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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“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.”
— Anita

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mommadukss2
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    Michael Zelenka
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  • FeistyChick
former blogger royalty, writer for hire, & co-author of "New York a la Cart." all the cookies are for me.


Mommadukss2 April 23, 2024
I’m having a terrible time making a starter! I can’t seem to feed it 2x a day after the initial 3 days ugh any suggestions
Michael Z. February 29, 2024
Not only is that a great way to save your sourdough. But depending on where you live your starter will have a little bet of a different flavor. If you like your bread you can dry it out and mail it to anyone anywhere in the world. It is a nice way to share your bread with anyone anywhere. Wax paper is another way to smear dry and mail your bread.
Lura M. November 1, 2023
I wish I had known this years ago.. I had a starter handed down for 86 years which I kept going for at least 20 years. Finally got so tired of the process, i betrayed my ancestors and let it die. Still feel guilty.
susandelhaise May 1, 2023
I learned how to make sourdough bread from scratch over the Covid lockdown. Every sourdough recipe says to preheat the oven. Well one day I baked my bread from a cold start. It was perfect. Now I don't waste power and money any more and my bread turns our better.
I also leave it in the fridge overnight in bread pans and bake it right from the fridge into a cold oven.
FeistyChick February 2, 2023
I haven't baked a sourdough loaf/boulle in 5 years since selling my home and then moving into my travel trailer. I dried my starter called "Black Death" (circa 1633) starter purposely to preserve it and sell it. First purchased in 2016. Well, last week after having a store bought loaf, I put about a tablespoon of the starter in a mason jar with equal parts in weight of bread flour and warm water. I added to it for 3 days and on the third day I added a tablespoon of sugar to help it along and it revived itself within 3 to 4 days! I'm so excited that I can make a Sourdough loaf again. Drying it absolutely works and I'll vouch for that method! I still have some in a package from the original purchase in 2016 that I might try to revive separately and see how it goes.
FeistyChick February 2, 2023
I haven't baked a sourdough loaf/boulle in 5 years since selling my home and then moving into my travel trailer. I dried my starter called "Black Death" (circa 1633) starter purposely to preserve it and sell it. First purchased in 2016. Well, last week after having a store bought loaf, I put about a tablespoon of the starter in a mason jar with equal parts in weight of bread flour and warm water. I added to it for 3 days and on the third day I added a tablespoon of sugar to help it along and it revived itself within 3 to 4 days! I'm so excited that I can make a Sourdough loaf again. Drying it absolutely works and I'll vouch for that method! I still have some in a package from the original purchase in 2016 that I might try to revive separately and see how it goes.
Cnonnie7 November 9, 2022
On Pinterest try A virtual vegans post for her 2 ingredient sourdough starter, she also uses the method to dry out her starter.
trvlnsandy November 9, 2022
Most starters are 2 ingredient - flour of some sort and water.
Connie S. September 9, 2022
I never had any desire to spend time grabbing wild yeast from the air. King Arthur sells great starter and it’s easy. I keep mine in the frig , often very neglected, and feed it 2 or 3 days before I want to bake. I live in a big city but I use tap water and it’s never been a problem. I am not going to let starter care take a bunch of time or fussy/special treatment and it’s worked just fine.
Ann W. September 7, 2022
After reading about half of these comments of tricks with fruit or potato water etc, I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring. I live half my time on the east coast and the other half on the west. I don't have anyone I could trust to babysit my starter. BUT, my starter is almost 30 years old and very hearty. Before I go away, I feed two containers of it, 100g discard, 300g White Bread flour and 300g water. I put them both in the back of the fridge. Covered.

Upon my return, 4-5 months later, I stir in the hooch (which is quite dark in color, but never moldy) pour off all but 100g and feed it the same 300g each of flour and water and return to the fridge. But before I do, I will pour about 100g of the new mixture into a glass mason jar and leave loosely covered on the counter, as a test sample to see how it'd doing in room temp.

After a day, I will pour off all but 100g from refrigerated starter and feed it again and do this till my starter comes back to life, which it always does in three days or less.

