The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter/Levain Smells Like Trash

Sour Doh's picture
Sour Doh

Starter/Levain Smells Like Trash

Having not baked in a few months, I recently re-started some starters on my kitchen counter.  I began with the german sourdough starter from Daniel Leader's Local Bread, as I had recently acquired a 25lb bag of Dark Rye flour from Bob's Red Mill.  I use a glass bowl with a plastic lid for my starters.  After only about 12 hours after my initial mix of rye flour and botteld spring water, a pungent odor of trash developed.  Definitely a rotten smell, , but with that faint, distinctive rye smell underneath.  I immediately threw it away and began again.

Using two new clean bowls, I re-started the german rye starter.  To hedge my bets, I also began a liquid levain, which according to Leader's recipe requires 3 tbsp of rye to assist in the fermentation.  Again, after only 12 hours, the german rye smelled like trash.  But to my disgust, so did the liquid levain.  Ever the optimist, I fed each at the 24 hour mark to see if it would sweeten up.  At the completion of day 2, each showed some bubbles, suggesting yeast activity, but still the smell of the dumpster.

First, am I correct in concluding that something is wrong here - these starters won't right themselves with more development?  Maybe rye acts that way sometimes?

 Second, assuming I do have a problem, what might be the cause?  Since it happend three times (two attempts at german rye, one liquid levain) I'm inclined to think the problem is systemic.  Maybe the new rye flour or some change in the biology of my kitchen since spring. 

Any insight is appreciated.  If it's important, I can provide the exact recipe for the starters.

mrfrost's picture

My starters smelled kind of funky the first 3 or 4 days, especially the rye one, but now, about 5 weeks later, they all smell sweet.

I sort of wish they were a little more sour, but I guess that will come with time, and experience.

There are many threads here about starters, and starting starters, and this initial "smelly" phase is often mentioned.

Ford's picture

Your smelly starter problem may be caused by a a strain of bacteria called leuconostoc.  This bacterium is self destructive by producing acid in which it cannot survive.  You can continue whisking the starter and feeding it, or you can start over with Debra Wink’s “pineapple-juice-solution.”



Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

Edited. post was of no help. I thought you were starting a starter. You are reviving an existing starter.

I'd keep feeding and/or give it a wash, which consists of taking about 20 grams of existing starter, and diuting that with about 40 grams of water. Save 20 grams of the diluted soup, then feed 20 grams of water and flour. Give it stir at 12 hours......look again at 24. If it's still viable, it should be showing some signs of life by then, at which point, you resume normal feedings.