am I on the right track - ? from a noob

hello all, just getting started with sourdough and have a 6 day old starter. I'm at the stage of a strong paint odor (like oil based paint) and I'm hoping I'm on the right track, don't really want to toss the vermonster out, I think I've become attached to it. using ka ap, started with just water (sweet well water) and flour. was feeding a ratio of about half starter and half fresh daily for first 3 or 4 days, mixing by feel to get a relatively stiff mix, and kept at a pretty steady temp of about 70-72F. have been getting some bubbling (mostly in the risen part of the starter, not all the way through) and a rise of about 50% somewhere around 6 hrs after feeding the last 2 days, so increased feeding to 2x daily. still looking for a doubling in mass but I expect to see it in another couple days, the bubbles and rise are increasing at a steady rate. I'm just concerned about the smell. I did do a little test the last feeding. 1 starter, 2 flour, water to make a loose dough, and it's rising, almost doubled in 2 hrs (temp about 70F), and smell turned into a super rich buttermilk smell (oh what a difference), but it is very slowly turning back to oil paint again. does it sound like I'm getting there? and I do thank those who reply!!
171 users have voted.


Hugo's picture
Hugo 2013 April 11

What kind of flour do you feed your vermonster? I’ve noticed that my starter culture has a different smell depending on what I feed it. Organic white flour gives it a weaker "alcohol and fresh paint" smell, where whole wheat flour gives it a stronger smell. Rye flour gives a very complex, almost impossible to describe, smell.

I’m also experimenting with gluten-free flours. So far, buckwheat and sorghum give some very good results, but my starter almost died on a rice+tapioca mix. Go figure. Sorghum is peculiar. The mixe looks like wet sand, but it manages to rise a lot despite the obvious lack of structure in the mix.



phaz 2013 April 11
hello Hugo, thanx for the reply. I'm using king Arthur all purpose. I'm in Vermont, and they're about an hour from my home. I try to keep it local, as local as i can anyway. the smell is a concern, at the same time, mixing a small sample dough changed the characteristics of the aroma drastically. i just checked the sample dough again (this will be about 3 hrs after initial mixing, and 1 hr after my last check) and the smell changed again! now back to the rich buttermilk smell, but with a strong sweetness to it. it actually smells incredible now! rich, buttery, dense, intoxicatingly good! is this normal for a young starter?
shasta's picture
shasta 2013 April 11


It sounds like you are doing fine!

I use KA AP (unbleached) flour on my starter and have for the last 2.5 years. It works great! Newer starter can have a stronger smell as it attempts to balance out. Typically its a sign that it wants to be fed.

You didn't mention if your were feeding by weight or volume. I would suggest feeding by weight.

When kept on the counter, I feed my starter  at 1 part starter to 1 part flour and 1 part water. In other words, I feed 100g of starter with 100g flour and 100g of water. for a total of 300g. This does mean that I discard 200g of starter at every feeding but the result is a healthy starter that more than doubles between feedings. I feed ever 12 hours.

Feeding by weight and at this ratio produces what is typically called 100% hydration starter, meaning the the weight of water added is 100% of the weight of the flour added.

If you want to keep from having to discard so much you could reduce all of the amounts to 50g.

The main thing is to be consistent on feedings

phaz 2013 April 11
helooooo Shasta! I am using volume, using the gradations on a mason jar. but the good news is my starter rose by almost 3x after my last feeding in about 5hrs. and now bubbles are throughout 95+% of the starter. my sample dough also rose by about the same amount in about the same time. this all happened since my last post. starter smell is also changing again. the paint smell is diminishing, slowly, but can't describe the difference yet. the paint smell is still dominant at this point. the sample dough took on the paint smell after 5hrs of rising, but adding a little flour to get to a consistency of a real dough seems to reduce the paint smell and it goes back to rich buttermilk smell. from what I've been reading here and there, I may be tasting my very own first sourdough creation in a day or so - I hope!!
f4Rt1cUs's picture
f4Rt1cUs 2013 April 11


I read with great interest at what you and other noobs are doing. I am just starting out along the sour dough road and I'm new to the community. Your experiences are what I crave at the moment as I too will have a behemoth called a starter and I find the odour descriptions comforting.Keep posting so I know I'm doing OK as well. Cheers.

