The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My First Starter - not quite right? or is it? -> HELP!

wobblesbot's picture

My First Starter - not quite right? or is it? -> HELP!

I've been trying the 7 Day sourdough starter, BUT - I've never even eaten sourdough bread, or seen a sourdough starter and mine doesn't quite look the same as the pics on this site...

My first attempt I kept in the fridge... with the corner of the lid lifted, for the first 3 days it just kinda looked like a pastey dough... and it DID smell faintly like banana's... plus an odd other smell... not unpleasant. THEN I noticed that this site suggested leaving the starter on the bench as refridgerating might stunt it's development, so I took it out of the fridge, after another 2 days with the corner of the lid lifted it did have an off smell that permeated my kitchen. I read in the FAQ's that in a humid climate (I live in the tropics) with the container unsealed on the bench it could easily become contaminated with bad bacteria. I decided to start again.

I re-read the instructions and started again using unsweetened pineapple juice this time... I'm at day 4 now and the starter is very bubbly, it smells mainly of tangy pineapple juice... before feeding it smells sour-er than after... but it definitely has a strong tangy smell with a hint of something that almost tingles the nostril... it doesn't smell nice like all the blogs say it should, but it doesn't make me gag.

I'm not sure if I should start again in the fridge or keep going with what I have now? I'm not sure how tangy is good, and what is a sign that it's turning bad!!!

I live in Darwin - NT - Australia, in a tropical climate where it's generally around 30 degrees celcius each day, perhaps as low as 20 overnight, with high humidity most of the year, i keep the starter in a sealed plastic container on the bench in my kitchen which is generally cool by our standards!

Can anyone help me with advice? :(

placebo's picture

Your starter sounds fine. I can certainly see how someone might not care for the sour smell and find it unpleasant. Also, when I had a whole wheat starter, it could, at times, just smell horrible. Plus in the beginning, the starter can go through phases that just don't smell good before it settles down. I'd keep going and see how it turns out.

You should switch to using plain water instead of pineapple juice if you haven't already.

How does the look of your starter differ from the pictures of starters you've found here?

sephiepoo's picture

Agreeing with what Placebo said.  I'd keep it out of the fridge, and don't seal the lid completely so it doesn't blow up from the release of gases.  When my starter was first growing, it smelled revolting which is why it now has the name Toxic Ooze :)

I feel like it took 9-12 days for mine to rise high enough where it actually doubled, but I also hadn't found the pineapple juice thread here yet either so I only started with flour/water.  A few weeks later, and many feedings, the smell finally settled down into a sour/boozy aroma which had to grow on me :) For the longest time, I used to tell Toxie that she smelled bad every time I'd open the lid and I'd accuse her of passing gas

Push ahead and give it some time to try to figure it out.  If you start seeing colors (red, green, etc) then you may want to quit, but a grayish/blackish hooch I think may still be ok (mine does that if I haven't fed it in awhile).

wobblesbot's picture

Thanks guys - I'll keep going, I have switched to water and flour as it was smelling too fruity!
It differs from the pics in that its more grey and thicker, it's also not separating out into liquid on top.
I've never eaten sourdough let alone seen a starter so I appreciate the advice! Looking forward to eating my first loaf!!!
Thanks again :D

thomaschacon75's picture

If so, you have a success on your hands.

Just keeping going and it'll be happy in a week or so. If fact, at this stage, you can ignore it completely for a couple of days.

If it's "smelling fruity", then the next few days will be a challenge. Brace yourself for smells that are not meant to be smelled/smelt! 

(Those tumor-looking things are just raisins wrapped in cheesecloth).

wobblesbot's picture

Hahaha - it actually doesn't look that bad yet!
So many joys to look forward to!!! Thanks!

RobynNZ's picture

Hello, Welcome to TFL

Have you read Debra Wink's introduction to starter material? If not, you might find them (and all the comments in those threads) useful to read - it helped me a lot to learn what is going on when we make a starter. I too had 'new starter anxiety', now mine has been going for almost 2 years and makes wonderful bread.

Until your starter has settled down you will be better to keep it out of the fridge, (it'll likely take up to about a month until it has become well established). If you can find a spot in your home in the low 20°Cs it would be good. Later on you might find as your temperatures increase that you can manage it easier by keeping it in the fridge, but right now you are trying to establish a culture with the kind of bugs that are good for making bread. It might be an idea to transfer it to a glass container with a screw lid, just screw the lid on loosely. You'll be able to see in the jar what is going on and leaving the lid loose will allow gas to escape.

 I note you refer to 7 day starter. It is true you can probably begin using your starter after 7 days, but in the beginning it is likely that it will not to be up to full strength. Don't be disheartened if it takes a while. If you explore the archives here on TFL you will learn what others have experienced with their new starters.

 Do you have experience using yeast to make bread?  You certainly have good conditions for making bread there. It's cold here at present; at this time of the year I can usually depend on the hot water cupboard for proofing but it was cold in there this week too so I've had to resort to placing a cup of boiling water in my microwave and shutting my dough in with it.

Just keep following the instructions and feed your starter, it will be fine. Paul (rainbowz n TFL) did a photo series of getting his starter going over the course of 15 days, take a look, starting with this post:

Cheers, Robyn



wobblesbot's picture

Thanks - that's a big help!

wobblesbot's picture

In the wet the temperature here is generally over 30 degrees and humidity around 80-90% ... I've been told this will kill the bacteria in my starter, is this true?