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How To: Revive Sourdough Starter

Reviving sourdough starter doesn't have to be scary! Don't throw out that old sourdough starter just yet! Revive it with our simple step-by-step guide so you can get back to baking delicious breads and treats in no time at all.

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar...

You're cleaning the fridge mid-September and you come across the sourdough starter you haven't seen since May when the sunshine was calling and the shorts came out.

"Oh my god. FRED!"

Don't worry, you can revive a sourdough starter that's been long neglected in the fridge! Even if you neglected it as long as I did...

May 12, 2021 and September 15, 2021:

  • 126 days
  • ... or 18 weeks
  • ... or 4 months & 3 days

This guide to reviving sourdough starter is dedicated to shorts season.

Neglected sourdough in a container with a layer of black hooch, dated May 12 2021.
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Tips + Tricks

No. 1 --> Almost any sourdough starter can be revived! Don't panic, your fermenty baby is gonna be ok, and you'll be back to sourdough bread baking in no time!

No. 2 --> Take a critical look at your neglected starter, the section below details what to look for. If you have any questions about its status as a possibly healthy starter, scrap it and start fresh!

No. 3 --> Always try to feed your starter with the flour it was raised on. For example, if you've always fed it bread flour, keep feeding it bread flour. The same goes for whole wheat, whole grain, all purpose, rye flour, or gluten-free.

Bubbly sourdough starter in a plastic container.

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Moldy Sourdough Starter

While almost any starter can be revived, I don't play with mold. Fermenting foods takes a little bit of intuition and a little bit of ruthlessness. If something looks, smells, feels, or just could be bad - it finds the garbage quickly.

Look: If your old starter has any kind of mold, toss that bad boy, start fresh with my 24-hour starter recipe, and you'll be just fine! After the mold, look at the hooch - if it has grey or black-ish looking hooch, we're in business! If the starter or hooch is pink-tinged, it's gotta go!

Smell: If the starter smells tangy, like vinegar, alcohol or even nail polish remover, it's safe to use. If it has a musty or moldy smell, toss and start over!

Feel: After a long fridge nap, your starter should be thin and liquid. If it's thick or chunky, toss it and start over!

Bubbly ripe starter.

Reviving Sourdough Starter

  1. Remove the unfed sourdough starter from the fridge and allow it to rest at room temperature for 3-4 hours.
  2. Look closely at the starter, discard immediately if your starter has mold, a pink tinge, or smells musty. These are signs that bacteria have overtaken the yeasts.
  3. If the starter passes the test, stir in the hooch, or pour it off. I prefer to stir it back in to keep my hydration levels correct, but it can be poured off too.
  4. In a clean jar or container, mix 50g of the unfed starter with 50g warm water, stir until combined, then add in 50g flour.
  5. Set aside the fed starter for 12 hours, then feed it again using a fresh clean jar, combine 50g starter, 50g water and 50g flour. Mark the side of your jar with the height of the starter.
  6. Watch the starter for signs of activity. It may be a little bit sluggish, but you should start to see a few bubbles here and there.
  7. If the starter is close to doubling within 12 hours, wait 24 hours before feeding again. If the starter is not close to doubling by 12 hours later, feed it again - and repeat until the starter doubles within 12 hours, then reduce to a 24 hour feeding period.
  8. Once the starter is revived and doubling regularly, it should be maintained on the counter and fed every 24 hours for 4-5 days. This will help get your starter healthy again before it's placed back in the fridge.
  9. Ensure to feed your starter weekly or bi-weekly once it's in the fridge to keep it healthy and active and ready for sourdough baking!

Sourdough Starter Feeding + Maintenance

There's a lot to sourdough, but there's also not a lot to sourdough! One of the things you'll have to decide is how often you'll be baking. For me, in the fall and winter months, I bake much much more frequently. So I actually use different sourdough feeding and maintenance methods depending on the time of year.

Daily to Bi-weekly Baker

  • you'll want to keep your starter at room temperature and feed it daily. This will keep it warm and active whenever you're ready for it!
  • feed it around every 24 hours. You can play with the feeding schedule a bit, once you get to know your starter and how hungry it is. The starter should be fed after the culture doubles in size and deflates.