phaz 2013 April 11
the aromas were the scariest part of the experience for me. opening the jar after the first day I almost dropped from the smell. but that was due to bacteria taking over as I got what I thought was an incredible rise after the first 12hrs. but had the blue/ Parmisian cheese smell. I happen to love both cheeses, but that smell, and the amount of it, coming from a little flour and water was scary! I am finding that patience is a must have virtue when working with a starter. they work on their own time and we have to follow, not the other way round. I was thinking about starting over after the first 2 days, then the smell started changing. that's good I thought, but then the paint smell came on and after another couple days I was ready to toss it again. and now we're in the midst of what seems to be another change in aroma. this has been a fun, and a little nerve racking, experience! can't wait to turn out a loaf and see what it's like now!
Hugo's picture
Hugo 2013 April 12

The subtle buttermilk smell (or "sweet butter" as I called it the first time) is present in all my "white flour" starters and sponges. It seems to be a good sign. It can vary from day to day; sometimes the green apple smell is dominant, sometimes it’s the fresh paint aroma (which I don’t like much in the morning), sometimes buttermilk. Take your time, feed it well, and let your started stabilize. It is also a good idea to transfer it to another jar from time to time, this will allow you to clean up the jar and get rid of the dried up stains in the upper part of the jar.

I am in southeastern Quebec, quite close to Vermont actually! I think I’ll try the King Arthur flour someday. It looks pretty good.

By the way I’ve transferred my starter culture to a plastic wide-mouth Ball jar ("Freezer Jar" with a green or purple cap) and it is VERY convenient. Easier to stir, easier to clean than the glass jar.

phaz 2013 April 12
thanx for the advice Hugo! I do have 2 jars I use, pour into clean every feeding so I always have a clean vessel available. I'm new to bread baking and looking around for info on the subject I was seeing a lot of folks using KA flour so that's what I went with. looking into the company, I see they have been around for a long time and are very responsive if troubles should arise with any of their products. they seem to be well respected by many, and it's a long time Vermont company, I like that (pretty little town too, for a college town that is). I will say, after not much happening with the starter for 5 or so days, day 6 (today) it feels like it is trying to make up for lost time as it is going like crazy now! my sample dough almost tripled in size after a couple hours, and I am seeing a 50% rise in the starter after about 3 hrs from feeding. and bubbles are all throughout the starter. I think I am going to try a loaf tonight. at least get it going so I can see what happens overnight, the flavor difference between a long cold rise and a short warm rise is really like night and day and it's the flavor I'm after. this is why i started baking my own bread about 5 months ago. I truly love breads and just got entirely sick of the bland big store bread. besides, it's a lot cheaper to make your own, you can use ingredients that are much better for you, and basic bread is too easy to make once you get the feel for the dough. good bread is a wonderful thing!
Spirited Starter 2013 April 12

Hi Phaz, 

Welcome from another newbie, you can read my post " Starter help needed" there were some great replies there.

From my recent experience with getting my starter going...It took till day 7 for my starter to become active and mousse like in consistency (so needed patience in the waiting)...the smells also varied alot during that time....and I also found feeding it more often helped make it active quicker.Initially I was only feeding once a day then uped it to twice a day, due to recommendations on here.

Good luck and let us know how you go.


phaz 2013 April 12
ha - I think that was the first thing I went to when I found this site! helpful indeed! I think my process is very close to yours as I did get a lot of good info from those posts. from when to increase the feeding schedule right to the time it became very active. for all its inconsistencies, starters can be pretty consistent! I'll bet the more consistent you are, the more consistent the starter will be. but right now, the wait is killing me!
phaz 2013 April 12
man, things really happen fast once a starter gets going! checked the vermonster after my last post and we now have froth at the top of the starter! the paint smell is definitely turning into a slightly sweet smell with some real sourness to it. this is so exciting!! now my understanding is to wait till the starter drops before feeding again. true? and if so, what should the ratios be now that my little friend is so active?
Spirited Starter 2013 April 13

Apologies for the late reply...I haven;t been on here in the last few days...great news that your starter has become active...and I can relate to the wait being excrutiating...I felt the same way...once it becomes active...its easier to understand what everyone is on about when they say " you'll know when its active" and that is true. I meant to tell you that mine prefered a less wet mix thicker than pancake batter...but I see you discovered that also.

