How To Preserve Your Sourdough Starter for Months—Sans Freezer

March 21, 2017

Sourdough starter is basically a flour and water mixture that a bunch of wild yeasts and friendly lactobacilli bacteria call home. The yeasts produce the bubbles and work with the lactobacilli to give sourdough its distinct tang. The double-edged sword with the yeasts and lactobacilli is their constant need of food (equal parts flour and water), hence the need for regular feedings.

If you follow the rules laid out by many professional bread bakers, feeding your sourdough starter at least every three days is as important as filing your taxes. Acquiring a good starter means committing to an entirely new lifestyle. If you insist on being a bad parent, you can maybe put it in the refrigerator for about a week, but only if you promise feed it beforehand, and as soon as it reaches room temperature after. If a life event or vacation happens, you’re told by Zachary Golper in Bien Cuit to “think of your starter as you would a pet” and get a starter-sitter who will agree to a 3-day feeding schedule. The River Cottage Bread Handbook, though, lets you know you can make a starter dough to keep in the fridge that only needs feeding every couple of weeks. Some experts suggest freezing a bit of your starter—a trick The Bread Bible’s Rose Levy Berenbaum uses in real life—but that’s only if you’re really, truly, desperately in need of a break from making bread every few days.

I will proudly admit that I am the worst when it comes to my own starter. After dreaming about fresh loaves for years, I managed about two months of weekly baking before I got sick of it all. Granted, the lack of air conditioning in my kitchen, an impending move, and my tendency to forget things in the fridge might have had something to do with it. I needed another way and I found one, except it’s not mentioned in any of the big bread cookbooks: dehydrating your sourdough starter. In other words, if you want to properly neglect the yeasts and lactobacilli, you have to go all the way and force them into a fully dormant state.

Drying out your starter accomplishes the same thing as freezing, except without the worry about a random defrost or freezer burn. Take whatever is left of your starter after making bread. Spread it into a thin layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let fully dry over the course of a few days. Once the starter is pale and hard as a rock, peel it away from the parchment and break by hand into small, irregular chips. Store in any way that will keep the pieces dry—I prefer a regular pint mason jar, but a strong plastic bag or container would do. When you want your starter to arise from the dead, add an ounce (about 1/3 cup) of the chips to two ounces (1/4 cup) of warm water. Stir and let sit for about a day to absorb the water. Then feed as you would before.

Easy to store in your pantry! Photo by Siobhan Wallace

But store for how long? The jury’s still out on that one. The King Arthur Flour blog, Flourish, is one of the few authorities to acknowledge this method, and their guess is years. Meanwhile, The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion doesn’t mention any method for long-term storage. But if dried yogurt cultures can stay alive indefinitely, it’s safe to assume that’s also the case for sourdough cultures. After surviving for six months dead as a doornail, my own starter came back to life as good as new.

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Do you have any sourdough starter tips? Share them in the comments!


