The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

acrid smelling whole wheat starter

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varda's picture
varda

acrid smelling whole wheat starter

I made a starter over 5 days around 6 weeks ago with whole wheat flour and water and later added bread flour and water.  I made several breads with it.   It came out pretty well but not hugely sour.   I left around 3/4 cups in the refrigerator for a few weeks, and took it out yesterday to get it ready for a new bread.   A few hours after the first feeding it developed an acrid alcohol smell, and not in a good way.   I fed it again last night, to see if it would recover its good smell.   This morning the smell is still there but less intense.   Has it spoiled?   What happened to it?   I had it in a closed plastic container in the refrigerator.    I don't want to send good flour after bad.

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

It is very unlikely that your starter has spoiled. You don't say how much water it contains, or how long you left it. Both make a difference. If you feed it once or twice more, starting each time with just a small part (say 10 or 20 grams) of the original it will almost certainly bounce back.


Jeremy

varda's picture
varda

I made this starter as follows:  mix 1/4 cup whole wheat flour + 1/4 cup water.   Then every 12 hours add 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup water.   After 4 days I changed to bread flour.   After 5 days I made a loaf of bread.   Then I refrigerated for a couple days.   Then removed from refrigerator, added 1/4 cup bread flour, 1/4 cup flour.   Waited a few hours, and made another bread.   A week or so later, I took it out and fed it 1/4 cup rye flour, 1/4 cup water, waited, then made another loaf of bread with it.   Then I refrigerated it for 2 weeks, and took it out yesterday morning.   Since then I've fed it three times with 1/4 cup bread flour, 1/4 cup water.    It is really stinky and I would be afraid of dying if I cooked with it, to say nothing of the taste.    When I was first making it, around the second day, it got an awful smell, which went away by the next day.   I have read this is common, but I haven't seen anything about it happening with a restart, and I can't remember if it is the same bad smell.

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

It appears to me that you're adding too much water to your starter when you refresh. This problem can be solved by buying a kitchen scale and using it for refreshing your starter. You'll also get more consistent results in your baking by using the scale.


Right now, you have a high hydration level starter. The more liquid the starter, the more mobile the yeasts. The smell that you've noted is typical of a starter that has exhausted its food supply. The good news is you haven't killed off your starter.


Using a scale, measure out one part starter. Then measure two parts water (by weight), and two parts flour (by weight again). Stir it up really well and you should have an almost 100% hydration starter. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temp. It should double within 12 hours. Discard half of that and repeat. In less than two days, you'll probably have a healthy starter ready to kick some dough and raise loaves.


Do take the time to read some threads about hydration levels in starters from the archives. Most members can get by with a small amount of starter, less than 250 grams (roughly a cup), and the lower the hydration level the better for people that don't bake daily. It's all in the sourdough and starters forum.

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

You've explained it well Postal Grunt. Equal volumes of water and flour is about 5:8 flour:water ratio, or 160% hydration. And it isn't clear how much "old" starter vhaimo was refreshing. Your advice is what I would have given too.


For what it is worth, I store about 50-80 grams of 100% starter in the fridge for up to 2 weeks with no ill effects.


Jeremy

varda's picture
varda

Very helpful - thanks so much!