Benefits of Sourdough Bread and How to Make a Gluten Free Sourdough Starter

Fermented foods, of which our diets are severely lacking, have the ability to make food easier to digest as well as provide our bodies with needed nutrients and beneficial bacteria. Sourdough is one of those fermented foods.

It’s been a few years since I’ve taken the time to experiment with sourdough breads, it always seems so tricky and I got tired of baking bricks. I was able to make a few good loaves, but never with consistency. The one sourdough food we really loved though were pancakes. So easy to make and deliciously light.

We then went gluten-free and gave up bread for the most part, making only a loaf of yeasted bread every few months.

As we discussed yesterday in our post about digestion, preparing foods properly is really important. It helps our bodies absorb more nutrients and it is easier on the gut, causing less issues. One of the ways to properly ferment grains (breads) is to use a sourdough method.

This method has been used for centuries; our great-grandmothers worked in their kitchens making this traditional bread, their cupboards held a jar of the starter. Instant yeast was not easily accessible if available at all, so sourdough was the only way you could get a bread to rise.

“Sourdough breads are leavened by a starter that contain natural yeasts and acids. The airborne yeast creates the enzymes needed to eat up or predigest some of the toughest-on-your-belly parts of the grain. This action creates carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in tiny pockets of dough, resulting in a natural rising of the bread.” –Shannon

Preparing breads using a sourdough method is also known to break down the gluten when using a wheat flour, lowers the starch content of the grain as the bacteria present consume the sugars and starch, and it also nutralizes an enzyme within the grain called phytic-acid.

Through the process of lactic acid fermentation is also activates the phytase to hydrolyze (dissolve) the phytates, thus freeing up minerals such as: zinc, iron, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus. (source: Katie Kimball)

All in all, sourdough breads are much easier for the body to digest and as an added benefit, the bacteria also add nutrients into it as well.

In my goal to make 2013 the year of the ferments in our home, I’m beginning to experiment again, and we currently have a nice little gluten-free sourdough starter happily fermenting away on the counter.

gluten free sourdough

How to Make a Gluten Free Sourdough Starter

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How to Make a Gluten Free Starter
Recipe type: Breads and Grains
  • 4 cups brown rice flour
  • 3 cups filtered/non-chlorinated water
  • optional - 2 tbsp water kefir
Method of Preparation
  1. It's important to have water free from chemicals, specifically chlorine as it may damage the starter. If you have city water (versus your own well) you can place a jar or bowl of water, uncovered, out on the counter overnight. You can also boil the water for ten minutes and let cool to room temp.
  2. Day one - four you are going to place ¼ cup of flour and a scant ¼ cup of water into a jar and stir with a wooden (or plastic) spoon every morning and every night. I find that when making a starter, it's helpful to feed it twice a day for the first few days. Cover your starter with a thin towel or cloth jar cover. (I've also used coffee filters and rubberbands which work well)
  3. If your starter doesn't seem every active, you can "boost" it a bit by adding a tablespoon of water kefir.
  4. By day five your starter should be bubbling along and able to sustain just one feeding per day, so each day you add ½ cup of brown rice flour and ⅓ cup of water. The consistency we're looking for is going to be like cake batter, so add more or less water based on how yours looks.
  5. At day seven you should have enough starter to make your first sourdough recipe! If you're not looking to use it immediately,place it in a mason jar with a solid cover and refrigerate, feeding once a week or so to keep it active.
It is important to keep your starter in a warm place; if it gets to cold it won't be active enough to work. I find that keeping mine in the oven with the pilot light on can help immensely during the cold winter months. Others find that they can place it next to the stove or on top of a refrigerator for warmth.


If you are not completely gluten-free, you can also add a few tablespoons of whole wheat flour (I’d recommend spelt or einkorn flour) as it can help boost the health of your starter. You can also make a whole wheat sourdough starter.

gluten free sourdough

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About Donielle

Donielle is an amateur herbalist and natural momma to two littles (with another babe in heaven) after dealing with being less than fertile. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health.


  1. How did I never know this was so easy…?? Hmm…do you have a bread recipe using your sourdough starter?

    donielle Reply:

    @Renee, I have one that I’m playing with, but it’s not good enough to share yet! :-) I’ll be posting our pancake recipe later this week though.

    Renee Reply:

    @donielle, Perfect! Thank you! I’m very excited to try this!

  2. Thank you for this! 😀 My mother-in-law read in some book (I don’t remember what it was called) that the process of making sourdough bread rendered the sourdough bread gluten-free, but she wanted to make it with a gluten flour, and since my husband is allergic to gluten, I was NOT happy. Sourdough bread is a favorite of my husband’s so I’m excited about the possibility of being able to make it for him!

    Do you know of a good dairy & egg free sourdough recipe?

    donielle Reply:

    @Stephanie, Many sources and studies say that the process of sourdough does in fact lower the gluten content. But by how much I don’t know. It can drastically reduce it, but then it also depends on the method used to make the bread. Some recipes call for only a four hour rise, others call for 12+ hours and I’m sure that the amount of time the wheat flour is being fermented will make a difference.
    I would not recommend a wheat based sourdough for anyone with an autoimmune disease, but for those with an intolerance, they may be able to tolerate it just fine if they also implement some type of digestive healing as well.
    I’m still working on a decent sourdough recipe – I’ll post it if I can get something fantastic! (we’ve been doing pancakes with them, which I’ll post later this week)

    Rebekah Reply:

    @Stephanie, That is really interesting! I am gluten intolerant (mainly just feel more tired and get ocular migraines), but I can tolerate home-made sourdough bread surprisingly well! I wasn’t sure if it was just coincidence or if it truly is easier to digest. This helps explain it!

