Does sourdough starter get better with age? (2024)

Bakers often liken their sourdough starter to a pet. They give it a cute name (“Doughy Parton”), express slight exasperation about feeding schedules, and brag about a bond strengthened by time.

Having a sourdough starter that’s years — sometimes decades! — old instills a sense of accomplishment and pride, and some bakers love to share their starter origin stories. But does an older starter actually make better bread?

For most bakers, the answer is a clear no.

Maurizio Leo, author of the award-winning bread cookbook The Perfect Loaf,still uses the first starter he ever made; it’s now 12 years old. And while he’s sentimental about that starter, he says its age doesn't really impact his bread. Flour Powerauthor Tara Jensen agrees; she emphasizes that your starter’s health is more important than its age. “When it comes down to the performance of the starter in a dough, I’d rather use a starter that’s a few weeks old and been well kept than an older starter that’s been neglected,” she says.

King Arthur baker Martin Philip puts it more bluntly: “Starter age is unimportant to me.” He adds, “Once the starter reaches a state of relative stasis and reliability, I don’t care if it’s eight or 80. I just want to make stuff with it.”

Does sourdough starter get better with age? (1)

Photography by Danielle Sykes; food styling by Liz Neily

It’s worth taking a closer look at sourdough starter itself and how it evolves over time. It’s a bit like the Ship of Theseus, the philosophical thought experiment that asks whether an object is technically the same object after having all its original components replaced. The same principle is at play in sourdough starter — because starter is continually replaced with new doses of flour and water to feed the flourishing community of microbes that it contains, it doesn’t stay stagnant. Instead, “starters tend to evolve along with you and your feeding practices,” explains Baker’s Hotline member and sourdough specialist Barb Alpern.

As Jennifer Latham, author of Bread Baking with Kidsand former lead bread baker at Tartine, recounts, “At Tartine I was taught that the age or origin of your starter didn’t really matter because it would always adjust to the conditions it was being fed in.” So basically, if you have a starter that’s ten years old, it doesn’t matter what it was like a decade ago, or even a few years ago. What’s going to impact your bread the most is how your starter thrives in the conditions it’s currently in (and of course, how well you’re feeding and maintaining it).

That doesn’t mean you can’t preserve certain characteristics of a starter, though. Jennifer recounts how Thomas Teffri-Chambelland, a former microbiologist and author of Sourdough Panettone and Viennoiserie,gifted her a starter that contained a specific microbe required for panettone dough (which needs a specialized environment because it’s high in fat and sugar and low in water). He told her that as long as she fed it with the right regimen of very dry feedings and sugar water baths, she could retain this microbe in her starter by sustaining an environment in which it thrives and has an advantage over most other flora that might be introduced. Jennifer theorizes that “if you collect a certain microbe and keep it alive through feeding, it probably won’t die out just because new microbes are introduced.” As she mused, “I wonder if some of the anecdotal evidence of older starters having better flavor or baking capabilities comes from a greater biodiversity in them.”

Does sourdough starter get better with age? (2)

Danielle Sykes

Jennifer likes to expose her starter to new environments in the hopes of introducing “something new and fun,” as she puts it. She travels with her starter and always leaves the lid cracked in new locations, from Big Sur to Sebastopol, California, to allow new microbes to wander in. Maurizio does something similar: “Over the years, I’ve integrated bits of other bakers’ starters from around the world into mine. It’s a way to introduce new microbes, speed evolution, and get the strongest starter possible!”

This approach reflects the deeply personal relationship many bakers have with their starter —just like they do with their pet. “My starter has been with me through countless bakes and many life changes,” Maurizio reminisces. Tara adds, “I think origin stories are important, and often the narratives we tell about the age of our starters involve other stories about family, friends, and places we love. … It’s a beautiful thing for something to be tended to for 20, 50, 100 years.”

Here at King Arthur, our Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter is descended from one that’s been lovingly nurtured in New England for decades. Once you feed and maintain it in your own home, it will eventually adapt to your own region and climate, becoming uniquely yours. At the same time, though, you can know that thousands of bakers before you — including many of us at King Arthur! — have made wonderful sourdough bread with a bit of this same starter.

Does sourdough starter get better with age? (3)

Photography by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne

While the age of your starter won’t make your bread any better — turns out, only good sourdough practices can do that — it’s a link in the long legacy of sourdough, one of the oldest forms of baking that exists. Whether your starter is a week or a decade old, you can become part of that lineage as well.

Get baking with more essential sourdough knowledge:

  • Our beginner’s guide to sourdough is here to take you from beginner to baker in no time
  • To find your go-to bread, check out our list of 14 super sourdough recipes
  • What to do if you make good bread, but want to make it great

Cover photo by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne.

