The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

This was scary

ErikVegas's picture

This was scary

I started building my first sourdough starter on Friday night. I used a simple 100%hydration method, 1 cup KA white whole wheat flour and 1 cup water.  On Saturday morning I noticed that I was already getting activity, nice bubbly surface, slight sour smell.  I removed haf of it and fed the starter with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.  Sunday morning I noticed that the starter appeared to break.  The flour contents seemed to seperate and were floating on top of the water and the smell that was coming out of the container was , well lets just say it was offensive to say the least. (I am also a home brewer and this was not that nice yeasty fermentation smell)  Do you think I got a bacterial infestation of my starter or do you think somthing else happened.





Ford's picture

I too have noticed an off-aroma (like salt-rising bread dough) when I started with whole-wheat flour and water alone.  Debra Wink  discovered this was due to a strain of bacteria called leuconostoc that seems to be more prevalent in flour now than it was formerly.  This bacterium is self-destructive as it produces acid that inhibits its growth.  Apparently, the bacteria are not harmful.  Four remedies are readily available: 1/ keep feeding the culture (whisking to aerate it); 2/ add a slight amount of acid (a pinch of citric acid, or a pinch of ascorbic acid); 3/ start with canned pineapple juice  (acid enough to inhibit the growth of these bacteria) instead of water; or 4/ start with rye flour and later switch to wheat flour.

see: Bread Lines, a publication of The Bread Bakers Guild of America. Vol. 16, Issue 1, March 2008
also --


ErikVegas's picture

Thanks for the reply Ford.  Ill try starting with the Pineapple juice like in Reinhards book.  It makes sense that a slightly acidic environment would inhibit the bacterial growth.  Ill let you know how it works out.



rockfish42's picture

You do want bacterial growth at some point though. Sourdough starter is a combination of wild yeast and lactobacillus.

PeteInAz's picture

1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water...

You have a 200% hydration starter.

Flour weighs around 4oz/cup and water weighs 8oz/cup.

The separation might just be too much water although I would think the water would be on top.

Next time you refresh, dump out half and add 1/2 cup of flour and no water and see what that does.

Thomas Mc's picture
Thomas Mc

Not to worry, once the lactobacillus gets established, it will lower the pH and kill it off.

genem5329's picture

Some interesting observations about making your own sourdough starter.  I have accumulated several start from scratch starters over the past 6 months.  My kids like to do this in school for their science projects and I get the leftovers.  The starters seem to work best in making bread after about 2 weeks of developing the culture.  I also have two other cultures I have purchased from King Arthur and another private bread baker.  After 6 months I am unable to distinguish between them by their smell and how they work in making bread.  They always seem to develop this very pleasant almost sweet, boozey smell and the bread they turn out is very tasty.  I keep about 6 quart jars and only feed them the day before I am going to use them.  Some have been unfed in the fridge for 3-4 months and still smell exactly the same and take only about 2 days of feeding to get back to fermenting.  The night before I plan to use one I feed it with 2 cups of the flour I plan to make bread from plus one cup or less of water.  I leave the jar(s) out on the counter and by noon the next day they are ready to go.  By that evening the bread is ready to eat for dinner etc.  Occasionally I will let the dough raise overnight in the fridge so it develops a bit, but my family likes bread only lightly sour.  It all works like clockwork.


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Your initial results are completely normal for home starting, and nothing to be afraid of :-)


SourDeux's picture

When I made my starter at home, on about day 2 or day 3 it smelled like cheese.  Horrible. Horrible. Cheese.

I think around day 4 or 5 it smelled like sourdough and I baked around day 6. 

As for the interesting observations Gene pointed out, that makes sense to me.  The yeasts naturally found on the flour you are using may eventually replace the ones original to the starter.  So, all the starters you have, fed with the same flour, will eventually be essentially the same starter.  I found that my home made starter tastes and acts exactly the same as the 1847 Oregon trail starter I obtained from Carl's Friends. 


ErikVegas's picture

Ok, take two on the starter went prety well.  I baked my first loaf with it this weekend and it turned out nicely.  The issue in question now is after refreshing my starter it is starting to smell like vodka, super high alcohol smell.  Will this eventually go away or am I feeding it too much.  In addition I want to increase the ammount of starter so that I can do more than one loaf of bread at a time so what is the procedure for increasing the starter volume.






genem5329's picture

I don't know that my starter smells like vodka, more like a sweet wine but definately has the smell of alcohol.  but then what the hey, it's the same process of fermentation.  I can actually tell by the smell what is going on with my starter, whether it's over ripe and needs to be fed, or not yet ready for use.  when it is in the process of fermenting it usually has this very pleasant yeasty smell and when the starter has doubled and is filled with bubbles it is ready.  The best way to have more starter is to make more.  Just double the amount of flour and water.  There's lots of room for experimenting in this process, by adding either less, or more starter will change the taste of the bread.  By adding a small amount of yeast you can speed up the process and here again you develop a somewhat different taste and smell to the final baked loaf.

When I make an Italian loaf I use AP flour and sometime add just about a Tbs. of sugar.  when making a WW loaf I use less starter and a bit of yeast.  The sourdough flavor is very slight but the loaf tastes really great.  According to Reinhart it has something to do with the extra development of the WW flour in the starter I think.  For a two pound loaf of WW I use about 1 cup of bread flour and the rest is my own grind of WWheat.  The last raise before baking takes about two hours, I time it so I don't get impatient, then I get a really great raise in the oven and the loaf turns out perfect.  I can do almost the same thing with all WW flour but my kids say the taste is to wheatey, whatever that means.  The reason I'm saying all of this is that I think the sourdough starter has a lot to do with the development of the dough as well as the final taste and smell.

JessicaT's picture

I can't answer your second question, but if it's smelling like alcohol, it could be underfed. Personally, I keep a small amount fed 30g of starter/flour/water ratio. At baking time, I find out how much starter I need and a couple days before I bump up the ratio to what is necessary and feed at that for a couple days before baking. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

feeding schedule and your starter should be discarded to about a heaping teaspoon (10g.) Feed it 30g water and 30g flour.  That every 12 hours at room temperature and at each feeding, the starter should be reduced to 10g. 

Now by increasing for bread, you might want to think backwards.  Say your recipe calls for 300g 100%hydration starter.   If you divide 320 (+20g for starter) by 70g (starter) it comes out to between 4 or 5 times.  Easy peasy.   After several days of the above feeding of 1:3:3 ratio,  take 40g of that last mature day feed and add 140g water +140g flour for a night feed.  In the morning there is 320g, 300g for the recipe with 20g to feed as the starter.  (Feed the starter, set aside and then put your dough recipe together.) Need more?  70gS + 210gW + 210gF = 490g starter (remove 10g to continue the starter)

You may have noticed I vary between 10g and 20g for starters, that is because some gets lost in evaporation and lost on spoons and bowls.  Better to add a few grams more than to be caught short.  One can always discard a spoon or two.

As your starter gets stronger with yeast, you may find yourself using less to inoculate the same amount of flour (but stay above 10g.)  If you can't make a feeding, give the starter lots more food, thicken it up, or cool the starter down by placing it into a cooler room or as last resort, the refrigerator.  Skipping feedings is not good.  Always discard and feed.  When the starter is older, you may opt to use the refrigerator on a continual basis.  A lot depends on your baking schedule.