Caring for a sourdough starter

Once you’ve revived or cultivated a starter, the next job is to keep it in good health.  I mean health in the literal sense.  A starter is a collection of organisms.  Maintaining a starter means encouraging the continued growth of the desirable strains of yeast and lactobacilli and discouraging the growth of undesirables.  The former is called healthy, the latter unhealthy.  Thankfully, newbies need only mind three things:

  1. Storage temperature,
  2. Feeding frequency, and
  3. Use of discards.

The first two directly the affect the health of a starter; the last is a salve on the conscience.  I don’t like to throw out food.  I actually think it’s important to discuss discards because I find it affects my feeding and storage choices.

Temperatures and frequencies

The temperature at which the starter is kept affects both microorganism growth and selection.  I’ll address the latter first.  I find that my starter gets funky, in a bad way, when I store it at too high a temperature.  The highest temperature at which I’ll let my starter sit is around 70 degrees.  It’s not worth giving it more thought at this stage.  

In terms of growth, the higher the storage temperature, the faster the population of yeasts and bacteria grow.  The faster they grow, the more quickly they run out of food.  Therefore, temperature and feeding frequency move in the same direction.

Practically speaking, room temperature means at least a daily feeding.  Refrigeration temperatures mean a weekly feeding. I vote for weekly feedings.  I certainly can’t bake every day, nor can my body afford to consume that supply of baked goods.  Another reason to prefer the refrigerator is that a missed feeding isn’t a fatal error.  I’ve gone two weeks between feedings with no ill effect on the starter.  I’m willing to bet even longer intervals are possible.


I discard 80 percent of my starter before a feeding.  Since I keep somewhere between 200 and 300 grams of starter — at least as of now — this means 160 to 240 grams of discard every feeding.  If you’re like me, throwing that discard straight into the trash is a disincentive for feedings.  It feels like a chore.  If that discard contributes to something that tastes good, feedings become something to look forward to.

Sourdough pancakes taste good.  I’ve been making these lately.  I think my starter is better off now that I’m feeding it more often.  Here’s my feeding schedule (for non-baking weeks):

  • Saturday morning: Remove starter from the refrigerator.
  • Saturday afternoon: Feed.  Mix the discard into a sponge for sourdough pancakes.  Send the starter back to the refrigerator.
  • Sunday morning: Cook sourdough pancakes.

Note, while the recipe at the King Arthur site is great, I’m working on some changes myself.

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