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June October 20, 2019
The group has been passing around a starter that originated in 1847. They will send you a sample for the cost of postage.
Sue7 January 23, 2020
Hi Could you send me a sourdough starter please.
Linda S. October 20, 2019
i used some dried starter from breadtopia when my starter was looking sort of wimpy. i dumped most of it, add the dried flakes and BOOM! bubbling away after a couple of feeds. i think it was due to the chemicals in our water (more seem to be added in the summer) so i'm using bottled spring water now...just in case.
Sampson5 May 23, 2019
Has anybody ground/powdered the chips in a Vitamix for better rehydration?
Sandra A. May 2, 2019
I dried a starter like this a number of years ago and kept the dried pieces in a container in the frig. Just rehydrated it and fed it--so happy to see it bubbling away. I've had the starter 47 years, and this one was my backup.
Michelle April 7, 2019
Thank you! I am often away for several weeks once or twice a year. I tried leaving it in the refrigerator but three weeks is the max, after that the revival is sad.
Michael K. March 15, 2019
I kept a starter in the back of my fridge for 5 years. Once a month I fed it, if not used, then back to its corner. Called it my science experiment. Lost it when we moved but it always worked great.
JUDE January 28, 2019
When I moved back to rural Texas from sophisticated Seattle, I sorely missed the wonderful, fabulous, fantastic sourdough bread available fresh daily in most grocery chains. Googling I learned that local yeasts would quickly overtake imported starters. I tried anyway, and got some to raise bread, but could never get that wonderfully sharp sourdough taste. Why bother with sourdough & starters if it tastes like plain old store-bought yeast anyway. I'm still learning to live with the pitiful fact. Any Texans out there who can get good sourdough bread despite the pushy local yeasts?
Anita February 28, 2019
Jude, have you tried to cold proof your sourdough overnight before baking? The longer a bread proofs the more time there is for the tang to develop. When I want a more pronounced sourdough flavor I do the final proof in my fridge for anywhere from 12 to 36 hours. Also a starter that contains some rye flour (at least 50%) will get a more sourdough flavor than a white starter.
Sara January 26, 2019
Years of storage is right. I had a container in my fridge that I forgot about. It dehydrated and had been there for at least 4 years. I rehydrated and fed it, and it’s doing great.
Rick January 22, 2019
Thank you, Thank you !!! You have renewed my sourdough Life.
Darlene September 16, 2018
Well that is just brilliant. You have no idea how many sour dough starters got started in my kitchen and tossed never to live again. Thanks for this!
Nova Scotia
bowensoap July 13, 2018
I'm kind of confused by the rehydration ratio: "When you want your starter to arise from the dead, add an ounce (about 1/3 cup) of the chips to two ounces (1/4 cup) of warm water. " Are you talking about 1 oz by weight (28g) of chips to 2 fl oz of water (59ml)? I really hate ounces, so confusing!
Alice K. February 6, 2019
I think it probably is not all that critical. Take a handful of dried starter and cover it with water. Is that better?
Maree June 29, 2018
I've rehydrated after a very generous 2 years and no drama at all.
Claudia June 16, 2018
This could be the answer to how I am going to transport my starter to our winter home in Sarasota. Our vehicle is shipped several weeks before we arrive and I was sure I would have to begin the process again when we arrived. This is a great alternative and I may give it a dry (pardon the pun) run this summer.
Mel April 10, 2018
I believe there’s magic involved in making sourdough starters...
I lost my first starter from neglect. After many starts and failures, the magic happened and my starter is happily resting in my fridge. I can wait to try your dry method.
Mel April 10, 2018
I CAN’T wait!
Stephanie B. February 3, 2018
I just revived my sourdough starter from the dried chips, and I'd like to add that it took a few days for mine to get going again. Considering I feed my active starter about once a week, I don't think "feeding as normal" would have worked for me. In the end, this method ended up being sort of a halfway between normal feeding and making a brand new starter.

I let the chips sit overnight in water at room temp as mentioned above, but there was no activity. I fed the paste a little bit and added some fresh water, without removing any of the old stuff (there wasn't much volume) for 2 days. At this point there were little bubbles, and it smelled sour, but in a bacterial way (not that fruity, yeasty way). I dumped out half of this stuff on day 3, and then fed again with fresh flour and water - after a few hours I started getting bigger bubbles and the smell started to get fresher. Just to be safe, I let this sit out one more day. On the 4th day it smelled tart and fruity like I'm used to. I fed it again, without throwing out any old stuff because I'm trying to build up volume, and let it sit out for a few hours to let it ferment. Up to this point, everything has been out on the counter, at room temperature. Once I saw fermentation bubbles after this last feeding, I moved it to the fridge and I'm back to normal starter.

So, not exactly as easy as re-hydrate and feed like normal. It took 4 days to get to normal for my starter. But it took a week and a half to get my starter going from scratch, so it's still significantly shorter than making brand new starter.

As for the people getting in a huff about how other people fuss over their starters: it's a labor of love, just because you don't love it doesn't mean everyone else feels the same way. People aren't obsessing over individual yeast and bacteria cells, they're cherishing the memories and shared meals between friends and family, sometimes spanning generations. If that's "foodie silliness" then I'll own that any day.
Pat February 3, 2018
Great news! Glad the dehydrated starter came back to life. I always keep dehydrated flakes for a backup, especially after I reading the stories of woe when folks try to help by cleaning out the fridge and pitching a starter. I have now labeled my jar of starter "Masa Madre" ¡Nunca Botar! (mother dough in a Spanish speaking country), with feeding instructions and a caution to never throw out.
Stephanie B. February 4, 2018
Thanks Pat! It was like welcoming an old friend :) I have lots of dehydrated chips left, just in case an accident like you mentioned happens.
Ralph A. July 13, 2018
Stephanie B. No one is getting in a "Huff" . I hope you and others take my commnet as an appeal for some simple science. Love it if you will, but also know that there's more science than mystery in yeast and enzymes. I apologize if anyone took my message as pejorative.
karla T. December 29, 2017
I dehydrated mine by smearing it in a thin layer onto a silicon baking mat, and putting it into my old-fashioned oven-with-a-pilot light (about 85 degrees F). It took a couple of days. But it's easy to peel off, and then you can freeze it or put it into a water-tight jar.
Amy D. December 29, 2017
Do I need to actually dehydrate it in my dehydrator? Or in the oven? It’s a little rainy here so how do I make sure it’s dry enough? Thank you! Amy
Pat December 29, 2017
Amy, I just spread the starter on parchment paper and left it in my cold oven for several days. I think it took 4-5 days total.
Pat December 29, 2017
Dehydrating a sourdough starter into flakes like this definitely works. Eight years ago, preparing to permanently move to another country, I dehydrated a very active starter, broke it into flakes, and stored it in a vacuum sealed bag.