Does sourdough starter get better with age? (2024)


Does sourdough starter get better with age? ›

While the age of your starter won't make your bread any better — turns out, only good sourdough practices can do that — it's a link in the long legacy of sourdough, one of the oldest forms of baking that exists. Whether your starter is a week or a decade old, you can become part of that lineage as well.

How many years can a sourdough starter last? ›

Through proper maintenance and a little attention, it can last indefinitely and provide you with countless healthy and delicious loaves of bread.

How old is the oldest sourdough starter? ›

The World's 'Oldest' Sourdough Starter Was Made With 4,500-Year-Old Yeast. There's no bread quite like sourdough. In addition to being tasty as a sandwich bread, delicious as sourdough croutons, and even great just toasted with butter, sourdough's production process is decidedly unlike other breads.

Does sourdough starter get stronger? ›

Changing the feeding interval, or frequency, is the single most important tool in strengthening a starter. By simply catching your starter near its peak and refeeding at that time, you can significantly strengthen a weak starter.

What is considered a mature sourdough starter? ›

After even more time (two weeks, or longer), you will have a mature sourdough starter—a stable community of microbes that can leaven bread. These microbes metabolize the flour's natural sugars to produce carbon dioxide, ethanol, lactic acid, and other desirable byproducts.

Does sourdough get better over time? ›

While the age of your starter won't make your bread any better — turns out, only good sourdough practices can do that — it's a link in the long legacy of sourdough, one of the oldest forms of baking that exists. Whether your starter is a week or a decade old, you can become part of that lineage as well.

How do you revive an old sourdough starter? ›

Discard most of the starter (you can either just remove it from the jar or place some of the starter into a clean jar). Feed the remaining starter with 100g of flour and 100g of water. Let it sit out at room temp for around 12 hours. Take 50g of starter from the jar and feed it another 100g of flour and 100g of water.

When should I throw out my sourdough starter? ›

Typical signs of food spoilage and mold include pink, orange, or green colors, white fuzzy spots, or sometimes areas that are darker with white areas on top. If you see any of these signs, I would recommend throwing your starter away and creating a new one.

Why does my sourdough starter have black liquid on top? ›

And that black stuff isn't harmful, either — it's perfectly safe. The inky liquid is simply telling you the starter is hungry.

How hard is it to keep sourdough starter alive? ›

Storing your sourdough starter in the fridge will require feeding around once a week. It can, however, be stored up to two months in the fridge without being fed. Reviving a sourdough starter that has been stored in the fridge for a longer period of time is a good idea.

Should I stir my sourdough starter between feedings? ›

stir your starter in between feedings - try stirring it twice in between feedings and really give it a chance to get oxygen into the mix. This will help to activate your starter without too much effort.

Should sourdough starter be thick or runny? ›

Does it matter if my starter is thick or thin, you ask? Nope! Thick and thin starters are both full of wild yeasts and bacteria which is what your bread is begging for. The viscosity of your starter is really just a personal preference because thick and thin starters will both make bread.

Can you stir sourdough starter with a metal spoon? ›

Things that WON'T kill your sourdough starter

METAL: Stirring your starter with a metal spoon or placing it in a metal bowl won't kill your starter. While we don't recommend making or keeping your starter in contact with reactive metals like copper or aluminum, stainless steel is harmless.

What does successful sourdough starter look like? ›

To determine when your starter is ready to be fed (or used for baking), look for a combination of signs: some rise, bubbles on top and at the sides, a sour aroma, and a loose consistency (it should loosen the longer it ferments).

Why is my sourdough starter bubbling but not rising? ›

If your starter gets completely covered on top with bubbles but does not rise, it is healthy but may just be a wet mix. Try reducing the water in your next feeding and see if you have different results. Also, the type of flour you are using can impede the rise of your starter.

How do you keep sourdough starter alive for years? ›

Storing: Crumble Into Dry Flour

This is by far my preferred method for long-term sourdough starter storage. Place a large dollop of your ripe sourdough starter in the bottom of a large bowl. Cover the starter with lots of flour—you can use the same flour used for feedings or 100% white flour.

What happens if I leave my sourdough starter too long? ›

Sourdough starter goes flat when it's been left too long for that temperature and it runs out of food. The starter fills with air, was not used in time, runs out of energy, and deflates. Deflation destroys the airy structure of the sourdough starter.

Can sourdough last years? ›

Sourdough bread will keep well for up to 3-5 days at a moderate room temperature of 18-20°C or 64-68°F. The warmer and more humid the conditions become, the more chance the sourdough has of spoiling.

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