Traditional foodies know that feeding sourdough starter regularly is necessary to keep it active, bubbly and healthy. What if you are going on vacation or simply need to stop making homemade sourdough bread for awhile, however? Life happens after all! In those cases, it is important to know the protocol for storing sourdough starter properly.
Taking the necessary steps is important to protect the beneficial probiotics in your starter that are unique to your locale. This is what makes your culture special. Even if the culture survives a period of neglect, it may take on an unpleasant flavor. This won’t go away easily even after repeated feedings. If that happens, you will have to start from scratch and either buy a sourdough culture or make a new one yourself.
You will be happy to learn that storing a sourdough culture isn’t that big of a deal. Whether the baking hiatus is just a couple of weeks or you are taking a months-long break, sourdough starter can be safely preserved. Then, your living investment will be healthy and ready for you to jump right back into routine.
Why Bother to Store Sourdough at All?
It may seem inconvenient at first to consider that you need to make plans to take care of your starter while you are away or taking a break. This can dissuade some people from making bread the old fashioned way and instead resort to fake sourdough using yeast.
That cultures need to be cared for makes sense, though, considering that they are living things that eat and breath like any other organism. In that sense, sourdough starter is like a pet! Instead of being furry and providing companionship, this pet is invisible, microbial and helps guard your intestinal health! Remember – although a loaf of sourdough bread contains no probiotics (this is one of the most persistent sourdough myths), the beneficial microbes in the starter help digestion by breaking down anti-nutrients, gluten and some of the hard to digest starch before baking occurs and the heat of the oven deactivates them.
pet sourdough sitting? Sounds like a business of the future to me!
A Word about Storing Gluten Free Sourdough Starter
Are you gluten free? Please make note that sourdough starter made with gluten free flour does not respond as well to long term storage as those made with whole wheat, einkorn, spelt, farro, kamut or rye.
If you are going to be storing sourdough starter that is gluten free for longer than a week, it probably won’t survive.
As a result, it is a good idea to make plans in advance for a foodie friend to handle the care and feeding of a gluten free sourdough starter while you are away. Or, simply gift it to someone who makes sourdough. When you are ready to make bread again, some starter can be gifted back to you!
The Circle of Life – from kitchen to kitchen!
Short Term Sourdough Starter Storage
Below are tips for storing your sourdough starter for a short period of time – one month or less.
In between baking rounds, sourdough starter is normally refrigerated with one weekly feeding required to keep it healthy.
If you are going to be away for longer, it won’t harm refrigerated starter to be without feeding for up to two full weeks as long as this doesn’t happen too frequently. As a rule of thumb, extending the regular weekly feed for refrigerated starter to two weeks no more than twice per year is sufficiently infrequent enough that your sourdough culture should be fine.
Just be sure to feed it immediately upon your return!
If you are going to be away for longer than two weeks but less than a month, it is necessary to partially dry out the starter to induce temporary dormancy. To do this, take 2/3 cup of starter from a strong, active culture and mix in 2 cups of flour. Note that the flour added needs to be the same type as the starter. So, if the starter is made of spelt, add 2 cups of fresh spelt flour, not regular whole wheat, einkorn or rye.
Work this additional flour into the starter until it becomes rather coarse and dry and looks similar to breadcrumbs.
Place this dried starter into a small glass bowl with a lid (I use these). You can also use ziplock bags, but the chances of the culture surviving are better in glass.
Once you return home, place the dry starter in a clean glass bowl and feed immediately by adding one cup of warm (not hot) filtered water. Cover with a dishtowel and leave for about half an hour for the water to be fully absorbed. Next, use your best judgment to add a bit more warm water and/or fresh flour to return the starter to the right consistency.
You will need to feed the culture twice more per your regular feeding schedule for the starter to be ready for baking.
Feeding Sourdough Starter
Sourdough starter should normally be fed every 8-12 hours in equal parts by weight of starter, water, and flour. If measuring by volume, feed the starter combining 1 part starter, 1 part water and slightly less than 2 parts flour. The first two feeds after reviving from a dried state should be 8 hours in between.
Storing Sourdough Starter for up to a Year
If you need to take a longer break than one month from sourdough baking, it is best to dehydrate and store in the freezer.
It is a good idea to put some of your starter into long term storage at some point anyway even if you continue regular baking with no extended breaks. The reason? It gives you a plan B should anything ever happen to your active sourdough starter.
Dehydrating a sourdough culture is simple to do:
- First, roll out 2/3 cup of starter on a piece of unbleached parchment paper.
- Next, leave the starter to dry out completely. Depending on the temperature and humidity of your home, this could take anywhere from one to a few days. You will know that the starter is dried out when it separates from the paper.
- Take the dried piece of starter and crush it by hand in a mortar & pestle or grind it up with a few pulses of a food processor.
- Pour the pieces into a small glass bowl with a lid (I use these) and place securely in the freezer.
When you are ready to use again, follow the instructions above for reviving a dried sourdough starter.
Have you ever stored and then revived a sourdough culture? If so, let us know any tips you might have for your specific location that have proven helpful to you.