A dehydrated sourdough starter is the best way to preserve the mother starter for a long time. We all know that maintaining an active starter takes a lot of effort and time. But for the times when you want to put your baking spree on hold, a little knowledge of how to dry the sourdough starter can come in handy.
In this post, we will discuss how to dry a mature sourdough starter to store or preserve it for a long time. And, my tips on rehydrating and reviving the dry sourdough starter.
Table of contents
- What is a sourdough starter?
- What is a dry or dehydrated sourdough starter?
- What do you need to make a dry sourdough starter?
- How to store sourdough starter for longer-term or long periods?
- What are the various ways for drying out sourdough starter?
- Procedure: How to make a dehydrated sourdough starter?
- Reviving the Dehydrated Sourdough Starter?
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter is a stable culture of Lactobacillus bacteria and wild yeast in a mixture of flour and water. Sourdough starter acts as a natural leavening agent in bread. The yeast contributes to the rise in the bread, and the lactobacillus gives the sour or acidic flavor to the sourdough-leavened bread. It is also called pre-ferment and mother.
It is an active culture of bacterial and yeast colonies. If you want to continue baking great sourdough bread, you have to maintain the starter. It is like a pet. You can name your starter, tend to it like a baby, care for it and see it flourish!
But sometimes we all need some time out.
What to do with the starter in that case?
So, if you are going through any of such phases, you might wanna put the sourdough starter on a hold.
That's why this post, on how to dry sourdough starter!
It takes a long time to mature. The mature starter has an innate taste and flavor. It would be stupid to let your years' old starter go waste like that.
If you are thinking, what a mature starter is?
A mature starter is a starter that has aged to a level that it has sturdy colonies of microbes. I mean the yeasts and lactobacilli in the starter are pretty strong and resistant to unfavorable environments. Mature starters are immune to foreign microbial invasion also. A mature starter has a unique acidic environment, which is not easy to invade for foreign microbes.
You are proud that you have created and nurtured this amazing bread-making formula. You do not wanna lose it. So, it is advisable to create insurance in case, anything goes wrong.
Ideally, a mature culture does not go bad that easily.
If you are moving, going on a long vacation, having a baby, undergoing any surgery, or just taking a break, you should be able to do that without worrying about, which friend to entrust with the responsibility of maintaining your sourdough starter!
So, What is a dry or dehydrated sourdough starter?
When a mature and well-fed sourdough starter is being dehydrated and dried and, the otherwise liquidy starter now becomes thin dough chips or shards. This is referred to as a dehydrated sourdough starter.
These dehydrated sourdough starter chips can be crushed to form a grainy powder, which is generally referred to as a dry sourdough starter. It is just a regular starter but in a dry form.
It might take 24-48 hours to rehydrate and revive its vigor before you can successfully make a loaf of bread with it. But it petty much still has the sturdy microbial colonies that your wet starter once had.
Why do you you need to go for a dehydrated sourdough starter?
I have already discussed in the previous section, that a sourdough starter needs regular maintenance and there could be numerous life situations where you might not be able to continue to feed it.
- For example, moving from one county to another, or a different state, or traveling, where you can not take the starter with you. Like when we went to India, I was not confident to carry my starter with me. I was skeptical, what if something went wrong! So I dried half my starter and carried the rest with me. Fortunately, both are alive and thriving today.
- Pregnancy, surgery, or any other medical condition. A personal example here. When I was expecting my second baby, I did not bake for 3 months! Thanks to the morning sickness and all the unpleasant things that come with it. I froze my starter at that time. It is a normal tendency. Whenever we want to preserve something for a long time, we just freeze it. Back then, I had no idea that I should instead dry it.
- Good things in life! If you are taking a break, going on a vacation, or getting married! Just dehydrate the sourdough starter and forget about it.
- Insurance policy. We want to preserve all good and valuable things in life. For a sourdough enthusiast, a starter is like their pet. Anything can go wrong, contamination can happen or life can happen! So stay insured. Preserve your sourdough starter and you are prepared for any unforeseen circumstances.
- Give the gift, to set someone on a baking journey: If you want to send the starter to a friend, mailing a wet starter comes with so many hassles. A dehydrated sourdough starter is the best way to send your reared culture to your loved ones to experience great bakes. Put it in a packet, label it with its age, add a recipe card with reviving instructions and a beginner's sourdough bread recipe!
It will make a great gift!
What do you need to make a dry sourdough starter?
