How to Store a Sourdough Starter (Without Feeding It) | The Perfect Loaf (2024)

So many intangible inputs get mixed into our sourdough starter each day besides the raw, physical ingredients: the time needed to mix, attention, observation, and perhaps a little worry now and then—all the resources constantly tugged at, and contributed to, by daily life. At first glance, this list might seem like a lot of fuss needed to keep a small, bubbling culture going. But really, it’s a smidgen of time in the day, and I think, at least, the resulting bread is always justified.

There’s undeniably a lot of value in maintaining a healthy and regularly fed sourdough starter, but sometimes we do need a vacation, don’t we? Luckily for us, a starter is not only incredibly resilient but it also can be sent into “low power mode” by following a few tips on how to store a sourdough starter for a longer period of time.

In the past, I’ve talked about placing a starter in the fridge for around a week to reduce required maintenance, and this is always a valid option. However, what if we’re going to be gone longer than a week? Or two weeks? Or a month? I’ve experimented over the years with ways to store my sourdough starter and have found the following methods to all be effective means for storage and quick revival.

But first! If you don’t yet have a sourdough starter read through my guide on creating a sourdough starter in 7 steps and then head back here to pick up where you left off.

How to Control Sourdough Starter Fermentation

Controlisn’t a word I like to use lightly regarding natural fermentation. Rather than control, I think of it as guidingfermentation in a certain direction. A seemingly small semantic difference but an important one. It’s a facet of baking I didn’t fully appreciate until I had a better grasp of the factors that play into modifying fermentation activity in a dough (like temperature).

The table below outlines a few of these factors and how we can modify them to adjust fermentation activity. With this knowledge, we can adjust them to slow down our starter to accommodate our desired storage time.

Increased Fermentation Activity (↑)Decreased Fermentation Activity (↓)
HydrationHigher hydration (e.g.liquid starter)Lower hydration (e.g.stiff starter)
TemperatureHigher temperatureLower temperature
Percentage of Whole GrainsHigher percentageLower percentage
Inoculation (the percentage of ripe starter carried over at each feeding)Higher percentageLower percentage
Salt (while not typically used in a starter, salt can be mixed in at a very low percentage to temper fermentation)Lower percentageHigher percentage

Many inputs determine a sourdough starter’s vigor, not just the items above. The table also assumes we can modify each factor independently, which is sometimes not the case! Usually, they are related and intertwined—changing one might have subtle side effects on another. In the end, it’s best to try and isolate a single factor and make a change. Then, observe how your starter behavior was impacted: its smell, rise time, and visual cues.

With the above information, let’s examine how we can modify our starter to reduce maintenance feedings.

How To Store Your Sourdough Starter

The following sections are divided into several storage time durations. You should read through all the sections to understand how the above chart and fermentation-altering factors affect your starter’s timeline.If you’re having any issues with the processes below or with reviving your starter, scroll down to the troubleshooting section for more information.

How To Store Your Sourdough Starter For A Day Or Less

While not exactlystoring, I’m referring to small adjustments you can make to change your starter’s daily feedings. If you do feed daily (either once, twice, or even more) then you’re likely already in an effective maintenance routine. But what if you’re going to be gone for the night and won’t come back in the morning? Or you just want to skip a feeding? Let’s take a look at how I’d modify my personal starter to accommodate that change.

I usually keep my starter somewhere warm, always in a proof box or the new Sourdough Home in the winter (see more on theimportance of temperature when baking), with a refreshment early in the morning and one 12 hours later. If I expect to miss a refreshment, I mix my starter to a slightly stiffer consistency with a smaller ripe starter carryover (inoculation). For example, if my normal starter feed is:

Flour100% (100g)
Water100% (100g)
Ripe starter20% (20g)

I would modify to:

Flour100% (100g)
Water70% (70g)
Ripe starter10% (10g)

A small change, but not much more is needed. The reduced hydration and smaller carryover will slow fermentation activity. Additionally, you could instead use cooler water or keep your starter a few degrees colder to also slow activity.

It’s easy to just stick a starter in the fridge when we can’t get to a feeding. And while placing your starter in the fridge at around 38°F (3°C) isn’t a huge problem, why place your starter in a “stressful” situation? For me, the preferred option is to reduce hydration and inoculation when I need to do small, daily adjustments. You can play with the amount of carryover at each feeding and see how your starter reacts to the change. In some cases you might not even need to adjust the hydration, just the inoculation percentage will afford enough control.