As for the test starter on the counter, I will watch it closely for activity. It will often come back to life within 24 hours.

HOWEVER, to be safe, I always bring a small glass jar of fresh starter in my suitcase as I make my way to the other coast, just in case! But my starter has never failed to come back even more active than before. I left it once for almost a year.

One caveat. If you live in a big city, use bottled spring water, as the chlorine in city tap water can kill off your yeast, before it has a chance to come back to life.

I've also brought back my starter from the deep freeze after ten years. That's when city water made it so hard to bring back. But once I switched it did take about a week and I brought it to the country and gave it well water and it really woke up like Frankenstein!

I also use my starter straight from the fridge to make dough, often up to two days after it's been fed. Go figure.

Nanny December 26, 2022
Thank you for all the great advice… Good to know it’s not as picky as people say👍
trvlnsandy September 4, 2022
I never have discard, using the 'scrapings' method learned from Jack, on Baking with Jack (UK baker). Started dehydrating when I had a bit left - per King Arthur. It's how I share starter. Several (including myself) have started a starter from the dehydrated.
CallyCamp July 12, 2022
I have not tried this yet, but freeze drying the sourdough starter might also be an option. See I hope to purchase one of these real soon.
nhilligas May 8, 2022
I never seem to get my sourdough as bubbly and active as I see/read in others posts. It has a great sour smell and I when I use the discard in waffles, crackers it works fine, but when i try to make bread it just doesn't seem to get light enough. What am I doing wrong? I feed it daily 1:1:1 with whole wheat or rye flour.
Nanny December 26, 2022
I find myself adding about a teaspoon of yeast to most of my loaves if I want it to be lighter🌈
MoeP April 10, 2023
When you say 1:1:1, do you mean by weight or by measuring it? I weigh mine. I don't really bother with how much starter I have in the jar, so really I am putting in equal amounts by weight of water (spring, not tap) and flour. To really give it a boost if its sluggish, try feeding it every 12 hours for 3 days. That really gets mine super bubbly!
jellysquare August 21, 2021
So delighted to read the comments about those who have not fed their starter for a long time and it still worked fine! I have had the same experience in 2017, the first time I made and used it I put it in the refrigerator and left it there for almost a year. With great trepidation, I finally decided to use it. Itirred in the "hooch," fed it and it has been a happy camper ever since. I find it puzzling that so many blogs or websites about sourdough starter, state that some of the starter must be discarded before feeding. I have never discarded any of it and never have had an overabundant amount of it either! I started with a recipe in our local paper, with water used to cook cut-up unpeeled potatoes. The article never mentioned discarding any of the starter. I have now switched to grams, 120 grams of both flour and potato water because I have gotten into weighing everything. There is always enough starter, once it is fed to make 18 hamburger/sandwich rolls every three weeks or so. I feed the extra before returning it to the refrigerator, feed it the night before using it, and it's ready to go! Whenever I cook potatoes I drain the water and freeze it in 120g amounts, so I have enough to keep my starter happy the next time I need to bake rolls. I have used my starter to make other recipes too, but I always feed it after every use and sometimes before to make sure I have enough.
I also have dried some of it and made starter from it, once again using potato water and flour. I found that if I let the potato water sit out overnight, it is more potent for getting the starter going! Probably adding more of that wild yeast to the whole mix!
Sourdough J. August 21, 2021
At one time I used to leave the lids loose on my jars in the fridge. This worked out for feedings like once a week or two weeks but then I got into longer times and would loose moisture and they would die. I read somewhere once that starters were living breathing organisms and needed air. I went back to sealing the lids tight and got into longer periods of refrigeration. I will have to look in my Sourdough journal to see how long I have had one in but I don't worry about it. I still have dried starter in the pantry in the dark and it has been about 9 months. My 1946 Willys starter is over 300 days old now, I like to keep him at about 2 cups mass. When it is near time to make more bread etc I pull him out and let stand on counter till he warms up, then stir well, I never pour out the hooch, then one cup out and one cup flour back and apx 1 cup water. I like to sometimes add dried fruit, dates, cherries, prunes etc. I will feed several times to get him to double in volume, thus I get a build up of discard, which I either freeze or dry. I like to make crackers with the disc.
