Making sourdough bread is a delicious hobby that has taken the internet by storm in recent years. With so many people jumping on the sourdough bandwagon, sourdough recipes for bread, pretzels, and even chocolate cake are everywhere!
If you are ready to join the sourdough starter club, one of the most important things you need to learn how to do is to store your sourdough starter. Unless you are planning to make sourdough every day, you will want to store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator to keep it from going bad or ‘dying’ before you are ready to use it.
If you have your sourdough starter and you are ready to store it, we are going to talk a bit about proper storage techniques, the length of time it can be safely stored, and tips on how to know if it has gone bad or not.
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How to Store Sourdough Starter Properly
Sourdough starters can be a bit tricky to get started, but once you have the yeast growing, you can feed it once a week or so to keep it alive and use it as needed. If you plan to use it regularly, as in several times a week, it can be stored in an airtight container on the counter.
If you only plan to use your sourdough starter once a week or less, you should keep it in the refrigerator in a container with a lid so that your fridge does not smell like yeast. There are many sourdough storage containers available, or you can just buy a mason jar if you prefer to keep it simple.
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If you decide to store your sourdough in the fridge, when you feed it once a week or so, feed it, put the lid on, and leave it sitting on the counter for 2-3 hours. This will help the yeast to “wake up,” so to speak, and eat so that it continues to grow and thrive in your starter. Then you can return it to the fridge for safekeeping.
How to Freeze Sourdough Starter
If you have already established a good sourdough starter, but you feel that it is time to take a break, don’t waste your sourdough starter. You can actually freeze your sourdough starter without killing the yeast, so you can pick it up again when you are ready.
In order to freeze your starter, you need to make it thick and paste-like. Do this by doubling the amount of flour that you would normally add for normal feeding, mix it into a paste, and then put it in a freezer-safe container.
Note that glass jars are usually not recommended as the starter may expand and break the jar, which would make it unsafe to use.
How Long Can Sourdough Starter Be Stored?
If you are regularly using and feeding your starter, it is perfectly fine to leave it in a jar on the counter in your kitchen. The warm environment and regular feedings will encourage a steady growth of yeast which will keep your starter going strong.
If you choose to store it in the fridge because you are not feeding it every day, you can safely store it for about a week without feeding, though you could stretch that out to two weeks if you feed it well and it does not dry out.
If you decide to freeze your starter, you can safely keep it in the freezer for up to one year. However, you need to make sure it is in a good freezer-safe and airtight container so that it does not get freezer burn. When you are ready to use it again, simply thaw and continue with regular feedings.
How to Tell if Your Sourdough Starter Has Gone Bad
It can be a bit difficult to tell if your sourdough starter has gone bad because it already has a sour or yeasty smell. A major sign that your starter has spoiled is if you see that it has a pink or orange color to it.
These colors mean that bacteria have started to grow, or mold has started forming in your starter, and it is no longer safe to use. Once this happens, unfortunately, your starter cannot be saved. To avoid this, if you are storing it on the counter, keep it in the oven where it is less likely to be exposed to unwanted bacteria.
Sourdough Starter Storage Mistakes to Avoid
Sourdough starters are fun, but they are also finicky. They need regular feedings and proper storage to be able to thrive and remain useful. Here are some mistakes to avoid:
Not Feeding Frequently Enough
If you do not feed your starter frequently enough, a liquid that is usually clear will form on top of your starter. This is called the hooch. The hooch is basically alcohol that forms when yeast begins to ferment. It is the same process used to make some beers and whines.
However, you do not want the alcohol in your starter because it can cause it to spoil. Once you notice the hooch starting to form, you can drain off the excess liquid, feed your starter and mix it well before returning it to your storage location.
Feedings should happen at least once a week to ensure that the hooch does not become too alcoholic and ruin your starter.
Not Using an Airtight Container
Airtight containers primarily help to keep unwanted bacteria out so that it does not ruin your starter. Standard plastic containers and even glass containers may not be 100% airtight, but make sure you get one that is designed to be airtight to avoid losing your starter to mold and bacteria.
Exposure to Extreme Temperatures
Extreme temperatures for sourdough starters are below 70F and about 140F. In other words, don’t forget that you put it in the oven for safekeeping and accidentally preheat it to 350F. If your kitchen is prone to getting cold, you may also want to be aware of this.