The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Alcoholic Smell in Soaker...Good or Bad?

celestica's picture

Alcoholic Smell in Soaker...Good or Bad?

First I'll say thanks to everyone for being so experienced and helpful.  I have a question.

When I soak whole grains/chops/flakes/coarse flour with water and a little yeast sometimes I get a boozy beer smell that reminds me of cleaning up after a busy night of bartending.  Stale beer.  It is rather pungent and I was wondering why this happens.  Is it normal or desirable?  Sometimes I use potato water or a little malt powder in the soaker with the yeast to give them something more to eat.

Also, how much does the yeast multiply over 1 day?  2 days?  3 days?  I once made a jewish rye with 20 cups of flour that used only a 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in a three day soaker.  The resulting leavening power was like Vesuvius! 


SulaBlue's picture

It's supposed to smell. That's the smell of fermentation. I can't answer your questions about how much the yeast multiplies.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The yeast feeds and multiplies creating by-products.  Yes, it is young beer.   If you want just a soaker, don't throw in any yeast.

I don't know how fast yeast multiplies but it does so exponentially.  Meaning if you started with 1 million, you soon have 2 million, then 4 million, 8 mil, 16 mil, 32 mil and all these beasts are eating and burping CO2 gasses, making alcohol and splitting into two.  This continues until all the food is consumed.


dghdctr's picture

Mini Oven and SulaBlue are right -- any fermentation involving yeast will create alcohol at some point.  If you're making bread, I'm not sure about how useful it is to purposely ferment the soaker separately.  Usually bakers just soak the grains for a day or less, and that's about it.  Soaking the grains is generally more about softening them before use than it is about generating fermentation.

While I am a pro baker and bread baking instructor, I'm not a microbiologist or cereal chemist, so I can't comment knowledgeably about rates of reproduction for yeast cells.  Still, there are two stages to fermentation, if a dough or culture are left undisturbed.  First, aerobic fermentation occurs while there's oxygen in the newly mixed dough or grain mix, and all yeast reproduction occurs during this period.  Then, after the oxygen is used up (and this doesn't take very long), anaerobic fermentation takes over, where the yeast cells focus upon consuming simple sugars and releasing CO2 and alcohol as by-products.  This happens in beer, wine, and some other foods as well.

After a few hours, the bacteria in the dough (or grain mash, or whatever) will start making their presence known, and the acids they produce will become more concentrated.  That's how a sourdough gets created (and vinegar, as well), but the yeast don't like to live in too much acid.  That's why you have to feed a sour starter at regular intervals and either use or discard part of it as you go.  Otherwise, the bacteria become too dominant, the yeast will die swimming in too much acid, and the whole starter will effectively die and become useless. 

Your observations about your rye bread aren't surprising -- rye flour is loaded with more sugars than wheat flour, and the amylase levels in rye convert starch into sugar much faster as well.  So rye works like rocket fuel as far as yeast are concerned.  Or, as I used to say to my students, using rye flour around yeast is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenagers.