Gluten-Free | Grain-Free Sourdough Starter

If you love sourdough like I do, but you've gone on a gluten-free diet, I have some great news for you. Yes, you can make gluten-free sourdough from this Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter and there are no special ingredients to buy!

And that's not all--you can make a grain-free sourdough starter too. Read on for to get all of the sourdough loving life changing info you've been waiting for.

Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter in a Glass Bowl

I'm convinced that gluten is a big health concern for many, but I still love good bread. And while this flax bread is super tasty, there's just nothing like a good sourdough.

We LOVE the tangy flavor of sourdough and since there are so many people who can't tolerate gluten, I've been meaning to try my hand at making gluten-free sourdough bread. I am now that much closer to my goal :)!}

In order to prepare myself for this post, I wanted to put myself into the shoes of someone who is gluten-free.

When most people think "gluten-free," they think that bread is no longer an option--particularly breads like sourdough.

So in order to be able to empathize with them in their struggle to balance nutrition with their allergies or intolerance... I did some "research."

Basically, I wanted to think about what it would be like to be gluten-free.

And bread-free.

So I ate bread.

Homemade bread.

Two pieces, actually.

With a lot of butter.

And I realized how much I would miss it if I weren't able to eat bread like this on a regular basis.

I'm not trying to rub it in anyone's face - quite the contrary! I know how fortunate my family is to be able to eat whatever we want without breaking out in hives or keeling over in digestive pain.

It saddens me to imagine what it would be like to:

- not be able to walk into my kitchen and slice off a piece of bread whenever I want
- request the waiter to remove the basket of bread instead of refilling it
- worry about being sick for days because someone accidentally contaminated a cooking spoon!

I think I can understand your pain.

That's why it truly brings me joy to share with you a way to have your cake--er, bread--and eat it too.

Gluten-free sourdough, baby. Oh yeah.

Imagine capturing wild yeast out of thin air and cultivating it over a period of several days so that without any help at all, it will magically make the dough rise and become a beautiful (and relatively inexpensive--) gluten-free loaf of bread.

It really isn't as hard as it sounds!

But it is incredibly healthy! Quite possibly the healthiest bread you can make!

Benefits of Sourdough

There are many benefits to sourdough including:

Digestable

Sourdough is easier to digest than regular bread (preventing issues like indigestion, etc.)

Beneficial Bacteria

Sourdough contains the healthy gut bacteria lactobacillus (the same major player in yogurt and kefir)

Fewer Nutrient-Binding Qualities

Most of the phytic acid in sourdough is broken down, reducing the effects of nutrient-binders on other foods in your diet.

Lower Glycemic Load

Since sourdough takes longer to digest, it doesn't cause as much of a spike in blood sugar as traditional bread does.

Sourdough is a Prebiotic

Since sourdough functions as a prebiotic, it helps support healthy digestion.

Reduced Acrylamide

Souring the dough reduces the amount of the amino acid asparagine that is a precursor of acrylamide formation, and acrylamide is a cancer-causing ingredient found in toasted grains, including bread crusts. So with sourdough, you can enjoy your bread crust with less acrylamide.

sourdough bread and gluten-free sourdough starter collage with text overlay

Gluten-Free vs. Regular Sourdough

Making a gluten-free sourdough starter isn't any different than making a regular sourdough starter.

- Both start with flour and water.
- Both take a few days and both get bubbly.
- The only real difference comes when you're ready to make sourdough bread and you have to pull out all the various types of gluten-free flour.

Gluten-free sourdough starter can be made in as little as seven days using gluten-free flour, water and a medium-sized bowl. I personally have successfully made gluten-free sourdough starter with brown rice flour, but I've read others have had success with white rice flour, teff flour, sorghum flour, or even a gluten-free all-purpose blend.

Typically, in the same way that using a blend of alternative sweeteners will work best when substituting for sugar, using a variety of flours will work best for your gluten-free sourdough.

Is Sourdough Gluten-free?

While many think that sourdough is already gluten-free, here are the facts.

