How Long Can Sourdough Starter Stay in the Fridge?

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It’s one of the questions I hear the most: how long can sourdough starter stay in the fridge? It can’t survive eternity in the darkest depths of your fridge. But with proper care and maintenance, the refrigerator is a great place to store your starter.

Sourdough starter out of the fridge

Throughout the year, I teach local sourdough starter workshops. Participants always have questions about the mysteries of sourdough starter. But the number one question asked is, “How long can I keep my starter in the fridge?”

That was actually one of my first questions, too, when I switched from baking with commercial yeast to sourdough. Even though building a suburban homestead means carving out time for gardening, food preservation, and maintaining a starter, I want to keep my sourdough journey as low-maintenance as possible.

Discarding and feeding on a daily basis doesn’t take much time. It does, however, result in more sourdough discard than my family and I can consume. Really, there are only so many sourdough discard pop tarts and crepes we can eat in a week.

Luckily, storing sourdough starter in the fridge is the best way to reduce your regular feedings while maintaining a healthy and active starter.

Sourdough starter in a jar with text "how long can sourdough starter stay in the fridge"

What Is the Purpose of Storing Starter in the Fridge?

Refrigerating sourdough starter slows down the fermentation process. It’s like when your phone goes on low-battery mode. It minimizes energy consumption so that it lasts longer. In other words, your starter is literally chilling out.

Sourdough bakers refrigerate their starters to reduce the number of feedings and to store them during a baking hiatus. As such, you don’t have to worry about feeding between baking days or while on vacation, for example.

Additionally, cold temperatures create a more sour flavor. However, keep in mind that the overall flavor of your bread depends on not just your starter but also your dough, cold-proofing temperatures, and other factors.

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    How Long Can Sourdough Starter Stay in the Fridge?

    In reality, your sourdough starter can survive a long time in the fridge. There is a common misconception that starter dies when it goes too long without a feeding. But sourdough starter is incredibly resilient and rather difficult to kill.

    If your starter is healthy, it can last up to 2 months in the fridge without being fed. And in many cases, it can survive longer in the fridge. But to maintain a healthy, low-maintenance starter, I recommend feeding it within 2 months of sticking it in the fridge.

    Before stashing your starter in the back corner of your fridge with that half-full jar of pickles you forgot about, make sure you give it a good feeding.

    If you plan on stashing it for a long time, I recommend feeding it a 1:2:2 ratio to give it a little extra nutrition before its slumber. For example, if you have 50 g starter, feed it 100 g flour, and 100 g water. The cold temperatures will slow down the fermentation process, but it doesn’t stop. So a 1:2:2 feeding will give it some long-lasting food.

    Flour in measuring cup and mason jar

    How to Revive Starter That’s Been in the Fridge for Months

    If your starter has been snoozing in the fridge for over 2 weeks, I recommend giving it a few feedings before baking. While storing your starter in the fridge, the cold temperatures slow down the yeast and bacteria, and some of that bacteria and yeast may die in the process. But with a few feedings, your starter will cultivate more wild yeast and be back to normal in no time.

    You might notice a thin layer of gray liquid floating on the starter’s surface. This does not mean your starter is dead. It’s a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, and it just means your starter is hungry.

    Some folks stir it in before getting back to feeding. I usually pour it off. Either way, just feed your starter, and start baking when it doubles in size again.

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    How Long Can Sourdough Starter Stay in the Fridge for Weekly Baking?

    I bake either no-knead sourdough bread or sourdough sandwich bread every week. But I don’t want to feed my starter on a daily basis between baking. In reality, it’s just a couple of days, but it adds up to a lot of flour and discard. So like many sourdough bakers, I keep my starter in the fridge most of the time.

    Since you can store your starter up to two months in the fridge, you don’t need to worry about it if you regularly bake. But to ensure you have a healthy starter for your baking days, make sure you feed it once a week, with no more than two weeks between feedings.

    Sure, if you space out feedings more than that, your starter will survive. But your baking results will be better if you regularly feed it.

    With a weekly feeding like this, I usually keep a little jar of discard that I use up for sourdough discard recipes throughout the week. It’s a win-win: you feed your starter, and you get a stash for yummy treats like sourdough flatbreads, carrot cake, and strawberry cake.

    Flour in a jar and measuring cup

    How To Feed a Refrigerated Starter

    As I mentioned earlier, it’s really hard to kill your starter. So don’t worry if it’s been in the fridge for up to a month or two. However, if it has been in the fridge for a while, it will probably need a few feedings at room temperature to resurrect itself as an active sourdough starter.

