If you’ve been storing your sourdough starter in the fridge for a long time, you may be wondering if you can revive it, or even bring it back from near death. The answer is, in most cases, absolutely yes! I’ll share with you my best tips for reviving your sourdough starter, even if it’s been in the fridge for a long time.
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Maintaining a sourdough starter, once established, is generally a pretty simple process! Since sourdough is so resilient, it can take a short vacation at the back of the fridge as long as it has plenty of food and water to get it through the week ahead.
Extended stays however, sometimes result in a sourdough starter that is a little worse for wear and could use some sprucing up.
Long stays verging on the edge of abandonment…well, they can take a serious toll on your sourdough starter. But I have good news! In most cases, you can absolutely revive your sourdough starter from near death.
With some consistent feedings, tender love, and a little attention, your yeasty beasty can get back to bringing you lovin’ from the oven in a matter of a few days to a week.
Let me show you how!
You Will Need
- Sourdough starter: Whether your starter has been stored on the counter, or if it has been stored in the fridge, you’ll need a small portion of the existing sourdough starter.
- Water: If you live on municipal water, this should be filtered or spring water.
- Flour: All purpose unbleached is best, but if your sourdough starter has been neglected for a long time, you may need to bring some rye flour into the mix.
- Clean jar: When reviving an older sourdough starter, it’s best to start with a fresh and clean jar.
- Wooden or plastic utensil: For bringing starters back to life, I prefer to be ultra careful with my utensils and use wood or plastic. My own anecdotal research has noted that it will rise better when you avoid metal spoons.
Do I Need to Pour Off the Hooch?
If your sourdough starter has been in the fridge for a long period of time, it has likely acquired a dark liquid on top of it. This is known as “hooch” and is harmless. I do recommend pouring off the layer of hooch, since it can add a bitter or unpleasant taste to your sourdough baked goods.
Simply pour it off into the drain, or add it to your compost heap.
Reviving Sourdough Starter From the Fridge
Start off by placing a clean jar on a digital scale and set the scale to zero by hitting the “tare” or “zero” button.
Pour in 25 grams of the sourdough starter you are seeking to revive.
Then, tare the scale and add 25 grams of flour. I recommend using all purpose unbleached flour, but you can use regular all purpose if that is all you have on hand.
Using Rye Flour for a Boost
For sourdough starters that have been unfed in the fridge for a very long time, I recommend rye flour. For a 25 gram feeding, use 10 grams of rye flour and 15 grams of unbleached all purpose. Rye flour gives a boost to sluggish starters, helping to produce more activity more quickly than standard all purpose flour.
Once your sourdough starter is re-established, you can lower the portion of rye flour fed over several feedings.
Once you have added your flour, tare or “zero” your scale once again and add 25 grams of room temperature (~68°F), filtered water.
Note on water quality: If you live in an area where your water may have additives, make sure you use a quality filtered water or bottled spring water.
Use a wooden, plastic, or silicone utensil to stir together your starter, flour, and water. There is a rumor that metal may react with the sourdough, so I like to play it safe when it comes to revivals and just use non-reactive surfaces.
Check and see if your jar will allow enough room for your starter to double. If it does not, transfer it to a larger container so it has room to grow.
Set your newly fed sourdough starter in a warm location, where the heat typically does not exceed 80°F (~27°C) for up to 24 hours, or until the starter doubles.
IF your starter doubles: It looks like your starter wasn’t too neglected, so you can carry on feeding it on a 1:1:1 ratio until you’re ready to bake with it. I would recommend at least 2 more feedings before baking with your starter, just so you get a good rise.
IF your starter DOES NOT double: Don’t worry, and don’t despair! Your starter is going to need a little extra love, and has likely been in the fridge for quite a while. I have resurrected many almost-dead starters, and they just need consistency. Just keep feeding your sourdough a 1:1:1 ratio once per day until your starter reliably doubles or triples within 24 hours.
What is a 1:1:1 Ratio?
In sourdough baking, a 1:1:1 ratio means that you are maintaining your starter with 3 equal parts of sourdough starter, fresh flour, and fresh water.
For most starters, this will look like:
- 50 grams sourdough starter (discard the rest, or use in one of my sourdough discard recipes)
- 50 grams unbleached all purpose flour (or a blend containing rye)
- 50 grams room temperature water
For each feeding, discard all but 50 grams of the sourdough starter that needs reviving. The easiest way to do this is to grab a clean, new jar each time and measure the sourdough discard directly into the jar.
How Will I Know My Sourdough Starter Has Been Revived?
You will know that activity has returned to your sourdough starter once your fed sourdough starter is reliably doubling (or tripling) within 24 hours at a warm room temperature.
Continue feeding your starter with a 1:1:1 ratio for 2-3 feedings after activity has resumed. You want the rise to be strong, and starters that have been neglected can be a bit sluggish for several feedings after.
Once your sourdough starter has had 3 days of consistent doubling, you’re ready to bake your first loaf of sourdough bread again!
What Can I Do with the Sourdough Discard?
During this process, you can either compost your sourdough discard, OR you can use it in any of my sourdough discard recipes.
Frequently Asked Questions
If it is truly “dead”, then no. But many sourdough starters may appear “dead” or lack activity, that still contain wild yeasts that can be revived. Try reviving your sourdough starter by adding a small portion to a jar and feeding it on a 1:1:1 ratio with fresh flour and water. After 2-3 days, you should see activity. If you do not, your starter is likely dead and you will need to start again.
If your sourdough starter does not revive after 2-3 days of consistent feedings in a warm environment, it has likely died, OR may need some coaxing with the addition of rye flour for several feedings. If it still lacks activity (bubbles and rise), discard your starter and start a new one instead.
Rye flour is a miracle worker when it comes to sluggish or weak sourdough starters. Substitute 10-25 grams of rye flour for the standard unbleached flour in your starter, and see if it helps increase activity and rise over several days. You can scale this amount up or down depending on how much of a boost your starter needs.
A small amount of rye flour, consistent feedings, and a warm environment are all great best practices for when you want to nurture an active and effective sourdough starter.
- 25 grams stored sourdough starter (from the fridge or freezer)
- 25 grams filtered water, room temperature
- 25 grams all purpose unbleached flour
- Rye flour (optional; if needed)
- Clean Jar
- Digital Scale
- Plastic or wood spoon, for stirring
- Add a clean jar to the digital scale. Hit the "zero" or "tare" button.
- Add 25 grams of your stored sourdough starter to the clean jar.
- Add 25 grams of filtered water.
- Add 25 grams of unbleached flour.
- Stir well to combine, and cover loosely and set in a warm place to rise until doubled.
- If your sourdough starter has doubled within 24 hours, it was likely fine and just needed a little feeding!
- If your sourdough starter does NOT double (or triple) within 24 hours, discard all but 25 grams and feed it the same ratio of flour and water again.
- Repeat for 2-3 more days, until it reliably doubles within 24 hours.
- Once your revived sourdough starter is doubling, feed it for 2-3 more days before using to make a bread recipe OR any recipe where it will be required to act as a leaven. You can definitely use it in recipes that call for discarded or inactive starter, though!
Using Rye Flour: Use rye flour for a boost, OR if your starter is on the brink of death. Instead of feeding 25 grams of unbleached flour, feed it 10 grams of rye flour + 15 grams of unbleached all purpose flour. You can scale this up or down based on how much of a boost your sluggish starter needs.
Once your starter is reliable, taper off the amount of rye flour used by reducing the grams by 1-2 grams each feeding.
Water Quality: If you have treated or municipal tap water, be sure to use a quality filtered water or bottled spring water.