The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bad-tasting starter

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Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

Bad-tasting starter

In one of Nancy Silverton's books she mentioned home bakers who said their starters were just fine despite long periods of neglect. Maybe they still worked as leaven, but Silverton thought these starters tasted awful!

At first I thought she was referring to an excess of acid, but now I think there must also be different flavors of sour. My starter has become more acidic recently, and I don't like the way it tastes. Reminds me more of stomach acid than sourdough bread!—so I haven't tried baking with it.

Can bad-tasting starter be corrected easily, or am I better off beginning a new batch?

Janet

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Just out of curiosity, did you taste it when it was giving you nicely flavored bread?

And do you bake the bread with recently fed starter (how many times has it been fed between the neglected state and the time you use it?)

Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

Yes, I used to monitor its and it seemed good to me.

(BTW, there is a warning printed on the bag of Gold Medal Better for Bread flour: Do Not Eat Raw Bread Dough.
I assume that they're worried about raw egg that might be in the dough, because I've never experienced any ill effects from eating raw flour.)

I haven't tried making bread with this harsher starter. It seemed a waste of time, plus it would get the house all hot.

My starter wasn't treated all that badly—I just neglected to adjust for warmer weather. It sits out on the counter and gets fed once a day, but now it probably needs cooler temps or more feedings (or both). 

Janet

BetsyMePoocho's picture
BetsyMePoocho

Janet,

Before you toss the old boy try the following.  It has worked for me with my original sour dough starter when I neglected it early in it's life.  He lived for about three more years.  But then on a trip deep down into Baja, yes he traveled with us, we couldn't get ice for our cooler and he expired.  

Anyway, here is how I revived him the first time:

Pour off most of any liquid that may have formed on top, throw all but one cup of the remaining starter away, and feed it with 1/2 cup water and one cup of flour.  Beat vigorously.  If it is still alive, it will begin to bubble after a few hours.  Now, discard about half and feed it again with 1/2 cup water and one cup flour.  Again mix well.  Let is sit for another 3 ~ 4 hours then, if it smell OK,  use it or place in the Fridge.

In the worst case you can discard all but 1/2 cup of the tainted starter, mix it with 1 1/2 cup of fresh water, beat vigorously,  pour about 2/3 of the mixture off, mix remaining with one cup of flour and see if it comes back to life and smells good.  If so, follow the first suggestion above again.

When to start over:  If the starter begins develop mold, or the oder is not the usual clean, sour aroma (an alcohol smell is OK), or if it develops a pinkish or orange color in the "hooch" on top, throw it out.

Oh, your ambient temp's should not exceed 78ªf while sitting out. 

The starter I use now is going on 2 1/2 years and I am very diligent in his feeding routine… heck, he is part of our family…..

Good luck and I hope that some of this just might help you….

 

Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

My starter never has any liquid on top. Does this mean it is too thick? I refresh it with 50% flour and 50% water (by weight).

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Janet,

Under normal conditions, there should never be any liquid on top of your starter. When that happens, it is an indication of a problem. In this case, if there had been liquid on top of your starter it would be because of long term neglect leading to starvation. So, it's good that there is none.

In the process of refreshing your starter, you may benefit from using a little bit of pineapple juice instead of water. The acidic environment will help get rid of the nasties and create a safe place for the yeasts and LABs to flourish. The old Debra Wink pineapple juice solution post explains what pineapple juice does for new starters, and I would think yours could benefit from the same treatment.

BetsyMePoocho's picture
BetsyMePoocho

Under normal conditions, there should never be any liquid on top of your starter. When that happens, it is an indication of a problem. In this case, if there had been liquid on top of your starter it would be because of long term neglect leading to starvation.

 

DavidEF,

I certainly agree with you in that under normal conditions and care the starter just may not develop the liquid on top.

But I have found nothing that would indicate it is a "bad" thing if it does….. Unless it has formed a layer in the middle of the culture and is a pinkish or orange color and has a fowl odor.

My understanding is that when a culture is placed in the refrigerator, the yeast and lactobacilli become "dormant".  It is possible and normal for a brownish liquid, the so called "hooch", to form on top of the culture. 

This mixture of organic alcohols forms during the fermentation and has no adverse effect.  You may either stir it back in or pour it off.  Again, unless it is foul smelling or not a clear brownish color.

Even with care, the starter is potentially contaminated by flour every time it is used.  When a culture is refrigerated for long periods, and sometimes during the initial activation, these contaminants may overcome the  sourdough organisms and form molds or produce unpleasant odors.  

Or if a culture is allowed to ferment at room temp's for a week or more, the metabolic products produced by the sourdough organisms may radically inhibit their further activity.  

These problems, I have found, respond favorably to what is referred to as "washing" using only luke warm water……. Or a couple of repeated normal "feedings".

Shoot, all I know is that these procedures always worked for me.  Hey, there are many ways to reach your goal.

 

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

For the sake of not getting into too much semantics, I'll just agree with you about the hooch. It is more-or-less a natural part of the fermentation process. All I meant by saying "under normal circumstances..." is that a well-fed starter at 100% hydration will not ever form hooch. Not everybody keeps their starter well-fed.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

A starter is like a neighborhood and occasionally some smelly neighbors move in. Sometimes they take over the whole neighborhood and start smelling either like old athletic shoes or old cheese. Nasty! I would follow BetsyMePooch advice and "wash" the starter. At least that is what I call it and I have successfully revived a few starters this way ,also 

The only difference is I took a smaller sampling of the smelly starter-maybe a tablespoon. Then I feed normally (start once a day and go to twice a day when very active) but discard heavily and there is much less flour wasted. And keep it cooler-no more than 80. There is a very small temp difference that can create favorable conditions for the nasties to grow but the biggest factor is keep the yeast population big by feeding more if it becomes warm in the kitchen. Then natural competition helps keep the undesirables out of the culture.

 

BetsyMePoocho's picture
BetsyMePoocho

Janet,

My starter dosen't develop much surface "hooch" either.  It will if I don't feed him for two weeks or a little more.

clazar123 advise on "washing" a starter to rejuvenate it is good.  Not knowing how much starter you keep on hand quantity wise, one Tblsp to 1/4 cup is great.

I have read that back in the olden days the miners used to call washing "sweeting the pot".  But instead of discarding the "hooch" they would drink it…….. Also, up at the mines they would place the "pot" under their covers a the foot of the cot and sleep with it to keep it from freezing...

Your question got me thinking about my first starter that I got from Mr. Ed Woods.  Years ago I bought his book "Classic Sourdoughs - A Home Baker's Handbook".  It really gives a huge amount of history and information on sourdoughs.  I don't know if it is still available, but it is a very good read if you can find a copy.

Oh, about leaving your culture out on the counter all the time….. I'd discourage it especially in the Summer.  I feed mine by removing from the fridge, allowing it a couple of hours to warm up, discard all but one cup, feed that with one cup water and one cup flour; 1:1:1.  Vigorously beat it then leave it out until it just starts to bubble then back into the fridge.

Some of the discarded culture is used for the poolish in the next days bread and the rest gets tossed,,,, sniffle, sniffle.

Have fun……!