Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like I’m drowning in sourdough starter. It can be pretty darn overwhelming when the sourdough starter takes over the kitchen counter.
Before you (or I) give all that precious sourdough starter to the livestock or the garbage bin, let’s talk about my top five ways to use that sourdough discard and how having a sourdough starter can help with menu planning for the week.
If you would like to start your own sourdough starter read How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter or watch my video on how I create a sourdough starter with step-by-step instructions.
And if you already have a sourdough starter, but you are having issues and would like more information before diving into discard, don’t worry, I have that covered too! Take a look at my article: Troubleshooting Sourdough: Your Questions Answered.
Sourdough can be tricky but once you get the hang of the process you won’t be disappointed with the results. Discard is a necessary part of that process.
Love to listen to podcasts? I shared this sourdough discard info in my podcast Old-Fashioned on Purpose, if you want to listen in! Check it out here:
Why is There Sourdough Discard in the First Place?
Before we get to my 5 favorite ways to use sourdough discard, I should explain why there is sourdough discard in the first place.
I have taught workshops on sourdough in the past and I’ll see people in the audience look at me horrified when I mention pouring sourdough starter down the drain. Many people wonder why there is extra starter and why it would be wasted. So I would like to start by explaining how this phenomenon can occur.
Feeding Your Sourdough Starter
You are going to feed your sourdough starter every day, unless it’s in the fridge hibernating (if you put yours in the fridge, watch my video for tips on how to revive a sourdough starter). If you’re using your sourdough starter on a fairly regular basis, you are going to feed it about every 24 hours at a 1:1:1 ratio. When I say the 1:1:1 ratio I am referring to the amount to feed your starter.
1:1:1: Ratio Feeding
In order to do the 1:1:1 feeding, take the amount of starter you have in weight, and feed it an equal amount of flour in weight, then an equal amount of water in that same weight. For example, if you have eight ounces of sourdough starter in the jar, you are going to feed it eight ounces of flour and eight ounces of water.
If you have an active sourdough starter on your countertop, there will be times you will feed it to use in your bread recipes but there will be other times you just need to feed it to keep it alive.
The problem arises when you continue to feed your starter without using it; that is when it will eventually overtake your kitchen. If you are feeding your starter every day, it’s going to grow exponentially fast. Soon you will have 16 ounces of starter that needs to be fed, so that means 16 ounces of flour and 16 ounces of water, and so on.
Why Sourdough Discard is Important
If you are not baking with it every single day, it’s going to become a monster very quickly. This is where the discard comes in. You may need to pour off some of your starter to get it back down to a manageable amount before you feed it.
Another reason discard can be important is the role it plays in whether or not your sourdough starter is active or inactive.
Active starter is when it is growing up the sides of the jar, has lots of bubbles, and is expanding rapidly two to three hours after you feed it. If you watch your starter and see it growing not long after it’s been fed, then you know it’s very active. At this point, you also know that it is very much capable of helping your bread dough to rise without the addition of commercial dry yeast. If your starter looks bubbly and active like this, you should try this easy beginner-friendly sourdough bread recipe.
A healthy, bubbly, active starter is what everyone wants, it is the ideal sourdough dream.
Unfortunately, not all starters are that happy and active all the time; and this is called an inactive starter. An inactive starter is still alive, still healthy, and not moldy, but when you feed it, it doesn’t really have a whole lot of bubble action.
So, what do you do when you’re trying to awaken a dormant starter or you’re trying to get a happy starter again? You discard some of your starter!
You will need to use up some starter, but it isn’t strong enough to use to bake bread and that is where my five favorite discard ideas are going to come in handy. Just because your starter isn’t super active, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be put to good use.
What the Sourdough Discard Process Looks Like
So here’s an example so you can kind of visualize this process.
Our sourdough starter, is on the counter right now, we have been feeding it every day. I noticed that I had about two or three cups of starter, but it was not active enough to bake a loaf of bread.
