another smell

the night before last, i started a starter...i used 1cup flour, 1cup warm water, and a tad of honey....the next morning, i checked it and say alot of bubble (good right?)..i stirred it a little and when i got home from work i took half away and added another cup of flour and another cup of when i got home i checked it and it smells like vinegar...ive also been researching the wine making process and know that a vinegar smell is it the same for sourdough, or is it ok?...ive always heard its suppoed to smell like alcohol......should i throw it away and try again?...and could it possible have been the honey that made it vinegary?...also , when making wine, sugar helps the fermentation process, i kinda figured it to be true with sourdough as well, but ............any thoughts?
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EricD's picture
EricD 2009 May 16

Don't worry about the vinegar smell of your starter. It is normal.
The leaven fermentation is quite complex because leaded by several kind of micro-organisms : wild yeasts and lactic bacterias. The yeasts produce mainly ethanol (alcool). The bacterias produce mainly lactic and acetic acids. The vinegar smell comes from the acetic acid.
The art of the baker is to find the right method to get the researched leaven : mainly lactic, strongly acetic (personally, I don't like), balanced... You also have to get enough yeasts in your culture (do not add baker's yeast) in order to get the rising potential (the yeasts produce much more CO2 than the bacterias).
A tip : when you refresh your leaven (adding flour and water), use just 20 % of your old leaven compared to the quantity of flour.
ex. : 100 g flour + 100 g water + 20 g old leaven.

To use your leaven to make a dough, use it at its maximum of activity. So, before it starts to collapse or to get a too strong smelling.

The more you will practice, the more you will get the experience and the knowledge to get nice loaves...
Millciti's picture
Millciti 2009 May 17

I grew up in Clarksburg!  

Eric is right - Vinegar smell is normal!  Just wait, it will get worse before it gets better!  But make sure you go through at least 8 days before you call it quits.

Right now the activity you had was from multiple microbes, not all good friendly bugs.  Soon the acid that you are noticing will make your starter less habitable to all but the desired bugs, i.e. lactic acid bacteria and yeasts.  In the next stage most people think that their starters have died.  But keep tossing out most of the starter and refreshing with good preferably organic ingredients.   See Dom's starter recipe at the following url:

No you don't need sugar for a dough culture, just flour and water.  Start on day three of Dom's instructions...  If you don't have a scale save about 1/2 cup of your current starter - in a liquid measure.   Place it in a very clean or sterile quart glass jar.  Add 1/2 cup + 2tsp of water and 1 cup of unbleached white flour and mix well.  This should put you on day three.  If you can get some organic rye flour and substitute about a tablespoon  of your unbleached white flour.   After it is well mixed let it go for 24hours - this should put you on track for day 4.  Follow Dom's recipe from there on. 

You should make sure you read all that Dom has to say about starting a starter...   Also check out his starter experiment blog it will give you some idea of what to expect!   Your method is different but probably will still get you to the desired end.  I like what Dom has to say about that...

Your are on your way to wonderful bread!




buddha boys 2009 May 17
acid smell is good. Alcohol is better, but a creamy sour mix is the best. Metallic smell on the other hand is not so good. This usually is the container being too small and a lack of water. use a large container, tall ones work the best. keep at least 3 to 4 inches of airspace before feeding. Make a mark on the container where you started before the feeding, it helps you tell how fast the yeast and bacteria are rising. Also use rye flour if you can, and add whole grains and oats. This helps if you forget to feed. You also may adjust temperature if you think the alcohol is too much or too little. Try feeding it, leaving it for an hour then put it in the fridge. this slowes them down and gives off more esters, the fruit smell in the alcohol.The esters give the bread a unique flavor, and this is what you want. I have one mother that smells like creamy flowers and peaches with a sour end note. I always keep three mothers and stir them with bleached spoons too. Keeping more lets me change things with one before i do it to the rest. Last week I washed a new container and filled it with my favourite yeast mother, and after a day it smelled like a spoon was melting in it. I removed half, put in more flour and water... more of the same. I put her back in the larger container and in 12 hour it was smelling the same as before the problem, more room to live i guess. Ps a little sugar is a good thing .......your organisms will eat anything they can get!!! hahah
Nils 2009 June 6
I''ve never  noticed a vinegar smell coming from my starter, only sweet and alcoholic, until I changed the flour to an organic white rye flour. I was worried I might have ruined it but apparently some sourdough starters smell like that, even old ones (mine is 2.5 years if I recall correctly). Since it is only since I changed the flour to organic for feeding, I am wondering if it was the Vitamine C that is added to any non-ogarnic supermarket flour here in Germany, that was making the dough smell sweet and not acidic.


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