I was recently gifted my very first sourdough starter. I read your post on how to feed and discard starter, and I'm looking at buying a nice container for my sourdough starter to live in. But I don't want to waste my sourdough discard. What kind of container should I be using to store sourdough discard?
New starter, how dis-card?
This is a great question! As with all things sourdough, there is no one "right" way to store sourdough starter and discard. There are a lot of different methods for feeding and storing sourdough starter. The kind of container you use for storing your sourdough starter (and discard) in will depend on how often you use it, how much you feed it, where you store it, and how much you like to keep on hand.
I am an extremely casual sourdough baker. I use my starter maybe once a month to make bread. I mostly use unfed sourdough starter (aka "discard" starter) in recipes to add that nice tangy sourdough flavor. Whenever I feed my starter, I don't throw out the discard. I store the discard in the fridge until I have enough to bake with. When baking with unfed/discard starter, I don't need to worry about the starter being at its "peak." I can use it right out of the container without feeding it. Even if it's been in the fridge.
So, before I answer your question, here's what I'll be going over in this post:
Sourdough Starter vs. Sourdough Discard
Sourdough starter and sourdough discard are the same thing. The discard is just the sourdough starter you're not currently feeding or baking with. It's called discard because it often gets "discarded" during feeding. If you don't "discard" some starter during feeding your starter will just grow and grow and grow until you're staring in a remake of The Blob.
BUT! You can also use that discard for baking. Some people will use it right away, in which case it'll still be pretty active. Other people prefer to store their sourdough discard until they have enough to bake with.
No matter what, it's still technically sourdough starter; At any point you can take a portion of the discard out, feed it in a new clean container, and have nice bubbly sourdough starter for making bread.
But if you want to keep your active starter for bread making and your sourdough discard separate, or you just feel wasteful discarding discard, you can hang on to it and use it in a discard recipe.
How to Store Sourdough Starter
Sourdough starter is wild yeast and bacterial culture made from flour and water, which means it's pretty much always in the process of fermenting . As the flour starches break down and become sugars, the wild yeast eats the sugars and produces gas and alcohol (aka "hooch").
When mixed with additional flour and water and kneaded to develop gluten, this gas helps your bread dough rise. But on its own, that gas needs somewhere to go. That's why it's always important to feed your sourdough starter in a container with a good lid that will keep bugs out, but that will still let air escape.
A good container for sourdough starter:
- Is made from a non-porous material (like glazed ceramic or glass) so that bacteria doesn't get trapped in the walls
- Has a loose fitting or permeable lid that lets gas out but won't let bugs in
- Is easy to clean and a spatula can easily reach into all the corners so bacteria and soap residue and stuff don't get trapped and grow mold
I do NOT recommend storing your sourdough starter or discard in a jar with an airtight lid that clamps closed unless you're using your starter more than once a week. Those need to be "burped" (opened) regularly to let gas out.
Sourdough starter can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge. If you're feeding and making bread with your starter regularly (once a week or so) you can leave it out at room temperature. If you're going away for a bit or if you don't use it that often (once a month or less), store it in the fridge. You'll just need to take it out a few days before you plan to use it and feed it a few times to wake it up again.
Just like bread rises faster in warm temps and slower in cold ones, sourdough starter is the same. Decide if your starter should live at room temp or in the fridge based on how quickly it feeds, how often you need to use it, and the temperature in your kitchen!
How to Store Sourdough Discard
Remember how I said sourdough starter and sourdough discard are the same thing? YEP. The best way to store sourdough is discard exactly the same way you store sourdough starter: in a non-porous, easy to clean container with a loose-fitting lid that will let gas escape but won't let bugs in.
Some good options are:
- A 1 qt. mason jar with the lid only loosely screwed on (aka "fingertip tight")
- Any of these sourdough containers
- A 1 qt. Cambro container with the lid slightly open
Sourdough discard is basically just any starter you're left with after baking or feeding your starter. Fresh sourdough discard will be very bubbly and active. But, if you're storing your discard for later use, it will not not be very active, it might have some hooch floating on top, etc.