I knew that I would want to bake bread either tonight or tomorrow, so I needed it to be active again. In order to wake it up and make it active, it needed to be fed. Some of the starter had to come out of the jar because there were about three cups of it in there. (If I fed that equal weights of flour and water, all of a sudden I would have WAY too much sourdough starter than could fit in my starter-jar.)
My options were to either pour it down the drain or use it, so I decided to make sourdough biscuits for supper. I found a recipe that used sourdough discard plus baking powder (because the starter itself was not strong enough to give me any sort of rise).
This particular discard biscuit recipe allowed me to pour out some of the starter and I was then able to feed it the appropriate amount of flour and water. The next morning, it was now bubbly and active by that evening, it was strong enough to get some bread dough (for my sourdough bread recipe) rising while we sleep. This is an example of why sourdough discard recipes are a really important part of sourdough.
To be honest, there are some weeks when I use far more discard recipes than sourdough bread recipes. There are a lot of discard recipes out there, and some are better than others. All you need to do is spend some time online and find the right ones for you.
With that being said, here are my five go-to options to give you some ideas for using your sourdough discard.
My 5 Favorite Ways to Use Sourdough Discard
#1 Favorite: Pancakes or Waffles
I have a great recipe for pancakes in my cookbook. If you have my cookbook, it’s in the breakfast section, and if not, you can grab a copy of The Prairie Homestead Cookbook or find other recipes online. I love the one from my cookbook; we make it three or four times a week because there isn’t much to it and it takes about 2 cups of sourdough starter straight from the jar. You don’t have to add any additional flour, just a little sweetener, some eggs, oil, and salt.
It’s so easy that our daughter Mesa can make it by herself and they taste really good. They are not overly tangy (although that depends a little bit on your starter) and the kids love them and it’s so easy to make. This same batter can be used as-is for either pancakes or waffles.
#2 Favorite: Sourdough Brownies
Sourdough brownies are another recipe that can be found in my cookbook but you can also find some good recipes online. Sourdough brownies might sound a little weird, but sourdough and chocolate actually go together very well. It’s a very happy combo and you can add starter to a brownie recipe as part of the liquid portion.
It gives a really nice little depth of flavor and it uses up the starter discard. There are also some sourdough chocolate cakes that you can find online if brownies aren’t your favorite. This is kind of a surprising way to sneak some sourdough into various baked goods and your family will be none the wiser.
# 3 Favorite: Sourdough Crackers
Sourdough crackers are another super popular option and when I first heard about making crackers from-scratch several years ago, I thought that it would be way too big of a hassle. There was no way I originally wanted to mess with that, but I quickly learned that it was super easy to make homemade crackers, especially sourdough discard crackers.
You just need to roll them out thin, and they don’t have to be perfect. Sourdough discard crackers are definitely rustic crackers: simply roll out some discard on some parchment paper, put salt on top, stick them in the oven, and you’re done!
The kids love them and they’re just so much better than all of the crackers at the store with junky ingredients, plus it uses your sourdough starter. So it’s a win-win! You can find a recipe for those in my cookbook but again, there are tons of recipes for them online. It is a very versatile option, you can add cheese, Rosemary, or herbs, any kind of combination you can think of.
This is definitely a family-favorite way to use up the sourdough discard and they always get eaten up quickly, so I recommend a double or maybe even a triple batch just to make it worth your while.
#4 Favorite: Sourdough Discard Muffins
I’ve been working on getting a good recipe for sourdough muffins, and I have tried so many different ones and have had only okay-results. Hopefully, sometime in the future, you will see my own version of sourdough discard muffins coming to the blog.
I enjoy making muffins on weekend mornings as a fun breakfast, so I have been experimenting with how to add sourdough starter into muffins to help use up some of that starter. I will say that some of the recipes I have tried from the internet have not been awesome. I am still working on finding a recipe that I like and that you will like too!
In the meantime, if you want to try muffins, search online (and then come back and let me know if you find a recipe that you like).