Mainer September 6, 2022
Love this, thank you!
Sourdough J. September 6, 2022
Hey Mainer! Thanks. Keep on Sourdoughing.
Nanny December 26, 2022
Thank you for your ideas on freezing your potato water one serving at a time👍
Nanny December 26, 2022
Love the idea of a sourdough journal… Hard to remember what you liked and didn’t like without writing it down👍
Smaug May 8, 2023
I'm not sure about lactobacilli, but baking yeasts can grow and reproduce without oxygen.
Sourdough J. December 12, 2020
Well I did my first dehydration! I used discard, just a half of cup, parchment, cookie sheet over night on the counter and in the morning I decided to help it along and put it in the oven and bumped the oven a few time to warm it but at one point I forgot and it was on 350 for about 10 minutes and kinda cooked it. The little date pieces were a little damp still. I broke it all up and put in a peanut jar then took a big spoon and crushed it up some more, put the lid on tight and just put it in the pantry.
Today I pulled the discard jar out of fridge and let it warm up then I stirred it up well with a wooden spoon, smushing the remnants of the dried sweet sour cherries and the dates then I fed it one quater WW and AP White and h2o and stirred again. I let it set and it activated quick. Yes I always feed my discard a little to keep it happy then back in fridge. So today after it was jamming I stirred it up and took out a cup for the parchment and it's on the counter now and I froze a cup also which finished the discard. I then went back to my 1946 Willy's half and half took out one half cup and started a new jar for disc. I fed Willy's and dropped in 2 dates and He is a happy bubbler on the counter. I also restarted my 75 Chevy-all WW and my Leadville 79 all AP white with one quarter cup.
Sourdough J. December 9, 2020
I have frozen it and I know you can make a dough ball with it, one that will not take a speck of flour more and cut chunck's off it to use. I have thought of the drying method before or a dehydrator. My thought, is instead of putting discard in my gallon jar! I would try drying it, not like just once but before every feeding and get a whole gallon of dried discard or whole fresh starter. I think your article is for fresh starter though. Discard should work. I have put in raisins, and dried sweet sour cherries, makes nice bread and today I dropped in two whole dates, oh what a delightful smell, bubbles and froth.
Nanny December 26, 2022
Thank you for your ideas on freezing. I think I will try an ice cube tray so I can take out the amount I need.🥖
Bill S. October 11, 2020
Friday night I had a small informal dinner party for some friends. One brought a wonderful sourdough loaf from a local bakery. Over the course of the evening, I looked at my starter jar several times. All I’ve managed to create is a world-class jar of kindergarten paste and nothing else. I’ve been trying to get a starter going since this “pandemic” took over and have had absolutely no success whatsoever. I would be hard-pressed to find a starter recipe on Pinterest that I haven’t tried. So, based on my experiences trying to capture wild yeast from thin air is hooey! Given the amount of money, time, effort, and frustration I have invested in this snake oil fantasy I’m going to cut my losses. My jars, bowls glasses, spatulas, measuring cups, and spoons are in the dishwasher. Tomorrow I’ll post them on the neighborhood Facebook group and give them to some other fool who actually believes this flight on fancy. As for me, I’m going to start a new hobby, Alchemy. I think I have a better chance of success.
Sourdough J. December 9, 2020
Now now don't loose your mind over this ancient art. You can do it!
My last one as I had to restart it because I went to Alaska for 3 months and it died a lonely cold death in the fridge. It looked like it could have cured covid all moldy and stuff.
I have made many starters and have not lost one but you did and many others have too. I had to make another one after getting back from Alaska and this one took exactly 21 days. I use half whole wheat and half whole wheat white.
1. Get your self a 5lb bag of each.
2. I use gallon jars, get two.
3. Wooden spoons, a good rubber spat and you have your measuring cups.
