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Compared to other starter cultures, a sourdough starter is fairly easy to maintain and surprisingly difficult to kill completely. However, there are some conditions that are ideal for sourdough starter, in order to keep it as healthy as possible.
The Right Conditions for Sourdough
Sourdough needs only a couple of things to thrive:
Keeping Your Sourdough Starter Warm
A sluggish sourdough starter likely needs a boost in temperature to get things going. Sourdough starter performs best at 70-85ºF. Learn some tips on keeping your sourdough starter warm in our article Cold Weather Care for Starter Cultures.
Keeping Your Sourdough Starter Well-Fed
Choosing the best ingredients:
Choose ingredients as free from contaminants as possible.
Non-chlorinated, non-fluoridated water is best for a sourdough culture. Learn more about Choosing the Best Water for Culturing to see if your water is appropriate for feeding a sourdough starter.
Feed your sourdough starter with flour that is appropriate for your particular starter culture: white flour for white flour starter cultures like our San Francisco Sourdough Starter, whole wheat flour for our Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter, and so on. Each starter culture comes with complete instructions.
There is some disagreement on the use of freshly-milled flour for feeding a sourdough starter culture. If your starter is sluggish, and you have checked every other factor, try feeding with aged flour to see if the starter becomes more active.
To age flour, place it in a bowl on the counter, covered lightly with a dish towel, for one or more weeks before using it to feed your sourdough culture. Once it is time to bake bread, use freshly ground flour as the flour ingredient in the bread recipe.
Once your sourdough starter is active and healthy, you may switch to a different type of flour for feeding your starter, if desired. If you wish to experiment with different flours, simply use different flours as the ingredient in your recipe while maintaining the starter in its original state.
Feeding Your Sourdough Starter Regularly
Sourdough starter requires regular feedings to be healthy and active for baking.
Sourdough starter should be fed 1-2 times daily if maintained at room temperature, or weekly if maintained in the refrigerator. Our how-to video on Feeding a Sourdough Starter offers helpful tips and instructions.
To prepare fresh starter for baking, consult our instructions on Making Fresh Sourdough Starter from Refrigerated Starter.