But what if we’re going to be gone a week or more?

How To Store Your Sourdough Starter for Up to Three Weeks

Building on the comments above, a home refrigerator can be a very convenient place to store your starter for extended periods. However, I don’t like to leave my starter for more than three weeks in the fridge because it usually takes longer to revive with the additional care required. If I need a break for more than this time, I’ll opt for another method below (usually drying into crumbles).

Storing Your Sourdough Starter In The Refrigerator

How to Store a Sourdough Starter (Without Feeding It) | The Perfect Loaf (2)

You can see the consistency of my fully mixed starter prepared for the fridge in the images below. Notice the consistency is stiffer than when at 100% hydration. This reduction in hydration helps the starter hold up extremely well in the fridge.

Take out a new, clean jar with a lid. To the jar add the 20g ripe starter and100g flour (whatever flour you usually use for feedings). Then, add80g room temperature water and stir until all dry bits are hydrated. Place a lid on top, and secure. Let the jar sit out on the counter for about an hour to let fermentation get started. Then, place it in the fridge somewhere near the back where it will go unnoticed (and no one will be tempted to throw it out).

How to Revive Your Sourdough Starter From The Refrigerator

To revive, take your jar out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for an hour or two to warm up. The mixture may or may not be bubbly like mine below, but either way, stir it so everything is reincorporated. Proceed with your normal starter feeding (discard down, add fresh flour and water) and place in a warm spot until it shows the signs it needs a refreshment. For my starter sitting at 78°F (25°C) this is usually around 12-14 hours later.

I prefer to do at least 2, preferably 3, regular feedings before using the starter to make a levain. I’ve rushed this in the past and, at least with my starter, it needs some time to get back up to full strength.

See my guide to storing a sourdough starter in the fridge for vacation for more tips on storing it for short periods.

How To Store Your Sourdough Starter For Long Periods

How to Store a Sourdough Starter (Without Feeding It) | The Perfect Loaf (4)

I use two methods to store my starter for long periods and usually opt for the first: crumbling and drying it out in flour. I’ve left my starter dried in my pantry and out of direct sunlight for up to 8 months (Update: I now have one stored for over two years!) without any issues.

Usually, I notice my starter springs back faster using this method, but both have proven equally effective. While these methods can be slightly laborious, especially the second, they’re handy options in your baker’s tool chest.

Moisture is the enemy of successfully storing a dried starter.

Additionally, these methods are excellent ways to ship or travel with your sourdough starter. If you have a friend that lives many miles away, dry your starter, seal it in a jar, and send it on its way. If no moisture enters the jar, it will reach its destination without issues. Then, point them back to this website to learn how to revive the now well-traveled starter.

Moisture is the enemy of successfully storing a dried starter. To ensure your starter is truly hibernating, you must ensure the results are completely devoid of hydration and kept in a dry location. Once it’s dry, place the crumbs or shards in a container and seal it shut. I usually use a Weck jar with a rubber seal and clipsto create an airtight seal.

These jars are designed for canning, so they’re perfect (here’s more about why I love them).

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. First, using a spatula, mix everything until it’s fairly incorporated. After mixing, you’ll still see large lumps throughout. Next, use your hands to pinch through the mixture, seeking out large clumps to break them into small pea-sized balls. Continue doing this for several minutes, depending on the quantity of starter you poured into the bowl. If the mixture feels wet, keep adding flour as needed.

Once the entire mixture feels dry, let the bowl sit out exposed to dry air for an hour or so. Then, place the contents in a jar and seal it shut. You can spread the contents across multiple jars if you’d like to keep a few backups or give some away to friends. The key is to get enough of the mixture in each jar, so there’s a large sample of your dried ripe starter.

Keep the jar sealed in a dry area in your pantry away from light and moisture.

Reviving: Dry Crumble

The crumbs from the above method won’t require any preparation before adding fresh flour and water. Without discarding any of the dried contents of the jar,add 50g of fresh flour and enough water to make the mixture easy to stir, then stir until no dry bits remain. The exact hydration of the mixture isn’t really critical, there just needs to be enough water to make the mixture easy to stir and feel about right to you.

