The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Kashipan's picture

Rye Starter Acetone Smell: When is it ok, and when is it bad?

I've just tried starting my first sourdough starter!  I'm using a recipe that requires just a small amount of rye flour and water, and started it last Monday night, on a 24 hour feeding schedule.  The last time I fed it (increments of 30ml of water to 30g of rye flour, discarding 1/3 each time) was last night at 7pm.  Today is day 7.  The starter is doubled by the time I wake up in the morning, and just kind of hangs out until I feed it again in the evening.  It only falls a little bit, stays full of bubbles and develops no hooch.  There's no mold in it.  Color looks fine.  The consistency is that of thick oatmeal - not too wet, but easy to stir.

But the smell...I can't tell whether it's bad or good.

I don't usually stick my nose in it until it's time for its next feeding.  By that time, I definitely smell some alcohol, like the nail polish remover acetone thing lots of people talk about, but I also smell yeast and even some deep, dark, fermented fruity scent down there, like wine.  The smell is not overpowering, vomit inducing, or even filling up the house (I keep the starter on a dark shelf, room temperature, which hovers around 25C-27C this past week), but I definitely get a strong noseful when I first open it up.

Once I stir in the new flour and water, the smell just kind of goes back to the smell of wet rye flour and a little ferment.  Not strong.

I've been searching all over the internet, and am increasingly frustrated to see some people say that the second it smells like nail polish remover to dump it immediately and start over, while others say it just means the starter is active, hungry, and to feed it again.  Still others say that a young, week old starter will be full of all kinds of smells, and to just keep on as it is and let it develop for another week or longer.  Another place said that it's the rye flour that creates that kind of smell, compared to other flours.

Is the acetone smell ok in moderation?  When does an acetone smell start meaning your starter needs to be discarded?  I'm really confused and wondering how to proceed.  My gut tells me that it's the hungry starter acetone smell, but I really need your opinions, too.  I've got 10 hours to wait til the next feeding, and I can smell the acetone, alcohol, deep dark fruity fermenty yeast combination clearly now, in my puffed up, bubbly starter.  Does this sound ok to you?


ExperimentalBaker's picture

Sourdough Whole Wheat Waffles

Found the recipe from TFL (from JMonkey) using "discarded" starter.

Changed the melted butter/vegetable oil to coconut oil. Added a bit of vanilla extract as well.

Used a stovetop waffle maker from HappyCall (a Korean brand).

1st time making them. Not too bad. But because of the high humidity here, they turn soft very fast. Enjoyed eating a few pieces off the cooling rack while they're still crispy.

Happy Sunday.


jwilbershide's picture

what did bread look like?

I'm pretty new to the bread culture (so to speak). I understand the bakers yeast is a relatively new (in the last 100 years) development. Prior to that, loaves were built using natural starters.

What did bread look like in 1900? Were loaf pans used? I read somewhere that bread was sold by the pound, and it got me wondering about the whole bread process 100 years ago.

Thanks for your time,


O'donnell's picture

Tartine no 3 - Which flour is "Medium-strong wheat flour"?

Hi everybody. A long time reader, first time to write.

I was wondering which flour Robertson means when he writes "Medium-strong wheat flour".

Let's have a look at the second receipe in the book, WHEAT-RYE 10%. The receipe calls for:


400 g High-extraction wheat flour

400 g Medium-strong wheat flour

100 g Whole-grain dark rye flour

100 g Whole grain wheat flour


Now, about the High-extraction flour, Robertson says it can be bought or be made by mixing 50/50 all-purpose and whole-wheat flours.

But what is the second flour? Is it another name that I'm not familiar with for all-purpose flour? Or is it something else? I live in Israel if it changes for that matter.

Thank's ahead for your help.

PetraR's picture

I am so happy with the 50% Sourdough Starter...

...had I known how much easier it is to look after a stiff starter I had done it month ago :yes:

I baked my first bread with the stiff starter today.


150g 50% hydration wheat starter * feeding it with strong bread flour *

450g strong bread flour 

 50g wholemeal flour

 50g rye flour

  2tsp caraway seeds

 12g salt

350g warm water


I had to use my stand mixer today as my hands where so painful * rheumatoid arthritis * I did knead the bread on low for 7 - 8  minutes, bulk ferment for 6 hours, shaped and final proof for 3 hours and baked in the Dutch Oven for 30 Minutes on 250C with the lid on and on 200C with the lid off for a further 20 minutes.

When I turned out the bread from the baneton it held it's shape very well, it held its shape when I scored it and rose well during baking.

Sadly no picture as we had the bread with our Goulash Soup * hangs head in shame *

And I was surprised with the medium open crumb I got even so I used the stand mixer.

With the 100% hydration dough , when I used the stand mixer the crumb was much tighter * still yummy though *

Next loaf I shall take pictures.

keukaharv's picture

Improved Poolish Baguette

After taking a the wonderful three day Survey of French Bread course at KAF, I went back to my standard poolish reicipe. The 15 hour poolish is 5 1/4 oz AP flour + 5 1/4 oz water + a few crumbs of yeast. Final dough is poolish + 5 1/4 water + 11 oz flour. Mixing is 3 minutes low and 4 minutes medium.

Following Jeffrey Hamelman's advice, I got serious about autolyse (20 min), and also reduced mixing to 3 minutes on medium. I probably used an ounce less flour, and the dough felt quite a bit nicer -- almost pillowy. The result was very flavorful.

I have a starter going and when schedule permits I will try a pain au levain using his formula. So much to learn, but what a joy.

Truffles's picture

bread with rye and whole wheat flour only

Has anyone made some rye bread, eg 40% rye, using only whole wheat flours

hamletcat's picture

milled grain vs. commercial bread flour

I have tried baking with wheat berries that I have milled myself and I am not getting anything that closely resembles the type of bread you get when you use commercial (pre-refined) bread flour.  Can someone please explain the difference so that I can understand why.  Even the commercial whole wheat or whole grain flour comes out so much better than when you mill the berries yourself.  So what has the pre-refined commercial flour got that milled wheat berries does not.  Or is the problem more with my technique in preparing the flour.  

Felila's picture

Report on the rice flour experiment

I've posted twice before re my quest to use up some brown rice flour that was given me. Thanks to the help here, I ended up substituting a cup of rice flour + vital wheat gluten for one cup of the white bread flour needed (have to do by volume and feel, don't have a scale). I used three tablespoons of vwg and filled up the rest of the one-cup measure with the brown rice flour. 

I baked my first two loaves of rice + wheat bread today. The bread is OK. It rose nicely, it's sour, it has a good crumb. It tastes different somehow. It certainly felt different when I was doing stretch-and-fold on the dough yesterday. Stretchier, but also a little grittier. 

As I've been using the same sourdough culture and recipe for years, it's not surprising that I would notice even small differences. I could get used to this bread. I have a lot of brown rice flour to use up. It was free, I'm poor, I will persevere.

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

Barm vs sponge

Is there any difference between a sponge and a barm?  Are the two terms synonymous?