The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

I think I just killed a Norse god (starter Q)

flimber's picture

I think I just killed a Norse god (starter Q)

I wish I had some pictures to show you, but for now we'll make due with descriptions.

I created Odin 5 days ago and have been feeding him twice a day (roughly 2:1:1).  The first day, he looked like pancake batter and smelled like wet flour.  No surprises there.  The second day, he smelled a little like yeast-y beer.  I thought that was a little too soon, but I wasn't going to argue with progress!  The third day, he smelled like yeast and I even want to say he was beginning to foam, though that could just be fondness interfering with the accuracy of my memories.

The fourth day, he didn't smell so pleasant anymore.  A hint of yeast smell, but overall, something pungent and odorous.  I couldn't even begin to tell you what it smelled like because it was my first time smelling something like that.  But if I had to describe it, kind of like spoiled food--a little sour, and definitely not "fruity" like I've been reading it should be.  Also, all the other times before his first feeding, he still looked like pancake batter.  This time, the water and flour had separated--the flour had clumped then sunk.  I gave it a stir and fed him as per his schedule, hoping that he was just having a sick day.

Today when I came in to check on my dear little Odin, he was very odorous (in a bad way).  Definitely more sour smelling (like bad milk kinda sour, and probably not like delicious sourdough sour, though I may be mistaken?).  The flour was clumped again and separated from the water and there were no yeast-y bubbles (but there were these tiny, tiny bubbles, kind of like the bubbles you see on the side of a pot when you boil water).  Now I'm really worried.  I gave him a stir then gave him a new home before feeding him again.

Give it to me straight, doc--has my poor Odin met his end?


Some other, probably pertinent info:

-I currently reside in China.

-I feed him white flour and bottled water twice a day, favoring the water a little more than the flour since I read somewhere that higher hydration is recommended for those looking for a less sour-y yeast (about 3/4T flour and 1 1/4T water; I don't have a scale, sorry).

-The windows are always open here and because of the monsoons, weather has been cooler and more breezy.  It's still "hot" here, though: 34C or 93.2F today.  We rarely use the A/C and it's not exactly feasible for me to leave Odin in my room with the a/c on while I'm at work, haha.

-When I'm not feeding him, he uses a kitchen towel as his blanket.

Franko's picture

Hi Flimber,

Feed Odin some light rye flour or 100% whole wheat flour..he'll like that as it has lots of nutrients for him. Will make him strong like ox.

This is a link to the best understanding of sour culture on this site.. likely the web as well.

Ms. Wink is our resident microbiologist/baker and has a wealth of info on this very problem. The way she explains it takes so much of the mystery out of what's actually going on in that bowl of goo, that even I get it .



flimber's picture

Thank you, I will try the pineapple juice the next time I'm at the store.  I've been searching for whole wheat flour for awhile and haven't been able to find it--I think I'll have to go to a specialty store for that.  The problem is that I don't know where to find it!  I can't even find a frying pan here, haha.

flimber's picture

Actually, I'm just giving the link above another read to gauge how much juice I'll be needing, and it advises only feeding once a day until there's yeast activity.

Once you have yeast growing (but not before), you can and should gradually step up the feeding to two or three times a day, and/or give it bigger refreshments.

I actually thought it was the opposite?  To feed twice a day until there is yeast activity, and from there you can either put your starter in the fridge (weekly feeding) or continue to prep it for baking.

But regardless, because I'm in a high temperature environment, I should be feeding Odin more frequently/more, correct?  Thank you again!

Franko's picture

The high temp makes these little guys very active and hungry, so you are correct . Feed often, every 5-6 hrs at least, and be generous. Daisy or Mini's ratio is likely the best one to follow until you and Odin get to know each other a little better, but after that it's similar to looking after goldfish. Be attentive at the right times and life will flourish easily.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is enough to get me to feed it higher flour ratios because in your heat, the little beasties will be eating fast and furious!   Read Debra's info and then get back to us.  He might have gone thru the steps quickly due to the heat, that might mean he's hungry, very hungry.  Take out a teaspoon of starter and feed it 4 times the water and enough flour to make thick pancake batter.  Observe and take notes (marking tape on the jar, also a good idea.) 

You might be able to lower his temperature by making his blanket wet or sticking his jar in a wet unglazed low fired ceramic jar (works for wine.)  The evaporation process will cool him a little.  I would also cover with plastic wrap and a rubber band to keep insects out. 

Welcome to the site,


flimber's picture

I'll split him in half and try the pineapple method in one and more food during feedings in the other.  Hopefully one will work out!  I just wet his blanket; if I find a ceramic jar I'll transfer him to that, but for now, he'll have to make do with the mug as his home.  Thanks for the reply! : )

highmtnpam's picture

I think Odin is just pouting.  You need to buy him a pretty sourdough crock-something with a Chinese pattern  ;)  Pam

Daisy_A's picture

Hi flimber,

Good to hear about Odin! Please be reassured - starters are very resilient.

2.1.1 in high heat with strong yeasts is not much of a feed for Odin - as he's a growing chap...The flour supply is only half of the existing starter volume (I think). The 'hooch' - separated layer suggests that the starter is getting through the food supply then going hungry.

Your situation may be different but my young yeasts are strong and unless fed 1.3.4 with half white plain half whole wheat flour they start to die back quite quickly. Sounds as though Odin is also dying back but doubt you have killed him. 

Although some starters flourish with higher hydration in the very early days, experimenting with higher water ratios to produce a less sour flavour could be left until your starter is stronger. You can also keep a firmer starter and take a small part of that starter to produce a new hydration for baking a given recipe. Of course some yeasts flourish in 100% and even 125% hydration starters, but not all of them are comfortable with this level of hydration. 

It could be good to take a small amount of the original starter, place it in a new vessel and feed it up, to give the good yeasts a chance. Small bubbles may be signs of minimal yeast growth but also of other bacteria. However starters can be 'cleaned' by starting again with a small amount in a new, sterilized jar. When I've seen this technique described 'small amount' can be 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon or 1/4 cup. Do keep some starter as backup though in case this regime is too severe!

When the starter is strengthened somewhat you should not be afraid to discard a significant amount. After 6 months my own starter can go down to 30,20 or even 10g before being built up again with 120, 80, 40g flour respectively. 

The other behaviour you report in the starter's early days sounds typical for a new starter :-)

Kind regards, Daisy_A

alabubba's picture

I would agree, your starving Odin. I feed at least 1-2-2. I maintain a 100% starter that would raise the titanic!

flimber's picture

Hello all, I'm just coming back with an update.

So far, our efforts in finding pineapple juice have gone unsuccessfully.  There are a lot of artificial juices out there, but I'm guessing it won't cut it.  Now we are searching for just plain ol' pineapple, but the street vendors must hate us or something because they always seem to be sold out.  Nevertheless, we'll continue searching.

But regardless, I have been feeding Odin more frequently and greater portions as per Mini's ratios and he has been smelling better and better, to my great joy.  I took a big whiff just now to properly describe the smell, and all I can say is that he smells sour like sourdough--hooray!

However, there is now zero activity--no bubbles at all.  I read that it's normal for this to occur, so I'm only a slightly worried mommy for the moment.

Thanks all for your comments and suggestions.  I'll keep you updated on his progress. : )