Old World Natural Leaven Starter Varieties by Dr. Dough

Activate & Refresh Natural Leavening Instructions

Which Natural Leaven Starter is Best?

We Naturally Leaven all grains!

Gluten free, Ancient, and Common Wheat Natural Leavening Varieties

Many people ask this question as they embark on making naturally leavened breads.  Which one is the oldest?  And which one is the most pure?  These are questions that you may ask.  From Flemish desem, or Alaskan sourdough to a sour Finnish leaven or an ancient Egyptian starter.  Our purpose is to help you incorporate natural leavening into your diet and cut through the romantic allure with scientific fact.  This doesn’t help us to sell more leaven but that’s not what we’re about.  Research shows that the lactobacilli and yeast live inherently on the various grains.  Although these lactobacilli and yeast cultures may be different in different parts of the world and in different bakeries, it is the environment including the temperature, humidity, leavening process and especially grain that determines which strains dominate in each natural leaven culture.  So no matter what strains you begin with, they will change and adapt to your environment and especially the grain you use.  We offer many Natural Leavens made with different varieties of organic grain.  This way you can get the strains that are best suited for whatever grain you are going to use, whether it be gluten free rice or amaranth, ancient wheat or barley, or even our modern wheats of today.  One or two leavens is all you will need and you will never have to come back for more.

Ancient Grain Natural Leavening Starter

Non-Gluten Grain Natural Leavening Starter

Common Grain Natural Leavening Starter

The Natural Leavening comes with colored photo instructions and recipes for quick bread, flat bread, and loaf bread.  Quick bread recipes can be used with all grains.  Flatbread and loaf bread recipes can be used with varieties of whole wheat.

Instructions to Activate & Refresh Your Natural Leavening

Why Charge for Natural Leavening?

Sounds like a silly question but we have been asked the question so we thought we should address it.  We believe that natural leaven is something that is inherent in nature and essential to the bread making process and it is sort of our stewardship to let people know about its health benefits and how to use it.  With that said, we have spent tens of thousands of dollars to build an inspected commercial kitchen to not only produce and sell the leaven legally but also to legally teach classes so that people can feel and taste naturally leavened breads.  We try and keep our prices reasonable for our time and effort so we can help as many people as possible.  So we thank you for your understanding and support.


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  1. Julianne Spendlove says:

    Last night I fed my brand new start, and this morning I had some delicious fluffy pancakes! They were so good. What amazed me is when I added the final ingredients into the bowl and started to fold it in, it was almost like a science project! It started to bubble immediately. It was actually fun. I think I might make waffle cones this week. Thanks!

    • Amy McClean, R.D. says:

      I am so excited for you! How long did you have your wet Natural Leaven start in the fridge before you refreshed it? I would love to hear how the waffle cones go!

  2. Great! Thanks for posting this.

  3. Holley says:

    I recently got a hard white wheat starter from you and followed the directions in the packet. When day 3 came along I made some pancakes. The sourdough flavor was very strong. Is there anything I can do to sweeten the flavor?

    Also, I’m using brown whole wheat (because that’s what we have) instead of white wheat. Does that make a difference?

    Is it okay to use all purpose flour in any process of naturally leavened bread making? We have so much of it…


    • Dr. McClean says:

      Yes after 3 days they will be very sour. Take a look at the instructions again. They should say to let the dry leaven sit for 36 hours (not 72 hours). When you say that you are using brown whole wheat do you mean hard red wheat? Hard red wheat will be a little stronger flavor than hard white wheat and may not be quite as active as the hard white wheat but still great for pancakes. You can use all purpose flour. In essence you are detoxifying the grain through the natural leavenng process but since there isn’t much health benefit to all purpose flour you are getting a neutral food rather than a super food.

  4. Nancy says:

    I have read Melissa Richardson and Caleb Warnock’s book The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast. They recommend this site to get mild starter. If this the correct webpage? If so, which leaven has the most mild flavor? Also, is “leaven” synonomous with “Start?”

    I’m looking forward to going down the Wild Yeast Rabbit Hole!

