Reviving Dried Sourdough Starter

In a continuation of the “How To” on drying an active starter previously posted here, we’ll look at the steps to revive that starter. A few people have asked how this is done or how long it takes to get a dried starter back to active duty.

So let’s get going and you’ll see it its actually pretty fast and easy.

Our Mis en Place here is very simple: your starter flakes and some water. Here is the bag of dried starter I made from my ‘from scratch’ starter PJ in the other thread some 7 months ago. It has been kept in the freezer for most of that time. You may be using your own dried starter or a bit you got from a friend, a commercial one like Carl’s or King Arthur or specialty source starter from… the specific source won’t make any difference, the reviving process is the same.

The first step is to take about one teaspoon or 5 ml of your dried, flaked starter and add it to about a tablespoon or so of water – eyeballing either amount is fine at this point, just don’t add too much water. Stir and let sit for a few hours until most of the flakes dissolve or soften.

A few hours later, the flakes will have disolved and turned the water milky when you give it a bit of a stir. It’s ok if the granules aren’t all disolved completely; a few errant lumpy granules won’t be a problem. We’re now ready for step 2.

We can now add a tablespoon (15 ml) or so of flour, enough to make the usual “pancake batter” consistency, using whatever type of flour you normally use in your starter. Here I used All Purpose flour; if I wanted to build a rye or whole wheat starter, I’d use that type of flour instead. Then I put cling film (or a lid if you did this in a little jar) on top and let the mix sit out on the counter for a day. Just as you would with your normal starter, you want it in a comfortably warm location, about 20ºC – 24ºC.

Next morning, we see that the starter has already begun bubbling a little. It probably did not rise much if at all but is certainly showing activity.

I then weighed out my normal starter amounts (yours may be different) of 10g of our newly revived starter, added 20g water and 20g flour. Next, I put a lid (loosely) on the jar and leave this on the counter for the next day or three, feeding as I normally would when the starter has doubled or better.

Here is our revived starter doubled just a few hours later, doubled in volume and bubbly. Success!

Total time from soaking to active starter: you could see a full revival in less than two days if your kitchen is a moderate temperature. If it’s winter and quite cool, you may need three days or so. Compared to the two or three week development with a “from scratch” starter PLUS the month or three more from there to develop a brand new starter’s character and flavour, this is a huge time saver AND I’ve successfully revived a starter I know was active and dependable back when I originally dried it up. I have, in effect, gone back in time and grabbed my starter from the past.

How cool is that?

I’ll give PJ a couple more days of normal feeds & discards just to make sure he’s back to his old self before using him in a recipe –  I’m sure getting all dried up and reconstituted will probably have been a bit stressful so I may as well give it a bit more time, just as I would a starter forgotten in the fridge for numerous weeks. The next step after this little mini vacation will be to start making more sourdough bread!

And there you go: you’ve seen PJ develop from just flour and juice in the Step by Step Starter section, seen him in action in a few loaves, watched how some excess starter was dried for back-up and prosperity and now seen how simple it is to revive from the flakes.

I hope the process has been shown to be relatively simple and that it encourages you, if you haven’t done so yet and feel a little intimidated, to give it a go of your own. Remember, it’s not rocket science, people have been building and keeping starters for thousands of years, long before thermometers, refrigerators and kitchen scales came into existence. If they could do it when the most advanced tools they had in the kitchen was a bowl and spoon, you certainly can do it too when you have modern technology to help you out.

Have questions? PLEASE feel free to add them in the comment section bellow. Share your experiences, report how your drying and reviving efforts went and help show others it’s really easy.

12 Replies to “Reviving Dried Sourdough Starter”

  1. I sent someone over here for lessons in this today. She had this to say…. wait for it….

    ‘Paul Aboud is genius…. I can do that!’

    Here’s looking at you!

    1. LOL… I’m thinking “genius” may be a little over the top – I just write about what I do and it could just as easily have bombed.

      It’s nice to see it inspires others, though. So thanks to both of you!

  2. I love the idea of drying my sourdough–insurance policy, and I can send it in the mail (or take in on a plane without worrying about strange looks from security) to try to get others hooked on sourdough!

  3. hi i got a dry starter from Carl Griffith’s a few months ago. I let it sit on my desk for the entire time until 2 days ago when I tried to revive it. Im not sure if its OK, it doesnt seem to be doing anything. I followed all the steps: soaked 1/2 tsp start in a tbsp h2o, added water/flour per the instructions on Carl’s website.I watched it for 24++ hours and nothing happened, maybe a tiny teeny bit of bubbles, hardly noticeable. SO I fed it a tbsp of WW flour and 1 tbsp water. lots of bubbles right away, but now back to nothing. It has a layer of watery stuff on top and sludgy stuff underneath. It smells alcohol-y but no bubbles. Any suggestions would be tremendously appreciated!!

    -did I ruin the starter by not freezing it?
    -did I do something else wrong and should maybe try again with a fresh portion of the dry start?


    1. Hi Stacey,

      It’s hard to diagnose the issue without being able to see what you have. One thing you might want to do is add a bit more flour so you have a slightly stiffer starter that can trap the bubbles. if it’s too wet, it won’t have the body to hold the bubbles and the gas just gently floats up and out; it also allows the flour to fall to the bottom of the jar, giving you that water-on-top / sludge-at-the-bottom issue.

      So add a little more flour (WW or whatever you prefer) just until you have a pancake batter like consistency. Keep in mind that a tablespoon of water plus a tablespoon of flour (or anytime you do equal VOLUME water and flour) is about 160% hydration which is pretty wet. If you do equal part water and flour BY WEIGHT, you’ll see a much stiffer end result. A decent alternative is to use 1 part water (volume) to 1.75 part flour which will get you closer to the “by weight” equivalent.

      Give your new starter that bit more flour and also give it another day or so before deciding it’s gone off. The issue may be that your house is too cool – try to find a cozy spot for the starter, it will like about 75ºF (24ºC) so places like on top of the fridge (hot air from the coils in the back make that spot warmer), next to a machine that’s on all the time (TV, computer, etc.) by a table lamp you can keep on all day…

      No you didn’t do any harm by not freezing the dry starter. It would help keep dry starter more viable over not freezing when looking at years of storage, not just a couple of days.

  4. i’ve two failed attempts at reviving dried starter. i think my tap water is killing it. could chlorine or fluoride or whatever be adverse? what can i do? don’t want to have to resort to bottled water… and i tried this little filter we use for drinking water and it made no difference. has anyone been in this situation?

  5. Pingback: Richard Proenneke's Sourdough Starter - Homesteading Today
    1. I wouldn’t, no. The flour to water ratio would stay the same although you’ll likely find that the rye starter is a little stiffer. If so, you can increase the water a little (keep track so you know what your new ratio is) to make the consistency a little softer. Also since rye has less gluten than wheat flour, the resulting starter will expand a little less. On the other hand it will also likely be more active as the critters particularly enjoy a shot of rye.

      Your rye bread recipe should also detail what the starter’s hydration is expected to be. Some may use a 50/50 water/flour ratio (100% hydration) but others may require a slightly stiffer one. So follow those recommendation, once your starter has been revived at 100% hydration for a few feeds.

  6. “Next, I put a lid (loosely) on the jar and leave this on the counter for the next day or three, feeding as I normally would when the starter has doubled or better.”

    Errr sorry if this seems dumb but I’m a beginner…. what does “normally would” mean here? And any indications as to whether I should 1, 2 or 3 days? What am I looking for that will tell me “ok now this can go in the fridge”?

    Thank you.

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