I have seen this argument many times. People claim that white flour has no gluten in it since all of the gluten is in the hull, and that whole grain flour sourdough bread is gluten-free since the enzymes break down the gluten.

Sadly, that is not the case.

White flour has between 8-11% gluten so all the gluten is not in the outer hull that is sifted away.

Not enough of the gluten is broken down by the fermentation process. The definition of gluten-free is 20ppm or less. Sourdough is known to have 2000 ppm of gluten. Regular bread has 80000 in many instances, so 2000 is less, but it's not gf.

Please take care that if you need to avoid gluten that avoid traditional sourdough.

Gluten-Free Sourdough Recipes

Following are a variety of gluten-free sourdough bread recipes for you to experiment with. Because in all honesty, all sourdough breads - with or without gluten - are an experiment. A tasty experiment you can top with butter.

Keep in mind that every recipe will be different, calling for different types of flour and possibly using yeast. I've included several sources so that you can find something that suits you!

Any of these recipes would be great topped with butter or Homemade Nut Butter. Mmmmmm.

Grain-Free & Paleo Options

Since this post was published, several readers have asked if you can make sourdough starters without grains. Well, the good news, is--YES YOU CAN! There are 2 schools of thought on this, however.

Some say that you need at least 1/3 of your flours to be starch like tapioca, arrowroot, or maybe cassava flour. Starch is what feeds the yeast so that is the reason behind this requirement. If using coconut flour, however, you will need to add more water to the starter. Instead of a close to 1:1 ratio, for every cup of coconut flour that you use, you will need to use about 1 2/3 cups water.

Others say that you can do this with coconut flour alone. I personally haven't tried it but it should work.

Grain-free Sourdough Recipes

Here is a grain-free sourdough recipe for you to try after you have your sourdough starter ready to go:

Grain-free Sourdough by It Takes Time

There are other grain-free sourdough recipes out there but most call for a nut base. I hope to have some additional recipes for you in the future.

Recipe Notes and Substitutions

  • Ingredient Amounts: The amounts we give in the ingredient list are the amounts you will need if you only feed the starter twice a day, which is the least number of times you should feed it.  So if you feed it more often, you will of course need more flour and water.
  • Flour: Gluten-free flour blends (just like with alternative sweeteners like stevia) tend to work best when used in conjunction with others. So it's best not to try to make this sourdough starter or sourdough with only 1 GF flour. Personally, I recommend using a blend of flours. As you can read in this gluten-free baking tips post, using a blend of flours tends to make baked goods turn out better when using alternative flours.
  • Grain-Free: For a Paleo Sourdough Starter or AIP Sourdough Starter, just use organic cassava flour or organic tiger nut flour in place of the gluten-free grain flours.
  • THM: This recipe is an "E" for those on the Trim Healthy Mama plan.

Troubleshooting Your Starter

Here are three of the most common things that you might notice while watching your starter and what they mean:

Too Much Starter 

If after a few days the starter begins to outgrow the bowl, pour some off to make a batch of sourdough pancakes. Leave at least 1/2 cup of starter in the bowl to continue feeding.

Liquid At the Top

Liquid may or may not collect at the surface of the starter. Either case is normal. (FYI: the liquid contains more lactobacillus and gives the bread its sourdough taste.)

No Bubbles - If you do not see bubbles at the top or at the sides of the starter, add a third feeding. Try to keep the feeding intervals equal. For example, 6am, 2pm and 10pm are all equally apart at 8 hours.

Boost Your Starter

One thing you can do is to add one to two tablespoons of water kefir, dairy kefir, kefir whey or kombucha in place of the water for just one feeding. Since you are adding more bacteria "goodies" to the mix, you are boosting fermentation action.