Weekly or Less Frequent

  • keep your sourdough in the fridge! This slows down the fermentation time considerably and allows you to feed your sourdough only once a week.
  • simply remove it from the fridge, then stir and feed, and rest for 12-24 hours at room temperature before starting with your recipe. Once the fed starter doubles, it is ready to use!
6 sourdough brownies lined up in rows with one missing a bite.
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Long-Term Sourdough Storage

If I had been smart, I would have used the remainder of my sourdough from the fridge and revived a backup I saved much earlier last year. But I'm always up for a challenge, so I decided to revive my starter. If that's not for you, check read my post about long-term sourdough starter storage.

Freeze it:

  • Freezing a sourdough starter is a quick and easy way to take a break from your starter.
  • It's quick and easy to do.
  • Requires no feeding until thawed.

To revive the frozen starter simply allow it to thaw at room temperature before feeding it with equal parts of starter, flour, and water.

Dry it:

  • A bit more involved than freezing, but kinder to the yeast in the starter.
  • Requires no special tools.
  • May take a bit longer to revive than a frozen starter.

To revive the dried sourdough starter, mix equal parts, by weight, of the dried starter and warm water. Allow it to completely re-hydrate the starter and then feed it with equal parts of starter, flour, and water.

📖 Printable Recipe

Bubbly sourdough starter in a plastic container.
Yield: 1

How To: Revive Sourdough Starter

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Do you have a sourdough starter that you've been meaning to use, but it's just sitting in the back of your fridge for months? All you need to do is follow our simple instructions and before long, your forgotten sourdough starter will be revived and ready for baking delicious bread and treats in 3 days or less!

Ingredients

  • 50g unfed sourdough starter
  • 500g flour, divided
  • 500g water, divided

Instructions

  1. Remove the unfed sourdough starter from the fridge and allow it to rest at room temperature for 3-4 hours.
  2. Look closely at the starter, discard immediately if your starter has mold, a pink tinge, or smells musty. These are signs that bacteria have overtaken the yeasts.
  3. If the starter passes the test, stir in the hooch, or pour it off. I prefer to stir it back in to keep my hydration levels correct, but it can be poured off too.
  4. In a clean jar or container, mix 50g of the unfed starter with 50g warm water, stir until combined, then add in 50g flour.
  5. Set aside the fed starter for 12 hours, then feed it again using a fresh clean jar, combine 50g starter, 50g water and 50g flour. Mark the side of your jar with the height of the starter.
  6. Watch the starter for signs of activity. It may be a little bit sluggish, but you should start to see a few bubbles here and there.
  7. If the starter is close to doubling within 12 hours, wait 24 hours before feeding again. If the starter is not close to doubling within 12 hours, feed it again 12 hours after the initial feed- and repeat until the starter doubles within 12 hours, then reduce to a 24 hour feeding period. When the starter has reached the 24 hour feeding cycle, it is ready to bake with.
  8. Once the starter is revived and doubling regularly, it should be maintained on the counter and fed every 24 hours for 4-5 days. This will help get your starter healthy again before it's placed back in the fridge.
  9. Ensure to feed your starter weekly or bi-weekly once it's in the fridge to keep it healthy and active.

Notes

moldy sourdough starter

While almost any starter can be revived, I don't play with mold. Fermenting foods takes a little bit of intuition and a little bit of ruthlessness. If something looks, smells, feels, or just could be bad - it finds the garbage quickly.

Look: If your starter has any kind of mold, toss that bad boy, start fresh with my 24-HOUR STARTER RECIPE, and you'll be just fine! After the mold, look at the hooch - if it has grey or black-ish looking hooch, we're in business! If the starter or hooch is pink-tinged, it's gotta go!

Smell: If the starter smells tangy, like vinegar, alcohol or even nail polish remover, it's safe to use. If it has a musty or moldy smell, toss and start over!

Feel: After a long fridge nap, your starter should be thin and liquid. If it's thick or chunky, toss it and start over!

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

15

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 127Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 4g

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Emily

Thursday 9th of November 2023

Hi! My neglected starter had some hooch on top and no mold or anything so I started working on feeding it. It’s been three days of feeding with no rising but there have been some bubbles. It wasn’t until after this I read your article and saw that the neglected starter should be thin/liquidy. Mine was definitely not that - it was thick almost like play dough before I added water to it. Can you explain why the thick consistency out of the fridge means that I should toss it?

