This article explains what sourdough discard is, what it looks like, the stages of sourdough, and some recipes to use it in.
Sourdough discard is one of my favorite parts of sourdough because I can use it in a variety of discard recipes. Other names for it include unfed starter, spent starter or leftover starter.
What is Sourdough Discard like? Here are the characteristics:
- Thin, liquid texture like ranch dressing
- Strong sour smell
- Little to no bubbles
- It may have a watery liquid on top if it has been left for too long
Why does sourdough discard smell so strong and have that texture?
There are two main players in the sourdough starter: wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria.
After the wild yeast in the sourdough starter has eaten all the food (broken down the starches into simple sugars) it has become weakened and unsuitable for use as an active sourdough starter to rise as it should.
The lactic acid bacteria breaks down the gluten in the flour into pieces so that it can no longer hold in the carbon dioxide byproduct from the yeast. This is why it has little to no bubbles and a liquid-like texture.
Why do people save sourdough discard?
Even though it represents the waste leftover from feeding the sourdough starter, you can take a small amount and put it into a new jar and feed to refresh to make a new active starter.
After you use a small remainder for your next batch of starter, you can use the bulk of the discard in sourdough discard recipes. This post explains why you would want to keep it and not literally discard it (aka throw it away).
Easy sourdough discard recipes
Here are a few ways you can use sourdough discard in easy recipes to replace some baked favorites:
- Sourdough Discard Crackers
- Sourdough Graham Crackers
- Overnight Sheetpan Pancakes
- Farmhouse on Boone Easiest Sourdough Discard Pizza Crust
What are the stages of sourdough?
Sourdough goes through stages as a living ingredient–a whole ecosystem really! Each cycle through these stages is like another generation of the sourdough culture colony. You can read about the stages below or watch the embedded video.
- This is the stage after you take a tablespoon or so from an older batch of sourdough starter then feed it fresh water and flour.
- See an example of refreshing here: What is a Sourdough Starter?
- At this stage, the starter is a thick paste and smells like raw flour.
- Right after being refreshed the sourdough starter is not yet ready to use. Time and temperature will activate the starter.
- 6-12 hours after the starter is refreshed, the sourdough starter becomes “active” . Once active, it will stay active for 1-4 hours, depending on room temperature.
- At this stage, the starter is at least double in volume, has large bubbles, and has a ripe fruit smell or fresh wine depending on the starter chemistry.
- An active starter has yeast primed for use in sourdough bread recipes. Most bread recipes will ask for an “active” starter or assume its use.
- Approximately 12-24 hours after the starter was refreshed, or 6-12 hours after it became active, the sourdough starter becomes discard .
- At this stage, the starter has fallen to a smaller volume, looks like a thick liquid, may have some very small bubbles, and has a more sour smell or overripe fruit. A really old batch of discard will smell like acetone or nail polish remover.
- Discard has many uses, which I’ll give an overview of in a future post. The yeast is too depleted to use in a sourdough bread recipe and will not rise in the timing of the recipe. It can be used for a discard bread recipe that has a specific formula and timing to follow.
Using Sourdough Discard
Just like in your life, it’s never to late to make a fresh start… or starter in the case of sourdough discard!
This post explains how to store discard in more detail.
I save mine in one jar in the fridge and use it in recipes on a regular basis.
Here are the sourdough discard recipes on my site you can check out. Or if you need a general overview of why or how to use it, you can read about that in those articles in more detail through the links at the end of this post.
Ready to learn more?
If you haven’t attempted sourdough yet or still feel confused on how to use it, check out my sourdough courses and resources here: Intro. to Sourdough online course
In my starter 101 section, I cover sourdough starter, discard, the cycle, how to care for it, and the mistake that many beginners make that could kill their starter.
Check out more articles on sourdough discard:
For a more complete introduction to sourdough, check out my Sourdough Quick Start Guide here:
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