Maintaining a sourdough starter through times where you don’t plan to bake, can be quite unnecessary and a waste of flour. Learning how to store sourdough starter properly can further assist your future plans of sourdough baking in no time, without having to commit to baking every single day.
There are a few ways to store your sourdough starter, depending on how long you wish to put it away for, and how you plan to revive it, as well as the way you will need to maintain it during its time remaining in storage.
So if you’re wondering how long your sourdough starter will last when stored and temporarily forgotten, then let’s jump right into it!
What is Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough starter, also known as a sourdough culture or leaven, is a mixture of flour and water that has been left to ferment. It contains wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria. This combination is what allows you to use sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast in your breads, giving sourdough bread a unique flavor profile.
How to Store Sourdough Starter?
If you aren’t intending to use your sourdough starter on a regular basis, or simply require a break from baking, it is best kept your starter in the fridge.
To do this, feed your starter then seal the sourdough starter container, then allow it to stand at room temperature for 2-3 hours before placing in the fridge to store. A starter stored in the fridge will only require feeding once or twice a week to maintain it.
If you use your sourdough starter every day, then you should keep it standing in a jar at room temperature.
You will need to feed it every day at regular intervals i.e. every 12 hours. A sourdough starter stored at room temperature and fed everyday will have a milder flavour than one kept in the fridge and fed once a week.
Feeding Sourdough Starter
Fortunately, for many bakers, sourdough starters are very forgiving and can stay alive for months or even years between feedings.
However, if you don’t feed a starter often enough, it will slip into a deep slumber, eventually becoming inactive. If your starter is going unused for longer than four weeks at a time (which is about how long it would take for one batch of bread), then it might be helpful to refresh the culture. Combine equal parts mature starter from your current batch with some new flour and water.
A healthy starter that has been stored in an airtight container should be fed at least twice a week. If you’re planning to make bread on a given day, for instance, you’ll want to feed your starter several days before baking. This way, it has time to ferment and rise.
This process requires just a cup or two of flour and water. This can be poured into the jar as soon as it’s done rising. The next morning, your starter is ready for baking with.
How Long Can Sourdough Starter Last at Room Temperature?
The only reason you would keep your sourdough starter on the counter is if you plan to bake with it regularly. If that is the case then feeding it every day isn’t really necessary. As long as it stays covered in a jar with water and flour without a silver of mold forming, then it should be fine for a few days at least. There won’t be any issues arising from being left out altogether.
If, however, your baking schedule means that you aren’t using your sourdough starter daily, then keeping it on your kitchen counter is more likely to cause problems. Especially if left untouched for too long without being fed and refreshed regularly with fresh flour and water, or any other type of ingredient you typically use to feed your starter.
The longer it sits there unattended then chances of mold forming are fairly high. It’s a possibility for mold to start growing somewhere inside the starter, out of sight. This could potentially lead to other unwanted microorganisms taking up residence in your jar of sourdough starter.
When is Your Starter Ready for the Fridge?
Typically, it is recommended to keep your sourdough starter at room temperature. Also, to feed it twice a day until it’s mature. This can take quite a while, requiring at least 6 to 8 weeks of this commitment, or sometimes longer. This will initially allow your starter to develop a good flavor profile, as well as a strong yeast colony that will help your bread rise easily.
If you put your sourdough starter in the fridge too soon it will not reach maturity for a long time. This is mainly due to the fact that the low temperatures emanating from the fridge puts it to sleep. If you can, leaving it on the counter and feeding it daily is always the better option.
Planning to abandon your sourdough starter for a much-needed break from baking? Then consider the maturity of your starter before doing so!
Before baking, though you can use your starter straight from the fridge, though it isn’t advised to do so. You must consider waking your sourdough bread from its sleep. Do so by feeding it with flour or water, every 12 hours for at least 36 hours. Then you can use it again.
What Happens if I Leave My Starter in the Fridge for a Long Time?
You may worry that you’ve killed your sourdough starter by leaving it in the fridge for too long, without feeding it. Though when it’s refrigerated, the yeast slows down and literally falls asleep. This results in a yellowish liquid on top called hooch. But this is not an indication that anything bad has happened, however. It simply shows where some yeast cells have died off, which is completely normal.
You may find that your unfed starter stored in the fridge has begun to emanate some unpleasant smells similar to acetone. Not something you’d want to eat!
Simply stir in some flour and water when you take it out of storage. Let it spring back to life, better than before.
It’s also possible that your starter will form some mold. Especially it it has been left unfed and unrefrigerated. This can happen even if there aren’t any visible signs of mold growing on top or sides, therefore unsafe to eat.
Leaving my Sourdough Starter in the Fridge for a Long Time
It would be best to maintain your starter by feeding it regularly. But if you find yourself going away on vacation or simply forgetting about it for many weeks, don’t worry!
Your starter will survive for quite a while in the fridge. Even if you forget to feed it or go away for a long period of time.
It may develop hooch, which is simply an indication of the starter being hungry, and will become quite sour. But you will be able to revive it by discarding and feeding it when you’re ready to use it again.
Don’t fret though, many have been known to revive a starter from the fridge after 2 years or more. So as long as there is no mould, there is always hope!
So, How Long Does Sourdough Last?
As long as your sourdough starter is mature before you plan to store it in the refrigerator, then your starter will remain healthy. It will be alive whilst it sits in your fridge, asleep and awaiting its time to be revived again.
If you would like to keep your sourdough starter for a longer period of time, without feeding, then try freezing your starter. Before doing this, double the amount of flour added at feeding, so that it forms a very thick paste, place it in an airtight container and freeze it for up to a year.
You can leave the starter in the fridge for 3 to 4 days at a time between feedings, ensuring that it remains active and healthy, ready for you whenever you plan to bake with it.
Though there isn’t a Guinness World Record revealing a listing for the oldest sourdough starter ever. A starter that was 122 years old kept by an old woman named Lucille in 2022 was kept alive and fermenting in her refrigerator.
If you find that your starter has formed a pinkish or orange tinge, this is a clear indication that your starter has gone bad and should be discarded.