- First, you need an active, vigorous, and well-fed starter. You must have a mature starter. The microflora in the mature starter is sturdy and has developed resilience over time. The yeasts and lactobacilli in mature starters are also, resistant to unfavorable environmental conditions and other microbial contamination.
So, a sourdough starter that is more than 5-6 months old is ideal to dehydrate.
- A large baking tray. For drying out a sourdough starter, choose the largest tray you have and can spare for two days. The larger the tray, the thinner you will be able to spread the starter. And thinner the starter, the faster it will dry.
- A sheet to spread the starter: it could be a silicone mat or parchment paper. The starter will easily separate from these surfaces on drying.
I like to use parchment paper. I like to tape the parchment paper onto the baking tray so that it doesn't move while I spread the starter on it.
- An offset spatula to spread the starter evenly in a thin layer.
- Storage container: An air-tight jar is best to store the dehydrated sourdough starter, be it starter powder or flakes. Or, it can be conveniently stored in a zip-lock packet. Use whatever closed packet you have to store the dry sourdough powder.
How to store sourdough starter for longer-term or long periods?
There are various ways, that you can use to store the sourdough starter for a long duration.
Firstly, refrigerating the sourdough starter. A mature starter will keep well for almost a month without feeding. Just put it in a larger jar with ample empty space. Put the jar in the back of the topmost shelf of the refrigerator.
Secondly, freezing the sourdough starter. Can you freeze sourdough starter?
It is claimed that you can freeze it for years. I have no experience with years, but I did freeze my starter for 2 months when we went to India. And reviving the freeze dried sourdough starter to the full potential took me 48 hours.
There are varied views about freezing the starter as a few of the microbes do die in the process. But in my opinion, having to start with a weak mature starter is much easier and rewarding than having to make a starter from the scratch.
Thirdly, dying out the sourdough starter.
Drying the mature sourdough starter is the most commonly used method to store the starter for a long time. It is ideal in many ways. A dehydrated sourdough starter is known to retain the maximum culture of yeast and bacteria. It preserves the starter indefinitely.
Drying the starter is the preservation method recommended by professional bakers. Even most of the starters that you buy online in small flour-like packets are nothing but dry starter chips/shards, that are being crushed to make flour-like powder.
What are the various ways for drying out sourdough starter?
A. Standard Air drying the starter
Air Drying: It is the most appropriate, and the simplest way to dry a sourdough starter. All you have to do is spread the starter on parchment paper and let it air-dry for 24 to 48 hours. The exact time will depend on how thick you have spread the starter?
Pressed between two papers: In this method, you can spread the sourdough starter on a parchment sheet and place another parchment sheet on it. Then gently press to remove any air bubbles in a way that both the sheets should stick together. Then, let them dry for 24 to 48 hours, until they separate on their own. You should be able to peel the upper parchment paper to expose the dried sourdough starter.
B. Quick-Methods to dry the sourdough starter
Drying under Fan or air conditioner: Drying the starter, under the fan or air conditioner can speed up the process. So if you are in a hurry, you can choose to dehydrate the spread-out sourdough starter under a fan or AC.
A dehydrator: Choose the lowest temperature setting of the dehydrator. Keep the temperature at about 95 0 F.You can turn on the dehydrator fan to speed up the process.
C. Bonus way to dry the sourdough starter
- Another bonus way to dry the sourdough starter is to combine the wet starter with flour.
- It may seem like a very unnatural way of drying the sourdough starter, but it is a great way to that. Okay, let's try and understand this. Normally when we start to make a sourdough starter we mix flour and water and try to collect the maximum yeast possible, with multiple feeding and discarding.
- Now in this method what we're trying to do is to incorporate the yeasts and lactobacilli-rich starter into the flour. This way the flour is going to have a huge amount of microflora directly from our starter. And you can store it just like normal flour for as long as you want.
- So, start by taking a tablespoon of starter and start mixing it with flour. Keep adding more flour, if the flour feels wet. We want to reach a point, where the flour becomes completely dry.
Can the sourdough starter be dried in dehydrators?
Yes, sourdough starter can be conveniently dried in dehydrators. But I would suggest keeping the temperature below 100 0 F.
- The standard temperature for dehydrating is about 130 0 F, which is not ideal for drying sourdough starter. Yeast starts to die at about 120 0 F. So when you're using a dehydrator make sure to maintain the appropriate temperature. The safest temperature is 95 0F.
The dehydrators with the build-in fan are also great for drying and preserving the sourdough starter.
