The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

my starter suddenly smells fruity

pcake's picture
pcake

my starter suddenly smells fruity

my starter is spelt based, and it's been stable for the past week and a half.  it smelled like sourdough bread except in the morning before i fed it when it always smelled vinegary - an hour after feeding it, it smelled like sourdough bread again.  it's not as warm as it could be - the top of our fridge is the warmest place in the house and it's only 71 or 72f most of the time.  that being said, the starter is active and bubbly, grows a lot when fed, and has been very consistent for the past 10 days.  

i moved it to a new container last night, but otherwise feeding it the same proportions of white spelt flour and filtered water every 12 hours, stable temperature.  i've been frying the discard in butter and adding some syrup and it's been delish, btw.

not sure if the fruity smell is a bad sign or if it's a sign of anything, really.  it sure doesn't smell as appetizing to me.  but is it something to worry about?

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

how much starter, water, and flour, how often?

pcake's picture
pcake

if i have 4 ounces of starter, 4 ounces white spelt flour and 4 ounces filtered water every 12 hours.  it's been happy with that till today...  but it still looks happy, no discolor, no hooch, still grows, still bubbly.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

as yeast takes a big step in population.  The aroma coming from a good bacteria.  I might be tempted to split the starter into two separate ones.  Feed one as you normally do and try to starve the second one for several days until it smells more like fermenting fruit or yeasty.  

When fed,how long does it take to reach peak?  How much does it rise and what is the consistency?

pcake's picture
pcake

i gave up on the starter and ...er... started another one.  this one was actually a commercial starter (breadtopia), and it got off to a roaring start.  it was wheat based and i'm allergic to modern wheat, so i figured i'd let many discards take care of the wheat, which it did.  i had a very yummy sourdough boule from it, and spit it into two - a white spelt and a whole grain spelt version.

three days ago, as i was going to move one or both to the fridge, both of them started to smell fruity, but i decide to keep feeding the starters and see what happened.  the next day, they both smelled lightly of booze - well, like fermenting grain - not the yummy yeasty smell they had had.

it's been around 75 degrees f here, and i've been discarding each down to between 25 and 50 grams, then feeding them 2 to 3 times flour by weight twice a day plus berkey-filtered water, although i started feeding one of them 3 to 4x weight twice a day - the original starter these were from was the hungriest i've had so far.  when it got a little warmer briefly, i feed them a third time as they started to deflated sooner.  i try and feed them before they've dropped all the way down, use clean flour and tools, cover lightly with cling wrap.  i put them on top of the fridge, so they shouldn't be near anything else that's cultured or fermented.

thoughts?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Would imply it was hungry and needs a feed. You have done all the correct things by giving a good feed and more often. 

Tell me... Why do you keep them at room temperature? Do you bake everyday? 

How about lowering the hydration, using cold water and upping the fresh flour to 1:5? 

A healthier feed at lower hydration should slow things down more so. 

pcake's picture
pcake

well, that's what i thought, but it isn't acting hungry - even so, i feed it more, thanks to advice here.

i used to bake every day or at least make pancakes with my starter, but i kept these at room temperature because i had to do frequent discards to get rid of the wheat that was in the breadtopia starter.  i figured i wanted at least a couple weeks of twice daily discards before i could eat anything baked with it, and it made my so-far best sourdough boule yet.

i had just started lower hydration, and just did 5 parts four to 1 part starter.  i had to use more water because there wasn't enough to moisten all the flour - i'm using a mix of white and whole grain spelt, and they react a big differently when it comes to water.  this is the densest starter i've tried, and i think it should keep it well fed for 12 hours...

pcake's picture
pcake

twice a day i'm feeding both starters 5x their weight in flour after massive discards and enough water to make for very thick starters.  and i've started thinking "whoa!  look at all the flour i'm throwing away!"

they don't smell as much like booze, just a hint - not like alcohol so much as a rye whiskey smell without the acohol, if you see what i mean.  they're doubling in size or better, bubbling up, but the combination white and whole grain spelt one still goes slack after 12 hours so i've given it a little extra whole grain beyond the 5x this feeding.

how will i know when/if they're ready to get to work or get dried and stored?  will they have a new smell or the old yummy sourdough smell?

 

Ru007's picture
Ru007

Personally, I only dry my starter for long term storage and keep the rest in the fridge for my regular baking. It's a 100% rye starter.

I only feed my fridge starter once every 10 - 12 weeks (or when it starts running low). When I want to bake, I use a very small amount (maybe 10g) and build the levain using that. So I'll take say 10g of starter from the fridge at feed it three times (without discarding any) over about 12 hours and its ready to go into my dough. A dried starter takes a lot longer to revive. 

