The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter does not smell sour... or smell at all

  • Pin It
mamacookie's picture
mamacookie

Starter does not smell sour... or smell at all

 

My starter is almost 2 weeks old. I used the pineapple juice/wild yeast method of starting it using bob's red mill whole wheat flour. I switched to unbleached white after a couple days. We had a few days where it was smelling alcohol-y so I started feeding it twice a day, which resloved that problem. It's a "100 percent" starter, I feed it equal amounts of water and flour as the amout of starter I'm keeping. It sits on my kitchen counter, I have not refridgerated it at all. It had a wonderful springy, thick elastic texture and had a very good sour smell, for a couple days I could smell it as soon as I walked into the kitchen. A few times I have used half whole wheat adn half AP when feeding it, just bc it seemed like a good idea. I knocked back to feeding it once a day and I wasn't tracking everything, so I'm not sure if this coorelates, but now it seems thinner and not as elastic. And it has no smell. Not sour, not alcohol, not yeasty. The only thing I can detect is a flour paste smell. It is still bubbling great, it's rising, I think it rose almost an inch in the jar after I fed it this morning. The only other thing I can think of that may have contributed to the change is that our weather and my kitchen has been much cooler the last couple days. And I was not as consistent with the time I fed it, does a couple hours on either side make a big difference? Any ideas, anyone?

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

A cooler kitchen will cause the yeast to grow more slowly.  Think of how your bread rises in the two different temperatures.  Most probably your starter isn't getting to the alcohol-smelling stage before you feed it again, because of the much cooler room. 

If the starter seems thin to you, you can try giving it a little more flour than water, just until it thickens up a bit.

mamacookie's picture
mamacookie

Should it always be at the alcohol smelling stage before feeding it?

So does that mean I am feeding it too often?

I was under the impression that if it got the alcohol smell that meant it was not being fed enough?  

Ford's picture
Ford

I am not sure what cooler means to you.  In my part of the world it is quite warm, even with the air conditioning on.  I agree with MangoChutney that a cool temperature (say 60°F , 16°C) will slow things.  Also, the starter is still young.  Alcohol is a byproduct of the the metabolism of carbohydrate by yeast and is to be expected.  If you are not getting the odor of vinegar, your bacterial colony has not really taken hold yet.  Keep whisking and feeding once a day.

Ford

Matt H's picture
Matt H

Your starter will get sour eventually. There's no way to avoid that. If it's not sour enough for you, try adding a bit of rye flour. My sources and experience tell me that will make it more sour.

mamacookie's picture
mamacookie

I made buiscuts with my starter today, they rose great and have a great texture. Just no sourdough flavor. I guess with time!

I was wondering if I should do a shot of pineapple juice again since somone suggested above that maybe my yeasts arn't fully developed yet? I fed it with whole wheat flour today and made it a little thicker, it seemed to like that. It doubled in size in about 2 hours.

G-man's picture
G-man

I honestly wouldn't recommend adding pineapple juice. While it probably won't hurt anything, I'm not certain it will help. What pineapple juice does, primarily, is make the environment a bit more acidic, which discourages the growth of unfriendly bacteria. Since you don't mention any kind of stink, that doesn't seem to be the problem.

Encouraging the growth of "good" bacteria is what you'll want to do instead. There are a lot of proposed methods of going about that, many of which are contradictory. The method which folks seem to mention most is feeding twice a day and keeping it at about 100% hydration. That said, mine got more sour when I fed it at about 60% hydration for a while so...go figure.

The one surefire method, the method that never fails and yields consistent results, is feeding on a regular schedule and waiting.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

A 2 week old starter is still an infant - well, maybe a toddler ; )

You are cultivating two main things, yeast and the desired organisms that yield flavors. It is quite often the case that a new starter will raise dough, because the yeast are in sufficient numbers, but there won't be much flavor. This will eventually turn into flavor that doesn't really have much depth or character (bitter overtones, etc.). Eventually, you will reach the proper equilibrium that will allow the dominant organisms to rule the culture, and at that point, your flavors should be much better (almost buttery), and you can induce sour.

Starter used in recipes that make it to oven quickly will typically lack much sour taste, and this is because a sour profile takes time to happen. A starter is just a starter, and sourdough is just one type of dough that can be made from a starter. If you want actual sour for a quickbread or biscuit recipe, you have to ferment a preferment beforehand, then add that to your recipe rather than straight starter. That's just one example of how you might get a sour profile into a recipe that typically makes it to the oven within a few hours. To speed things up even more, you can add a preferment, and then add a generous pinch of commercial yeast. The preferment carries the flavor (as well as any sour profile it developed), so the only thing desired at that point is to get the recipe final proofed and into the heat, which the commercial yeast will do.

