Ever wondered how many grams a cup of sourdough starter weighs? In this blog post, we'll dig into the weight of that "1 cup of sourdough starter" that all the recipes call for and explain why it's important to know how much it weighs!
Spoiler alert: It's probably not the "official" 240 grams!
Believe me, you're not the only one with problems following recipes that demand "1 cup of active sourdough starter". What if your starter is a bit more runny today, should you use less? Or more? Does it even matter? What about sourdough discard?
Why Does the Amount of Sourdough Starter Matter in a Recipe?
There a a few reasons why the amount of starter you use in a recipe is a VERY important factor. I'll try to explain it in a way that will make perfect sense for you at the end. I'll show you that the following factors are really only consequences or side effects of one another.
Leavening time: since sourdough starter acts as a leavening agent in sourdough baking, using less or more is going to impact the raising times. The less starter in the recipe, the more time you'll have to wait for your dough to do its first rise (the bulk fermentation process) and second rise.
It's the same with commercial yeast; the more you use it, the faster the dough will rise. Sourdough starter is often referred to as wild yeast because it contains many strains of natural yeasts (and bacteria).
We as sourdough bakers can use this information to our advantage and create sourdough recipes that can be made in a single day (like this Speedy Same Day Sourdough Bread).
We know that if we use larger amounts of sourdough starter compared to the water and flour used, the dough will ferment and rise quickly. An vice-versa: just a little sourdough starter mixed with large amounts of flour and water will result in a slow rise.
Fermentation time: the time the dough ferments goes hand in hand with the time it needs to rise, so naturally, the slower the rise the longer the fermentation time. And that brings us to ...
Taste: the amount of sourdough starter used will impact the taste of the bread since the taste depends directly on the leavening time. Adjusting the amount of starter can impact the fermentation time and, consequently, the flavor of the bread. Simply put: the longer the dough raises (and ferments), the more sour the taste.
You may have heard that a longer rise is favored by some people. That's because it gives the bacteria more time to ferment the dough and that enhances all the benefits that come with fermentation. But the taste is going to be more sour as well!
My preference varies based on the type of bread I bake. With an artisan loaf and a classic loaf of bread, I like the sourdough tang. It adds complexity to the overall flavor and kind of goes with simple breads.
But when I'm making something with enriched dough (say, Sourdough Sandwich Rolls), I prefer a milder taste, so what do I do? You guessed it: I add MORE starter to make it LESS sour. It sounds counterintuitive but makes perfect sense once you understand the basic principles.
Crumb structure and crumb texture: this final consequence of using more or less starter in a recipe is the consequence of both leavening time and fermentation time. Remember what we said earlier?
The more starter we use, the quicker the dough raises and ferments. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which creates the holes in the dough. This can result in a bread with larger and irregularly spaced air holes, creating a more open and airy crumb. A great example is sourdough ciabatta.
A lower starter-to-flour ratio makes the fermentation process slower, and less gas is produced. This leads to a denser, more uniform crumb structure with smaller and evenly distributed air holes. This crumb is characteristic of traditional bread varieties like bagels or sandwich loaves.
I hope everything makes sense now! When you look at sourdough bread recipes from now on, you'll be able to tell (at least roughly) what kind of bread the recipe yields.
And you'll be able to predict better how long to leave your dough to bulk ferment at room temperature. Some recipes still don't tell you how long to let the dough rise, but rather they state the dough should "double in size". You'll have a better idea as to how long that is now.
Do I Have to Stir the Sourdough Starter Before Using it?
Now, you might be wondering whether you should give your sourdough starter a good stir before using it. Well, that's a question you'll get different answers to depending on who you ask.
In my years of following countless sourdough recipes, I've noticed that most recipes don't explicitly demand stirring the starter before use.
Why? Many of these recipes use cups as measurements, and stirring the starter can lead to a decrease in volume. So, unless the recipe specifically instructs you to stir, it's often best not to. This way, you'll ensure that your volume measurement remains accurate.
