The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter Problems

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Noor13's picture

Starter Problems

I have had my starter for over a year now and it worked and still works wonderfully. however I have noticed a weird change in smell and also there is a thin film or membrane kind of thing on top of it. It happened to both starters the wheat one and the rye one.

I usually feed the starter before I am baking and that's once or twice a week and I keep it in the fridge when I am not baking. It is kept at 100% hydration. I use organic white wheat flour from Shipton Mill (local Mill in the UK). The rye flour is from the same mill. 

Recently it was quite hot here, so I wonder if it was due to the climate change? Or maybe the flour-I have not always used the flour fro this mill, but I do use it for about three months now, and the problem occured wduring the last two weeks maybe.

I would be grateful for any help or advice on what to do and how to solve the problem. I searched here on the site but didn't quite find that somebody had the same problem.

Thanks, Noor





Mebake's picture

Hi Noor,

Have you altered any of the following?

1 - Feeding schedule

2 - Flour Type / combination

3 - Proofing temperature?

Remember, Stater is a living culture that is effected by any variation, such as ambient temperature, feeding schedule, etc.


Mason's picture

In a good sourdough the microorganisms should make the environment happy for themselves and rather unattractive to other microorganisms.

But occasionally some other organisms can get in that can tolerate the acidic environment.  another source may be your water.  Try using distilled or micro-filtered spring water.  

It sounds like whatever you might have in there is aerobic, it likes the surface near the air, rather than then less aerobic conditions deeper in the jar.

One thing you might try is refreshing a small sample from deep down.  Try removing the membrane carefully, and pouring off some of the starter. Then take a small (1 oz) sample from nearer the bottom and feed that (a 1:2:2 ratio of starter, water, flour) in a clean jar.  Leave it to double at room temperature.

Then feed 4 oz of this refreshed starter again in the same ratio (so 4:8:8) and see how that looks.  Hopefully the starter will outcompete anything left in that sample, and you will again have a happy starter.  

It will be a little less sour at first, but a couple of days in the fridge will enable the sour-producing bacteria to catch up with the yeat culture that flourishes faster than the bacteria at room temperature.  

You can even delay this second feeding by refrigerating a day or two to let the sour bacteria catch up.

Good luck.  Let us know how it turns out.


Noor13's picture

Thanks for all your advice. Maybe I will try first using different water. I used to use tap water, which is fine here. I am just a bit surprised, cause I did not do anything different for the last year:(

However I took the membrane off yesterday and I fed it, it is working nicely. I made a patch of sourdough ciabatta and it came out nicely. I fed a bit of the starter, and also the rye on, so we will see. The membrane and weird smell usually builds up after a few days in the fridge. So maybe feeding the starter more often will get rid of the unwanted guests in there.

I will let oyu know how things are progressing.

npsmama's picture

I'm not much help but I have exactly the same problem (and am also in the UK).

Have things resolved themselves?


I kept getting the same problem even when I created new starters.