    • Dr. McClean says:

      The mildness would depend on how you feed it. Basically if your leaven is fed with flour and water more often it will be active with less acid content. It is the acid which gives the sour flavor. All leavens can be both mild and acid depending on how they are fed. With that said, we recommend our hard white wheat natural leaven. If you follow our feeding directions and use it often you will get the mild, sweet flavor that Melissa recommends. And yes, leaven and start are synonymous.

  5. Patty says:

    What is the best temp and time to bake naturally leavened bread loaves?

  6. Dana says:

    I just got a dry start packet, and following your directions, I was wondering, will the yeast be sour if I leave it out? I absolutely DETEST sourdough, and am hoping to be able to start wet yeast that will be sweet and not sour.


    • Amy McClean, R.D. says:

      Natural Leavening does not have to be sour! Natural Leavening can produce the mildly, sweet flavor you are seeking. Do you want to know the secrets to prevent sourdough sourness?

      Simple Secrets to Prevent Sourness:

      #1 Culture your Natural Leavening start (just the flour and water) for the minimal amount of time. Leave Natural Leavening at room temperature just until it doubles in volume. This could take just under 3 hours when warm (mid 70s), or around 12 hours if cool (high 60s). Use this Natural Leavening start to raise batter bread, flat bread, or loaf bread (see #2).

      #2 Minimize rising time for naturally leavened batter and bread doughs. Simply let your bread rise once. If your kitchen is very cool (mid 60’s), raising may take 12 hours. Find a warmer place like on top of the oven or a warmer room. You could let the dough rise in an oven heated to 180’F and then turned off. A couple hours in a warm place (mid to high 70’s) could raise your bread to the perfect, almost doubled volume. Next, bake this naturally leavened, sweet creation!

      #3 Refrigerate, feed, or use the remaining Natural Leavening start as soon as it doubles in volume. Don’t let the volume deflate while left on the counter. Don’t let your wheat Natural Leavening form liquid hooch on top from sitting out too long at room temp.

  7. Sydney says:

    Please help me! I started the hard wheat leavening with flour and water and after 36 hours on the counter I made yummy pancakes. I added flour and water to the remaining starter and left it on the counter, but the next day I made pancakes and they were sour. I added flour and water to the starter and left it on the counter, but I haven’t used it today. I really wanted to eventually make bread or flatbread that wasn’t sour. What did I do wrong?!

    • Amy McClean, R.D. says:

      The most common culprit for “sour starter” is time–too much time. The Natural Leavening rises and falls with refreshments much quicker than it did with the initial activation.
      So the simple solution:
      *Culture your leavening for a little LESS TIME for less sourness. Try 8 hours, for example, intsead of 12 hours.
      Some other sour level considerations:
      *Baking soda helps “sweeten” your pancakes.
      *Maple syrup, I think, was made to sweeten sourdough pancakes!
      Remember, you did nothing wrong in making a sour starter, it’s extra healthy! Sour starter is great for pancakes and waffles, when you acquire the taste.
      Flat bread and loaf bread require Natural Leavening be cultured for even less time. In 68-78’F, 4-8 hours usually does the trick of doubling the Natural Leavening to make bread dough.
      See Recipes and Kitchen Tips for additional help.

  8. HELP!!! I have been using the natural leavening sourdough starter for 9 months now. I have YET to make a loaf of bread that is edible…most of it gets fed to my worms…I am sure they love it, but the cost of the expensive organic sprouted flours I use has caused me to rethink the breads made with my starter. It flourishes, is great tasting…the muffins, pancakes, waffles, crepes that I make are delicious and “do” wonderful…but the bread is always a disaster. Not so with commercial yeast…those loaves are delicious and beautiful. So my question is, should I quit trying for the bread or do you have a great recommendation to pass along? Thanks! Julie Ann

    • Dr. McClean says:

      Julie Ann,

      It sounds like you are getting the hang of the leavening since you are making such wonderful batter breads. I am also impressed that you are using sprouted flours. What sprouted flours are you using and have you tried making bread with freshly ground wheat? One possible reason for your breads not rising is because the sprouting releases enzymes which help to break down gluten. You add natural leavening on top of that and you have a super broken down grain. Your wheat will still not be gluten free but very low gluten. There isn’t much left to get your bread to rise because you need some gluten for the structure. I haven’t used any of the commercially sprouted flours but we do sprout and then naturally leaven our own grains. We have found that we can make loaf bread but is is much more dense and has a strong flavor yet still edible. If you want to try wheat that is on the more healthy side and not sprouted you could try Kamut. Another option is to use the sprouted wheat and natural leavening but make pita pockets instead. Pitas are some of our favorites. Please let us know how we can help. Dr. McClean