How to Make the Starter

Following are some images and some brief info about how to do this. Full instructions are below :).

gluten free sourdough starter process with flour and water in a jar

Combine flour (whatever gluten-free or grain-free flour or gluten-free flour blend you like) and water.

gluten free sourdough starter process Day 1 and 2 in jar
feeding the sourdough starter process Day 3 and 4

Feed the Starter for several days.

gluten free sourdough starter process Day 5 and 6 showing air pockets

When your sponge looks like photo #8, you're ready to make sourdough bread!

gluten-free sourdough starter in a jar

Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

Love sourdough but you're gluten free? This Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter is so easy - you can have tasty sourdough bread ready right away.
5 from 7 votes
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Course: Breads
Cuisine: AIP, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Paleo, THM:S, Vegan
Keyword: gluten free sourdough starter

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Combine 1/2 cup flour (whatever gluten-free flour or gluten-free flour blend you like) and a scant 1/2 cup filtered water in a medium to large bowl.
    Whisk until smooth and cover the gluten free sourdough starter with a cheesecloth or clean dishtowel to allow air to circulate but prevent particles from falling in.
    Set the bowl in a warm area where it will not be disturbed. A kitchen counter, pantry cabinet, or patio will all work.
  • Wait 12-24 hours.
  • At least twice a day for the next six days, at regular intervals, add 1/2 cup of flour and a scant 1/2 cup of filtered water to the existing starter.  Mix until smooth, and cover.
    This is called feeding the starter.
    Make sure to watch your starter carefully.
  • When your gluten-free sourdough starter is very bubbly and creates a dome on top 2-3 hours after each feeding (like the above picture), you are ready to make bread. This is often called the sponge and typically it takes 5-7 days for this to happen.
  • Use your starter for making the sourdough bread of choice. See above this recipe card in the post for some great options!

Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is merely an approximation. Optional ingredients are not included and when there is an alternative, the primary ingredient is typically used. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the nutritional information given for any recipe on this site. Erythritol carbs are not included in carb counts since they have been shown not to impact blood sugar. Net carbs are the total carbs minus fiber.

How Long Should You Feed Your Starter?

After the initial period of making the sponge, etc., your starter is officially in maintenance mode. Then you can feed it as often or as little as you like.

  1. At the very minimum, you can keep it in the fridge and feed it weekly. However it's not recommended to have it in the fridge until after it's 4 weeks old.
  2. You can keep it on the counter and feed it daily and use anything you don't need for recipes.
  3. You could feed it daily with as little as 1 tablespoon water and flour to keep it fed but not produce a lot of starter.

How Long Can You Store Your Starter?

You can keep it for quite awhile provided you feed it daily. You will, however, need to revive it when you want to use it again.

  • Three and a half days before baking, remove the starter from the fridge and bring it to room temperature (let it rest for about 1/2 a day.
  • Feed with equal parts flour and water.
  • About 1/3 of a day later, feed the starter again.
  • Once you have foam and liquid rising to the top of the starter, you are use the starter for bread. If you don't have that after 4-6 hours, keep feeding daily until you do.

Don't Feel Like Making Your Own Starter?

I know how it goes. It's exciting to think about doing everything yourself, but then you just might not get around to it.

If that's how you're feeling after reading this post, you can just buy this Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter and have it all done for you. Or, it would make a great backup to have in your pantry too!

Gluten-free sourdough starter

This is a fabulous jumping off point for tons of healthy creativity in the kitchen. So many options from breads to biscuits and more.

Meet Tiffany 250px

Tiffany is a frugal foodie, balancing the desire to feed her family healthy food while being a good steward of her finances. She realized it was possible to eat nourishing, traditional food on a budget if she made baby-sized changes in the kitchen. She continues to work hard at mastering real foods without going broke and shares her journey at Don’t Waste the Crumbs.

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560 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. I attended a sourdough starter class with my kids and I was the only one who couldn’t participate because of grains. I watched and realized this was an awesome idea but didn’t know how to do it with a flour I can digest. Im going to try Cassava and I heard if you put organic apples in to help with fermenting it speeds up the bubble process. So happy to have something if my own that I can make. It’s a hard life out here for the grain free AND nut free world. Thanks for sharing

    1. So happy to help and you are so welcome! I would LOVE to hear how it goes. Thank you for the tip about the apples!!! Do you have allergies, by the way? -- just wondering if that's why you are avoiding those foods.

