Few things are more disheartening than discovering that the crusty loaf of sourdough you were looking forward to has begun to mold.
Or dried out so much that it’s only possible use now is to line your garden bed.
I’ve made several thousand loaves of sourdough in the past few years. I’ve run my own cottage bakery and also ran a food truck that served sandwiches on the freshly-baked sourdough.
I know all the tricks to getting the most out of that loaf. Let’s dive in.
How Long Does Homemade Sourdough Bread Last?
The short answer is seven days. The seven-day rule applies to most prepared foods and sourdough is sometimes, but not always, an exception.
Homemade sourdough will rarely contain added preservatives and is typically made with just water, flour, salt, and sourdough starter. Because there are no preservatives, you will get the most out of that loaf in the first four days. After that, you might notice the bread's texture changes a bit as it begins to dry out.
However, the bread is still perfectly good until you begin to see mold appear. How quickly the bread begins to mold depends on your environment. If you live in a hot, humid climate or keep the bread in a warm area it will begin to mold faster, usually within five days. If you live in a cooler, dry climate, the bread will keep for longer, sometimes up to ten days.
How Long Does Store Bought Sourdough Last?
Store-bought sourdough can be a fabulous thing. Store-bought sourdough will often contain preservatives that prohibit mold and keep the loaf softer for longer than homemade sourdough.
The same seven-day rule applies to store-bought sourdough as most other prepared foods. But you can often get up to ten days out of your store-bought sourdough if you keep it in a cool, dry place. As long as you’re not seeing mold the bread is still good.
How Do You Know When Sourdough Has Gone Bad?
Is the bread wearing a fuzzy, green and white coat? Are there little mold spots just beginning around the edges? Is the bag you’re storing the bread in beginning to sweat?
These are all signs that your bread is getting ready to complete the circle of life and turn into something that would be better suited to feeding a compost heap than a human.
The general rule of thumb to follow is that the bread is good until it molds. After that, it’s time to throw it out.
Now, if you’re just seeing one pea-sized spot of mold, you are usually ok to cut off a chunk of bread around that area and consume or freeze the rest. Mold tends to grow a little further than is visible to the human eye so be sure to remove an area three-times the size of the visible mold.
Does Sourdough Bread Mold Faster?
No, sourdough bread contains a high-level of acidity which prohibits mold growth. It will still mold eventually, but you have a better shot at a long shelf life with sourdough than some other types of bread.
How Do You Make Sourdough Bread Last Longer?
To get the longest shelf life out of your sourdough there are three things you can do:
1. Store the sourdough properly. To do this, store the bread in an airtight container such as a bread box, or wrap it tightly with a food-safe wrap such as beeswax wrap, plastic wrap, or store it in a ziploc bag. Once the bread is wrapped, store it in a cool, dry place.
2. Freeze the bread. Think about your week ahead and determine if you are likely to eat the whole loaf of sourdough within 5-7 days. If you're not, you can freeze the bread. Sourdough freezes beautifully and will thaw quickly on the counter. See below for more details on freezing sourdough.
3. This is one you might have never heard about. But if you have a very dried out loaf of bread you can preheat your oven to 300°F. When the oven is hot, very quickly run water over the stale loaf of bread. Just long enough to wet the outside. Bake the bread in the oven for 6-10 minutes. It’s done when the outside is dry and crispy again. It won’t be the same as a freshly-baked loaf but it does give you another day or two to use it.
How Long Does a Sourdough Starter Last?
A sourdough starter can live a longer life than a human and, if stored properly, it could last forever. People will often pass their starter down to the next generation as a family heirloom.
A sourdough starter is alive and needs to be fed on a regular basis to stay strong, happy, and ready to leaven bread. If you take a break from feeding your starter you should store it in the fridge.
When left in the fridge for long enough without being fed, your starter will develop an off-putting smell. It may even develop an icky-looking layer of dark liquid on the top known as “hooch.” This often startles people but it's actually quite normal and all it means is that your starter is hungry.
To bring your starter back to life, all you need to do is pour off the liquid (hooch) and discard about 2/3rds of your starter. Feed it at least twice daily and it will always come back within a week or two and be ready to bake with again.
Now, the only way I’ve ever known a starter to die is when someone heated it up past 140°F. This most commonly happens when someone leaves their starter in an empty oven to try to keep it warmer than it would be on the counter. Almost without fail, another member of the household will come by and turn the oven on, effectively cooking the starter.
There’s no coming back from that and you must make a new starter. Pretty much anything else you could do to a starter will not kill it. You just have to feed it regularly again and it will come back to life.
How Long Does Sourdough Bread Last in the Fridge?
Ironically, storing your bread in the fridge will actually decrease its shelf-life. While it may not mold as quickly as it would on the counter, storing your bread in the fridge will generally cause it to dry out more quickly and the bread may even take on other flavors from food in the fridge. Which is not ideal.
I do not recommend storing your sourdough bread in the fridge.
How Long Does Sourdough Bread Last in the Freezer?
Sourdough bread can last for up to four months in the freezer. To get the best results, you’ll want to wrap the loaf well in plastic wrap. I recommend putting it in a Ziploc bag after it’s wrapped for extra insulation.
Freeze the loaf whole if you want it to last for four months. If the loaf is sliced you can freeze it using the exact same method, but you’ll want to use it within two months or it may become freezer-burned and rather tasteless.
To thaw your bread, simply set the loaf on the counter and it should thaw in less than 24 hours. Be mindful of melting ice and condensation that could cause the bread to become soggy. You may wish to thaw your bread on a cooling rack to avoid this. Put a sheet pan under the whole thing to catch any melting water if needed.
Uses for Stale Sourdough Bread
Oh my, there are many. If the bread is just beginning to go stale it would make an excellent crostini. Simply slice the bread and cut it into finger-food sized pieces. Brush with butter or olive oil, and toast it in the oven for up to five minutes. If you want to get really fancy, you can fry the bread in a bit of oil on the stove, then rub the bread with a raw garlic clove. Serve alongside soup, salad, or top the crostini with chopped tomatoes, basil, and balsamic reduction.
Follow the same method to make croutons! Simply cut the bread into cubes before toasting.
When the bread gets REALLY dry, it's a prime candidate for French toast. Bread pudding is another fabulous option at this stage.
Once the bread reaches this stage you can also grind it up in a food processor or blender until it’s a bread crumb consistency. Toast it in the oven with a little oil or butter and your preferred seasoning and you’ll have lovely, homemade bread crumbs.
If you keep grinding past a bread crumb consistency you will make “flour.” This can be used in small quantities to make another loaf of bread, or add it to cookies or other baked goods. It will add flavor and is a great way to recycle that old bread! This will only work if the bread is extremely dry and you want to make sure your food processor or blender is up to the task.
In general, bread is good for seven days, or until mold appears. Store it on the counter in an air-tight container.
Store-bought vs homemade bread have a very similar shelf life, though store-bought may stay softer for a few more days due to preservatives.
Bread should not be stored in the fridge but will freeze beautifully. Thaw the bread on the counter a day before you want to use it.
A sourdough starter can last indefinitely if it is stored properly and not exposed to temperatures above 140°F.
Stale bread can be used for many things including french toast, bread crumbs, and bread pudding.