Starter Experiments - blog


There has been a bit of conversation on this forum, and suggestions for how to get a starter going. However I don't think that anyone has posted instructions for the beginner on how to create a new starter from scratch.
I realised when I started to think about how I created my starter that I had very little idea about what I was doing at the time, and blithely mixed instructions from several different sources. To my surprise it worked extremely well, and continues to supply me with excellent bread (if I do say so myself).

I was unsure whether my 'technique' would work again, so I thought that I would have another go at it - however while I do that I thought I might try a couple of other suggested techniques. I will try to keep you posted on the progress of the different starters.

To start with (lots of unintended puns here), here are some general principles gleaned from different sources.

1. Make sure that your containers are [i]clean[/i] before you start. (I poured some boiling water in my jars and left them for 10 minutes beforehand). The idea is to try to avoid contaminating your starter with unpleasant organisms (the starter is especially vulnerable early).

2. Use filtered or spring water where possible

3. Use organic ingredients where possible

4. The aim of the refreshing steps is to add extra food for the organisms that you are culturing. Each time you refresh you need to add extra flour and water. You will need to throw some starter out to make room for this - otherwise you will rapidly accumulate litres of the stuff...

5. If you read around a bit the instructions all seem to differ, but are all quite dogmatic - you must use this, you mustn't use that, you should cover, you musn't cover etc. I think that what this probably means is that actually creating a starter is not that hard - there are lots of different ways, all of which can work.

I am going to try three quite different methods to get a starter going.

This is more or less what I tried the first time I made a starter. It involves using some organic sultanas which are fermented for a couple of days in water with a little sugar - before adding the flour

This is a version of Dan Lepard's method in The Handmade Loaf. I haven't followed Dan's suggestion and added a small amount of live yoghurt at the start - because I don't eat dairy products - however you could if you like.

This is the simplest of all - just using wholewheat flour and water. It is loosely inspired by Peter Berley's "The modern vegetarian kitchen", as well as the sourdough doctor FAQs [url][/url]

more soon

393 users have voted.


SourDom 2006 February 24

I don't have any pictures this evening.

The starters have been refreshed daily along the sort of schedule that I documented last week.
All seem to be reasonably active, though there is still clear difference between them in odour, appearance and behaviour.
The last few days have been hot (36 C today and yesterday), which has made the starters behave a little strangely. They have tended to go quite liquidy after 24 hours (I think they have really had too long by that stage at that temperature). #1 has developed quite an 'acetone' smell today. #3 has a very sharp acidic smell. #2 is mellower, but I can't really describe it.

Anyway tomorrow is going to be cooler, which is good, as it is no fun baking in hot weather (I pity the professionals out there). I am going to conduct the bake off between the starters.
Tonight the starters will get an extra refresh so that they are in top form for the morning. Wish them luck...


SourDom 2006 February 25

The starters looked raring to go this morning after 12 hours.


it is hard to appreciate from the above photo. #1 is the most liquid of the starters, and has quite a frothy surface

#2 is thicker, and the bubbles are not so visible through the jar (which has become a bit murky over the last week or so). The top reveals lots of bubbles just below the surface

#3 has completely recovered from its disturbing troubles of last week.

All three starters have a more appealing and less intense smell today than last night (after 24 hours in the heat).

The bake-off today is with a version of Dan Lepard's 'white leaven' recipe, a basic white sourdough at 71% hydration, with starter 40% of the dry flour weight.
The three doughs have had their bulk fermentation already, have been shaped, and will be baked when proved later tonight.
Hopefully photos of loaves later.
The taste test will be at breakfast in the morning.


bethesdabakers's picture
bethesdabakers 2006 February 26

Dear Dom,

This is really exciting. I was going to send you the money for batteries but you obviously have another source of income.

I'm dribbling already in anticipation of the results.

Pass me a tissue.


Nick 2006 February 26

I think that the love of a leaven must be a very personal thing.

This is because, as fond as I am of my own leaven, I can't help but feel a little squeamish at pictures of someone else's jar's of spores.

I look forward to see the results of the experiment.

Bill44's picture
Bill44 2006 February 26

I think that the love of a leaven must be a very personal thing.

It is for me, maybe I'm not so weird after all.

C'mon Dom, pictures, pictures, all of us expectant Uncles/Aunts are getting impatient.

SourDom 2006 February 26

pictures and thoughts are coming
however day is too full of family and other things for me to post much right now.

