Can This Sourdough Starter be Saved? Or is this Starter a Goner?

May 6, 2020
Well fed sourdough starter showing bubbles

Oh, no!  I haven't fed my sourdough starter in months!  When I took it out of the refrigerator, this is what I found.  Is it still good?  Is it safe to use?  The answer is YES! There is no mold on it, and it smells good and tangy.  But will I be able to reactivate it?

Old starter with dark liquid separated on top

First things first…DO NOT throw away the hooch.  That is the dark liquid floating on top.  I know (sigh).  It may sound scary, but it helps give the sourdough starter its sour taste.  Stir the hooch into the starter until it is completely mixed as shown in the picture below.

Starter with dark liquid

Now let's start feeding the starter and see if we can reactivate it.  Measure 3.5 ounces of the starter with 3.5 ounces of distilled water and 3.5 ounces of all-purpose flour. Or, if you have less starter, use equal amounts by weight of what you have available.  Don't own a scale?  Don't worry.  Just measure equal amounts of starter and water by volume and double the amount of flour.  For instance, use ¼ c. of starter, and ¼ c. of water, and ½ c. of flour.

Ingredients to feed starter include flour and water

Place in a food grade container and mix well.  Scrape down the sides of the container to prevent areas of drying.  Cover loosely and let sit for about 12 hours at room temperature.  The lower the temperature, the slower it will ferment and tangier your bread will be.  An ideal temperature is around 72°F.

First feed of starter on counter to ferment

Yippee!  After 12 hours, I see bubbles!  That means my sourdough starter is alive.  Now, I just need to feed it again every 12 hours to really get it bubbly and active.  To do this, I remove 3.5 ounces of the starter or about half of it (don't throw the discarded starter away – see note below), put it into another food grade container and add 3.5 ounces of all-purpose flour and 3.5 ounces water. Again you can measure your starter, water and flour by volume instead of weight using a 1:1:2 ratio of starter to water to flour. Mix well, scrape the sides of the container, cover lightly, and let it sit for another 12 hours.  Repeat this process until the starter doubles and has lots of bubbles.  This may take another 2-3 feedings. 

Bubbles starting to appear in starter


Note:  Do not throw away your discarded starter.  Keep it.  Store in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.  Make sure and label the container as “starter discard”.  You can use it to make crackers, pancakes, or a variety of other items.  Just search “what to do with discarded sourdough starter” and you will find a lot of recipes.

Success!  After feeding every 12 hours for 3 days, my sourdough starter is fully activated and ready to make bread!

Active starer with bubbles

I am so happy I did not throw away that ugly starter I found in my refrigerator.  What a beautiful loaf of sourdough bread I made with it!  It smells so good and tastes incredible!!

Freshly baked sourdough baguette

By Lynn Pastusak
By Dayna Ravalin
Editor - Master Food Preserver Program Coordinator
By Katherine Soule