The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

foul smell

sallam's picture
sallam

foul smell

Greetings

Every time I start a new sourdough starter, it catches a bad foul smell, so I throw it away. I'm really disappointed and don't know whether I should abandon trying altogether..
It seems that where I live some bad bacteria are contaminating the air. Or maybe its something in tab water. I tried distilled water, and the results were better regarding the smell, but it didn't rise like when tab water is used. Should I use tab water or distilled water?

I even tried to add minced garlic, as I read it deters bad bacteria. It worked for a few days, but after a week, its effect seems to have gone, and bad smell started developing.

Yesterday, I started a fresh starter, using freshly milled wheat, tab water and a clove of garlic sliced in 4 quarters. Today it got the bad smell, too soon. I fed it and it more than doubled in a few hours, but the bad rotten smell is still there. What should I do when I get a foul smell out of the jar? should I throw it away? I don't get strange colors or mold. Just the bad smell.

Ford's picture
Ford

Keep on with the process; the foul smell will eventually go away.  Debra Wink  discovered this was due to a strain of bacteria called leuconostoc that seems to be more prevalent in flour now than it was formerly.  This bacterium is self-destructive as it produces acid that inhibits its growth.  Apparently, the bacteria are not harmful.  Four remedies are readily available: 1/ keep feeding the culture (whisking to aerate it); 2/ add a slight amount of acid (a pinch of citric acid, or a pinch of ascorbic acid); 3/ start with canned pineapple juice  (acid enough to inhibit the growth of these bacteria) instead of water; or 4/ start with rye flour and later switch to wheat flour.

I think Debra Wink's pineapple juice method of generating the starter is excellent, see:  http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1

Ford

 

sallam's picture
sallam

Many thanks for the valuable info and that great link.
But, since she said the bad bacteria, even if it will go away, will delay the process 2 or 3 days, I thought I'd better start afresh, as Its been just 2 days old.

I can't find unsweetened pineapple juice where I live, so I've blended half a lemon in 3 cups of tab water, with a few cloves of garlic, and kept the blend in a bottle to use for feeding days. I hope I succeed this time. Wish me luck!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Part of the problem may be with the tap water.  At one extreme, if the water is not adequately treated, bacteria in the water may pollute your starter.  At the other extreme, high concentrations of chlorine or other disinfectants can kill the very organisms that you want to grow in your starter.  If you use water instead of juice, and that will work, make sure that the water is free of things that would harm your starter.

One other word of caution: make sure that the juice you use does not contain preservatives, as those will also harm the starter's microscopic flora and fauna.  Been there, done that.  I wound up buying a fresh pineapple and using the juice from it to get a starter going.

Best wishes.

Paul

 

sallam's picture
sallam

I was using distilled water before, but I read that it lacks all minerals. Should I go back to distilled water?

I keep the tap water in an uncovered bottle for days, so that any chlorine would evaporate before using the water.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Should I go back to distilled water?

No  ...but that doesn't necessarily mean using "tap" water either. There's a third alternative: the same place that carries the "distilled" water will also carry something like "mineral" water or "filtered" water. That's what you want for starter.

...any chlorine...

For starter I'd avoid even a bit of chlorine; for the bread itself it really depends. Commonly tap water doesn't contain enough chlorine (some, but not a troublesome amount) to harm the yeasties in the dough; but some tap water does. Worse, tap water suppliers tend to dramatically change the amount of chlorine they use from time to time without notifying their users. So although it works now, it may not work next week. If you've ever had a problem with killing yeast, or ever had to replace the flapper seal in a toilet in your house, or ever received a warning from your tap water supplier about leaching pipes, do something else so you don't have to use water right out of the tap in your bread baking. (And in any case it's probably a good idea to stick to either bottled water or completely de-chlorinated water for your starter.)

...keep the tap water in an uncovered bottle ... so that any chlorine would evaporate...

If your tap water supplier uses chlorine, you can remove the chlorine either by using any common water filter (generally these use activated carbon) or by letting it set out overnight.