I promise more later (I know that I said that last night)
glad someone else out there is interested in the results of this

SourDom 2006 February 26


oh alright then,

this might keep you going until I have time to post the rest

PS not my best loaves - however I think that was more a problem with the baker than the starter

Bill44's picture
Bill44 2006 February 26

OK, I know you can do better than those, but is it a recipe you have done before. 71% hydration can get a little tricky.

Could also be that the starters are pretty young yet and haven't developed their full potential.

I've also found that with any starter I've had to experiment with the recommended 1st rise and proving times of a recipe, each brew seems to have it's own personality.

All above advice from a mug amateur.

The big question is "What did they taste like"?


SourDom 2006 February 26

The results of the bake-off can be seen above.

Although there are some minor difference between the loaves, the starters seemed to behave very similarly in terms of the speed of rise of the dough.

Here are the loaves in close up:




Dan's white leaven is a moist dough at the best of times. I usually make it moister than his original recipe because my leaven is at 100% hydration rather than 80%. One of the differences between the starters was that #1 led to a very sticky and hard to handle dough, whereas #3 was much more manageable. I think that is probably because of the flour content of the starter (all wholemeal in the case of #3, compared to all white in #1).
[I am not sure why I had more trouble than usual handling the dough with these startes compared to my usual starter. It may have had less to do with the starters, and more to do with the fact that I followed Dan's original recipe without long periods of putting the dough in the fridge. I think that refridgerating the dough does make it somewhat easier to handle]

[b]Rising power[/b]
I couldn't discern any real difference between the starters in the speed of rising of the loaves. I had to stagger the loaves (as I couldn't bake them all at once), so couldn't compare the rising side by side. The three doughs actually probably prooved faster than my usual loaf, which may be a reflection of their daily refreshing over the last two weeks (rather than my usual, which lurks in the fridge in between baking). As a consequence I think that the loaves ended up overprooved (they had about 4 hours with ambient temperature in the mid 20s).

[b]Shape of loaves[/b]
I confess that I usually make long loaves rather than boules because I find them easier to shape, and I suspect that my proving bowls are a little too shallow. The loaves all ended up flatter than I would have liked. Partly that may because they were overproved. #1 and #2 also had a bad case of sticking to my tea towels (not enough rye flour - I know), which didn't help.
#3 had most oven spring, (but also had least man handling because it didn't stick as badly)

As can be seen from the above photos, all of the loaves had a good open texture. #2 had a couple of crazy larger bubbles at the edge of the loaf. However there wasn't much difference between them.

It is difficult to pick a definite difference in flavour between the loaves that I can attribute to the starter. Because the starters have different flours, they do give the loaves a slightly different colour and flavour (#1 all white, #2 part rye, #3 all wholemeal). I confess to preferring the flavour of this loaf with a little bit of rye or wholemeal in the starter - I think it gives it a bit more interest. However I don't think that the starters per se made much difference to the flavour. The loaves were only mildly sour, which may be because the starters are still young, or may reflect the lack of 'fridge-time' which most of my loaves get.

next time: conclusions about starters and where to from here...


SourDom 2006 February 27

When I started this blog I was interested to find out how different methods for creating a starter from scratch would work. I tried three techniques with quite disparate descriptions for how to get a starter going, from one which had a 'fermentation' stage (#1), to one with lots of additives (#2), to a very simple flour and water.

Although they took different paths to get there, all three starters seem active and healthy after 2 weeks. I am unsure whether to put any differences in aroma and behaviour down to the different techniques, or just to the different flours used. Although there is virtue in simplicity, starter #3 came perilously close to ending up in the compost. It seems that perhaps simple flour/water starters might have a higher risk of going awry. On the other hand it was possible to 'rescue' this starter by going back to first principles. Brian Dixon in the 'sourdough doctor' encourages attempted resuscitation of even grossly polluted and contaminated starters. (Though to be honest since it is not that hard to do, sometimes it would clearly be just as easy to start again).

The clearest conclusion to draw from this fairly unscientific experiment is that there are lots of equally effective ways of generating a new starter. Which to choose might depend upon what ingredients are to hand, and your personal preference as to whether or not to use additives like sultanas or yoghurt. The different techniques that I have described are not 'recipes' to follow religiously, rather they are simple documentation of the methods that I have used. I was impressed by Dan Lepard's method, as it seemed to show early and consistent promise, and it seems like an accessible 'entry point' for beginners.

