The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Rye starter - smell question

plidov's picture

Rye starter - smell question

First time at posting here - couldn't tell if there was an existing topic to add on to...

I've been baking sourdoughs for a couple of years now and wanted to try working on a rye bread.  I began a starter on Sunday using Daniel Leader's recipie from Local Breads.  I'm using Bob's Red Mill organic rye flour and bottle spring water.  The starter appears to be behaving properly - bubles forming within a poridge like mixture with some rising begining by day three.  My question is about smell.  Leader says that the mixture should have a sour smell and taste, almost like the aroma of apples left out in the fall.  I think mine smells more like smoked oysters.  Should I take this as a sign that some non-desirable bacteria worked their way in (container not fully sterile?) and start over?  Or do I just need to adjust to this smell and keep working on it for a couple of days?  I've never smelled a rye sourdough starter, so I don't really have a reference point.




xaipete's picture

Hi Phil. There is a lot of ongoing discussion and loads of information about starters (don't think it really matters whether it is rye, whole wheat or white) on this thread:

It might help you out.


gaaarp's picture

Phil, welcome to TFL!  It sounds like your starter is behaving normally.  My rye starters always have a stong, not entirely pleasant odor (I've never thought of it as smoked oyster, but I could see how that might apply).  Stick with it; I think you're fine.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

How ripe of an oyster?  smoked?  How warm are you keeping it?

Can't say that thought ever crossed my mind when smelling my rye starter(s).  One thing to remember with rye, it won't rise too much so don't expect it to head for the stars.  The structure inside changes.  I mix mine thick.  And when it's ripe, and I pull it apart, the inside looks like a sponge, a bit gooey, but a bubbly structure is definitely there.  

I've always loved the smell of my starter.   Besides apple, it sometimes has a ripe pear smell too.  Sometimes like nuts, it all depends on its maturity.   It's my favorite starter.  I keep it firm.  Right this minute it is rather wet and I stir it often as it is recovering from jet lag.  Smells like wet rye flour.  That will soon change with my warm room temps.





Wild-Yeast's picture


Maintain it as close to 77 dF as possible.  New starters transit through a some really interesting smells.  Wait awhile and it will smell entirely different.  It sounds like you're doing just fine.  By the way when was the last time you've had smoked oysters? That smell will smother your olfactory senses like a red herring does a hound dog...,


Moriah's picture

I also have a Rye starter that has a questionable smell. Except mine smells like a dirty dish rag -- literally! The starter started out fine but as time went on it started to smell like a really dank , old dish rag someone forgot about. P.U. Is there any truth to the statement made somewhere else on this blog that we should be careful about rye starter because it can turn into something like poisonous LSD?

photojess's picture

is there any validity to the above statement, about needing to be careful with Rye starters?

I just found this thread while searching Rye starters.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It could be a problem if it is added to the starter or in your grain.  It is easy to spot.  There is fungi that invade rye and other grain, Ergot.  You can use the search function here or elsewhere.  It is normally cleaned out of the grain. 


dmsnyder's picture

Boy! Is this mixed up!

Rye grain is subject to a mold called "ergot" which generates a poisonous substance that can cause hallucinations.

Historically, this was most problematic during the famines of the middle ages, when people would eat "spoiled" grain rather than starve. The disordered behavior caused by eating ergot-infection rye is called "ergotism," and it has been suggested that the symptoms were interpreted as a sign of witchcraft leading to the sufferers being "burned as witches."

Ergot grows on the rye grass. It is not a current problem with modern strains and farming as far as I know. It has nothing to do with bad-smelling rye sour.


photojess's picture

and came up with this post, which had some good info in it too......

Basically, the same as what David said. 

I just asked, because while I love Rye bread too, I didn't know if there was something I had missed about growing a rye starter.

David, just wanted to let you know, that I read, and will probably go back to your long post about starting a rye starter by Greenstein

Jay3fer's picture

I've never had smoked oysters (not kosher!) but YES!  I realize this is an old post, but I started searching for smell info after I opened up my 2-day-old rye starter tonight and my first thought was MEAT!  It smelled like meat.  But I suspect that smell is similar to the one you experienced.

Curiously, it's not an unpleasant smell.  Just a dark, meaty one.  Almost smoky.  So I will stick with it and see if the smell becomes something more akin to something bread-like over time!

botanicalove's picture

I smelled my rye starter today (it's on its fourth day), and I thought it smelled like meat as well!  Gross!  I'm hoping that it becomes a bit more pleasant in time.

katyleah's picture

On the second day my rye starter smelled like a seashell. I nearly made me pass out a few times. Of course it doesn't help that it's nearly 3 quarts of starter. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

to be an aunt!   


punainenkettu's picture

I was starting to worry because my starter was smelling rather aweful but this makes me feel a bit better. I'm still a bit worried but I'm going to hope for the best!

katyleah's picture

Mine smells like wine now. Just give it time.