However if your tap water supplier uses chloramines instead (although the memory is dim and I'm not too sure, I seem to remember about a third do:-), they will have similar bad effects on yeast but you cannot remove them, neither by a filter nor by sitting out. (A few rather expensive built-in reverse osmosis filters with special add-ons can remove chloramines.) In that case your only option is to use bottled water for your bread baking. Finding out whether your tap water supplier uses chlorine or chloramine may involve some combination of web site perusal, yearly quality report perusal, and telephone calls.

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Is canned pineapple on sale where you are? The juice from a tin of pineapple, canned using unsweetened juice will do the trick - read the label carefully to be sure it's canned in juice though. Here we can buy it canned in juice or canned in syrup. I couldn't find pineapple juice here either, so bought pineapple canned in juice - it worked.

You are right distilled water lacks the minerals the bugs require. If your water is chlorinated it would seem you have reticulated water available, which should be suitable. Have you been using it successfully to make bread with commercial yeast? If so, it should be fine for your starter. 

Take a look at Paul's (rainbowz) photo side by side comparison when he prepared two new starters, one commenced with pineapple juice, the other with water only, this will hopefully give you the confidence to keep going, if you can't find any pineapple juice and just use water:

http://yumarama.com/968/starter-from-scratch-intro/

I have absolutely no understanding of the role garlic might play, but wonder if it might not also act on the 'good' bugs you are trying to encourage.......The slightly acidic nature of the pineapple juice is enough to prevent the growth of the 'bad' bugs which make that nasty smell, but does not stop the growth of the 'good' bugs. 

sam's picture
sam

Hello,

I'm not the expert of starters but I have not noticed any lack of vitality or flavor or anything from using distilled water.  I use distilled water almost exclusively for my starter + breads, and the culture is happily living very nicely, provides great flavor and strong leavening.  I need distilled water around for other purposes, so I use that.  In rare cases if I don't have any distilled handy, then I'll use bottled drinking water.

I don't think the beasties require any additional 'minerals' you might get from the tap water.   From my experience they get everything they need from the flour.

Good luck!

 

 

sallam's picture
sallam

Thanks gvz, I agree. I have a water distiller at home, so I use distilled water in all my baking. The rise is great with no problem.

RobynNZ, many thanks for that link. It was great in demonstrating the huge difference between using water and using PJ.

sallam's picture
sallam

I've made a new starter today, following Debra Wink's method.
There is no unsweetened PJ around here, so I used orange juice instead. I've squeezed an orange, and it gave me 100g of fresh juice. I used 25g to start off, and kept the rest in the fridge for the next 2 feedings.
I'll keep you posted on its development. Here is what I started with..

Day 1:
25g freshly squeezed orange juice
25g freshly milled wheat

Mixed in a jar and kept on the counter.
Wish me luck :)

sallam's picture
sallam

Day 2:

Nothing changed. Same level, no rise no bubbles. That's a good sign I guess that no bad bacteria was able to get in. No bad smell either.

I've added..
25g freshly squeezed orange juice
25g freshly milled wheat

Mixed in the jar, covered tightly and kept on the counter.
Wish me luck :)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It should be covered to keep bugs out but not so tight that gas can't escape.  Stir it several times over the day if you can to freshen the air and stir the beasties about.  What temperature does the jar have?   

sallam's picture
sallam

Perhaps I'm over terrified that it catches any bad bacteria from the air, due to my many past failures. But I open the jar 2 times a day to stir the dough as you said, so some air goes in anyway.

Unfortunately my thermometer was broken. But the outdoor weather is now 17c, so my kitchen would be approximately 23-25c maybe?

vervoot's picture
vervoot

I put black grapes in muslin into water flour mix after several days a mould will appear on surface remove mould and the grapes after squashing them, you can see the full method in Nancy silvertons  "breads from the la brea bakery"

Ford's picture
Ford

Grapes are unnecessary.  The flour contains the spores of the yeast and the lactobacteria.  You may get  activity sooner using grapes, but this is not the yeast you need.  Eventually, the yeast and the lactobacteria from the flour will take over.