# 5 Favorite: Sourdough Discard Coffee Cake
The final favorite on the list is sourdough coffee cake, and this is also one that has a lot of varieties that you can find online. I have been experimenting with this one as well and have found you can add some sourdough starter into your batter of coffee cake.
Homemade coffee cake is not necessarily a healthy breakfast, but it’s a great brunch addition or you can take it to a potluck or a friend’s. You could also have it with a ton of fruit and eggs then try to pass it off as suitable breakfast fare.
This is an experiment that I have had some pretty decent results with recently. In my opinion, cinnamon and sourdough are a good combination, but I am still trying to work on the perfect sourdough discard coffee cake recipe. The kids have absolutely enjoyed testing the results with this particular sourdough discard experiment.
These are my go-to favorite ways to use sourdough discard, but there are so many more options out there. There is probably a way to add sourdough discard to pretty much anything.
Sourdough and Menu Planning
It may surprise you to learn that I am not very thorough when it comes to menu planning (learn more about how I menu plan here). Planning is more of a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing for me, but the sourdough discard gives me some good ideas for planning out our food for the week.
When I know that I need to use up sourdough discard, it drives me to get more creative in figuring out how to use it in recipes. The biscuits that I mentioned earlier probably wouldn’t have been made if I hadn’t needed to use up the sourdough starter.
The starter discard prompted me to make the biscuits, and then I fried up some eggs and added avocado and we ended up with these little egg avocado sandwiches for supper. It might sound funny but the sourdough starter is what helped me stay on track. Often, when I know that I am going to have discard throughout the week, I can weave it into my menu planning.
My menu planning now often revolves around thinking about what I can make for a meal (or dessert for when friends come to visit) with the excess sourdough discard. It gives me a way to stay on track with menu planning, and it keeps me inspired and looking for new creative ways to use the discard up.
Do You Have Sourdough Discard?
Discard is just a part of the sourdough process that keeps your sourdough starter active, happy, and at a manageable amount. You don’t have to let your discard go to waste; simply find some creative different recipes or experiment with altering some recipes that you already have.
Do you have any tried and true favorite sourdough discard recipes? If so, please feel free to share them in the comments below; I am always open to trying new ones. I would love to know what is working for you!
Love cooking? Don’t forget to check out my The Prairie Homestead Cookbook for from-scratch cooking with simple ingredients (including some delicious sourdough recipes).
More Baking With Sourdough:
- How to Make a Sourdough Starter
- Old-Fashioned Sourdough Gingerbread Cake Recipe
- Whole Wheat Sourdough Tortillas
- Homemade Sourdough Donuts
- The Best Beginner Sourdough Bread Recipe
I use discard for homemade granola bars. It doesn’t matter if it’s fed or unfed: 1 cup starter, 2 cups oats, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 2/3 cup chocolate chips, 2/3 cup dried fruit (chopped dates, raisins, cranberries…whatever, or a mix), 1/3 cup seeds (I like pumpkin seeds, but use what you have), 1/3 cup chopped nuts. Mix well, it will be thick and sticky. If it feels “wet” (likely because your starter has a higher hydration level), add a bit more oats. Press into 8×8″ pan, bake at 350F 20 min or so, till brown. Cut into bars.
Diane Badget says
Dry it. It’s easy and does use up some starter. It’s also an easy way to share your starter with friends. Recently hubby and I had to live in a small camper while our new modular home was delivered, set up, and finished. It ended up taking far longer than expected because of labor and building material shortages. So we were in that little camper, with no running water, from September until just before this Christmas! Here in Wyoming, that camper got a little nippy! (so did the outhouse we had to use!) There’s no way I could have kept my starter alive through that!