How to dry sourdough starter?: Procedure
Step 1: Ensure that the starter is ripe:
- Before you start to dehydrate your starter it is very important to ensure that your starter is ripe.
- What is a ripe starter?
- When a starter is at the peak of its microbial activity( maximum rise) it is called a ripe starter. It usually happens within 3 to 4 hours of feeding. Another characteristic of a ripe starter is a dome-shaped top.
- If you dehydrate an underfed starter, reviving it is going to be very difficult.
- Also, it is very important to ensure that your starter is mature. By mature, I mean at least 5 to 6 months old.
Step2: Preparing a tray lined with parchment paper.
Choose to use the largest tree in the house so that you have the maximum surface area to work with. It allows you to spread your starter thinner so that it dries faster. I would like to you take parchment paper to the tray with the help of Q-tips at the corners. To spread the starter efficiently on the parchment paper, it is advised to stick parchment paper onto the baking tray using tape. this way the parchment paper will not come together when you try to spread the starter on it.
Step3: Spreading the starter on the parchment paper.
- Empty the starter on one side of the parchment paper and start to spread it towards the other side using an offset spatula or a silicone spatula. Make a thin layer, so that it dries faster.
- Instead of parchment paper, you can use a silicone mat.
Step 4: Drying
Let the spread-out starter dry. Put the tray in a cool and well-ventilated part of the kitchen. In a day or two, it will become like dry chips or shards. The dried sourdough starter chips will separate very easily off the parchment paper. Make sure that there are no wet spots in the dry starter.
Step 5: Storage: How to store dehydrated sourdough starter?
Dehydrated sourdough is very easy to store. You can store it either in the form of starter chips or pulse it in a food processor and make a fine powder.
In both situations make sure to store them in an airtight container or an airtight Ziplock bag. Store them in an airtight bag or jar for as long as you want.
How long will dried sourdough starters keep?
As long as you want. A perfectly dehydrated and appropriately stored starter should keep well for years.
Reviving the Dehydrated Sourdough Starter?
Following are the steps that I used for reviving my dehydrated starter.
Step 1: Weigh the dry starter
I started with 15 grams of dry sourdough starter. For reviving the dry sourdough starter, it is a good idea to start with a small amount. You can also choose to start with 10 g. I used a powdered dry starter. If you're using dehydrated starter chips, crush them finely before using them.
Step 2: Rehydrate sourdough starter
- I put them in a glass jar with a lid. Then, I used an equal quantity(15g) of warm water and mixed them properly. (Make sure to soak the flour completely so there should be no dry patches.)
- Cover the jar and let it rest on the kitchen counter for 3 to 4 hours. In cold weather, I go for 4 hours, whereas in warm weather stick to 2 to 3 hours. You should observe one or two little bubbles on the surface. The purpose here is to rehydrate the dry starter and initiate some yeast activity. ( See some tiny bubbles in the image below)
Step 3:Feeding 1
- Now is the time for feeding and reviving the dry starter. I started with 30 grams of whole wheat flour, or you could use all-purpose flour and 30 grams of water. Just like in the case of a regular starter you should not use chlorinated water, the same thing applies here. We need to make sure that the water is unchlorinated. I like to use bottled water.
- I cover and let the starter rest in a warm corner in my kitchen for 12-14 hours or overnight. (Use the oven with lights turned on if possible.) It is a good idea to extend this period (upto 24 hours) or until you are satisfied with the amount of activity in the starter. (Refer to the images)
- By morning I saw some activity in the dehydrated sourdough starter. It was on its way to recovery.
Step 4:Feeding 2
- In the morning I discarded 45 grams of the starter and fed it with 45 grams of whole wheat flour and 45 grams of water.
- Mixed it well and let it rest at the kitchen counter for 6-7 hours. I observed its activity and found that it was rising, almost at its normal pace. As you can see in the images, it was bubbly and well above the band.
Step 5: Feeding 3
- I gave it another feeding, by discarding 65 grams of the starter and feeding with 65 grams of flour and water each.
Now is the time to cherish, as hopefully, you will also see normal activity in your sourdough starter!
After that, the next morning, I used the starter to bake bread. You can see in the image it's not the best, but a pretty good bread!
My sourdough starter started looked normal after 48 hours. That would be after two consecutive feedings. But I gave it two more feedings before I decided to bake this 75% hydration sourdough bread.
So, I'm pretty confident that your starter should also revive in 2-3 days. It would take three to four feedings.