Ford

jcking's picture
jcking

The sugars in the grapes give a false indication of activity. They are also prone to bringing undesirable flora to the party.

Jim

sallam's picture
sallam

its been 12 hours since the second feed. No sign of activity yet, and no bad smell. According to yumarama.com's experiment, that's a good sign.

sallam's picture
sallam

Day 3:

Just before feeding: I noticed a few tiny holes appeared within the dough. Smell is not very nice (smell of orange juice was almost gone) but not stinky.

I've added..
25g freshly squeezed orange juice
25g freshly milled wheat

Mixed in the jar, covered and kept on the counter.

sallam's picture
sallam

Day 4

Before feeding: a less than a double rise. Smell is OK.

I've discarded all but 2T of starter, and mixed it with 2T milled wheat and 2T distilled water.

vervoot's picture
vervoot

Sallam if you can obtain organic black grapes  and follow Nancy Silvertons method you will have excellent results.  I have been baking with this starter  for over a year.

sallam's picture
sallam

Thanks for your suggestion,vervoot. If my current starter failed, I'll probably try your method.

sallam's picture
sallam

Day 5

Before feeding: no noticeable activity, no rise, no bubbles. Smell is Ok.

I've discarded all but 25g of starter, and mixed it with 25g AP flour and 25g distilled water.

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is a first sign, see if you notice a change before and after feeding.  Also have you noticed any change in the mixture trying to separate as in the beginning?  Keep the mixture away from windows and drafts as these can vary as much as 5°C.  :)  If you notice no rise or bubbles go back to using the orange juice.

sallam's picture
sallam

7 hours after feeding: there is a tiny hint of alcohol smell. The dough is creamy and flat, with no texture at all. No holes, but there is one single tiny bubble on the surface.

Should I go back to orange juice? ..for one feeding, or more?

placebo's picture
placebo

Every time you feed the starter, you dilute it, which raises the pH. You want the pH to get low enough to awaken the dormant yeast, and by diluting it so much, you're setting it back significantly at each feeding.

If you look at Debra's procedure, you'll note you don't discard at all for the first three days, and starting on day 4, you only add enough flour and water to double the amount of starter retained. You only move on to higher ratios of food to starter when the culture is established.

sallam's picture
sallam

Thanks for correcting me. The first 3 days I discorded nothing, but from day 4 on, I was adding equal parts of start, water and flour (1:1:1). But I should have made it 2:1:1 right? Debra Wink also mentioned the same (2 oz starter:1 oz flour:1 oz water), and said: "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."

Many thanks for correcting me. I'll follow these guidelines from now on.

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Also I am wondering about the frequency at which you are feeding the PJ starter you are establishing. Are you following instructions in this regard? My suspicions have been arisen because your feeding reports in this thread are close together, does this mean you did fed at 24 hourly intervals but have come online to report more frequently, or does the other thread in which you say you have begun to develop another starter by using some commercial yeast as a seed and have fed immediately it collapsed,  provide an indication that you are not waiting the full 24 hours for the PJ one either.......

Establishing a starter and maintaining a starter are different processes. Have you read Debra Wink's material? It can be a bit overwhelming, but I suggest you go back and read right through PJ1 and PJ2 again, because what you have learned in recent days will help you get more out  if it. (Start from the link in Ford's first comment in this thread). Many of us here value Debra Wink's guidance and have thriving starters because we listened to her and followed her instructions.

Finally, patience is an essential ingredient when it comes to making great sourdough bread, I know you must be keen to get a starter capable of raising tasty bread, I assure you a little bit of time invested now will have its rewards.

sallam's picture
sallam

no, I feed it only once every 24 hours.

Thanks for taking me back to Debra Wink's link. This time I noticed that I was wrongly feeding 1:1:1 from day 4, while she said we should feed 2:1:1 until yeasty smell comes out.

