The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How to ship Sourdough Starter cross country?

  • Pin It
stephy711's picture

How to ship Sourdough Starter cross country?

Hi everyone,


In 2 weeks I'm moving from San Francisco to the east coast. I'm flying out there and wanted to know if there was any way of shipping my sourdough starter without airport security thinking I"m carrying plastic explosives in my checked luggage. I've heard of drying it out on silpats and transporting it as a fine powder, but I'm afraid that would also cause problems. Would you simply FedEx overnight the package? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.



Dragonbones's picture

I guess you could mail some of the powder to yourself (label it "dried sourdough starter"), and ALSO put some of the same (in a very small ziplock, labelled, in both paste and powdered form) in your checked and your carry-on luggage (put the paste in your declared, see-through plastic bag with any other tiny amounts of liquids like toiletries). One of the five ought to get through.  Heck, you could carry the powder on your person, in a pocket, double bagged, and it should get through. Just label each bag properly, and don't argue if they try to confiscate one, since they're just doing their job, and you'll have backups. You only need a tiny bit, like 1 tsp, to restart it, right? I doubt they'll worry over that quantity.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

You could dry it out on parchment, which then supposedly breaks off into pieces like flaked paint. You don't have to powder it. You can just ziplock some of the 'paint chips' and I seriously doubt they would look suspicious. Once at your destination, you can then break the chips down (I've heard just use a rolling pin over the ziplock), and re-hydrate it.

If you dry it, I've heard that the best way is to feed the starter, and harvest it right before it crashes (typically about 6 hours, give or take). This is the point where there is the most available and active yeast. Use a dough scraper or pancake spatula to spread a thin (1/8" or less) layer on parchment inside a rimmed cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap to dry. We're just keeping bugs and environmental residues out here, so make sure plenty of air can get in (if the plastic wrap start condensing on the inside, get more air in). You can test for dryness by lightly pressing a couple fingers on the backside of the paper, making a dent. If the starter cracks and starts breaking into pieces, you're go to go. ; )

Happy moving! By the way, you do realize that most SD bakers want to move TO San Francisco, not away from it, right? ; D

- Keith

stephy711's picture

Thanks for the suggestions. And believe me, I'd stay in SF if I could. I absolutely love the weather, the food and my oh so close proximety to Tartine. But other things in my life (ie boyfriend's job) are calling me elsewhere for the time being. 

Again, thanks for everything

stephy711's picture

I vaguely remember seeing this a long time ago, but I didn't remember until you linked it. Though I did understand that you could dry it, I wasn't sure how to rehydrate or whether  others on this site had had successful results in the past.

placebo's picture

It took a few days, though, to revive the starter. In hindsight, I'd just put a small amount of starter in a small container and carry it with me or put it in my luggage. That would be the least stressful, I think, on the starter. Still, drying some starter for a backup would be a good idea.

Sending it overnight to your destination would be pretty expensive. I'm cheap, so if I were going to send the starter cross country, I'd send it using regular mail and bet that a few missed feedings isn't going to kill the starter.

FoodFascist's picture

erm... not sure how strict airport security is where you are... but I travel between the UK and Russia several times a year and I've carried live kefir grains, plants, sausage in my checked luggage many times. All of these are restricted items, and sausage (like all meat products) is classed in the UK as some sort of a health hazard because of its short shelf life. My granny has also brough me some live yeast from Russia (don't ask :)) Oh, and both I and many of my friends bring medicines from Russia, often not just for ourselves but for others so it tends to be a serious amount of pills! Both Heathrow and Domodedovo airport in Moscow have very strict security. That said, no ariport - that I know of - scans absolutely every item of luggage. Correct me if something's changed recently. I think they only scan luggage for radiation. The customs officers on arrival are good psychologists, they spot people who look or behave strange and those are the ones they'll ask to open their bags. So long as you keep a straight face you'll be fine. At the end of the day, what's the worst thing that can happen? That they'll take it off you? If that's what you're worried about, split your starter in two, take half with you and send the other half by post. But to be quite honest I think Fedex/ups/dhl and the like are a waste of money. If all else fails, you could always start another starter.

jkight's picture

My daughter just sent me some starter from San Francisco. She simply put it in a screw top plastic container, placed that in a plastic bag and sent it priority. I immediately removed it and started feeding it twice a day. It's doing very well. Just make sure your starter is stable.

GSnyde's picture

I recently sent a friend some sourdough starter.  It was a 60% hydration lump of about two tablespoons.  I put it in a zip-loc bag in a small Express Mail box.  It arrived two days later and I understand it is performing well.


Candango's picture


   I know you can mail starters, as folks have already suggested, but I decided to carry mine.  I flew a week ago from DC to Tucson and will be returning in about two weeks.  I decided to carry some of each of my two starters in a checked suitcase and some with me in my handcarry.  Here's what I did.

The two starters are a sourdough white starter at 50% hydration and a rye starter (a sour) at 100% hydration. They usually spend most of the time between bakes in the fridge, especially in the Summer.  Starting a few days before the trip, I refreshed both of the starters, gave them a few hours on the counter at room temp and then put them into the fridge.  The day before the trip, I took 50 g of the rye starter (100%) and added 20 g of rye flour, kneading it in to make a clay instead of a porridge.  I stored this in a thin plastic zip sandwich baggie.  I did the same with the white starter.  As it was only 50% hydration it took only 4 g of additional flour to change 50 g of starter into a moldable, putty-like substance.  It, too, went into a plastic baggie.  Both of these went back into the fridge until just before I left for the airport, when they went into a zip pocket of my handcarry.  As a backup, I also carried about 150 g of each of the starters in my checked suitcase.  The 100% starter was in a screwtop glass jar while the 50% starter was in a quart-size zip baggie.  Again, both stayed in the fridge until just before I left for the airport.  My total travel time until I could get the starters out of the luggage and back into the fridge was about 13-14 hours and I reconstituted and refreshed all of them the next day with no problem. 

I have traveled before and simply carried both starters in a checked suitcase and have had no problem.  This time, as I had a layover of several hours and had to change planes, I had the usual fears of lost or delayed luggage, which is why I carried some of the "clay" with me on the plane.

Wish you luck on the move.



Doc.Dough's picture

I have done the cross country move a few times with starter in tow.  I would suggest taking about 15g of mature starter and adding flour, mixing/kneading/rolling out and folding, to get it very dry and very stiff.  Then cut/fold in into a form that will fit into your bag, put it into a 1-qt freezer bag (zipper top) add some flour so that it stays loose, suck out the air and seal it.  At that point you can pack it in your bag, in your briefcase, or with your lunch, and fly for a couple of days without worrying about it.  When you get to where you are going just add water and let it come back to life.  Of course King Arthur mails little jars of their starter to anywhere and it seems to do quite well in the mail (and it is good starter, and it is inexpensive) so unless you are terribly attached to your own special culture this might an acceptable way to get restarted (no pun intended).