Maintaining a sourdough starter during times when you are not baking regularly can be a bit of a drag. In fact, it’s completely unnecessary and a waste of flour. If you’re taking a break from baking sourdough bread, it’s a good idea to learn how to store it properly, so that when you return to baking, your starter will continue to give you awesome bread results.
How do you store sourdough starter long term? There are 3 ways to store sourdough starter if you won’t be using it for a while:
- In the refridgerator
- In the freezer
- Dried and stored in the kitchen cabinet/freezer
Which storage method you use depends:
- How long you want to put it away for.
- How you prefer to revive it.
- How you want to maintain it during storage.
We’ll go into each method step by step, and explain which one would be best suited for which situation…
Storing Sourdough Starter in the Refridgerator
This is by far the easiest and most common way to store your sourdough starter if you’re not using it too often. Here’s a step by step guide:
Step 1: Freshly feed/refresh your starter
Step 2: Place in a clean airtight glass container/jar. Make sure there is enough empty space in the jar for the starter to breath and grow.
Step 3: Tightly close the lid and place the jar in the coldest part of your fridge (usually the top shelf).
QUICK TIP: Although you can mix sourdough starter with any utensil, I find that using silicone spatulas like these (Amazon link), make the job a lot less messy, and far quicker and easier than wooden or steel utensils.
How long can I store it this way?
As long as your starter is mature (i.e. at least 3 months old), your starter should be happy in the fridge for about 2 months without any attention. At this point, you can feed/refresh it again and place it back in the fridge if you still don’t need it.
How to Revive Sourdough Starter from the Fridge
Step 1: Take the jar out of the fridge and feed it/refresh it as you would normally.
Step 2: Leave it on the counter top for 12 hours (give or take a few hours depending on the room’s temperature). It should at this point show signs of activity i.e. bubbles, growth. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, keep feeding it at regular intervals according to your usual schedule, until you see life in it again. It shouldn’t take more than 2 or 3 feedings to become active again.
Benefits of Storing Sourdough Starter in the Fridge
It is simple and easy to do, and will take the hassle out of having to look after your starter on a daily basis. This is a good method if you are baking once a week, once a month, or want to bake regularly but don’t want to feed your starter on a daily basis. It’s also useful when life gets busy unexpectedly; simply feed it and place it in the fridge to worry about later.
The Down Sides of Storing Sourdough Starter in the Fridge
The biggest down side is that it is NOT a completely hands off storage solution. It is easy to forget how long you’ve had it in the fridge for if life gets busy! A good idea is to label your jar with the date you put it in the fridge. This will help you remember to keep it fed once every 2 months.
Sourdough starter CAN die if neglected for long enough in the refridgerator, because it doesn’t completely stop being active in the fridge, it just slows down considerably. My starter died after 5 months of being left in the fridge unattended. So don’t leave it too long!
Some Things to Bear in Mind when Storing Sourdough Starter in the Fridge….
- How long it takes for the starter to become active again will depend on how long it has been tucked away – The longer it has spent in the fridge, the ‘more sleepy’ your starter will be, so it will need a little longer to get back to normal. Assuming it has been in there for 2 months, you will need to resume the normal feeding schedule for a couple of days before it is active enough to use for bread. But if it’s only been in there for a week or two, it will probably only need to be fed once or twice before it is ready to use.
- Seeing hooch develop above the starter is perfectly normal if it is kept in the fridge – Hooch is a brownish liquid that develops above the sourdough starter. This is a by product of the sourdough starter consuming the flour. Your starter is still alive if it is producing hooch. The only time you should be worried is if you see anything furry and/or pink growing above it!
QUICK TIP: If you see A LOT of hooch on your starter, it may be a good idea to give it an extra feed to make sure it doesn’t run out of food. You can do this and then put the starter straight back into the fridge again.
- If your starter is less than 3 months old it may need feedings more often – A new sourdough starter is not quite strong enough to go without a fresh food source for this longer period of time. It’s still okay to store it in the fridge, but it’s best to feed it once a week until it has had time to mature.
Storing Sourdough Starter in the Refridgerator is Best if…
- You bake once a week, but don’t want to feed it every day.
- You bake once every couple of weeks, once a month, or once every 2 months.
- You are going away on a short break and will return to baking once back.
- Storage of a few weeks to a few months.
- You get busy unexpectedly and need to stop feeding it daily.
Storing Sourdough Starter in the Freezer
Freezing your sourdough starter is another option that may be better suited if you don’t want to think about looking after it at all for a while. (If you’re wondering if it’s safe to freeze your sourdough starter, check out my article here.)
There are 2 ways you can freeze the starter depending on how use want to use it. Here’s the first method:
Step 1: Feed your starter as normal
Step 2: Once you see some bubbly activity in the starter, pour it into a freezer safe bag or tub.