Give your starter a good 6 weeks to develop a flavor that is consistent and distinguishable. 8-12 weeks for a flavor that is what you might expect from a bakery. I would not recommend refrigerating until you have reached your best flavor profile (if you can manage that).

- Keith

longhorn's picture
longhorn

The only recipes I know of for biscuits use sourdough only for flavor and rely on baking powder and baking soda for the rise. Assuming you used baking power/soda your "great texture" says nothing about your starter. 

You say nothing about how much you feed your starter (your expansion). The "more liquid" suggests to me you are underfeeding and that the starch in your starter is excessively broken down by enzymes. You say the starter is bubbling and "rose an inch". How much starter is there? If it is two or three inches, one inch is not much... Mine can triple in depth. Keep feeding. Your starter is only at the baby phase.

You say it is a "100 percent" starter using "equal amounts of water and flour". Equal by weight or volume.  Either is fine at this phase, but equal by volume will be quite a bit runnier than equal by weight. And it won't expand as much because it is so wet. Finally, hydration is formally measured by weight, not volume and it is preferable to use percentages like this by weight - and get used to it or you get confused later on....

Hang in there!

Jay

mamacookie's picture
mamacookie

This is the recipie I used, http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/21536/sourdough-biscuits-trying-real-thing Sourdough starter only, no baking powder or soda.

I have been doing 1/4 cup starter, 1/4 water, 1/4 cup flour. Instead of throwing out the excess starter every day when I feed it, I have been keeping the extra in the fridge. This is what I used to make the buiscuts. I took some out and fed it first thing in the morning, then made the buiscuts about 3 pm, then cooked them about 6 pm. They had expanded noticably before I baked them.

Thank you for all the input. I guess I have just been puzzled as to why it had the sour smell, but then lost it. I will give it more time. I fed it WW flour yesterday, and more about 1/3 cup rather than 1/4, and it does have a very slight sharper odor this morning.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

>I have just been puzzled as to why it had the sour smell, but then lost it.

This is a good thing, and shows that your starter is starting a new phase. A starter should not smell 'sour', else you're likely underfeeding it. Once the yeast use up all the available food, the starter will start to turn acidic. Left for too long, and the yeast will start starving. Without yeast activity keeping a stable pH, it will start to smell acidic. While you might mistake this for 'sour', it's not the desired sour you necessarily want, because it's being produced by organisms that are still populating such a young starter. Using a WW feed will also give it a different odor which might also confuse you into thinking it's 'sour'.

If you are keeping discards in the refrigerator, then you are essentially keeping an active preferment (already fermented/ripened flour and water). This isn't a bad idea if you're one to use the discards in things like biscuits, pancakes, etc., but the problem is again, the discards are from an immature starter that is still producing a lot of unwanted organisms. If the taste doesn't bother you (everyone's 'sour' perception is different), then you can continue doing that. The bitter aftertastes bother me, so I always toss out discard from a newish starter.

To recap briefly: the smell you had and then lost might very well have been a plethora of unwanted organisms that are frequently present in a new starter (less than 6 weeks old). As the starter matures (which it does a tiny bit at a time each refreshment), less of those organisms appear, and the faux smell will dissipate. You are looking, or rather smelling for, a nice yeasty/beery smell. After about 12 hours, it can turn acidic and start smelling 'sour', and that is an indication that your yeast have exhausted the food.

Lots of people bake with an immature starter, I certainly have. It's edible. It isn't going to make anyone sick or anything like that, but the taste after a good 8-12 weeks of maturing is the difference between night and day; at least for me ; )

Hang in there!

- Keith

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

Aha, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup flour do not make 100% hydration.  Hydration is calculated by weight, not by volume.  Very roughly speaking, flour weighs half of what water weighs, per cup.  Therefore, you have been adding 2 ounces of water and perhaps 1 ounce of flour, which is 200% hydration.  If you choose to continue using volume, add only half as much water by volume as you do flour by volume.

Better would be to get some kind of kitchen scales.

mamacookie's picture
mamacookie

: )

So my husband brought home a kitchen scale yesterday. And yes, I discovered this morning that my starter has been seriously underfed.

Keith, thanks for the very informative and easy to understand response.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

>So my husband brought home a kitchen scale yesterday.

That's a keeper husband - for at least another couple years! hehe ; )

>thanks for the very informative and easy to understand response.

Always a pleasure mamaC = ] Keep at it! A good starter is worth the effort, even if it doesn't seem that way around the 2nd or 3rd week!

- Keith