The Fresh Loaf

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My Starter (Culture) smells like paint thinner! HELP!

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LisaE's picture
LisaE

My Starter (Culture) smells like paint thinner! HELP!

Hi there! I am trying to start a starter, and I desperately need some help and encouragement. I will give you a little history.

I started this with a recipe from a site other than this and I don't want to give a link cuz after smelling the starter after 4 days I was disgusted! Any way I started with 50 grams WW flour and 50 grams bottled water. Within 24 hours, it rose and bubbled so I thought I might have something going (from reading Sourdough Lady's Blog I now know it was not yeast yet). I fed it the same amounts flour and water, and waited, nothing, just goop. That went on for 4 days or so, and nothing, just smelly goop.

So I looked for some info on this site (great site by the way!) and found some advice that bwraith or Bill gave so I took 2 Tbsp starter and mixed in 2 Tbsp water, 3 Tbsp unbleached organic white (Bob's Red Mill) and a pinch of whole Rye (Bob's Red Mill Organic Dark Rye). It began to become less smelly, almost yeasty maybe, had bubbles in it, but never rose. I am on day 10 from beginning the whole mess and it has never risen, has bubbles but smells like I could strip some paint off a door with it.

By the way, it's at room temperature now, 72 - 75 degrees, I tried the oven light trick but the culture became a very warm 88 degrees and I thought that would be too hot.

I am about to throw it out and start again, using Sourdough Lady's recipe but thought I'd ask you all if you know what the heck. I read that the acetone smell is common if the yeast are starving but I have a hard time believing that since it hasn't risen since day 1. Any advice is very much appreciated and Thanks!

Lisa

Craig_the baker's picture
Craig_the baker

I can't say enough about using non-chlorinated water in the beginning stages of growing your new babies.  i had the same experience and threw mine away and started a new one with filtered tap water. It didnt work but the day i switched to bottled water, the thing took off like a shot.

LisaE's picture
LisaE

Thanks for the reply Craig, but I am using room temperature bottled water. Our tap water smells like chlorine out of the tap and wouldn't use that. any other suggestions?

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Keep on discarding/feeding and give it some more time. It takes longer when you don't use the juice. You are almost there--any day now it will come to life and then the bad smell will begin to improve. Too bad you didn't use the juice to start with because it eliminates the bad smell and the starter gets going faster. Yours will be fine, probably in a few more days. Hang in there!

LisaE's picture
LisaE

I am so happy you read my post and replied. Thank you. Do you think at this point I should just add a bit of orange juice at the next feeding or just keep going until I'm completely disgusted and then start over with your recipe?

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Sure, go ahead and add some juice. It won't hurt anything and it may help. I've never tried adding it after several days so I don't know for sure if it will help. It might speed things up.

LisaE's picture
LisaE

I'll add some juice tomorrow and see what happens, I'll keep you posted. Thanks again, I'll hang in there!

LisaE's picture
LisaE

Hi Sourdough Lady,

So, I added about a Tsp or two of juice for the last 2 days, and the smell is a bit better. However, I changed the container to one that previously contained my refrigerator pickles(after running through the dishwasher), I think the vinegar smell is also helping (or masking) the paint thinner smell. But at least I'm not getting high when I smell it. Ha ha. I think it may have risen a tiny bit today, I'm hangin in there.

One thing though, when I go to feed the starter once a day, the top seems to be dried out, has a thick skin. I pull it off before pulling out the TBS of starter to feed. It almost looks gray in the creases. I'm wondering if it might be mold or something, why would it be getting so dry on the top?

Thanks for your help!

Craig_the baker's picture
Craig_the baker

He suggests that using the proper vessel to start counts for something. I started in a med. sized tupperware plastic bowl and mine never took off, i switched to a pint size mason jar (his recommendation) with a new batch and voila'!!!

Skibum's picture
Skibum

When using sourdolady's juice method I initially had no success in a plastic vessel.  When I switched to a glass container and stirred am noon and pm I got a great starter as per the the lady's superb instructions.  Hey, sometimes it is the little things that make a difference.

BakeON, Brian

LisaE's picture
LisaE

So you kept stirring it even if you aren't feeding it? I don't think doing that registered if I read it. Maybe I should try stirring it up, maybe that would eliminate the skin forming and help a bit.

Thanks!

LisaE's picture
LisaE

Hi Craig,

I really appreciate the comments and insight. The culture has always been contained in glass of one sort or another. I started with a small mixing bowl, but it was difficult to view any activity. It has been in a jar ever since. Always glass and very clean. I tried to do lots of homework before starting this edeavor. I think I'm making progress but I will let you know!

LisaE's picture
LisaE

I think this might work. I am feeling more confident in my culture now. It still smells a little strong but more like alcohol now, but maybe more like hard liquor than beer or wine. =P

Here are some pics from last night and today, it rose!

It rose more than that before I stirred down, about double. I discarded all but 1 T and fed.

Before the OJ addition, I pulled a thick skin off and there was definitely mold growing all over the skin, hairy gray yuk! I wonder if that paint thinner smell was because of mold.

I think I should start 2X per day feedings now, is this correct?

If I could make my husband some delicious sourdough waffles on black friday I would be so jazzed, think this would work?

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Sounds like you are on the right track now! You shouldn't be getting a thick skin on the top. You are covering it, right? It shouldn't be a tight cover, but a lid that isn't screwed down tight or a plastic cover. Hopefully you won't get any more mold. Stirring it a few times a day will help discourage mold.

Let the starter tell you when to feed it. When it has reached its peak and starts to fall, it is time to feed. If you see a layer of liquid (hooch) on top, then it is past time to feed (but no harm done). To keep it strong, don't let it go too long after peaking to feed. It may be ready to use by Friday, but it will still continue to gain strength and flavor over the next couple of weeks.

LisaE's picture
LisaE

 

How funny I was taking a pic while you were posting here. I believe I have created a Monster. Thanks for the encouragement and advice. It has been covered with a jar lid, not tight, I have heard that some jars may explode!

Anyway, the night I removed the skin was the same night I added the fresh squeezed OJ. I did not see mold after that and when the culture started to dry out on the surface, I'd stir it. I think the mold was helped out by the warm oven light temperatures.

YOU were so right, I only had a few more days to go before the LAB and Yeast took over. I tasted it today and it was actually sour, like vitamin C sour, so I figure I'm in stage 3.

This morning (12 hours after last feed), I used 1 T culture (maybe starter now) 4 T water and at least 6 T flour, then added more flour till it was thick. Now, 12 hours later, here's what I've got.

 

Sorry the pic is so big but anything smaller would distort the bubbles. I haven't named it yet, but I was thinking of something edgy! Thanks for your help. I'm off to find out how to maintain and use it now. Hope to have a sourdough loaf by this weekend!

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

I think you have a starter now! Congrats! Keep on with your feedings and you should be able to bake with it in a day or two. if you wanted to you could bake with some of the discards now, but I would recommend using some commercial yeast with it because it is still very young.

Oh, and there is no need to keep it warm now. Room temp is just fine. Anything warmer will just cause it to need feeding much more often. 

LisaE's picture
LisaE

So, I have not had it in the oven for a long time, it was about 88 at one point so it's been on top of the fridge for at least 10 days. I will keep feeding it at room temperature for the rest of the week and weekend before I refrigerate it. Hopefully that will be long enough to be robust.

I will probably try both stiff and batter consistency until I decide which one is giving me the best flavor.