Let everything sit until it looks like it needs another feeding, usually 12 to 24 hours, at warm room temperature. It’s important to try and keep the mixture warm during this time; between 78°F (25°C) and 82°F (26°C) would be ideal. Once you see activity in the mixture and it looks like it needs feeding, feed it with your typical flour and water ratio after that.

Above, the image at the left shows the mixture just after adding the stored starter, fresh flour, and water. You’ll notice it’s rather loose and highly hydrated with lumps present. Next, the image at right is after about 12 hours at 80°F (26°C)—plenty of activity and ready for the first real feeding.

Storing: Spread, Dry, and Crack Into Shards

This method is similar to the above in that the starter is dried completely, but this takes it a step further by drying the starter itself into “shards.” The shards are then broken into small pieces and stored away from moisture.

The easiest way to dry your starter is to use a baker’s quarter sheet lined with a silicone liner (or parchment paper).

Pour a large dollop of your sourdough starter out onto the silicone liner. Using a spatula, spread your starter out into a thin layer. The thinner and more even, the better, this way, it uniformly dries and begins to crack. Using a quarter sheet is handy because it fits nicely into my , which speeds up the drying process considerably. Place the quarter sheet in the proofer on the bottom rack and turn the temperature controller to 76°F (24°C). If you don’t have a proofer, place the quarter sheet uncovered on your kitchen counter.

Leave the quarter sheet untouched for several days until the starter begins to crack and lift up off the surface. It will visually change from a dark color (where it was wet) to a uniform, light color. Once it looks completely dry, crack the pieces with your hands and place them in a sealed jar.

Reviving: Shards

The shards need a little help rehydrating before we can add fresh flour and water. To rehydrate, add just enough warm water to cover. Let them sit in the water for an hour until soft and they start to break apart. Below, the image at the left is about 30 minutes into the soak and the image on right is after a full hour.

Next,without discarding any of the soaking mixture, add 100g fresh flour and about 90g water and stir completely. The result will feel overly wet due to the new water plus the water that was previously soaking. The mixture should feel close to 125% hydration.

Let everything sit until it looks like it needs another feeding, usually 12 to 24 hours, at warm room temperature. It’s important to try and keep the mixture warm during this time. A temperature between 78°F (25°C) and 82°F (26°C) would be ideal. Once you see sufficient maturity in the mixture, perform a feed with your typical flour and water quantities.

Sourdough Starter Storage FAQs

What should I feed my starter with when I revive it?

Use the same flour you normally use to do feedings.

What temperature should I keep the starter at when trying to revive it after storage?

Similar to when we are creating a new starter, it’s best to keep the mixture warm. If you can do78°F (25°C) to 80°F (26°C) it will help expedite the revival process considerably.

My sourdough starter isn’t springing back to life, what can I do?

Start by picking up some good quality (organic if possible) whole grain rye flour. If you have a local source that mills rye I’d go with that first, and my second choice would be to order some online. I usually replace 50% of the flour I normally use for feedings with this rye flour.
Second, keep your starter nice and warm—78°F (25°C) to 80°F (26°C) if possible. Warm up the water used to do feedings, keep your starter insulated, or keep it in a proof box.
Finally, time your sourdough starter feedings so they are just when your starter ripens, not too early and not too late. If you feed too early you might reduce populations of bacteria/yeast before they can fully metabolize the mixture. If you feed too late, acidity will build in the mixture and will eventually create unfavorable conditions.

If you’re still having trouble, check out my top 21 sourdough starter problems (with solutions) ↗

What’s Next?

Of the many ways to store a sourdough starter the above have kept my starter healthy over the years, even with breaks now and then. They promote a quick recovery from storage, which means we can get back to baking as soon as possible. Armed with these new methods, don’t feel like your starter is keeping you from taking a break. They will ensure your starter perks back up in no time after it, and you, take a little rest.

Once your sourdough starter is up and running, head over and mix up a batch of my Beginner’s Sourdough for fresh bread this weekend! If you have more questions on sourdough starter maintenance have a look at my sourdough starter frequently asked questions or leave a comment below.

How to Store a Sourdough Starter (Without Feeding It) | The Perfect Loaf (2024)

FAQs

How do you store sourdough starter without feeding? ›

Sourdough starter can be frozen, if you would like to store it for a long period without feeding. To do this, double the amount of flour added at feeding so that it is a very thick paste, place in an airtight container and freeze for up to 1 year.