With my starter I dont measure anything...I found I had more luck when I went by I emptied half my culture out and then added about the same amount of flour in my level returned to about where it was...then i added my only get that consistency I just mentioned...and that was it.

Something else that might come in handy for you...I ran out of my feeding flour so put my starters in the fridge....and not really knowing what to do when I wanted to make bread and not having heaps of time to read on here...I just bought it out of the fridge and let it return to room temp...even before the temp had risen it started bubbling and fuffing up...I was really surprised...I thought I might have the same kind of dramas I had to get it going in the first place...but got straight to it...and now I'm off to make a recommended beginners loaf...Happy Baking :)


Hugo's picture
Hugo 2013 April 12

I make bread 2 or even 3 times a week. The day I make bread, I feed my starter in the morning, then prepare the sponge 5-6 hours later. So it’s only 5-6 hours between the two operations, the starter is super active at this point, and it works just fine. I feed the starter in the morning and evening (12 hours in-between); you can skip feeding once, it won’t kill the beast. Just make sure you give it plenty of food and dump some volume prior to feeding. If you want to see if your starter still has some food left, even after it starts deflating, stir it to make all bubbles escape, then wait 1-2 hours and see if new bubbles form. You don’t want a starving starter.

The starter’s metabolism is heavily influenced by the room temperature and by the hydration level; high temperatures and high hydration accelerate the starter, and you have to feed it more often. If you see a "hooch" forming, that is, brownish liquid on the top, it means you are not feeding it often enough. (Sourdough experts: correct me if I’m wrong).

You can also spend some time taking notes hourly and drawing a chart. You’ll see how your starter rises, peaks and deflates. Next thing is to make sure you keep a consistent hydration level. At first I was keeping mine at 125% hydration because it was easier to stir, but it made dough calculations more complex. Now I’ve reduced hydration to 100% (equal weight of flour and water), it’s stickier but still easy to manage. Plus, the bubbles don’t escape as easily so it’s easier to "see" the starter rise after you feed it.


phaz 2013 April 12
hi Hugo, I started the twice daily feedings, morning and evening, for the last 2 days in an attempt to reduce the paint smell. many seemed to think it was a case of hungry beasties. initially I had a high hydration level. I didn't measure by weight, but the starter was very thin without much body. then I read it was easier to see the rise with a thicker starter (to thin and bubbles are not trapped, they just escape) do I adjusted to get a thicker base. this seemed to be working well, bubbles are now trapped and the rise is easy to see. I do stir often, unemployed right now so I give a good stir probably 4-5 time a day (still too cold to play golf, so I stir my starter!). after the most recent rise, with the frothing, i gave a good stir flattening it out and let set for about 1.5 hrs and it's almost doubled in height again. those critters must be good and hungry. since that is happening, I believe they have a good food source, at least right now. I will be keeping an eye on it now, I've come this far and don't want to lose it now! I will also be baking 2-3 times a week, but I'll only do a couple, maybe 3 loaves that way I always have good fresh bread on hand. I do love it and go through it like crazy. I'll definitely do the counter top with twice daily feedings. that should ensure I'll have starter ready at all times. I'm sure I will have more questions once I get to the one a week baking. and I again do thank all for the responses!! there has been a tremendous amount of help coming my way, I hope I can return some add I get more experience with all of this! updates coming! forgot to mention - haven't seen any hooch in the starter yet (plenty in me though!)
phaz 2013 April 12
double double, toil and trouble. I can't keep the monster from growing. must be a lot of food in there, doubling every couple hours. I've stirred every time it doubles till it reaches original volume, which is 4 times already today, and it keeps coming back! must be a sturdy yeast in this 160 year old barn! no signs of hooch, or any kind of liquid separation. you've heard of watching the grass grow, I can literally watch the starter grow! oh, paint smell is still there, not as bad as before, and only notice it when starter is stirred after doubling. when doubled there is a strong sour tone, almost very sharp on the nose. stir and the paint smell comes back a bit
phaz 2013 April 12
7pm and the monster is getting tired, activity has slowed, finally! Will be feeding soon
Mainah 2013 April 12