    When you are ready, the feeding process is simple. It’s relatively flexible, so don’t get too wrapped up in the “rules.” But for the best results, here is the step-by-step process I recommend for feeding a cold starter:

    1. Take your sourdough starter out of the fridge and discard half.
    2. Transfer the remaining starter into a clean jar.
    3. Feed your starter
      • If your starter has been recently fed, feed it equal parts (1:1:1 ratio). So if you have 50 grams of starter, feed it 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water.
      • If it’s been a hot minute, give it a 1:2:2 ratio.
    4. Stir it up until there is no visible, dry flour.
    5. Bake or store.
      • If you plan on baking, allow your starter to sit in a warm spot until doubled. Then, bake as usual. If it’s been chilling in the fridge for a while, it might need a few daily feedings before it’s ready.
      • If your starter is headed back into long-term hibernation, immediately put it in the fridge so it doesn’t become too acidic. Doing so will help the lactic acid bacteria survive longer.
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    Frequently Asked Questions

    What Should I Feed My Refrigerated Starter?

    If you feed your refrigerated starter once a week, you can continue your regular feedings with just about any type of fresh flour—as long as you notice good results.

    If your starter seems a little sluggish or if it has been more than two weeks since you fed it, I recommend feeding it with at least 50% whole wheat. Whole wheat flour contains more micronutrients. As such, it gives your starter a much-needed boost of nutrition.

    So for a 1:1:1 ratio, for example, combine 50 g starter, 25 g whole wheat, 25 g all-purpose, and 50 g water. Place it in a warm spot, and repeat that process twice every 12 hours until your starter rises and doubles with each feeding.

    When Is Your Starter Established Enough for the Fridge?

    Once your starter is established, you can store it in the fridge for later use. If you are just establishing your starter, I always recommend feeding it twice a day until it starts doubling with each feeding.

    How long that takes depends on the individual starter. So there isn’t a clear-cut answer as to when you will have an established starter. But once your starter is established enough to bake with, it’s ready for the fridge.

    If you put your new starter in the fridge too soon, it may not have a strong enough bacteria and yeast colony to withstand the cold temperature. It’s better to err on the side of caution and keep feeding it at room temperature until you are sure it’s established.

    Active and bubbly sourdough starter in a mason jar

    Can You Bake With Cold Starter?

    Yes, as long as it has been fed within a week or so.

    When you make dough, you are giving your starter a heaping feeding. So it will certainly work to bake with cold, inactive starter. However, the catch is it will take longer to bulk ferment.

    The starter’s cold temperature will slow down the bulk fermentation. And it will have less active yeast and bacteria. So plan accordingly if you want to use your unfed, cold starter for making dough.

    What Type of Container Should I Use?

    When storing my starter in the fridge, I always keep it in mason jars. I cover them with a clean cotton cloth and secure the cloth with a rubber band. Over the years, I haven’t had any issues storing my starter like this. Some folks have attributed a cloth lid to mold growth, but that has not been my experience.

    Most importantly, do not store your starter with a tight-fitting lid. As the bacteria digest the micronutrients, they release gas, which needs to escape. If it can’t, you’ll end up with a broken jar, and no one wants glass shards in their fridge.

    I recommend using an airtight container only if your starter is completely inactive. Once there are no more nutrients, no more gas is released.

    What If I Forget About My Starter?

    Don’t sweat it. If you forget about your starter, just feed it when you remember. I recommend taking it out of the fridge and giving it a few good feedings at room temperature to revive it. But most of the time, you can revive a long-forgotten starter in a few days. You’ll be back to enjoying a homemade loaf of bread in no time!

    Close up of sourdough starter and flour

    Can You Freeze Sourdough Starter?

    Absolutely, freezing sourdough starter is a great way to preserve your bubbly culture for longer periods—up to a year. In fact, freezing a little bit is a good idea so you’ll have a backup if your fresh starter gets moldy, you break the jar, or some other starter travesty occurs.

    What Is That Gray Liquid on My Starter?

    If you notice a gray liquid accumulating on your starter, don’t worry. It’s just hooch, a byproduct of the natural fermentation process.

    Though hooch doesn’t mean your starter is dead, it does mean your starter is hungry. Even if your starter has a thick, dark layer of hooch, you can still revive it. Just take it out of the fridge, pour off the hooch, and give it a few good feedings until it doubles with each feeding.

    Woman pouring sourdough starter into bowl

    What If There Is Mold on My Starter?

    Unfortunately, if your starter is moldy, you’ll need to pitch it. Luckily, making a new sourdough starter is simple. So you can always start fresh. Or if you have some frozen, you can revive it and get back to baking.

    If you want to make your own sourdough starter from scratch, you can check out my sourdough starter tutorial on YouTube.

    More Sourdough Tips, Tricks, and Recipes

    If you store your starter in the fridge, comment below and let us know how it’s going!

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