Ally

Monday 13th of November 2023

Hey Emily, the consistency of the starter really depends on how much of the flour the microbes have consumed. So when you first feed it, based on feeding 1:1:1, it's gonna be really thick like peanut butter and as the microbes eat the starches and good stuff in the flour, the consistency changes as the flour is broken down. This is why hungry starter is runny, and activated starter is kind of snotty, it's in between thick and pasty and thin and runny.

Without knowing more about your starter that was in the fridge or your feeding habits, I can't tell you either way, unfortunately. If you still have the starter, you can allow it to come to room temperature, feed it 50g starter, 50g flour, and 50 g water and rest overnight. An important step in this process is going to be transferring it to a clean new container and marking the sides of the starter jar so you know exactly where it was at the beginning of the feed and will be able to clearly see slide marks on the jar in case it rises when you're sleeping or at work.

I'd at least give it 4-5 days of daily 1:1:1 feeding before you write it off. If it's kind of coming around but not really activating super fast, you can try feeding it 50g starter, 50g water, and 50g whole wheat flour. Sometimes that will give my starter the boost it needs to really get going after a little rest.

Sally

Friday 29th of September 2023

Hi, Thanks for your great website! I started reviving a neglected starter of my own, and also converting a neglected one that was a gift and got lost at the back of the fridge to be a rye starter. However, I've just realised I didn't read the recipe properly - I took 50g of the original starter(s), added 50g flour, 50g water; 12 hours later, added 50g flour, 50g water to the mix not realising I was supposed to discard some, did the same again this morning, and have now realised I should have been doing 50/50/50/discard, not mix+50/50. So, now I've done it properly, and have a bowl of 50/50/50 white plus a bowl of discard, and 50/50/50 rye plus discard. It's all bubbling very nicely! But I'd appreciate your advice - do I need to do anything to rebalance my two starters or just from now on read the recipe properly?! And I have two bowls of fairly runny discard - do I just use this as normal in discard recipes?

Sorry for the long post and thank you for your thoughts!

Ally

Saturday 30th of September 2023

Hey Sally, I think you're fine to be totally honest. Not discarding for the first few feeds after reviving isn't a huge deal, the starters are great, so no worries there! They make take an extra feed to be at full strength, but it seems you caught it early, so that may not even be a factor. And don't worry about making a simple mistake, they happen!

The discard is usually pretty runny once the microbes have eaten all the food in it, but it should be just fine to use in recipes that specify discard. The discard is 50% water and 50% flour, regardless of the texture, if that makes sense.

Sandra

Friday 22nd of September 2023

Thanks for your post , I appreciate the simplicity of your explanation. I have never been able to throw discard away with the high cost of flour (always use it for baking). This time I got 4 jars going and it appears to all be healthy and active so I’m thinking I could use it all in my bread recipe…

Ally

Monday 25th of September 2023

Hey Sandra, glad you enjoyed the post! I think that discard gets a bad wrap, but it is incredibly useful. I do actually have a couple articles about discard, like what to do with sourdough discard and how to store sourdough discard. I totally agree with you, I almost never toss mine, and if it does make it's way out of the kitchen it goes to my chickens!

Sarah

Friday 15th of September 2023

Thank you for this informative post! I am trying to revive my starter because it seems too acidic, and I haven't been able to bake bread successfully. In the past, I was leaving it on the counter and feeding it once a week without discarding. Would this method of reviving a sourdough starter also work well for my case?

Ally

Friday 15th of September 2023

You bet, if there are active microbes in your starter, they'll be happy on this diet! LOL

Your starter is likely acidic because it's hungry. In my opinion, (I know you didn't ask haha) the best feeding routine is 1:1:1 starter, water, flour. I always use 50g each, and then I have about 100g active starter to play with once it's fully activated - which is perfect for my go to small batch sourdough.

If you're wanting to only feed once a week, consider reviving it, then storing it in the fridge, you can slow down the fermentation considerably and reduce the feeds.

Fred

Friday 8th of September 2023

Thank you Ally,

It feels like you have been looking over my shoulder. I am reviving a months old refrigerated starter and it is on a robust doubling schedule. The question involves smell, it has almost none. I'm using King Arthur organic all purpose flour. Am I ok or does this indicate a problem? Thanks, Fred

Ally

Tuesday 12th of September 2023

Hey Fred,

If it's doing it's thing, no need to worry about the scent! When my starter is cooking along in the winter months, it smells faintly pleasant and not much else.

I have accidentally left a jar of starter in the cupboard for 2 months, now that's a smell you don't want. LOL

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