The Fresh Loaf

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Trouble with starter- strange smell and texture

Smojphace's picture
Smojphace

Trouble with starter- strange smell and texture

help!

I started what was a very robust and healthy starter about 5 years ago and baked weekly loaves with it. I even successfully brought it from Hong Kong to Canada after drying it and rehydrating it 18 months ago. A few months ago we moved into a new house, and the sourdough was bubbly and acting normally. We went away for 2 weeks and it stayed in the fridge like usual. When I took it out to feed, it got a syrupy texture and smelled like cheese. After several feedings and attempts to revive it, I gave up and threw it out. Luckily I have some dried backup stored away so I used that, but the same thing has been happening. 

Does anyone know what is happening???

would appreciate any advice. Thanks!

 

edit: forgot to mention that it was fine at my new house for about a month (I baked a few loaves with it) and it was after we got home from Christmas that it all started to go wrong. I'm currently looking at a newly hydrated batch of back-up starter and it's gone syrupy and smelly too

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

Could it be that your new house has a built-in ion-exchange water softener. I've read that they can play havoc with a starter.

Jeremy

Smojphace's picture
Smojphace

Do you know what that looks like? Is it something I can find somewhere in the house? I've never seen one before! :)

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

It is usually a kind of canister thing connected to the cold supply, often under the kitchen sink. If there is one, the previous owners should have told you about it because you need to renew the stuff inside from time to time.

For now, try making your starter with still bottled water. That might provide a clue.

Smojphace's picture
Smojphace

Hmm I don't see one but yeah I will start using bottled water and start over again from my stash of dried starter. Thanks :)

Reeni's picture
Reeni

check your flour. Sometimes flour stored at room temp can pick up strange strains of bacteria, especially if it's humid.. Try a new bag.

Roger Lambert's picture
Roger Lambert

Yeast/bacterial cultures can get infected with a type of "phage". Phages perform like viruses to these organisms and usually wipe out the dominant strain.  This leaves room for other unwanted guests in your starter and the fact that the consistency become more fluid with an off/cheese odour indicates that.  If this is the case with your starter, dump it and start another.  Just my opinion.  

Smojphace's picture
Smojphace

Thanks for your reply. I'm going to wait until I get a new sack of flour, start over, and report back.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Smoj, please do keep us informed as to your findings. Your situation is not common and a number of us are surely interested to get to the bottom of this.

What really throws me for a loop is the fact that you rehydrated your backup and experienced the same results. It seems, either the flour or water is the culprit. UNLESS, the new house is haunted... <LOL> There is no way Santa would play such a bad joke on you :D

Dan

Sid's picture
Sid

From the smell you're describing, it sounds to me like your starter has developed a growth of Leuconostoc. This is a rather unpleasant smelling strain of bacteria that is characteristic of new, immature starters. But since you've moved into a new environment, it's possible that the air and water have caused a slight change in the pH of your starter and allowed Leuconostoc to thrive. You might be able to remedy this by acidifying your starter for a few days (a few drops of orange juice or a couple of chopped green grapes should do the trick). Feed your starter twice a day (keep it small) with the added orange juice or grapes for about a week. I hope this works for you. It would be a pity to lose a 5 year old starter. Good luck!