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Once you’ve put in the work to develop a mature sourdough starter, maintaining your starter is easy: feed it once a week (or more often, if you’re using it more frequently), removing about half of the starter and replacing it with fresh flour and water. The portion you’ve set aside is called “discard,” but you shouldn’t let its unfortunate name presage its fate.

We like to think of sourdough discard as a delightful dividend or, more specifically, “unfed starter.” This versatile ingredient can add leavening and a subtle, tangy flavor to pretty much anything batter- or dough-based. You can swap it into any recipe that calls for flour and water, replacing the weight of those ingredients with the weight of your discard. (For example: 100 grams of unfed starter would replace 50 grams of water and 50 grams flour in the recipe.) This includes our recipe for No-Knead Sourdough Bread, which can be made with both fed and unfed starter. 

The simplest way to use up unfed starter (we’re herein avoiding “discard”) is to make a quick, single-serving kitchen snack: sourdough fry bread. Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, add a generous splash of oil, and pour your discard directly into the skillet. Top with any desired flavorings (sliced scallions, chopped onions, sesame seeds, spices, etc.) and cook until golden brown, flipping once, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Here are some other ideas for using up your unfed starter:


Breakfast batters. Add unfed starter to your favorite pancake, waffle, or crepe recipe for extra texture and flavor.


Other breakfast pastries. Use unfed starter to tart up muffins, scones, banana bread, biscuits, English muffins, popovers, and coffee cake.


Pizza dough. We make a batch or two of this pizza crust every week—even if we’re not making pizza, as it freezes well and makes a great dinner-party gift.


Crackers. Why are homemade crackers so much more satisfying than store bought? Here’s a recipe that takes about 5 minutes to assemble.


Pie crust. A bit of starter will make your best pie crust recipe even flakier. Here’s a great tutorial.


Flatbreads. Any flatbread (flour tortillas, pita bread, focaccia, etc.) can be made with unfed starter. We’ve had great results with this cast iron-cooked naan.


Cookies. Cookies, cookies, cookies. And brownies.


Sauces. This may sound surprising, unfed starter is a great thickening agent in gravies, cheese sauces, and anything else you might enrich with a roux. Combine 2 tablespoons starter per cup of liquid, and whisk it over medium heat until the liquid has thickened.

Or don’t use it! If you’re not inspired to repurpose your unfed starter right away, you can refrigerate it for a week or more, or freeze it for months (thaw overnight in the refrigerator). Long story short: Never discard your discard again!