  3. Rebecca Miller says:

    Holy cow. I had no idea this would even be possible. We ahve been gluten free for nearly a year (I have hashimotos) and I just figured sour dough was never going to happen. What is the advantage to this. A light and delicious pancake? I assume since we would cook it then it loses the probiotic part. Is it wo make the Brown rice flour more digestable? Some people mention using sour dough “whey” to culture other things. Would this have that as well? I am really excited about this. Thanks!

    donielle Reply:

    @Rebecca Miller, Yes, even though brown rice is gluten free, it still contains hard to digest enzymes like phytic acid. So by fermenting them first, we can make them a lot easier to digest and therefore absorb nutrients! And it does make great pancakes! :-)
    I’ve never used the ‘whey’ to make ferment anything else, just bread products. The liquid that usually forms on the top is also called hootch because it’s normally slightly alcoholic – I don’t think it’d be good for fermenting much of anything.

  4. Just wondering if you think whey or apple cider vinegar would work in place of the water kefir….

    donielle Reply:

    @Raia, Hmmmm….I don’t know. I can’t imagine ACV would work well as it doesn’t have the same fermenting properties that kefir does.

    Michele @ Frugal Granola Reply:

    @donielle, Kombucha is a good substitute. :)

    Donielle Reply:

    Yes! That too. My sourdough even grown a SCOBY then. :-)

  5. Christy Wiebenga says:

    Hi Donielle. You have sparked my interest! Two questions, which will reveal my novice-ness at this whole fermenting thing. 😉 What is “water kefir”? Is that just the whey that forms on top of kefir? Also, do you just put a couple tablespoonfuls of this starter in your pancakes, or is the stuff you’ve made after this process the actual dough/batter you will use in the recipe? Thanks for answering. Christy Wiebenga

    donielle Reply:

    @Christy Wiebenga, Water kefir is actually different from dairy kefir. You just use sugar water with water kefir grains. The grains concume the sugar and you’re left with a slightly bubbly and slightly sweet drink that can be used plain or you can sweeten with fruit or fruit juice. So good! We love it here. (I have a TON of grains if you want to try it!)
    Here’s how to make it:
    And how to turn it into ‘soda’:

    For the pancakes I actually use only starter – I’ll be posting the recipe tomorrow! But for any sourdough recipe, you would take a certain amount of starter and mix it with more flour and liquid and let that sit out for 4-12 hours before adding the rest of the ingredients. (depending on what recipe it is)

  6. I’m excited to try this and make the pancakes too! Thank you so much for sharing. I have learned so much from your site!

  7. I have been really wanting to try making sourdough bread. Unfortunately, my husband and I are going grain-free due to leaky gut syndrome and severe eczema. We haven’t had rice in over 6 months. I am worried that this seemingly healthy bread might send us into an itch attack! Plus, I have also heard that rice flours don’t have much nutrition. What are your thoughts on brown rice flour? Do you know of any grain-free sourdough options? Thanks so much.

    donielle Reply:

    @Jennifer, There are plenty of times in life when even a healthy food may not be healthy for someone. So although I blog certain recipes….not everyone can try them. If brown rice is giving you problems, then leave it out until you can try it again.
    And I personally don’t use 100% brown rice in my baking, as it’s best to use a mix when working with gluten free flours. So the amount of brown rice we consume is actually fairly low.
    I have not heard of a grain free coursough option….but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one!

    Erika Reply:

    Found a couple links for grain free sourdough starters :) :
    I have not tried these…..yet. I plan on it eventually! :)

    donielle Reply:

    @Erika, Let me know if it works out!

    Erika Reply:

    I’ve just started being on a grain-free diet.
    I have hypothyroidism/adrenal issues, amongst other issues. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on going paleo/grain free….I’m hoping this helps! :) I’m feeling discouraged, yet encouraged!

  8. Hannah Elise says:

    What are your thoughts on using a different GF flour (or flour blend?) instead of brown rice? Are there any particular properties of brown rice flour that make it better for sourdough than, say, sorghum, or teff? My particular blend for pancakes involves 1.25c sorghum, .25c teff, .25c almond meal, and .25 potato starch, and we love it. Just wondering if I could do something similar for this…

    donielle Reply:

    @Hannah Elise, I haven’t tried it! :-) I do use millet and sorghum in the starter though from time to time, but usually stick to brown rice as it’s a cheaper option for me. But when I make our pancakes (or other bread product) I always add in other flours as well.

  9. What about using almond flour? I’m on a grain-free diet….

    New Moms Book Editor Reply:

    @Erika, I’ve used crispy almond flour (“crispy” means soaking the almonds to make it more digestible and dehydrating the almonds at about 105 degrees to retain its enzymes). My experience with almond flour is that it does not have enough carbohydrate calories for the water kefir for it to ferment well. So if you do use it, expect that it will take way less time to ferment. How well it will rise is an entirely different question.

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  1. […] Lately I’ve been trying to cut down on the amount of gluten I eat, cause it makes me feel a bit gross. Bloated etc etc. So I decided to try making my own brown rice sourdough starter. Here’s where I got the recipe. […]