Step 3: Seal well and place in freezer. ( I recommend placing it in a couple of ziplock bags to keep it well sealed and protected from freezer burn).
The second way to freeze sourdough starter, is to freeze it into small batches/portion sizes.
Step 1: Make a pre-ferment in a large container or bowl (i.e. feed the starter a larger amount of flour and water, to make a larger amount of starter). Cover with a cloth or loose lid.
Step 2: After a few hours when you see some bubbly activity, divide out the pre-ferment into smaller portion sizes, ideally the amount you would use for one baking session. I use silicone muffins molds like these (link to Amazon) as they portion the starter out perfectly, and pop out seamlessly when needed due to the flexibility of the silicone.
Step 3: After a few hours in the freezer, remove the sourdough starter portions from the molds and store them in a freezer safe zip lock bag. Use each portion as and when needed.
How long can I store Sourdough Starter in the Freezer?
Sourdough starter can stay in the freezer for up to a year. Be sure to cover it well to protect it from freezer burn.
How to Revive Sourdough Starter from the Freezer
Step 1: Take out the portion from the freezer and place in the refridgerator. Leave for the day.
Step 2: Once the starter has thawed out thoroughly, take it out of the fridge and feed/refresh it in the same way you would when removing from the fridge i.e. resume regular feeding. It should need no more than 2 or 3 feedings before becoming active again.
Benefits of Freezing Sourdough Starter
This is an easy hands off method that requires no maintenance once you have put it away in the freezer, especially if you store it in portions. You simply thaw out what you need and use it up, no need to refresh anything, no fuss, and no waste.
Unlike the refridgerator method, where you have to revive according to how long it has been hibernating for, the freezer method is the same regardless of how long you have had it it in the freezer. This is because sourdough starter completely STOPS consuming flour when in the freezer.
The Disadvantage of Freezing Sourdough Starter
There is a small risk of freezer burn which can affect the flavor of your bread. Make sure it is well covered, and even better, that it is vacuum packed to reduce the risk of freezer burn.
Some Things to Bear in Mind When Freezing Sourdough Starter
There is some controversy over freezing sourdough starter, that it may damage the delicate micro-organisms. There is evidence that certain types of yeasts die when frozen, particularly if frozen for a period of more than a few months. In practice, frozen sourdough starter bakes successful breads even when frozen for a year.
Although starter may degrade if frozen for longer periods of time, it won’t stop the sourdough starter from producing good bread once revived. The starter will rebuild anything that was lost once it is revived and has started to be fed regularly again.
Freezing it in one larger portion will mean it can take quite some to defrost. It is better to freeze a small portion, and then feed it a larger amount when you defrost it just before use.
Freezing Sourdough Starter is Best if…
- You bake once a month, or less often.
- You want a completely hands off method of storing your sourdough starter.
- Longer term storage of 3 months or longer.
- If you are not planning on baking any time soon, but want a starter ready for when you do.
Drying and Storing Sourdough Starter
This is a long term way of storing sourdough starter; it can be dried and kept this way indefinitely! It’s an excellent way to keep some spare starter too, in case something goes wrong with your regular one. Here a step by step guide:
Step 1: Refresh your sourdough starter and leave on the counter top until bubbly and active.
Step 2: Spread a thin layer of active bubbly starter on some parchment paper.
Step 3: Leave to air dry for 24 hours or so. (the thinner it is spread, the quicker it will take to dry).
QUICK TIP: Placing a towel or dish cloth under the parchment paper will help to absorb any excess moisture and dry your starter out even quicker. You can also lightly cover with a cloth once the surface has started to dry if you are worried about dust etc.
QUICK TIP: If you have a stiff (thick) starter, you may want to thin it down a little with some extra water. This will help the starter become more runny, making it easier to make a thinner layer on the parchment paper so that it can dry quicker.
Step 4: Once completely dry, it will become brittle and come off the parchment paper easily. Remove the dried starter from the parchment paper and crumble it up into small peices, or crush into a powder.
Step 5: Store in an airtight container in a dark cool place, or place in a freezer safe bag and store in the freezer.
How Long Can I Store Dried Starter?
This is a long term storage option as the dried starter will stay as it is indefiniety. It can be left like this for years!
How to Revive Dried Sourdough Starter
Step 1: Weigh the dried starter
Step 2: In a large bowl, add the dried starter, and the same amount (in weight) of water. Cover the bowl with a breathable cloth.
Step 3: Leave on the counter top for a few hours to hydrate.
Step 4: Start feeding/refreshing the starter as you normally would. In a day or so, the starter should be bubbly, active and ready to bake with!
Benefits of Drying Sourdough Starter
It’s completely hands free and useful if freezer space is valuable. It preserves the starter indefinitely with no maintenance whatsoever.
It’s a good way of having some spare starter in case something goes wrong with your regular one.
The Down Sides of Drying Sourdough Starter
It’s not worth the hassle if you are baking more frequently than once a month.
