The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My starter smells AWFUL, and isn't rising according to plan :(

Wade's picture
Wade

My starter smells AWFUL, and isn't rising according to plan :(

I'm on day 10 of feeding my starter 50/50 whole wheat/unbleached AP flours. My kitchen is a little cold but iv been storing it in the microwave with the light on. It bubbles a good bit. It rises, but not very much. It Also smells like vomit sat in the sun for days, admittedly it seems to be less so as the days go on. I suppose my questions are, is it supposed to smell this badly? What can I do to get this starter ready for bread! 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal
  1. Most starters go through a period of smelling bad, but this usually happens in the very early days.  In the beginning, the first micro-organisms that take root are some not-so-pleasant bacteria, and they can generate some funky odors.  As these bacteria do their thing, they start the process of acidifying the mix, which paves the way for more pleasant bacteria.  These serve to acidify the mix even further, which finally paves the way for wild yeasts to revive from dormancy.  For a more scientific explanation than that, check out Debra Wink’s Pineapple Juice Solution articles.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/10901/pineapple-juice-solution-part-2

For the sake of helping to figure out what you have going on with your starter, can you tell us:

 

  1. What are you using for a water supply? (City/well/bottled;  is it treated in any way?)
  2. What quantities are you mixing
  3. What’s your feeding schedule
  4. Ambient temperatures

 

Wade's picture
Wade

I am using bottled. 

I am mixing: 

70g mature starter

50g whole wheat

50g unbleached flour

100g bottled room temp water. Around 80° Fahrenheit

My kitchen is rather cold I suppose around 68 degrees. But I keep it in the microwave or oven with the light on. It gets pretty warm in there like 85-90 over time. So I leave the door cracked it keeps it a little cooler. (70-75) 

Wade's picture
Wade

Also, I have been feeding once a day around 12pm.

I have thought about picking up some pineapple juice! I read about it the other day  

 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Since you mention that it bubbles and seems active, and that the smelly smell (which smells smelly) seems to be getting less day by day, I think you might be on the right track.  I fretted over my first starter for over three weeks before it finally came together.  I woke up one day and BAM!!  Like magic, my gloopy runny starter had become like what you see in all the pictures, all puffy and bubbly and firm.  Looking back on it, it probably would have matured faster if I had not been trying to tweak it to make it be ready faster.

 

Something you might consider is decreasing the overall size of your starter, if for no other reason than to decrease the amount of flour you’re discarding.  You’ll get the same starter whether you’re mixing in grams or pounds.  I’ve found that 10:20:20 works well for me.  I use a pint-sized mason jar to store it.  I can easily scale it up when needed for a recipe.

 

Something else to try:  since you feed it around noon, try giving it a stir before going to bed.  This redistributes the food supply, and gives all the wee beasties more opportunity to eat and reproduce.

Wade's picture
Wade

Awesome! I suppose I'm just being a little impatient lol 

I might give that pineapple thing a try maybe it'll at least make my glasses fog up a little less from the smell lmao 

I only used the amounts I did because I was following a YouTube video. But I could try making it smaller! And stirring it another time is probably an excellent idea! I don't know why I hadn't been doing that already tbh lol thank you so much. 

Wade's picture
Wade

I was really only worried about the smell because to me and my gf it was SO bad that we didn't know if that was normal. I knew of there being a lot of weird smells In the beginning but I thought it would go away by now and I got concerned if I should toss it out and try again. 

 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Yeah, I also fell into the “internet video” trap.  Every single one of them promise an active and mature starter in “just 5 days!”, and go through a mountain of flour.

 

The reality is that the environment in every kitchen is different.  The levels of yeasts and bacteria present in every single bag (and type) of flour is different.  It stands to reason that every Baker is going to have a different experience with getting a starter off the ground.   

My impatience led me to keep trying to tweak things to help them move along faster.  Looking back on it, everything I did just interferes with the process, and actually made it take much longer than it needed to take.