The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Can you help me with my sourdough taste?

Rotor's picture

Can you help me with my sourdough taste?

the loaf

This is a picture of one of my recent sourdough loaves. I like how they turn out in general, it's good enough for me - except for the most important thing: the taste.

I just cannot get rid of a certain bad smell... it's not super bad but... it completely ruins the loaf. It's not very apparent, but it's there. It's a very very light smell that, after a few bites, tells your body this just isnt right! Stop eating. Basically, the loaf does not have that awesome fresh bread smell, but rather it smells like it went bad somehow.

The smell manifests itself in the starter before baking as well (well, no surprise right). It just seems to me that in the first 4h of the dough's live, it's ok, but it's the next 4h of final rising/proofing that things turn south.

So this the starter I'm baking with:

  • 100% white flour / all purpose flour
  • 80% hydration
  • Feeding 1:1
  • Feed 4-5h hours before use (it triples in size)
  • Room temp 21-23°C (70-73° F)
  • Has a mild to slight vinegary taste. I try to eliminate the vinegary taste, so it usually smells a bit like yoghurt? or just dairy type of smell.

And for my bread dough:

  • 82% white flour / all purpose flour
  • 18% rye
  • 68% hydration (in total, considering the starter)
  • 2% salt
  • 6-8h of total bulk and proofing time

I always use cold/room temp water as it comes out of the tap.

I also tried baking with a sourdough that has a strong acetic acidic smell, hoping it would kill off other bacteria. But man, that thing tasted even worse, like i replaced water for vinegar. You couldn't eat it fresh out of the oven because the steaming of warm vinegar was unbearable when it crept into your nostrils.

So do you have any tips for me? My starter is months old at this time, in that time went through all these smells: White wine, vinegar, yoghurt/milk, mustardy, nail polish remover.

But just not enough to completely eliminiate that bad, underlying smell. Do you have any idea what I can do? 

Any help is greatly appreciated.


Rotor's picture

I just realize how difficult it is to discuss things like smell over the internet. I'm certainly not picky when it comes to other types of fermented food, I like smelly cheese and other pungent smells. But belive me when I say that this smell is wrong/bad.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Your starter build is 1:1:1. This is a poor (ish) feed and doesn't favour the yeasts. 

Try a few feeds of 1:5:5 and only refeed each time once it peaks. Build up the yeast population and see if that balances out the taste. 

I'd also check the flour you're using as another option. Your flour might be bad. 

Won't do your starter any harm to look into both and try the larger feeds. 

Danni3ll3's picture

where there is sulphur in your water do you? There is an area around here that has this and the water just stinks. 

Have you tried running your water through a filter?

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Perhaps bake a loaf with bakers yeast just to see if it's the starter or not? 

If the smell/taste has gone then it's the starter. If it's still there then either it's the water or flour. 

Then change the water followed by the flour (if still using the same batch). If nothing helps then it's the starter.  

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

Abe is giving good advice I think. Only change one variable at a time and track it down.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

start a new starter from scratch. Keep it separated from "mr. smelly" and used clean utensils.  It will be easier to start now that you've done it before.   

jcope's picture

I'd suspect the water is doing it.  Even if the water itself doesn't smell, there could be something chemical going on during fermentation.  Does the starter itself have a flavor to match this smell?  I think the recommendation to get a new starter going might be a good one, and I'd use water from the store.  Or else just change water for a week or two of feedings with the current starter, and see if the smell goes away.

Rotor's picture

Thanks a lot for your suggestions. I will try "richer" feedings to see if this has an effect. The water is fine though, other bread just turns out great (and we drink it all the time).

I will go through each recommendation and switch the ingredients every couple of days. And eventually, try to create a new starter if I'm out of options.

Thanks a lot for your help