Yes, a sourdough starter can be dried or dehydrated. Dehydrating sourdough starter is the most widely used way to store the starter for a longer time. For ages baker's have dried, stored, sold, and gifted dried sourdough starter.
This post is all about drying sourdough starter using various ways and my personal experience with successfully reviving a 6 months old dehydrated starter.
Using the oven to dehydrate the sourdough might be a bad choice. Most of the ovens have a minimum temperature setting of 170 0F. And yeast starts to die at 120 0F. So I do not understand why somebody would want to use an oven to dehydrate sourdough starter. Yes, a turned-off oven can be used as a storage place to keep your spread-out starter dry. But not as a piece of equipment to dehydrate the starter.
Yes, a food dehydrator can be used to preserve sourdough starter. Use the low-temperature settings that you would use for drying herbs around 95 0F. Please read various other ways to dehydrate the starter for more details.
Yes, that is what you are supposed to do. Simply spread out the starter and let it dry someplace in your kitchen.
Before using a dehydrated starter it needs to be rehydrated and revived. Usually, three to four feedings are required for the dehydrated starter to become active again. It may take 2-3 days in total. Please read the dry starter Revival process for more details.
Yes, sourdough starter can be frozen to store for longer terms. But there is not a clear consensus among bakers regarding the efficacy of this method. It has been observed that freezing the starter kills a good percentage of yeast. But I can say with my personal experience that it is a viable option. I was able to revive a 2 months frozen sourdough starter. But I would not recommend it for prolonged storage. If you plan to put your starter on hold for 5 to 6 months or longer, drying it would be a good choice.
Some of our favorite sourdough recipes:
Anyways, I tried my best to share whatever know-how and experience I had on how to dry sourdough starter and reviving of sourdough starter. Hope you found it useful.
And if you did, please leave a comment or share with your Friends.
How to make Dehydrated sourdough starter and reviving it?
- 100 g Mature sourdough starter
Making Dehydrated Sourdough Starter
- Take a measured quantity of ripe, and mature starter. By ripe I mean the starter, should be fed, active, and bubbly. A starter more than 5-6 months old is considered mature. ( for more details read the post)
- Prepare a baking tray and line it with parchment paper. for the sake of convenience, secure the parchment paper on the baking tray with tape.
- Put the starter on one side, on the parchment paper, and start to spread it towards the other side using an offset spatula or a silicone spatula. Try to make a thin layer so that it dries faster. ( instead of parchment paper you can use a silicone mat)
- Place the tray in a cool and well-ventilated place in your kitchen. let it air-dry for 24 to 42 hours until it dries off completely. the starter will leave the parchment paper and become like dry chips.
- Now transfer these starter chips/pieces/ starter shards to a food processor and give them a pulse.
- Transfer the powdered dry sourdough starter into an airtight glass jar, or a Ziploc packet, and store for as long as you want.
Reviving the Dehydrated Sourdough Starter
- Weigh the starter and mix with an equal quantity of flour and warm water. The temperature of the water should be around 100-110 0 F.I recommend you start with 15 grams of dry starter and mix in 15 grams of warm water.
- Let the dry starter rehydrate for 3 to 4 hours until it regains a starter-like consistency. By the end of time, if you are lucky, you will see one or two bubbles on the surface of the rehydrated starter.
- Feeding 1:Now is the time for the first feeding. Add 30 grams of each, whole wheat flour and water, and mix well. Cover the jar, and let it rest in a warm corner of the kitchen for 9-12 hours or overnight. Be flexible here, you want to let the starter rest until you see considerable activity. If you feel the need, extend this period until 24 hours. The starter should get bubbly. (refer to images)
- Feeding 2: Discard 45 grams of the starter and feed 45 grams of flour and water each.
- Let the starter regain its vigor. Keep it covered on the kitchen counter for 6-7 hours and observe its activity. It should start to rise. To keep track of its activity, place an elastic band around the jar.
- Feeding 3: Give another feeding, by discarding 65 grams of the starter and feeding with 65 grams of flour and water each. Your dehydrated starter should have regained its normal activity by this point. (I was able to revive my starter by this point but in case the starter has not shown normal activity after feeding 3 go ahead and do another feeding.)
- Feeding and maintenance of the starter: Go ahead and start your normal starter feeding and maintenance schedule. Start by discarding 100g of the starter and add 100 g of water and flour each.
- Now go ahead, and use this starter to bake your favorite bread! Something like this...