Brand new starter smells like vomit



I  have just begun a new starter 50g white and 50g wholemeal flour + 100g water. I left it for 3 days and it separated into a liquid at the bottom and a doughy crust at the top. It did smell like vomit.

I have removed 1 tablespoon full and started to feed it daily with 50g flour white and w/m and 50g water. The smell has gone from vomit to yeasty and I now am up to day four. Small bubbles are starting to appear. Also when I make the mix it is quite doughy but after 24hrs it has become liquidy.

Does this all sound OK or should I start again.

Would really appreciate your experienced feedback.

Thank you

350 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2011 August 30

Hello Countrygirl1,

I think you are on the right track.  If you follow the procedures given in SourDom's starter from scratch blog you can't go far wrong.

I'd say in another week or so, you'll be bragging about the great bread you are making.

Let us know how you go.


JODoughMaker 2011 August 31

I was having a similar experience , and I started over twice. My dough gets watery with a floating layer of some part of the dough, and a watery mixture with a goo of dough on the bottom. I feed it every day ,and at first get small bubbles in the dough. They eventually go away and the dough separates again.  It does not smell bad, nor look bad.

I only wonder how long to try before either finding success, or failure.  How do I know when I've failed?  I tried one with yeast, and another with part rye, and part white, no yeast, just water.  I feed that one every day too, but the rye and lack of yeast doesn't give me any way to judge what it should smell like. I think I will know when it's bad, as in toss it away, but I would prefer a way to know that I should keep going and am almost there

Can I put a pinch of sugar in it, or vinegar, or something else that would speed up the process?

I've read blogs that said to use pineapple juice and flour. The acid in the juice keeps the starter from spoiling, and the sugar aids in the process of creating the starter culture.  Hence, the reason I asked about the pinch of sugar.

I would like to hear from someone that has as much experience with failure, as success ,as those are the people who figured it out on their own and didn't just get lucky and have no idea why us new2it people can't do it.

      I perfected my ice cream making skils, now I want to master my next favorite thing to eat. 



farinam's picture
farinam 2011 August 31

Hi Joe,

Sorry to hear of your lack of success.

I am a bit surprised at the separation into liquid and slurry layers that you are getting.  It suggests to me that your hydration is way too high (to much water) or there is something drastically wrong with the flour that you are using.

In my experience, the starter, if you are working at 100% hydration, should be the consistency of a thick batter - only just flows off a spoon.

If you are not using mass to measure your ingredients, then I would try adjusting the amounts you do add to get the consistency that I described.

The consistency should not be detectably different (other than hopefully being filled with gas bubbles) after 24 hours.

I have only experienced liquid separation after long storage without feeding, certainly not after a day.

Best of luck and keep trying, most people finally get it going.

Let us know how you go.


panfresca 2011 August 31

The volumes of misinformation which come up with a google search on starters and sourdough have sent many a beginner plummeting to failure. Those of us who have been through this and were lucky enough to stumble on SourDom's beginner's blog on this site are eternally grateful - and can only recommend that others do the same. It's a surefire path to success.

Commercial yeast will not give you sourdough, it's a completely different process. Adding sugar is pointless for starter.

The one thing which is a good idea is to use a bit of unsweetened pineapple juice at the beginning. Debra Wink on The Fresh Loaf has compared different juices and found that some don't work, others have some effect, but pineapple juice works every time and much better than anything else.

What it does is avoid the stinky vomit-smelling leuconostoc bacteria stage which often happens in the first few days. If you have begun a starter which has gone into this unpleasant stage, don't worry. It will pass, but just adds a couple of days to the process while the good bacteria overcome it. 

PS, if the starter separates, just stir it.

janwall 2016 February 23

Thank you for your helpful post. I am a fermenter of food for the past year or so (sauerkraut, kombucha etc) and just starting my sourdough adventures. Finding this site helpful :). I am gluten free which i think makes the sourdough thing a litte more tricky.

Rusty Hoe 2011 August 31

 I do a mix of one thumb sized piece of rhubarb, 4tblsp organic whole spelt flour and enough water to make a thick batter and it always works a treat.  Like some of the others have said too much water seems to lead to the separation issue.  I have found a couple of days of foul smell then it turns a corner and becomes more and more yeasty.  After about 10 days it seems to be ready to go.  I take the rhubarb out at this stage.  The only time it goes pear-shaped is if I ignore it for a while and forget to feed it.  My advice would be to enjoy the process, you can get caught up in doing it 'right' and then it becomes a chore, when it should be simple and pleasureable.  .

countrygirl1 2011 September 3
Thank you for your comments. My starter is now a week old and just starting to rise. It is smelling quite fruity now and very pleasant. Looking forward to making my first loaf very soon. How many more days do I have to wait before using it? Thanks
panfresca 2011 September 3

Hi countrygirl,

It sounds like it's mature now, or close to. As it gets older it will become more stable and active, and if you have the patience to wait another 2 or 3 days it will probably be better.

If you want to have a go now, no harm done at all - the worst that can happen is that you won't get the same rise as later - but it will still be good bread.

Exciting, eh! Good luck.

JODoughMaker 2011 September 3

 I have my starter going now, it is stil young, but has a pleasent smell of mild cheese, or  what I expected sour dough to smell like. My question is about how long it takes to form bubbles after I mix in fresh flour and water. If I made bread from the starter, I don't know that it would rise in any reasonable amount of time.  

I did set my bowl on top of my DSL modem. It warmed the starter, and helped to speed up the process.


When I stir the starter, it is very light, as in full of air. I stir it before I mix in fresh flour and water.  The formation of bubbles is nearly as fast as what fresh yeast would do. 

Is there something that happens in the making of the dough that would speed up the rise? Is it all that fresh flour that starts a  feeding frenzy that rises the sour dough?


Has anyone used their starter along with yeast to speed up the bread making process? I'm eager to make my first sour dough, but I would wait and make a foam from some fresh yeast for my bread today. Should I leave the starter for another day or two, or could I expect it to do its job today?


Thanks for all the help in this group. 

pjofanatic 2022 September 8

my sourdough starter is only forming a few bubbles,  and it smells like vomit. its 5-6 daysnold is this normal? HELP!

Liz Bonsal 2023 March 23

I've read on some sites that the ratio's should be 50/50 flor to water and others say 100/50 f/w.  Which should I follow?

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