I'm now on day 6. There are now lots of holes, and half doubled in size, but still no yeasty smell, though there is a strong alcoholic smell. What does this mean? does it need more food? but if so, didn't Debra say I should not icrease the once a day food, and keep the 2:1:1 ratio until a smell of yeast comes out? I'm confused here..

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I don't know how much starter you now have but you can reduce it once it starts to fall.  Then stick to the 2:1:1 for another feed.  And track the rise again.

sallam's picture
sallam

so the idea is to wait until it starts to fall and don't feed before that?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

indicates that yeasts have increased and used up much of the food. (We could also call it over-proofed.)   Gas is one byproduct of fermentation, so is acid.  When the acid increases (pH sinks) the gas production slows, the gluten structure weakens, it gets thinner and can no longer hold up the dough mass like it did at peak gas production levels.  This "falling" is a sign to raise the pH by adding more food (flour) telling the yeasts they can get back to increasing their numbers.  (Discarding only reduces it to a manageable size without wasting too much flour.)    Gas is the obvious sign to us that yeasts have increased their numbers.  As long as there is rising or gas being given off, there is active fermentation going on and no reason to feed or raise the pH.  

Later (jumping ahead) when you are using the starter to raise bread, the act of mixing the starter with loaf ingredients feeds the yeast, most often in steps.  Typical is to mix a small amount of starter with flour & water to "build" the starter to a larger amount before adding more flour & water and ingredients to make a bread dough.  This is all based on letting the yeasts grow to their peak before adding more flour.  It become very important to watch the dough not the clock.  Some recipes will use the "peak" as a reference point.  Examples:  "Let the starter peak..." or "Just before it peaks..."  or  "...two hours after it peaks..."  or something similar.  These are all directions for the starter or building of starters.  Never let your finished dough "peak" or it will be over-proofed.  You will want to bake the bread dough before it peaks saving some expansion for the oven.  Getting familiar with your starter will make your job easier for maintenance and for predicting when to bake the dough.

(I should also add that when first growing a starter it is important to maintain a certain pH which is delicate to achieve, too much discarding of an already small sample will weaken and slow down efforts.  That is why one doesn't discard for the first few days while pH is falling or acid levels are increasing.   I think you've been there.)

sallam's picture
sallam

Gas is the obvious sign to us that yeasts have increased their numbers.  As long as there is rising or gas being given off, there is active fermentation going on and no reason to feed or raise the pH. 

This wealth of info made it crystal clear to me now. Many thanks.

One question, does the smell of alcohol means the dough became too acid?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Eventually alcohol and acid can separate from the starter covering the starter to protect it from invasion while yeast slows into a survival dormant state.  Naturally the increase in alcohol is related to the increase in acid.  It is also called hooch and floats on top of the starter.  When it does this, the starter yeasts are starving and underfed and the situation should have been remedied sooner.  If it goes on too long the yeast will go dormant and it will take days to revive them under ideal conditions.  (like starting up a new starter)  

Alcohol is quick to evaporate when allowed to do so.  The evaporation is also influenced by temperature.  A warm starter will smell stronger with alcohol and other aromas than say one at the same fermentation stage that sits cooler or cold in the refrigerator.  Smell is an interesting measurement and varies from one individual to the next.   So I guess my advice is to smell your starter at different stages of fermentation and come to your own conclusions.  The aromas do change and different ones increase in strength as time progresses.  Stirring the starter releases a lot of trapped gasses and increases aroma.  Also the starter taste will change.  If you want to test the sourness of the starter, taste it (you can spit it out) then you will know.  Taste it when you first feed it and at different stages including peaking.  Also when it has stood tall a few hours and has fallen in on itself.   

Don't be afraid to poke it prod it sniff it taste it during the entire time between feedings.  Keep some of the discards around and let them get all hoochy just to learn what "too acid" smells, feels and tastes like.   You can then keep a discard longer and watch it turn unhealthy colors! (don't use for food)  It always amazes me that the bottom middle of the jar stays the healthiest when the starter is abused for any length of time.   (Yes, I'm a starter abuser.)