And since we're on the topic of stirring, if you plan to perform the float test with your starter, you must resist the urge to stir it! Stirring disrupts the delicate balance, and even if your starter is ready to work its magic, it won't float if you've given it a swirl.
How Much Does a Cup of Sourdough Starter Weights?
FINALLY, we've come to the most important question: how much does a cup of sourdough starter weigh? Well, it's not as straightforward as you might think, and that's why we're dedicating an entire section to it.
The weight of a cup of sourdough starter usually hovers around 200 grams. However, as you might have guessed, it's not always that simple. The answers you'll find in various forums and Facebook groups from enthusiastic bakers who've meticulously weighed their starters for science reveal a significant range in the weight of one cup of starter.
I started to weigh my starter for this post and found that the weight varies a lot! But it was usually somewhere from 180 grams - 220 grams. This depends mostly on the hydration my starter is currently at and whether I use it at its peak or slightly before or after.
Sometimes, the recipe you're using might offer a conversion chart somewhere on their website. These charts are invaluable if you intend to use a different measurement system than the one they provide.
So, why do people end up with different weights for their cup of starter? Or simply put ...
What Affects the Sourdough Starter Weight?
The most important factors that affect the sourdough starter weight are hydration level, flour type, and starter activity. These variables can cause variations in the weight of your starter, making it a bit of a moving target.
Hydration Level: As we discussed earlier, the hydration level of your starter—how much water it contains relative to flour—can significantly affect its weight. Imagine this: a thick, gooey starter will naturally weigh more than a runny, liquid one. So, when you come across variations in starter weight, hydration is often the culprit.
(Since sourdough hydration is something that comes up a lot in the world of sourdough baking, I wrote a dedicated post about what is the best hydration for sourdough bread.)
Age of the Starter: Remember how we compared your starter to fine wine? Well, the age of your starter plays a role here too. A mature starter with lots of bubbles and activity might seem lighter on the scale. This is because all those bubbles are essentially pockets of gas created during fermentation, making your starter expand and appear less dense.
On the flip side, a younger, less mature starter can feel denser and heavier. It hasn't had the time to develop the same level of gas production. So, the age of your starter can indeed affect its weight.
Flour Type: The choice between whole grain and white flour can sway your starter's weight. Whole grain flour, with its higher fiber content, absorbs more water, leading to a denser and heavier starter. If a weighty starter is your aim, whole grain flour is the way to go. All purpose flour is less absorbent than whole wheat flour, but more than bread flour. Whole-grain flour is generally even more absorbent than whole wheat flour. And since rye flour is quite popular in sourdough baking, just a warning: it is generally more absorbent than any wheat flour due to its higher concentration of soluble fiber.
In contrast, white flour tends to result in a starter that feels less dense on the scale. The absence of bran and germ, which are present in whole grain flours, means there's less material to soak up water. As a result, your starter emerges as lighter and fluffier.
How Much is 1 Cup of Sourdough Discard in Grams?
When you thought it didn't get more complicated than that, here I am again to tell you otherwise. Because the weight of sourdough discard is (again) different and (again) depends on a few factors. We'll make it simple for sourdough discard though, because most of you want to know the answer quickly.
and here goes: one cup of sourdough discard usually weighs around 250 grams. But remember, the actual weight can depend on the hydration level of your discard and how you've been feeding your starter.
Also, keep in mind that while a sourdough discard technically shouldn't have any bobbles left (because it is no longer "active"), the stages of sourdough discard can affect the volume measurement. If your discard is still a bit active when you're using it in a sourdough discard recipe (mine sometimes it!), the bubbles will take some space and the weight of a cup of your sourdough discard will (again) change.
When People Tell You to Use Equal Amounts of Flour and Water to Feed a Starter
When you hear people talking about using equal parts of flour and water to feed a starter, they are (or should be!) talking about grams and not cups! If you add one cup of flour to a cup of starter, you'll need to add less water than one cup if you want to make a 100% hydration starter.