How long can sourdough starter last without being fed? ›

A starter stored in the fridge can be fed once a week. If you plan to use it often, you can store it for up to two months without feeding. When you want to use the starter again, remove it from the fridge for a few hours, then feed it every 12 hours for 36 hours before you make bread with it.

Can I leave my sourdough starter on the counter? ›

Can I keep the starter on the counter? Yes you can, but this means regular daily feeds.

How do you store whole sourdough loaf? ›

For bread that hasn't yet been sliced, keep it in a cloth bag or wrapped in a breathable tea towel (like linen or cotton) for 3-4 days. This is ideal. Uncut bread can also be stored in a paper bag, but it does get tough sooner, so only keep it this way for a day or two.

What happens if you don't feed sourdough starter? ›

Don't worry — everything will be just fine. A sourdough starter is often likened to a pet, but unlike a puppy, if you forget to feed it when you're supposed to, nothing bad will happen. Because even though starters are technically alive, they're incredibly resilient.

Should I keep my sourdough starter in an airtight container? ›

You'll want to cover your sourdough starter, but only to stop things from falling into it and to keep it from forming a skin on top and drying out. Otherwise, remember that your starter is alive and needs to breathe a little bit. A lid is fine, so long as it's not completely air-tight.

Can sourdough starter go bad from sitting? ›

If your sourdough starter is new and less than a month old, it might not be able to survive very long without feeding. I wouldn't go more than 24 hours without feeding a very young sourdough starter (it may survive longer than this unfed however you will leave it open to the risk of mold).

What does a bad sourdough starter look like? ›

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.

How do I know if I killed my sourdough starter? ›

If you think you killed your starter with heat, always use a probe thermometer to take the temperature in the center of the starter. If it is below 130F/54C it is still alive, even if it was exposed to a higher oven temperature for a short time.

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.

Do you discard sourdough starter each time you feed it? ›

It would be best if you discarded some portion of your starter each time you feed it unless you want to continue to let it grow. Eventually, you need to discard the used “food” (flour and water) that's been used to sustain your starter during the last fermentation period.

Where is the best place to leave sourdough starter? ›

In The Fridge:

This is typically how I store my starter if I know I will not be baking with it for a few days or weeks. For best results, feed your starter before placing it in the fridge. Feed your starter equal parts of flour, water, and starter. Place an airtight lid on it and keep it in the fridge.

How do you store sourdough starter when not using? ›

Storing Your Sourdough Starter In The Refrigerator

Take out a new, clean jar with a lid. To the jar add the 20g ripe starter and 100g flour (whatever flour you usually use for feedings). Then, add 80g room temperature water and stir until all dry bits are hydrated. Place a lid on top, and secure.

Can you store sourdough in ziploc bags? ›

Ziploc Bags

It's great when you are in a pinch. Cons: Again, if you do not let your bread cool completely before placing it in a Ziploc bag, it could cause condensation. This moisture may make your bread soggy and mold faster.

Can you leave a sourdough loaf out overnight? ›

Sourdough never lasts very long in my house, maximum 3 days, usually 2! For the first 24-36 hours I leave my loaves out on rack to fully cool, then on a board, uncovered, or in a linen or cotton bag before slicing them.

Does refrigerated sourdough starter need to be fed? ›

When the sourdough starter is in the fridge, it does not need to be fed as much as it does when it is on the counter. On the counter, it needs to be fed daily, but in the fridge, it only needs to be fed once a week. You can even switch back and forth between the refrigerator and the counter if you use it sporadically.

How do you keep sourdough starter forever? ›

Storing: Crumble Into Dry Flour

Crumbling live sourdough starter (unfed) into dry flour. This is by far my preferred method for long-term sourdough starter storage.

Do you have to discard sourdough starter every day? ›

You don't have to discard your starter every day. In case you didn't see my White, Wheat, and Rye Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe, you may want to check it out. In that particular recipe, I make a levain with my starter the night before I mix my bread.

Does sourdough starter need to breathe? ›

Your sourdough starter will survive without direct access to oxygen because it is an anaerobic fermentation process, meaning it does not need oxygen to occur. While your sourdough starter doesn't actually breathe and therefore can have the lid sitting on the jar, it can benefit from fresh air.

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