4. Get a good note book: a pen, masking tape, and flour sack towels.
5. Put one quarter cup of each flour in jar, and one half cup purified water in and mix with wooden spoon, it dosen't have to be smooth. I like a little thicker than a batter.
6. Scrape sides down to mix level.
7. Put a strip of tape on jar from below level to several inches high. Mark the level of your mix on the tape, time and date too. To see how it rises.
8. Leave it out on the counter or put outside on the porch etc. But not in the sun. This last one I did, a hurricane was coming so I got some hurricane yeast as it was on the balcony for awhile. You might want to keep a couple windows cracked a tiny bit as the yeasties are out and about.
9. You dont have to keep it uncovered all the time but keep it out and I cover mine with the flour sack towels and over night.
10. It will look like kids paste at times but it is your paste haha. You can stir it once a day. For about 3 days
11. Generally by the 3rd day it will seperate with liquid on the top, dont worry just stir it up. You may have seen it rise or not and you can mark your tape.
by the way you have to name your starter and put it on the tape. My starters name is 1946 Willy's and he is 62 days old.
Ok so stir your starter up and pour out one half cup and through this out as it is not ready to save as discard yet. Feed what is left in you starter and water, stir it up and scrape down. Done! leave it as before. You can do this everyday or every couple days but when it seperates liqiud and mass it is time to feed.
12. Write in your sourdough log times and what you did each time and your observations, Rose up or not and how it smels. At one point from 7 to 21 days and even longer it will have a good rise and smeel cant spell. also may have a hooch smel.
13. When enough wild yeast, you know their out there! have developed you will feel good and each new feeding will be fun to see it grow. Then you can start saving you discard.
14. I have had starters try my patience. You can jump start your starter and make your yeasties happy by adding a tbs of raisins or 3-4 dried sour cherries. this generally has good results. Today's feeding I added two whole dates. My wild yeasties like to eat more than just flour.
15. A good cook will take practice, my parents where into it. Different areas have different yeasts. For instance people will buy a starter like from Alaska or france or from a fancy place and get that flavor from that area, well my dear soon those non native yeasts will be replaced with your native yeasts. The cherries, raisins and dates have yeasts from where they came from and picked up along the way. I hope this helps and I did not ramble. Next time your friends come over you wont have to stare at your paste on the counter and feed them some of your grub.
By the way mine are always done at room temp and the AC is set at 67 at night.
Sourdough J. December 9, 2020
Sourdough Junkie
Nanny December 26, 2022
Thanks for all the advice… I love the sourdough, journal idea and putting raisins in it…
Teresa April 27, 2020
Great tip. I will definitely try this. How long after I rehydrate it can I use the starter for bread?
Sourdough J. December 9, 2020
A long time.
Elizabeth F. April 25, 2020
My mom grew up in rural Austria in the 1940’s, and they didn’t have a fridge (cellar only). They made bread every 10 days, and dehydrated left over dough. They mixed in regular yeast with the dehydrated dough for the next batch, and kept it going for years.
Rose L. April 25, 2020
that's lovely to know. reminds me of my grandmother in the mid-40's who called her small fridge an ice-box. i even remember the horse drawn cart that brought huge cubes of ice! but i never had home-baked bread until i was 17 at the U of Vt when boyfriend was given a loaf in thanks for mowing a woman's lawn! it was a game changer.
Sourdough J. August 21, 2021
Nanny December 26, 2022
I also add a little yeast to those that I want to grow big and fluffy… which is all except ciabatta👍
Michael S. April 16, 2020
Fellow fanatics - how about 3000 years! Archeologists found a jar in an Egyptian tomb. At the bottom was dried up starter. They carefully rehydrated it and it came to life. Using ancient grains, like Kamut, they made bread, successfully! Said it tasted great.
Sourdough J. August 21, 2021
Yea I heard something like this. Sounds great.
Nanny December 26, 2022
Love that info… Always wondered what they ate in the Bible days🌈
Retha April 15, 2020
I am definitely going to try this. I have a dehydrator and we love sourdough bread but I can't keep up the maintenance.
NancyFromKona April 16, 2020
A better way to maintain: