The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

my starter smells really bad

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richawatt's picture
richawatt

my starter smells really bad

I just decided to try and make my own starter using a method I found on the internet.  I started it last night, fed it this morning and when I came home from work and opened it, the smell almost knocked me out.  It smells like rotten eggs.  Is this normal for the first day.  I understand that there are other micros living in there not just yeast.  Will it start to smell better after a few days when the yeast take over and the bacteria die off??

LindyD's picture
LindyD

What was the method?

Flour and water? Or were other things added?

 

 

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Not knowing the method you are using, I couldn't speculate with any confidence on the exact reason for the smell but I think you're probably right and the odour comes from certain bacteria. These will die off as the lactobacillus and yeast take over. 

If the smell persists after 4 or 5 days, you may want to try adding a little vinegar with the flour and water feeding to lower the pH (only a little - 1/4 tsp for 100g starter is plenty).

I've just started a couple of new whole grain cultures in the last 2 days. There's been an interesting range of aromas emanating from them (ranging from vanilla to cheese!) but one at least has started to take on more familiar sourdough fragrances.

Stick with it and let us know how it goes

FP 

ClimbHi's picture
ClimbHi

Someone here posted this link to some videos of Nancy Silverton making bread. One clip deals expressly with starters. She mentions that she was always discouraged by the mess the starter had become in a day or so, so she tossed them. Then she discovered they were SUPPOSED to do that! Check the link:

http://www.pbs.org/juliachild/meet/silverton.html#

ClimbHi

richawatt's picture
richawatt

I used a flour and water method.  I just started a new one though.  I dont know if that was right of not, but the smell was so bad and so strong that I can smell it from five feet away with the lid open.  I just dont think that anything that smells like that could ever become eatable.  I washed out the container really well and just this morning started a new one, so I will let you know how itr goes and if the smell comes back.  If it does, I will ride it out for a week or so and see how that works. 

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

 Flour and water are the ingredients but what was the method? How much of each, what kind of flour, what did they say to do with them? Covered tight or loose or with a towel? keep it warm (80ºF+) or room temp? How often to feed it and how?

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Paul

richawatt's picture
richawatt

I used 3/8 cup of whole ground rye flour, and 1/4 cup of water, covered loose at 85 degrees for 12 hours.  Then add another 3/8 cups flour and 1/4 cup water.  Then 12 hours later throw out half the starter and feed it again.  After that, every 12 hours throw away half and feed again.  After a couple days when I start seeing life, I can start feeding with white flour.....I saw life after the first twelve hours, by 24 it had already doubled in size, but the smell was so so so bad.  The only thing I did different was that instead of covering loose with plastic wrap, was I put it in a plastic container with a screw lid and I put an air lock on it that I have from my beer brewing eqhipment.  It lets air out, but not in. Could that be the problem?

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

3/8c organic rye is a great start, lots of yeasties on it but 12 hours is actually rather too short for "real" action to be going on, you're probably seeing the other, unwanted bacteria activating - they like this sort of soup too.

 Don't pitch it all away, it still needs time to develop. Let it go through it's process and it will hopefully grow the right combination of yeast and bacteria that support each other while making the place unfriendly to other bacteria. They're not at the level you need them right now so the other dudes are having a party while the good guys are building up. 

And go with Mike's recipe as it's outlined, he's had plenty of people succed with it. Don't hesitate to email him directly if you need help too, he rather prefers that.  

But bottom line on your previous trial: tossed it too soon! Don't give up so fast. Also, be prepared to let it do it's thing for maybe two, three weeks. Maybe not with the weather warming up but don't give up too fast.

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Paul

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

When I started mine, it was just flour and water, unbleached white in one and organic whole wheat in another, and neither smelled of anything for the first few days - except flour and water.  At first, I covered them with damp cheesecloth, but it was too hard to keep the cheesecloth damp, so I covered them lightly with plastic wrap and they started expanding like mad.  Eventually, they smelled as sourdough should, slightly alcoholic and yeasty.  I think the bad smell you got was probably some nasty bacteria that was picked up in the air.

richawatt's picture
richawatt

thanks, I will give it more time and let you know how it turns out. 

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

I think you were right in tossing it out.  If you suspect in the least that something is not quite right the odds are it isn't.  Starters do go through phases of off smells but they shouldn't drive you out of the kitchen.  You need to sterilze the culture container especially if it's plastic.  Just washing it with hot water and detergent may not be enough.  I use 1 Quart plastic food grade containers that are dishwasher safe.  My dishwasher has a sanitizing cycle which does a good job of controlling the unwanted.  Sans that I'd poor boiling hot water over the container lessen the chance of contamination.

One other point is the limited amount of exposure I've had with Rye starters is they tend to be more oderiferous than wheat flour starters. 

Wild-Yeast 

KosherBaker's picture
KosherBaker

Hi richawatt.

I have to agree with Wild-Yeast on sterilizing your starter container, I used glass for mine so that I can rinse it with boiling water that contained a few drops of white vinegar in it. I also would like to disagree on tossing your starter. Like you, I did my starter with the lid closed and the first three days the smell was very very strong. However,
from Day 4 and onward the smell transformed. When my starter was hungry it smelled like apple-sauce/apple cider. :) And once it was fed it smelled like a happy sour dough starter.

HTH, Rudy 

richawatt's picture
richawatt

thanks all, I did toss it two days ago :(  maybe it would have transformed if I waited.  I wish I would have just waited.  However, I did wash the container really well,  I think good enough because the new starter seems to be doing well.  I am using the same method I was with the rye flour, but now im using gold medal harvest king white flour.  The rye flour I used was about three months old, and I had it sitting in a zip lock, maybe it had a  bunch of beasties living in it.  I havent seen any movement in the new starter yet.  Ive fed it three times already, tonight will be the fourth so hopefully I will start to see some life in there soon

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

I am also just beginning to cultivate a starter and wondering about the different aromas it has in the various stages of its development. I found these FAQ answers by Brian Dixon extremely helpful when trying to judge what a healthy starter should be like and when to revive and when to dispose of it. He has some really good advice on how to revive out-of-kilter starters. http://www.faqs.org/faqs/food/sourdough/starters/


However I have to say that if a new starter smelt of rotten eggs it could have been risky to proceed with it. I know it must be disappointing to get rid of a starter but hopefully the new one will become healthy and active.

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

Just an addition to the above comment, which I hope is reassuring. I was browsing on breadsecrets.com http://www.breadsecrets.com/sourdough_starter_recipe.html and came across this comment, which suggested you did the right thing


'Day Three

Your starter should now be starting to smell "interesting", maybe a bit like wine vinegar, pear drops, or even paint thinner. (If a starter ever smells really foul or rotten, it could be contaminated with undesirable bacteria and should be thrown away.) If you look closely, you might see some tiny bubbles.'


 

debco803's picture
debco803

Hello,

Not sure if anyone is still out there but I am new at this wild yeast thing. Late bloomer I quess? I tried a simple recipe of 2 cups plain flour and 2 cups warm water. Mixed well topped with a clean kitchen towel. Left to breathe on the counter for a few days. Came home from work and OMG , rotten egg smell! Is this normal? Please let me know! I am gonna let it do its thing for now. Have big note on it saying " Do not move, Wild yeast in progress!!". lol Thanks! ;)