Hi Phaz,

i'm a newbie too, and I also use ka flour. I live in Maine, a fellow new englander.  I found I liked my starter better after I started adding about 15 - 20% rye flour. I can't buy ka rye locally, so I use arrowhead farms organic rye. I bake with a mix of white whole wheat and bread flour usually, so that's what I use for the rest of the starter food. While it was developing I kept it on the kitchen counter in a pint ball jar. Every 12 hours I discarded all but 50 grams, added 50 grams water and 50 grams flour. Now I keep it in the fridge in a quart ball jar with a plastic one piece cap loosely on top. I use 100 grams starter, water, flour as a mix now that I'm not wasting any of it. I always leaveit out long enough to get it bubbling well throughout, and starting to grow again before i put it back in the fridge. The smell is stronger the longer you wait between feedings for sure. Keeping it in the fridge means a little more planning to make bread is all. I start about 12-24 hours earlier and feed the starter once or twice as the beginning of my recipe to liven it up. Using 100 % hydration makes it real easy to work into any recipe at all I find.

great site here btw! Lots of soudough sites, but this is the only one I signed up for so far. Good luck to you!




phaz 2013 April 12
howdy mainah! your post came at just the right time as I believe the vermonster will be stabilizing shortly. after about 14 hrs of crazy activity it started to slow down. I feed a 50/50 mix of starter and food and let sit overnight in a warm place. I'm afraid to leave it out on a counter at this point as temps range from 52 to 62F this time of year (yeah, I have heat, but hate paying for it!) and I'd like to let my baby grow for a couple days to hopefully get stronger. I couldn't wait last night, so I used a little starter and started a small test loaf. it did almost double overnight, and that was at a temp of about 65F, probably cooler. I just formed the loaf and now letting rise again before it goes in the oven. from the smell of the dough, I think this is going to be a tangy little guy. and yes, this is a great place for helpful info. a lot of folks with a lot of experience and happy to share with the newcomers like myself. I can't thank all (those who posted here and elsewhere) enough!! the hand holding is greatly appreciated. when I post my first picture of my first loaf using the vermonster,I hope everyone will be as proud as I will be. I don't think I would be where I am now without all the help from these forums! more to come!
phaz 2013 April 13
I'm having a really hard time keeping a knife away from this loaf! got a decent spring in the oven, more than I though I would get, and that crust was singing a sweet song! what a difference in aroma compared to my normal white bread, the taste has to be good with those smells coming of the hot loaf. come on - cool down!
phaz 2013 April 13
I was a little disappointed. looked and smelled fantastic, but all the flavor was in the crust. definitely got the tang, but it was a strong after taste. no big holes either. then I remembered something - I forgot to add salt! I'm sure that would have helped, but the complex favorites weren't there. at least it had some tang. was started with a 6 day old starter that was just beginning to come to life, that had to have something to do with the missing complexity. starter is still bubbling away, and I'll be doing another test loaf today, with salt this time!
SteveTwigg's picture
SteveTwigg 2013 April 13

Keep working at it.  This is my first attempt at sourdough too and I have no doubt that I will have plenty of disasters.  I should be baking in a few days.  The help on this website is fantastic and spurs you on to do well and not to give up.  I have been home baking since 1978 and I haven't bought any bread in that time.  I mainly bake granary (malted grain) bread and white bread when my son is home.  I make pretty decent bread now but I am really precise with my measurements and use digital scales all the time to weigh the ingredients and the water.  I always use fresh yeast and, for practical reasons,  I make large loaves (4 at a time) and freeze what we don't eat.


phaz 2013 April 13
working on #2 right now! I'll never quit, it's too much fun and tastes too good! I'm curious to see how the bread differs from day to day as the starter develops. I do have a bit of mad scientist in me so this will be fun!
shasta's picture
shasta 2013 April 13

Salt will for sure make a difference in flavor! I've forgot it myself a time or two.
Keep at it!

phaz 2013 April 13
hate to admit it, but I cut into the loaf a little too early. a little while later when really cool the taste did improve and the tang came forward. it is pretty tangy, even in smell. I could see a little aging helping things out. should take some of the edge off
phaz 2013 April 13
I noticed that with my white bread. I couldn't wait on this loaf, I'm surprised I waited as long as I did
phaz 2013 April 14

let's see if I can figure how top upload a picture, and looks like I can only upload to a new post, so I will create 1. c the new post for picture, and I will check both for comments and more help. I think I still could use a bit!

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