Knowing it would be more than a year before I had an oven again. I hand carried my starter on the plane and through it in the freezer as soon as I got here. A year later I tried to re-activate it.

Several attempts to re-activate the starter failed. Finally, I came up with a recipe that brought the starter back to life, and it is actually more robust now than it every was when I lived in the States. Here is my method:

2 tablespoons of dehydrated starter flakes
1 tablespoon of flour
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon of fresh pineapple juice

Mix ingredients and store at room temperature for 24 hours. The next day, give it a regular feeding of 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water. Let it set at room temperature for a few hours and your starter should now be good for baking. The older, and more mature your starter is, the better bread baking results you will have.
Pat December 29, 2017
^^^^ threw, not through
Alice K. February 6, 2019
Wow! Pineapple juice? How did you ever come up with that?
Anita February 28, 2019
Alice, I had several failed attempts at getting a sourdough starter up and going. I tried again and this time I used pineapple juice and flour to begin and with the first couple feedings before I switched to water and flour. Now I’ve built four different starters (based on different flours) from that original starter. There’s an excellent article on using pineapple juice on
Maja L. December 9, 2017
Can anyone explain me why undertake so much effort to keep your starter alive if you can easily make new one or simly use yeast? Don't get me wrong, please, I really admire what you people do, just need to know why you do it. And aren't you affraid of mold? It could be small, even invisible, or there is a way of preventing it?
Rebecca December 16, 2017
The older the starter is, the more developed the flavor becomes. Similar to how some wines it various liquors are more favored if they are aged a long time. And if your starter is healthy, the live (good) bacteria you are developing in the starter helps keep the bad ones at bay
Dennis H. December 26, 2017
Creating sourdough starter from scratch is actually difficult. I tried and failed several times before my wife brought me some commercial starter.

Why not just use yeast? Sourdough bread is easier to digest, is more nutritious, tastes better, stays fresh longer, and is actually easier to make. Just a few ingredients -- water, flour, salt, and starter.

The starter and bead is quite mold-resistant, probably due to the lactic and acetic acid and alcohol that is in the starter. I have never had starter or bread get any visible mold growth.

Try it!
Linda S. October 20, 2019
i love the taste of sourdough bread! i bake tons of stuff with regular yeast, too. the cool think about sourdough bread: no kneading! you just fold it, let it rest, repeat. sure, it takes longer but in the end...yum! my favorite recipe book is Artisan Sourdough Made simple by Emilie Raffa. so many cool recipes. made sourdough waffles recently.
Ralph A. November 30, 2017
Good words of wisdom. Drying has been the way to preserve foods ong before anything else was used. That said, I'm amused at the comments here and elsewhere that speak of starters (and other foodie silliness) in hushed tones and religious fervor. Quotes like "I've had my starter for (fill in the blank) years. And "I treat it gently like a person" WTH ?? Come on, it's just simple cells that do reproduce just like most organisms. There's nothing sacred about yeast and lactobacillus. Like babies, you can almost always.. Make another. OK, maybe some strains have qualities you like, but the world won't end if you have to find another and just maybe, you'll prefer the new "Kid on the Block" better. Sheesh !
Amy D. December 18, 2017
Some starters are reflective of a cherished heritage. We have one from my hometown that is nearly a century old, a living tribute to women who have since passed away, who nurtured and mentored us in their kitchens. The starters were stuff of sourdough pancakes at community breakfasts and so very many wonderful childhood memories. As one reader noted, the older the starter the more nuanced the flavor.