So before we moved out of our old place, I dried several batches of discard. I simply lined a sheet pan with parchment paper, spread the discard as thinly as possible, and let it dry completely. “Completely” is the key word here – it must be 100% absolutely dry all the way through. If it molds (which it can on rare occasions), toss it and start a new batch. I’ve never had it mold, but I’ve read that it’s possible. Then I broke the dried sheets into flakes and put them in an airtight jar. It’ll keep almost forever on the panty shelf, and if you ever need to take a long break from sourdough or if your original starter suddenly dies (it happens), you have a ready backup. You can even mail starter done this way to a friend or relative living out of state! When you need to use it, simply rehydrate with water and it’ll pick up right where it left off.
Making English muffins is another easy way to use up the starter discard, just use baking powder or yeast if it’s weak. Put the dough balls in the fridge overnight and griddle them up in the morning and top with some sausage gravy.
Kayla- Prairie Homestead Assistant says
Yum good idea!
Edi support says
This looks so amazing. I will definitely try it. Thank you for this idea.
Brooke Billings says
Silly couple of questions:
1) I have noticed that the sour dough will rise..but fall back down….do you have to use it “on the rise” or can you use it when it falls back down?
2) When I go to proof my bread I put it in the oven, I also put steaming hot water in a cup inside the oven with the bread so that it helps prevent it from having hardening outer layer preventing it to rise…I have done that with the 1st and 2nd proofing…Does this affect the rise in either time? My bread has been heavy and dense. I just cannot get it to come out correctly.
Thank you all for any and all suggestions!
Kayla- Prairie Homestead Assistant says
They say it’s best to use starter within 12 hours of feeding it, but that doesn’t always happen. I try to use starter within 24 hours of feeding it. Using it when it’s on it’s way up is ideal and will help your bread rise more and be less dense. I don’t know why the steam would dampen your dough rising, but if you feel like that’s a factor, maybe just try it without that next time and see if it rises better?
Gina Benson says
It’s funny you say you are looking for good sourdough muffin recipes because I have been doing the same. I just developed what I think is a pretty decent blueberry muffin recipe. My problem was that I didn’t want to just throw in my discard, I just wanted them to be fermented overnight! So this is what I came up with! Maybe you will like them!
For the overnight ferment:
120 g starter
1/4 cup water
The next day:
1/2 cup melted butter
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup maple or coconut sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup blueberries
Mix your overnight ferment ingredients in a bowl and cover so no air gets in. It will be a very stiff dough, like a biscuit recipe almost.
The next morning add the rest of the ingredients in except the blueberries. If you are having a hard time mixing it all together, put it in a food processor and process until smooth – this will not over mix your batter like most muffin recipes. I had to do this and my muffins still came out light and fluffy.
Dust the blueberries with a bit of flour and then fold in gently.
Scoop about 1/3 cup into lined muffin pans and bake at 375 for 20-22 minutes.
It should make about 11-12 muffins. Hope you enjoy this!
Edi support says
Loved reading this article….. Thanks for sharing it and keep up the good work
Leslie Ward says
I’m on day 8 of a new starter and it seems to be doing well. I feel like if I keep discarding half of it every day I’m never going to have a large amount of starter. There were even a couple days I forgot to discard. Should a cup of starter be multiplying when fed? Mine does does double but drops back down. Perhaps mine isn’t doing as well as I think. But it has bubbles and is sometimes foamy. I’ve watched several sourdough starter videos with everyone doing something different. It can get confusing. ?? I’m getting ready to feed mine and once I remove half there’s not going to be much left….again.
I just received your Prairie Homestead Cookbook today and can’t wait to dig into it! It’s beautiful!
Cris - Prairie Homestead Team says
A sourdough starter that isn’t half discarded SHOULD be doubling every day….that’s one of the reasons why discard is important, because otherwise you end up with a gigantic starter that is expensive to feed and put in a jar. However, when you start out, you do not immediately discard parts of the starter. You need to wait 5-10 days until it is active and bubbly. Try finding some good tips (and videos) in these articles: https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2020/04/sourdough-troubleshooting.html and https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2020/03/make-sourdough-starter.html