A better way to go about feeding a starter if you want to make it a 100% hydration starter is to know the weight of your weck jar. Before you feed your starter, put it on the scale. To get the weight of your remaining starter in grams, simply deduct the jar's weight from the total weight. You now know the exact grams of starter in your jar. Now add the same amount (in grams) of flour and water to your starter. Mark the starter's height with a rubber band and wait for it to double and transform itself into an active starter!
I know the whole process is going to seem like a lot of calculations the first time you do it, but as with anything with sourdough, it takes time and some failed attempts before you make it just right!
For best results, grams really are a way to go when it comes to maintaining a healthy starter. When you get the hang of it, you'll be able to eyeball everything, from how much flour and water to add to how much starter you should use in a particular recipe.
I always advise using a kitchen scale for sourdough baking. But I get it, using cup measurements can be easier for you or you're just used to it. That's why I try hard to provide my recipes in grams and cup measurements. And that is also a big reason why I ask you to let me know in the comments about how the recipe turned out for you. That way, I can adjust some recipes so they have a higher success rate across the board.
It's a good idea to weigh your sourdough starter with a kitchen scale (a digital one is best) instead of just using cups or other volume measurements.
But since a lot of sourdough recipes use cups as a measure, just remember not to stir the starter before you scoop it out and try to maintain your starter at 100% hydration. This way, your cup measurement will not be drastically different from the cup measurement of the person who wrote the recipe.
On average, 1 cup of sourdough starter weighs approximately 200 grams. The internet will often serve you the answer of 240 grams, but 200 grams is likely more accurate.
(By the way, the internet doesn't differentiate between the weight of 1 cup of active starter and 1 cup of sourdough discard. This itself can tell you that one of those answers is clearly far from the truth.)
Keep in mind that this is an approximate weight, and the exact weight will be different from starter to starter. The biggest factors where starters differ from one another are hydration level and density.
If the sourdough starter has a 100% hydration level (equal parts water and flour by weight), 100 grams would be approximately ½ cup.
If the starter has a different hydration level, the volume in the cups will change accordingly. Higher hydration starters will take up more space, and lower hydration starters will take up less.
A wet starter is simply a starter that is more runny and contains more water. A dry starter (sometimes also called a "stiff starter") is more dense and contains more flour. These are all just different ways to refer to the hydration of a starter. A 100% starter is considered a norm.
The weight of your sourdough starter can vary depending on its hydration level and the specific recipe you are following.
There is no one-size-fits-all weight for sourdough starter. I like to keep a stiffer starter since I find it ferments a bit slower that way.
Some people like to keep very wet starters to make the dough mixing even easier.
Throughout time, you'll find the perfect hydration level for your starter. And the weight of it will depend mostly on that.
Looking for other tips and tricks for sourdough baking? Try these:
To sum it all up, knowing the weight of a cup of sourdough starter is a crucial part of getting your sourdough baking just right. It's not just about the numbers; it's about understanding how these factors play into your starter's weight.
And I don't know where the internet got the idea that 1 cup of starter equals 240 grams, because it's usually less than that! Maybe if you stirred the starter down before you used it, the weight would be closer to 240 grams. But as far as I understand, people usually don't do that. So saying 1 cup of starter equals 240 grams is very misleading.
And as far as "the right amount of starter in a recipe" goes: finding your sweet spot is the key. Do you want a quick rise and a milder flavor? Use more starter. Craving that tangy, complex taste and an airy crumb? Go for less starter and a longer fermentation time. It's all up to you, and that's the beauty of sourdough baking!
If you have any tips to share, write them in the comments section! Or just leave your comment and tell me if you found this helpful (and why/why not).
If you happened to weigh your 1 cup of starter, what result did you get?
I love getting feedback from you!