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Reviving frozen starter

J.D.'s picture

Reviving frozen starter

I was away from my house for 8 weeks, so I froze my starter, and have come back and am trying to revive it. After the first day, it smelled awful, I can't even try to describe it. Nail polish, vomit, somewhere in that spectrum, and a thin layer of clearish/cloudy liquid on top. I upped the feeding schedule to twice a day, for maybe five days or so, and now it smells vaguely like play-doh, with very little activity, only some tiny bubbles here and there. Last couple of days I went back to one daily feeding, thinking that maybe it needed more time for the environment to acidify. So far no change - still smells like play-doh, very little activity.

So... do I just stay the course with a daily feeding and hope that things change? Or is there something else I should try? I've been feeding it 1:1 with APF (unbleached). Thank you in advance...

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

My sympathies.

My experience is...a lot depends on the hydration of the starter before freezing. The dryer, the better the chance of reviving. From here, It sounds not good and it might be better to start a new starter rather than fussing with this one.  (Stop feeding it until it shows more signs of improvement,)  The frozen starter sounds like back to the the beginnng steps anyway only too much food. You can race them.  Keep the feeds small to avoid waste.

Next time, for super long storage: I'd advise not freezing but pinching flour into a tablespoon of ripe starter to make it very thick and more like caulking or even slightly sticky crumbs. Then pack it into a small ball, dust with flour and place into a small jar with a spoon or two of flour under the ball, screw on the lid (not too tight for first day) label and tuck it into the fridge. It may lasts months or even years.  You can also spread out the liquid starter thinly on plastic or parchment paper and dry it in a few days rotating the flakes until well dried, crumble and chill ( or keep cool) to revive with water at a later date.  Trick here in reviving starters is not to rush them at first. Lots of patience. :)

The jar of dryer starter may also survive freezing better (no guarantee) after a day in the fridge giving the yeast a chance to shrivel before freezing.  Tighten the lid before freezing.  To revive, let the starter come to room temp and watch for a few days with a loose lid. Feed when you notice cracking and expansion of the hard dough ball turning soft and smelling like it should.  If too hard, add a little water and continue to watch. 

squattercity's picture

1. in my experience, the vomit smell means the acids in the starter are killing the yeasts.

2. I wonder if it might it help to feed with rye flour for a few days, as rye seems to have lots of yeasts.

3. a thought for the future: I successfully recovered my 100% rye starter after 4 months in the fridge. So, even if you don't follow MiniOven's sensible suggestions, you may not need to freeze it at all

Dave Cee's picture
Dave Cee

And this is where a tall, narrow container may afford the bottom-dwelling beasties a better shot at surviving extended neglect. I, too have resurrected near-dead starter from the bottom to prosper once again.

TundraRose's picture

Hi JD,

I forgot to feed my starter before going on vacation last month so I froze it. 1st thing I did after getting home was thaw it. It took 4 days of feeding to get it to rise at all. It kind of smelled like Playdoh as well. 2 days later after I had asked a friend if I could have some starter it finally doubled in 12 hours. Now it is back to normal. I don't think I will ever freeze again. Better to feed cold then put back in the fridge right away. Will experiment with dehydrating and rehydration now

idaveindy's picture

Here are some good instructions with video:

See for a video on dehydrating starter.

To revive a dried or dehydrated starter, see: for their written instructions, and here: for a video.

J.D.'s picture

Thanks for the help, everybody - I decided to pitch the old starter and just start a new one, which so far is going well. I will definitely keep these tips in mind for the future!