When approaching the idea of creating, maintaining, and using a sourdough starter, questions about the DISCARD are what we get most often – and for good reason! You’re throwing away ingredients every day – is it really as bad as it sounds and is there anything that can be done about it? Let’s talk about it!
NOTE: If you’re just getting started and don’t yet have a starter (or this info seems super overwhelming), go back and read here about starting a starter! Whenever we talk about discard, this post is what we’re referring to.
What is discard exactly?
Discard is the portion of our starter that we get rid of every time we feed the starter. It can be thrown away or composted, but don’t put it down your sink or it’ll for sure clog up your pipes.
But why must I discard any of my starter?
If we were to keep all of our starter and continue feeding it with enough fresh flour and water every day to keep it alive and healthy, the starter would grow and grow until pretty soon, you’ve got a massive amount of starter that requires massive amounts of flour and water every time you feed it (not to mention, you’ll need big buckets to keep it all contained).
Is there anything else I can do with it?
We’re so glad you asked!
BAKE WITH IT: There are hundreds upon hundreds of great recipes out there that will specifically call for sourdough discard. From pancakes to muffins, biscuits, and even pasta! To keep your discard for recipes, you can keep a jar in your fridge that you add more discard to each time you feed your starter. Once there is enough for you to use in a recipe, use it! The discard you keep in your fridge will likely be good for more than a month or so, but remember that you’ve not fed any of this starter, so it’s not going to stay alive indefinitely. Pay attention to the smells and colors, trust your gut on this. If the jar develops mold, you definitely want to throw it out.
A good rule of thumb you can follow if you’d like to try using your discard in a recipe you already know and love, is to use your starter as one of your liquid ingredients and just reduce your flour/water measurements by the same amount in the recipe. For example, start with 150 grams of your starter and reduce half of that measurement (75 grams) in flour and half of that measurement (75 grams) in liquid (whether it be water or milk). Now you’ve added your starter without increasing the flour/liquid ratios in your recipe.
Chef Brandon Price recommends using your discard in place of buttermilk in biscuits! Yum!
REDUCE YOUR DISCARD: Once your starter is well-established, you can adjust the amount you keep and feed on a regular basis. For example, instead of keeping and feeding 50 g every day, you could keep as little as 5 g and just continue to feed that (using the 1:2:2 or 1:3:3 ratios). When you get close to using it for a recipe, keep and feed more so you can be sure to have enough for your recipe plus leftovers to keep and feed for next time.
You can also adjust how often you feed your starter. Once established, you can keep it in the fridge and just feed every 7 to 10 days instead of daily, then take it out of the fridge 24 hours before you need it and feed it at least twice before using (it will essentially be dormant in the fridge so you’ll need to feed it a couple times to wake it up, so to speak).
DRY IT OUT FOR FUTURE USE (OR AS A BACKUP): Consider drying out some of your starter to keep around as a backup in case you need it in the future – you can even gift/share it with friends as they begin their journey into sourdough as well! You’ll take the amount of starter you want to dry, spread it thin onto a sheet of paper parchment paper (on a baking sheet for easy transport), and let it dry at room temperature for a day or two, until brittle. Then gently break it up, store it in a glass jar in the fridge and rehydrate when you’re ready to use it!
King Arthur Baking has an EXCELLENT guide to drying out sourdough starter on their blog.