 

pcake's picture
pcake

your starter sounds very relaxing. 

i miss my previous starter.  i could feed it 1:1:1 twice a day and it was happy.  i'm overwhelmed by the constant feeding and discarding with this batch, but at 1 part starter to 2 parts flour twice a day it got slack and smelling like alcohol, which is why it's now eating so very well - to hopefully bring it back to normal.

btw, till this starter started to have problems, i was baking daily and having delish starter pancakes.  it's new for me to just throw all the discard away.  hopefully my starters will feel/smell better SOON so i can put at least one in the fridge.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I understand you are taking a modern wheat starter and feeding it spelt wheat now.  It's behavior has changed, speeded up (normal) and afraid to put it into the fridge.  Try putting it in to chill when it starts smelling fruity and yeasty no matter what the rise is.  Give yourself a break from slavery.  :)

pcake's picture
pcake

i got a breadtopia starter - it's modern wheat - and by feeding it spelt flour and many deep discards, i got it to the point where i made a delicious sourdough boule. the discards were easy to do as from day two or three, this was a VERY hungry starter - of the several i've had, none has used up so much flour.

after the boule, they started to smell fruity, and thanks to two posters here i started feeding them 1 part starter to 5 parts flour.  the next day, they smelled not like alcohol as my other starters did when hungry but somewhat like a not-that-alcoholy whiskey.  for all i know, starters sometimes smell like that, although i hate the taste/smell of whiskey *lol*

the starter i'm feeding 75% white spelt 25% whole grain spelt with at 5 parts flour to 1 part starter is rising well (more than doubles in size by 4 to 5 hours and bubbles madly) but within 7 hours, it's already fallen and slack even though the all whole grain starter being fed at the same proportions hasn't fallen all the way at 12 hours. 

my bottom line are concerns are the health of the starter and our safety in eating bread from it and alas, i'm clueless.

and yes, it has become slavery, but there's no point to me in refrigerating an unhealthy starter, and i haven't a clue if mine is...

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

the starter with more whole grain has larger particles and can soak up more water giving it a lower hydration, heavier behavior.  The fine spelt will act like it has more hydration, and it can be that it has a slightly different profile microbe-wise than the other starter and rise faster or more weightless in comparison.

You know the peaking times and heights so you can easily feed and when about one third risen and starting to put out aromas, chill it.  Use it as is for the next few days (letting it mature more on the counter before use.  The longer it chills, the less warm up. and extra fermenting time it needs.)  or after about 4 days use to inoculate more levain leaving this "mother starter" in the fridge to provide inoculations for several loaves over the next few weeks.  Replace when it starts getting low.   The two starters have slightly different timings most likely due to apparent hydration and particle differences.  Spelt starters can be especially tricky as the fine flour matrix itself is very stretchy and tend to expand too much, more so than a normal wheat flour matrix.    :)

Whole grain flour is very absorbent when allowed to fully hydrate but whole grains tend to feed starters with more nutrients and tend to speed up fermentation but the heavy whole particles weigh the starter down too.  Go with your nose and signs of life in the starter and chill before the fermentation has gone too far.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

a more pungent aroma and that aroma increases as the fermenting by-products increase.  Eventually the fermentation preserves and allows to yeast and bacteria to slow down their metabolisms and lie dormant for a long time.  It is the nature of the bacteria and yeasts to change organic matter (water and flour) into a medium to feed on, reproduce and protect themselves for the future and from invading micro organisms.  

So don't be so afraid of a starter that starts to ferment and after a while smells a bit boozy.  It is a sign the by-products are high and food low.  If left for days at this stage hungry and little activity, the starter will  start to lower pH further and separate, the alcohol floating to the top, the heavier flour and organisms dropping to the bottom.  This is a state of no activity but not death.  The culture waits for conditions to be right again in order to feed and populate a new source of food.  If the alhohol is strong enough to keep out invading micro organisms,  it can hold out a long time in this state.  It will however take several days of tender loving care (TLC) to bring it back to activity strong enough for raising bread. 

What I'm not sure of is whether you know how much aroma from the starter tells you when it is ready to store, use, or feed before using.  You may have to just let some starter you think is "hungry starter,"sit around without touching or feeding it and just see what it does.  Take close up photos to compare as time goes by.  Does it separate random turn dark or light or smell different or suddenly rise again or do just nothing?  Play around.  I don't think I can talk you into tasting the starter for sourness.  Spit it out after tasting.  It is a good way of knowing the pH of the starter. 

pcake's picture
pcake

thanks for writing all of that for me :)

i tasted them - it's 9 hours after i fed them, and they're already fallen, possibly because it's warmer in the kitchen.  the whole grain is quite sour, the white flour is VERY sour with a slightly dusty taste that sticks to the tongue after i rinsed my mouth out.  ten minutes after tasting the white spelt flour one, my mouth is still sour.   no alcohol at the top - these have never separated, but what you said about the alcohol makes sense and the ph changing.  

as far as i can tell from these strips we have - but they're made to test acid in liquids - the ph of the starters are both 5 or lower at the moment, but the strips aren't made for starter and only go down to 5, so they could easily be a 1 or 2.  

btw, our filtered water's ph is 7.88 - i just tested it.

i'm going to let the white flour one sit for a while and see what happens.  i can always make a new white spelt starter from the whole grain starter, after all.  i wonder what it is about this starter that makes it feed SO much more than the few others i've had.  

my right wrist is beginning to hurt all the time from stirring such low hydration starters, and had kept my previous starters very hydrated, like pancake batter or a tad thicker.