Going gluten free, by choice or by necessity, doesn’t have to mean leaving behind the delicious and funky world of sourdough. 

Although your starter will see you through loaf after loaf of chewy and tangy sourdough bread, pancakes, cakes, muffins, scones, bagels, cookies, pizza dough, cinnamon rolls and more are elevated by sourdough’s complexities too.

Wait, is sourdough gluten free?

You may have heard that traditional sourdough is gluten free or that it has “low gluten”. Even with less gluten than other yeasted breads, sourdough is not gluten free. I’ve even seen some folks say sourdough is safe for folks with a gluten intolerance. If you have Celiac disease or a gluten allergy, “low gluten” sourdough is still dangerous and needs to be avoided. 

Like any other recipe, you’ll have to use 100% gluten free ingredients to make gluten free sourdough, which means your sourdough starter has to be gluten free too.

What is sourdough? 

Sourdough is a naturally leavened bread, which means it’s made without the addition of commercial yeast. Instead, the yeasts in sourdough are wild – floating in the air, living in our homes and even on our skin. Unlike their commercial counterparts which are single-strain yeasts cultivated to produce consistent results and flavors, wild yeasts are favored for their “inconsistent” result. These strains, which vary depending on location, season, and more, impart distinct flavor and texture on your final product (when folks praise San Francisco sourdough, really they’re praising the wild yeasts native to the area). 

Wild yeasts not only bring flavor to your loaves, they also bring sourdough’s signature chewy texture. Once you’ve started making a loaf, the yeasts begin feeding on the sugars in flour and release carbon dioxide which forms air bubbles that push the bread to rise. 

What is a sourdough starter?

Since we don’t use any commercial yeast in sourdough, we’ll need to get it from our sourdough starter. A sourdough starter, also called levain, is a fermented dough filled with those wild yeasts and good bacteria. You’ll use this starter when making sourdough anything. 

Your sourdough starter is alive and will require care to be kept alive. When you’re making the starter or using it regularly, it will require a few minutes of care each day. Once established, your starter can be kept in the fridge or freezer for long periods of time, which will require even less work on your part.

What you’ll need

  • Buckwheat flour
  • Brown rice flour
  • Sweet white rice flour
  • Room temperature water (tap or filtered is fine)
  • Glass bowl or jar
  • Clean kitchen towel
  • Kitchen scale (recommended, but not necessary)

After some trial and error, I’ve determined a combination of buckwheat, brown rice, and sweet white rice flours give my recipes the best texture and flavor. I recommend against a gluten free flour blend since any thickening agents (like xanthan gum) can alter your starter or final product unpredictably. Feel free to explore using other gluten free flours too, like sorghum, teff or millet (check ingredient list and avoid all gums). 

If at any point in your starter’s life you see mold or white/pink/brown/orange slime on top of your starter, compost it and start over. You can usually avoid this by feeding your starter regularly.  

Day 1: Start the Starter

  • 10 g (1 tablespoon) buckwheat flour
  • 10 g (1 tablespoon) brown rice flour
  • 20 g (2 tablespoons) sweet white rice flour
  • 60 g (¼ cup) water 

Combine flours and water in a glass bowl or jar. Stir with a fork until a paste forms. 

Wet your clean kitchen towel and wring out so it’s just damp. Place that over your jar or bowl and set your starter in a warm part of your kitchen. This is most important during the winter when cooler ambient temperatures slow the yeast. Let sit for 24 hours. 

Day 2: Discard and Feed

  • 10 g (1 tablespoon) buckwheat flour
  • 10 g (1 tablespoon) brown rice flour
  • 20 g (2 tablespoons) sweet white rice flour
  • 60 g (¼ cup) water 

Discard all but 2 tablespoons of your Day 1 Starter. To the bowl or jar with the remaining Day 1 Starter add Day 2 ingredients. Stir with a fork until a paste forms. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to sit for 24 hours. You may begin to see air bubbles and foaminess or begin to smell something sour (the sour smell comes on strong at first and then mellows out with just a few days of age). These are all good signs your starter is coming to life! 

If you don’t see any of these things after 2 days, do not worry! Your starter just needs time (up to 7 days or more sometimes).

Day 3-7ish: Repeat

Repeat Day 2 procedure until your starter has doubled in size (you can use a rubberband around the jar to track this), is bubbly, and has a pleasantly sour aroma (see photo above of ready-to-use starter). This may take anywhere from 4 to 7 days, depending on the conditions in your kitchen. When it’s doubled in size, your starter is ready to use to make bread! You can make bread right now while it’s doubled or you can stick it in the fridge for storage.

Feeding and maintaining your starter

Now you have an established starter, yay! Once your starter is established, you have 2 options: keep your starter on the counter and feed daily or move it into the fridge and plan to feed weekly or at least 12 hours before you plan to make bread. Follow the steps below to “feed” your starter. 

  • 60 g (¼ cup) sourdough starter (“discard” the rest – compost or save for use in recipes)
  • 80 g (⅓ cup) room temperature water
  • 15 g (1 ½ tablespoons) buckwheat flour 
  • 15 g (1 ½ tablespoons) brown rice flour 
  • 30 g (3 tablespoons)  sweet white rice flour 

In a glass jar, mix well until the flours are hydrated. Return to the counter or fridge in a glass jar with a lid.

If you’re making a lot of sourdough, you are welcome to leave your starter on the counter. Feed daily to keep your starter happy. You can use the discard to make pancakes, waffles, crackers, cinnamon rolls, muffins, cakes, etc. Only use the starter for bread when it is doubled in size, which happens about 8-12 hours after being fed. If your starter is struggling to double, feed it twice within a 12 hour period. 

Most folks, myself included, prefer to leave it in the fridge and feed it once a week. To be transparent, I maintain my starter for the discard (rather than for bread making) so I like to take it out of the fridge on Saturdays, set aside the discard I want, feed it, and return to the fridge. If I was making bread, I would leave it on the counter after feeding until doubled, make the bread, and feed it once more before returning to the fridge. I keep my discard in another glass jar in the fridge. Use discard in recipes within 2 weeks of “discarding.” Sourdough discard can be frozen and thawed for later use too. 

Your starter can go 2 weeks in between feedings in the fridge, but feeding it weekly is best. For longer term storage, freeze. 

Long term storage

Freeze your starter if you know you won’t be able to feed it for a few weeks. When you’re ready to use it again, transfer to the fridge to thaw and feed a few times before using. It’s ready again when it has doubled in size.

What the heck is that liquid?

Sometimes your starter will pool runny liquid on its surface. It’s called hooch and it is a sign your starter is hungry. You can pour off the hooch or mix it back into your starter before feeding.


Gluten Free Sourdough Pizza Crust

Gluten Free Sourdough Pancakes

Glazed Sourdough Lemon Cake (GF Option!)