  2. When you say"cover the gluten free sourdough starter with a plate, leaving approximately 1/2" gap for air to circulate", do you mean you find a plate that fits inside the bowl so there is a small 1/2" gap of air between the starter and the lid? Or do you mean that we leave the plate off-centered on the top of the bowl so that air can enter and escape the bowl?

    1. Hi there. This was a post by another blogger. I just updated the post with better information. Hope that helps and thank you so much for the good question -- that was confusing!

  3. Great article on GF sourdough starter. My sister just introduced me to Einkorn flour starter, makes a great GF bread that I can eat
    You should TRy it
    Linda

    1. No kidding--Einkorn is GF? I thought it was ancient grain but has gluten in it...In fact I just looked and it can be OK for those w/ sensitivities but not celiac. Did you have other information?

  4. If feeding everyday for six days with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water won’t one end up with tooooooo much starter unless that is part of the plan.Or did I misunderstand something

    1. Hi there! You can end up with a lot - so you can use it, discard, or gift to others :). But you are just starting with the 1/2 cup.

  5. 5 stars
    Thank you. Great material. Great links. Just remember that coconut flour requires more water. 1 cup of coconut flour usually needs 1 2/3 cups of water or liquid.

  6. I have been working on my "starter" now and am well into day three, but I have no bubbles, no activity. The flour I decided to use was teff. My starter is quite watery and I was wondering what I should do? Add more flour?

        1. I am going to have to do more work on this topic and update the post, but I'm researching for you - one person is saying it likely needs more food added. Apparently it's better to use the same weight of flour to water and not measure by volume---so I will have to update things. Try that and let me know how it goes!

          1. Hi Adrienne! I look forward to your updates. I tried what you suggested and it just turned into a real stinky mess. I’ll have to start from scratch.

  7. What grain free flour would you recommend? I can't eat any grains, and I've been craving sourdough for quite awhile. It would be a nice addition to my meals. It's been years.

    1. I haven't tried it yet but you could try any one - cassava is a popular one. Almond would be another--I would consider a blend like one of those with tapioca or arrowroot possibly. Hope it goes well!

  8. Hello. I am excited to try this! Thank you so much for creating this and sharing it! I have never made starter before, but have had Sourdough starter before that was given to me. I only had to feed it a couple times a week. Does this need to be fed twice a day forever? Or just for the first six days? Also, does it need to be kept in the fridge after feeding it and leaving it out 8 hours, or does it stay on the counter? Just remembering my pre grain free days 🙂 thank you!!

    1. Hi there soooo sorry for the delay in responding. So much going on and I have to go back to a ton of comments now. I think I need to hire some help for this!
      Anyhow, I just update the post so that should help!!

  9. I'd really like to use tigernut flour. What would you suggest combining it with in the starter and how much of each?

    1. Hi there. You should be able to just use tiger nut flour on its own if you like. Of course blending other flours in w/ other GF flours is best...just try what you like. I am so sorry for the late reply and hope it works out well for you!

  10. My cassava Flour only starter is rising but when I take the discard out or think it’s done the starter isn’t stretchy, should it be stretchy like dough?

    1. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner! I'm buried here. It really shouldn't be stretchy at all really w/o gluten in it. You really need binders and some starches to make it stick together more.

  11. Once we have a starter, what’s a good bread recipe to use it in? Can you use any old recipe? Does it need to be specifically a gluten free recipe?

    1. Hi there! There are some recipes linked to in the post. They are GF but no you don't need to be limited that way.

  12. Hi!
    So I'm wondering, could you make the starter with *just* arrowroot or tapioca and water? Or would it need to be a blend that included them?
    Thank you!!

    1. Hi there. I think you could do that-- it will be very light since those are very starchy. I would be interested to hear how it goes if you try it!

  13. I’m trying this using only cassava flour and I noticed that equal parts water and flour don’t make for a slurry type consistency, it’s too dry. Is there a different ratio I should be using or a specific consistency to look for when using cassava flour as a starter?

    1. Hi there. Yes, typically you can substitute cassava in 1:1 but it can absorb more water so not always. You might need to add more water.

        1. The photos in the post should help. I just had new images shot---do they help at all? Hope to have the new ones loaded soon.