Some Things to Bear in Mind when Drying Sourdough Starter
Over time the bacteria and yeast will get lost, but there will nowhere near be too much loss that it won’t be able to perform for your bread any more. And anyhow, once you revive it, the yeasts and bacteria will increase again back to normal.
There is also the option of drying your starter, and then placing it in the freezer for long term storage!
Drying Sourdough Starter is Best if…
- You want to travel with your sourdough starter
- You won’t be baking for a long time and don’t know when/if you will take it up again
- Long term storage of more than 6 months
- You want a ‘back-up’ starter available in case something happens to your regular one
Which is the Best Way to Store Starter?
Here’s a table summarizing the pro’s and con’s of all 3 storage methods:
|Storage time||2 months||up to 1 year||Many years|
|Reviving time||2 to 3 feedings||2 to 3 feedings||1 to 2 feedings|
|Method Difficulty||Very easy||Easy||Easy|
The general advice is, that for shorter term storage, the refridgerator method works best, as it is simply a matter feeding it and placing it in the fridge.
Freezing is more suited to medium term storage, as there is a chance that it can degrade over time if left in the freezer for more than a year. The biggest advantage of freezing, is that you can portion it out into ‘single use’ amounts. This is an excellent way of preparing your sourdough starter to use regularly, without maintenance of a starter on a regular basis. Just remember not to use up the last portion without keeping some behind first!
Drying out the starter is the best option for longer term storage, as it can be forgotton about completely, until you are ready to use it again, no matter how much time has passed.
The Best Storage Method for Preserving Bacteria and Yeast is Dehydration/Drying
I like to dry out the starter and store it away, even if I’m only storing it for a few months. This is because it takes less effort to revive a dried starter, than it does to revive a frozen or refridgerated one. Drying it out actually preserves the bacteria and yeasts better than freezing or refridgerating it, which is why it revives so much quicker, and usually only requires one feeding before it is ready to use, no matter how long it has been stored away for.
Is it Better to Make a Fresh Sourdough Starter or Revive an Old One?
Reviving a starter from long term storage is far easier and quicker than making a new one from scratch. A revived starter is ready to use in only a day or two, whereas a new starter will need at least a couple of weeks before it becomes active enough to bake bread with. It will also need a few months before it becomes mature and strong, with developed complex flavors.
If you won’t be baking sourdough any time soon, and don’t think you will in the future, I recommend you go ahead and dry the starter instead of throwing it out. You never know, you may thank yourself for doing so later on down the line!
What if My Sourdough Starter Doesn’t Become Active When I try to Revive it?
There can be occasions when you try to revive your starter,but it just doesn’t become active enough. It’s possible that a little too much of the bacteria and yeasts were destroyed during the storage process, and the sourdough starter is struggling to revive itself on your usual feeding routine.
If this is the case, and your sourdough starter needs a little extra help to get back to normal, there are a couple of options you could try:
- If you aren’t already doing this, switch to using an organic flour. The natural chemical free flour will help the starter to become active again without the obstruction of pesticides and chemicals.
- You could try feeding the starter with a little rye flour in addition to your usual flour. Rye flour gives sourdough starter a kick start and makes it very active very quickly. Try half rye and half your usual flour.
- Throw away most of the starter, and then feed the remaining bit according to your usual feeding routine. This gives your starter more of a chance to consume the sugars in the flour, with less bacteria competing for the food. In fact, some bakers discard some of their starter on a regular basis to help keep its strength.
- Increase your feeding frequency temporarily. Try feeding it one more feeding a day. e.g. if you feed it only once a day, try feeding it morning and night to see if this helps. As soon as you see enough activity, you can return to your normal routine again.
NOTE: Don’t feed your starter more than 3 times a day. This doesn’t give the starter enough time to consume the flour and increase its bacteria and yeast population. Feeding it more often than 3 times a day will be counter productive.
Important Note on Storing Sourdough Starter
It’s important to bear in mind that sourdough starter is as individual as its environment. Some baker’s maintain their starter by feeding it once a day, whereas others need to feed it twice or even three times a day to keep it happy, bubbly and active. It will depend on a number of things:
- Room temperature
- The type of flour you use
- Your schedule
- How mature the starter is
- How much it is fed
The same will apply for when you store your sourdough starter. It may take more feedings to revive one starter than it does to revive another. This is especially apparent with refridgerated sourdough starter. IT MAY NEED FEEDING MORE OFTEN THAN 2 MONTHS. A good way to tell, is if the hooch developing on the top is increasing and becoming darker. This is a sign that it may need another feed before being stored back in the fridge again.
I have a list of essential equipment that I use to feed my starter and bake sourdough bread, including my favorite utensils and starter jars. Check out my Baking Tools section to find out more.
If you’d like to learn how to master sourdough bread making and fit it into a busy schedule, sign up to my online course here.