When you feed your sourdough starter to get it ready to use in another recipe, you can feed the remaining discard so it becomes your new, active starter. Or, you can choose to collect and store the discard for baking (a small amount of discard is perfect for making sourdough discard scallion pancakes or soft sourdough beer pretzels). If you want to store the discard for later, instead of discarding it, I recommend just stirring it back to your main sourdough container.
You should be feeding your starter for baking in a new, clean container, so your main sourdough container really is your sourdough discard container! See? I told you they were the same thing.
If you're still confused, let me explain what I usually do: I take the starter I'm feeding out of my main sourdough container (meaning what's left in the container is technically my "discard") and feed it in a clean bowl or small jar.
Since I usually need to feed my sourdough starter a few times in a row to build up its strength, I keep feeding it in a clean container at room temperature, and add any discard from each feeding back to my main sourdough crock, which I keep in the fridge.
You can read more about this method in my post "how to maintain a small sourdough starter."
Depending on what method you use for feeding, you might have a lot of discard or a little discard from each feeding. If you follow the Tartine bread method for using and feeding your starter, you'll have very little — if any — sourdough discard. If you follow King Arthur Baking's sourdough instructions, you'll end up with a lot of discard, so it's definitely worth not letting that go to waste!
Sourdough Discard is Best Stored in the Fridge
Because sourdough discard is not as active as the starter you're feeding to use for bread making, and because you don't need it to be super bubbly and active, it's safest to keep it somewhere dark and cool where you don't have to worry about temperature fluctuations.
The cold temperature of the fridge also slows yeast activity so that the discard doesn't produce quite as much gas. But you'll still want a lid that lets air escape so those gasses don't build up over time!
Note: The flavor of your starter will change slightly depending on what temperature it's stored at. If it lives primarily in the fridge, it will develop bacteria that thrive in cold temps and vice versa for a starter kept primarily at room temperature.
Sourdough Starter and Discard Storage FAQ
IMO, there is no "best." The most important thing to look for in a sourdough container is that the lid is not airtight and allows the gas produced by the starter as it feeds to escape. Other than that, it really is up to you. If you want some specific recommendations, I have a list of my favorite sourdough containers here.
Sourdough starter produces gas as it ferments. If you store it in a jar with an airtight lid and aren't opening the jar regularly to let that gas out, pressure will build up inside the jar or container and can cause it to crack or explode. Yikes!
You can use any bowl, jar, or container as long as its clean. Something with clear, straight sides is helpful so you can easily see when your starter has doubled in size is ideal. These glass sourdough starter jars from Challenger Breadware are designed specifically for feeding starter — with plenty of line markers on the side to to make it easy for you to track the rise and fall of your starter.
Depending on what feeding method you use, you don't need a separate container, but I find it makes it a LOT easier. It's also more sanitary, less likely to result in mold growth, and gives you more control over the feeding process.
As long as your kitchen isn't too warm (I'd say 78°F or higher) your starter/discard will be fine stored at room temperature for at least a few days without feeding. The flavor will get more acidic the longer it sits.
Too long at room temperature without feeding and you risk your sourdough discard starting to grow mold (usually fuzzy) or bad bacteria (red, orange or pink streaks). If that happens, you need to throw it out. (King Arthur Baking has some good sourdough troubleshooting visuals here.)
I've kept mine in the fridge for up to 3-4 weeks without feeding and used it in sourdough discard recipes and it was just fine. As long as it's not growing mold or bad bacteria, it's safe to use. It won't give you any rise, but it will add flavor!
Remember: Sourdough starter and sourdough discard are pretty resilient! As long as your sourdough discard isn't growing mold or bad bacteria, you can take a small portion out and feed it several days in a row to get it back to being a bubbly, strong, active sourdough starter.
Have a question about storing sourdough discard? Leave a comment below!