it’s a yeast? even when I sterilise my equipement and use filtered water, this contamination always ends up happening. I can see that some of your starters are Pink. Just wondering if you may have run into the issue and if it is a problem, really.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 27, 2022 - 7:45 am

Might be the type of buckwheat you are using. Some have a reddish hue. I’d have to see a picture to tell. My starters are not pink, they are purplish blue because they are made from blue corn masa.

Blake Spencer January 9, 2022 - 11:31 am

I have a very old and very hardy sourdough mother and I started feeding some of it with brown rice flour. It’s bubbly and happy. It is possible to covert this starter to gluten free if I keep feeding it brown rice flour? Do you know how long it will take?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 10, 2022 - 2:33 pm

Yes, you can transition it. It will never be 100% gluten-free, in the food safety meaning of “gluten-free”… But after about 10 feedings there will only be trace amounts of wheat.

Reply
Rebecca October 17, 2022 - 12:15 pm

Can I collect my discarded sourdough starter for several days before using it in one of your recipes that uses sourdough starter discard?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley October 17, 2022 - 6:52 pm

yes! just keep it in the fridge until you have enough

Reply
Melinda February 27, 2022 - 8:48 pm

Just started your recipe! I’m so excited! I’m on day 3 though and I noticed that the starter has a pink hue. I used the exact brand of flours list….is this normal??!! Lol

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley March 1, 2022 - 2:24 pm

Did you use the blue corn masa? or just the 1:1 flour. If you used the blue corn masa, it will look light purplish pink.

Reply
Melinda March 2, 2022 - 10:21 am

Ah ok! Ya I used your flour mix recipe that you shared in the blog. It’s hard to tell if it’s more pink that blue/purple hahaha. This might be a weird question but does this recipe create a different type of sourdough smell? If it was the bad bacteria kinda of pink would the smell be bad as well? I can’t really tell if the smell it’s giving off is normal or not 😉
Thank you!

Reply
Sarah May 19, 2022 - 8:43 pm

Is it ok to use regular yellow corn masa? I cannot find the blue available.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley May 20, 2022 - 3:18 pm

yes, absolutely!

Reply
Kate June 6, 2022 - 2:21 pm

Is there any way to speed up the process ? What if I’m a few hours late on some of the 24hr feedings? I work 12 hrs so one day I may be a little later/earlier on the feedings. Is that okay?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley June 6, 2022 - 2:26 pm

Sure! add in a teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar or kombucha or fermented vegetable brine to speed it up. Just feed it once a day, it doesn’t have to be exact on the hour.

Reply
Kate June 7, 2022 - 10:30 am

Thank you!! I also don’t have the sorghum or blue corn flour. Just King Arthur’s 1:1 GF. I hope it comes out the same. :/ is there any regular bread flour you suggest with lower gluten content? Or just stick with the GF mixes you mention here??

Reply
Morgan July 20, 2022 - 5:50 am

Hello! I am making you GF sour dough and can’t wait to try it! On day 3-7 do I get a new jar each day? I’m confused what to do those days.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley July 20, 2022 - 9:37 am

yes, you add everything to a clean jar each day.

Reply
Morgan July 20, 2022 - 5:16 pm

Do I continue to also feed the starter? I am so confused. Sorry!

Reply
Crystal October 22, 2022 - 8:11 am

I do not have the corn masa is there anything I can substitute for it?
TIA
Crystal

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley October 24, 2022 - 10:13 am

This sourdough starter recipe does work well with feeding 100% Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-Free Flour.

Reply
Stephanie December 3, 2022 - 7:54 pm

Can this starter be made with something other than corn masa? My husband has a corn intolerance that gives him gut issues. Do you think in the days of fermentation that there would be just trace amounts of corn left? (He feels ok if corn products are listed after the “contains 2% or less of:” on an ingredient list.)

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley December 4, 2022 - 8:07 am

I’m unsure because I haven’t developed any other GF sourdough starter recipes besides this one. I’d have to test other flours to know for sure. If your husband has a corn intolerance, he shouldn’t eat anything with corn.

Reply