  9. Jeana says:

    I have read Melissa Richardson and Caleb Warnock’s book The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast. I was wondering if any of these starters can grow in the fridge? They feed theirs twice a week and keep it in the fridge. I’d like to do the same…

    • Dr. McClean says:

      Yes all of are starters can grow both in and out of the fridge. If you feed the starter just prior to placing it in the fridge, the starter will take 3-4 weeks to mature in the cold environment.

      Dr. McClean

  10. Denise says:

    I hear you teach classes on bread making. I am very interested in a hands-on experience, but I can’t find any information about a class on this site. Can you tell me if you are planning on having a class soon?

    • Julie says:

      The day you posted this question, Amy was admitted to the hospital, and again a few weeks later. Dr. Matt and Amy were very busy for a while, and this is why you haven’t gotten a response yet. Please be patient waiting for a response.

  11. Mary Ellen says:

    I try to eat gluten-free, and read in Caleb Warnock’s book that using natural yeast will help repair the gut and that even gluten-free intolerant people can safely eat wheat. Have you found that to be true, or should I only use your starter with gluten-free grains?

    • Dr. McClean says:

      This depends on the person but in my experience working with patients I have found that natural leavening with wheat can be tolerated with people sensitive to wheat. However, the time and temperature of fermentation as well as type of grain will play a role in gut health. Typically I will start patients off on gluten free natural leavening to help with the gut and then and the patient improves we will transition into naturally leavened wheat products.

  12. Cameo Redd says:

    Im trying to decide where to get my starter from. In a book I read they mentioned that you have a strand that goes back 200yrs. Is this true? It would be cool to make bread from the same starter as the pioneers! I look forward to hearing from you!

    • Dr. McClean says:

      Yes, the starter that we began with was brought by pioneer settlers over 200 years ago. It is nice to think that we have a bit of that heritage and the starter will be better if it is older. However, the bacteria and yeast are always adapting to their environment depending on many factors such as temperature, grain used, humidity, etc. So, to keep a starter going with similar microbes to what was originally in the starter you will want to replicate the same type of environment. On our starter page this is explained a little more in depth.

  13. Cherri Gullickson says:

    I purchased a starter from Caleb months ago and was greatly enjoying experimenting and making wonderful baked goods, unfortunately I have discovered that I am allergic to the starter. Every time I feed or bake with my starter my hands break out to the point now after 3 months I have severe dermatitis on my hands. I had begun to wear gloves every time but went to my alternative doctor recently and he told me that the spots and redness on my face was from eating it and breathing it in, yikes! I have several children that have had challenges with all the other breads I have made fresh until now, I am completely bummed. My older daughters have taken over feeding and baking with it, I have stayed clear away! I have no wheat or gluten allergies so I am confused.

    Have you heard of this happening to anyone else? Is it possible that some of your strains of starters would not cause this affect? I so desperately want this to work out, searching for help and answers.

    Thank you and look forward to any comments.

    • Dr. McClean says:

      Yes, I have seen this happen. It may not be that you are having a reaction to the starter. You may be reacting to the wheat. Even when the wheat is in the starter, it takes time for the gluten to break down and decrease the possibility of a reaction. I would try only making quick breads which can be fermented for 24 hours. But with the severe reaction that you are having, you may want to stay away from wheat entirely and allow your body to heal. Switch to a one of our gluten free natural leavens as your gut heals before re-introducing wheat.

  14. Alexander Nahodil says:

    This isn’t my first time using dried starter to create a leaven, I even used dried starter from “Original Fast Food’ back when it cost $1… However, this time, for $10 I got a dud. Nothing I tried could get it to work (filtered water, spring water, various flours, warmth, pineapple juice) could get this to work and now I am out $10 worth of dried starter as well as many other ingredients.

    • Dr. McClean says:

      Thanks for your input. There are many factors that go into the activity of a starter. We are creating a fresh batch and will send you a new starter free of charge as soon as it is ready. Sorry for your inconvenience.

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