The Fresh Loaf

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"Hibernating" A Starter

jpolchowski's picture

"Hibernating" A Starter

I have a sourdough starter that I feed with bread flour. However I pretty much only bake whole wheat bread and so I have wanted to begin using a whole wheat starter for 100% whole wheat loaves. I only bake for myself so using a new starter means that my current one will get little to no use. I don't want to get rid of it however as I've had it going for almost a year now, but I don't really want to keep on feeding a starter that isn't going to be used in the forseeable future. I keep mine refrigerated between uses but is there any way to further slow down the starter, making it "hibernate" so to speak for extended periods of time without worrying that i'm going to kill it? I have never heard of freezing starters so not sure if it's a viable option. If not, how often would I need to keep feeding the starter if I were to keep it refrigerated constantly? Thanks a lot.

saraugie's picture

I've just read here, someplace, that after two years of no feeds, a starter was brought back to ready, with a couple of feeds.  Not overnight, but in a week or two.

pmccool's picture

is to simply feed your existing starter with whole wheat flour.  After 3 or 4 feedings, the amount of bread flour will be vanishingly small and getting smaller with every successive feeding.  That way you get to keep your starter and not have to mess with putting the other into deep storage or beginning a new one.

One other note: don't be surprised if your starter becomes more sour with the whole wheat feedings.  The same would probably be true if you began a new one with whole wheat.  In my personal experience, about 2 out of 3 attempts with whole wheat starters produce very sour starters and bread.  It may never happen for you, but it has for me.

You could also simply maintain your starter as is and feed it with the flour of the bread you wish to make (rye, whole wheat, white) as you build it for that specific bread.  No one, including you, will ever be able to detect the tiny bit of bread flour sneaking in from the mother starter.


ananda's picture

I really agree with Paul here.

Why keep lots of different and wildly acidic "mothers" in the fridge?   For homebakers baking once a week on average, keeping one culture and feeding according to the weekly project has to be the best way to look after your leaven.   Yes, they can be very forgiving, but only if you have the patience and guile to bring them back to full vigour.   Meantime the culture has been subjected to unnecessary stress and difficulty.   And if you freeze/dry, well, it will take as long to revive as it would to start another culture!

Maintaining a sour culture can be tricky at the best of times, so, best try to keep it as simple as possible for yourself.

Best wishes


Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

The first thing you can do is to dry some of your existing starter on parchment paper. Be sure to use a THIN and narrow strip arrangement. The first time I tryed drying, I just smeared the starter over a wide area and paid no attention to how thick it was. It took about three days to dry. YMMV. When it's dry, break it up into pieces, put it in a zipper bag with a piece of paper to identify and date it, zip the bag, and then seal it in another zipper bag. Toss it in the freezer and as long as it stays dry, you can pull it out and reconstitue it by mixing the dried starter with flour and water whenever you decide to do so. Your bread flour starter will live on, just in a kind of suspended animation kind of way.

Of course, you could also lower the hydration level to somewhere around 60% and put it in the fridge. That will work for quite a while, at least a month.

Some folks will just freeze their starter and revive it slowly by doing a couple of build procedures once it has thawed. While I've done the first two procedures, I haven't tried this one but if you ever have some discard after refreshing your starter, that would be a good time to try the procedure.

Finally, keep in mind that you can always change the type of starter you have by simply using the desired flour in a two or three stage build. If you use one part starter (by weight), two parts flour, two parts water, you can change your starter from bread flour to effectively whole wheat after the third build. Using a 1:3:2 ratio would get you even closer to 100% in three stages. No need to wait on building up a new starter unless you really want to do that.

nicodvb's picture


even your 100% starter is cheap enough to survive in the fridge for months without needing refreshments. I have a couple in the fridge that haven't eaten in months and they are still working perfectly.

Starters are good friends and they ask next to nothing in exchange ;)

gaaarp's picture

I concur with most of what has been said above. In fact, if it were me, I would combine the advice of several respondents. First, I would dry some of your starter. I have successfully revived dried starter within a day or two on many occasions. I don't freeze mine; I just dry it on a Silpat or parchment, grind it up in the food pro, and store it in an airtight container.

When drying the starter, I would also save some out to morph into a whole wheat starter. Just feed it WW flour for a few feedings, and you're good to go.