smelly starter

Hi all you sourdough experts, I am brand new around here.
I have never made a sourdough before but had too many tomatoes, so I was making tomato soup, so I wanted to make a good french bread to go with it, and somehow now I have a sourdough culture sitting on the shelf in my office. I am really quite excited about it.
  I made it from atta flour, coarsly ground rye, and a little white flour - hoping to catch a bit of a variety of yeasts etc.
Anyway, after two days it is bubbling away nicely, but it doesn't smell like anything I would like to eat. In fact it has quite an off smell. I wondered if this is normal for this phase of things, and will it improve if I just keep feeding/subculturing it?   Would very much appreciate your thoughts
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Danubian's picture
Danubian 2008 March 20
Hi Jem,

It's a bit hard to tell from your description but my guess is that if you keep a regular cycling schedule you can't go too far wrong. However, I have read in one study that some strains of E coli can be influential in the first few days of fermentation producing mainly acetic acid and very large amounts of Co2 giving the apperance of strong sourdough fermentation. The remedy is to keep cycling until that pleasant aroma becomes evident. Stay with it, the good bugs - lactics - will win!

I still get excited about making great bread. I'm usually greeted at home with open arms...LOL ... but especially on days when I bring bread home!
Good luck

northwestsourdough's picture
northwestsourdough 2008 March 21
Hi Jem, It is normal for a sourdough starter to go through a range of smells when it is being established during the first two weeks. It can smell like wet cardboard, stinky socks, rotten cheese, "Gosh what died?", to, slightly sweetish, yeasty,sour, tangy, vinegary "Wow, get that away from my nose!". These are all normal smells and if you continue to discard some each day and feed each day, you should have a good starter by two weeks. If it doesn't build up strength, stays pretty flat when you have it at 100% hydration, gets a layer of gel like substance on the top, turns pink or orange, throw it out!
Dave Burkett 2022 February 24

I just pulled mine out of the fridge.  Definitley Stinky Socks!  Doesn't matter.  I pulled enough off for 3 loaves tomorrow, fed all 4 jars, the main jar goes back in the fridge, and I'm making bread dough in the morning!  The Stinky Sock smell just reminds me of my brother when we were kids.  :-D

Is it just me, or is this theraputic for anyone else too?  

jem 2008 March 23

Thanks guys for your thoughts.It sounds like I am doing OK sofar.I am getting hooch, bubbles, and no weird colours.The smell is a strong sour milk smell which is gradually mellowing (acid forming bacteria I guess).Some of the info I read suggested things like pleasant winey bready smells, and I am certainly not smelling much of that.I was planning on keeping it going for 2 weeks, baking with it, and seeing what it tastes like before I judge it too harshly.I guess the longer I keep it cycling before it goes to live in the fridge, the more mature the culture will get.I am hoping I have not caught a really sour culture though, because I was hoping to make a fairly mild bread at first.

Danubian's picture
Danubian 2008 March 24
I am hoping I have not caught a really sour culture though, because I was hoping to make a fairly mild bread at first.

Mild bread flavour can be achieved with final bread dough techniques. There are various things you can do to influence the bread characteristics. Using sourdough bread techniques doesn't mean it will be "sour" per se. Stay with it and you'll see the possibilities unfold.

So far it sounds good.
kilroy 2008 April 14
There are some people that say that a starter really does not fully develop till after it is a year old.

My starter is about 6 months old now - and smells great, I do not feed it everyday - usually one time a week.
If I bake on Sunday - I will take it out of the fridge on Thursday - and let it come to room temp.
On friday or saturday I will feed it. then use it on sunday

After I have used what I need - (example 4 cups) then I will feed 1/2 of what I took. let it sit for a few hours - then into the fridge.

The other 2 cups will get replaced on the friday feeding.

So I guess - just let your little beasty grow - take care of it - and enjoy the baked goodness that you get from it.


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