The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter Seems Off--Help's picture

Starter Seems Off--Help


I have had my starter for approximately 1 year. Started it in Maryland and recently (last week) brought it to S. Cal. to care for it on my extended trip. Shipped it with my baggage. Fed it my normal 50-50 bread/wheat mixture, of which I brought a small amount with me. Bought KA bread and KA whole wheat in S. Cal. for additional flour supply. I have been feeding about three times/day, although one day I fed only once.

The starter continues to have regular activity. At the height of fermentation (~4hours) the smell is noticeably not very pleasant. It smells of sulfides or phenolics, can's really tell which. Bottom line, it does not smell particularly good.

This is the first time I have had this issue. Any suggestions? The flour mixture (50-50 KA bread-ww) smells okay, but I would not say great. Part of me wants to believe the flour is old (bought small bags, which may have been sitting on shelf for a while, don't have bags to check shelf life dates). Just not sure and don't want to start over.

Thanks for any suggestions.

Smelly Starter:)


golgi70's picture

Sounds like the best place to start.  Maybe find a good bakery or busy market to buy some fresher flour and see if that brings it back to good health.  What is your feeding routine?  Is it peaking in it's usual time?  Do you keep the starter in the fridge?  

I think the flour is a great place to start and those mini bags that KA puts out don't sell as quickly as the 5lb bags and it sounds like your suspicious of where you bought ti.  Get some nicer flour and give a couple feedings to see if it improves.  If not the more details the more people can help.  Don't throw it away though.  I'm sure there is a way to bring it back up to snuff.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and keep it wet in your mouth for a little while, then after spitting it out wait for any after-tastes.  

What is your feeding ratio or how much starter, water and flour is being fed?  What are your temperatures?

Often the best way to treat a fed starter is to just leave it alone until it peaks out, rising fully and then falling back before being fed more flour.  If you've got an invasion (and it sounds like it)  think about leaving your starter alone for a 24 hr period or longer to raise the acid levels in the starter.  For the next few feedings, keep the starter to flour amount the same weight and give enough water (watch out for chlorine) to make your normal consistency until the ripe starter sends out better aromas.  If you are not smelling yeast, you could be seeing only bacterial growth.   Then the waiting game is the way to go.'s picture

Thank you for your comments. You both have some good ideas.

You asked some questions. I try to begin with about 1 tablespoon (by eye), add room temp tap water (outside temp is a dry 65-70 F), and about the same mass/weight of flour as that of water. I use enough flour to get a sticky mass.  The amount of water, i'm guessing, is about ¼ cup. I try to use less water so I don't use so much flour to keep the starter healthy. I have used this technique for the last several years with great success. My spouse killed my last starter, but we had a nice funeral service.

I'm noticing some better, more healthy smells so I'm hopeful. Letting acid build up sounds like an interesting idea. However, that is what happened when I did not feed for nearly a day, after which this problem seemed to arise. At any rate I will keep fooling with it and taste test the flour, as suggested.

Happy Baking.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

would suggest that one day of no feeding would not affect the starter, however several days of over feeding the starter at these cold temps could result with the problem you describe.  I would split the starter.  Acid does need to build in the starter to encourage yeast growth and keep out invading bacteria.   Feeding too early over several feeds can slowly reverse large yeast numbers.  Split the starter and feed one part while letting the other just sit and ferment, ferment for  days it needed until the starter improves.  Getting the starter warmer and thinner would also help bacteria and yeast multiply.

If you are still having problems, Take your oldest sample of starter, if it has shown some fermentation give it a one to one feeding and tuck it into your pocket to keep it warm.  

You may find that with warm days and cold nights, a change in feeding routine might be feeding in the morning and not at night (depends on the starter) letting acids build overnight.  In other words, once a day feedings.  Get the starter up to snuff first.