The principles of all starter generation seem to me to use organic ingredients where possible, filtered water, clean (sterilised) containers (especially at the start), and daily refreshment discarding most of the existing starter for probably at least a week.

alternative conclusions anyone?

also I am not sure what to do with all the starters in my fridge now. I have four different ones, which seems kind of excessive (four includes my previously generated starter). Maybe I should dry and freeze the excess ones? any ideas?


Graham's picture
Graham 2006 March 1

Dom, I think it is time for a ritual to clear all the variables and 'what ifs' from your head. Combine every starter in a bowl. Take out half a teaspoon of the mixed brew and begin a new, single starter. There's way too many Gods in your fridge.


SourDom 2006 March 1

thanks Graham,

Mmm, I quite like the idea of combining the different starters, and having a single 'super-starter'! I wonder if it would gain the characteristics of each, or whether the most active individual starter would take over? More possibilities for study...
I was going to start a barm tonight, so perhaps I will do that with the mixed starter.


PS tried again with making a boule from starter #2 using one of my new banneton's from Graham's online shop. Looks better than my frisbees of the weekend...


PPS have been having thoughts of conducting experiments with different baking stones

SourDom 2006 February 13

I almost forgot
Hint 6. If you use a glass jar/bowl - you can see what the starter is doing...


100g organic sultanas
120g water
10g sugar
Covered the jar with plastic wrap (tried to put the plastic down over the water so that there wasn't too much extra air in the jar)
We will leave this until the end of the week.

[organic grapes or sultanas feature in various instructions - there are yeasts on the surface which provide a good start]

50g water
12g organic sultanas
12g rye flour
12g white flour
(Dan also adds a couple of tsp low fat live yoghurt - but I have omitted this)
stirred - leave covered for 24 hours

85g water
75g wholewheat flour
(Peter Berley recommends only using freshly ground organic wholewheat flour, but I have just used ordinary W/w flour)
stirred - leave (uncovered) for 48 hours in the first instance

Here is what they look like

More in a day or two

SourDom 2006 February 14

Day 2:

#1: sultanas have swollen overnight. smells a bit fruity, but I haven't really disturbed it.

#2: layer of hooch (browny liquid) on the top. Musty smell
15g rye flour
15g white flour
50g water
Stirred and covered. Leave for 24 hours

#3: no real change. 'floury' smell



SourDom 2006 February 15

Some changes observable overnight!


#1 - no visible change - left alone (all part of the plan)

#2 - increased in volume. There are a few fine bubbles below the surface. Smell is still musty, though less strong.
Added 100g water, 30g rye flour, 30g white flour
(My jars are too small - so I had to discard some to make room for expansion)

#3 - Definite increase in volume. Quite a few bubbles below the surface. The top had gone a bit firm (this starter is open to the air). On stirring it has a slightly 'milk gone off' smell which is a little bit worrying.
Added 75g wholewheat flour 85g water. Stirred. (Had to discard some otherwise I think it will overflow). Left uncovered. Plan to leave for 48 hours again

more tomorrow

SourDom 2006 February 15

While I was at work, the starters have been busy (well number 3 anyway)...


although I discarded some of this starter it has still managed to make an escape attempt during the day. Since the above photo was taken, the level of the starter has subsided.
Still has a vague smell of 'off milk', but also has a vinegary smell
Have changed plans a bit for this starter. Have covered it and put it in the fridge overnight to 'chill out'!

Mick - Melbourne temps in the last couple of days have been 11-22 C. It is going to be a bit hotter tomorrow (30C), but hopefully not quite as hot as that in my house.


bethesdabakers's picture
bethesdabakers 2006 February 16

Hello Chaps,

I?m secretly backing starter number three ? just flour and water. I like simplicity. Dan Lepard says he tested various ways of getting a starter going and uses the fruit cocktail with the yoghurt topping in the Hand Made Loaf because it was the one that consistently worked and, if you are trying to give newcomers to sourdough an encouraging start, that?s the version to promote. Fair enough, but there are so many myths around bread making that I prefer to keep it simple. People start to think that they have to use fruit and yoghurt ? a few weeks back there were people panicking because they didn?t have a Kilner jar and the starter in the book was pictured in a Kilner jar. Then, instead of getting a few simple basics right, they think their bread failed because they didn?t have the magic ingredient which might be a few (but crucial) grams of 00 flour or the right brand of Italian sparkling water (ongoing joke with Dan).

I'm over here for the Oz summer, Bill, it hasn't been a bad winter here but come February I've had enough so I'm enjoying the glow of an Australian forum.


Bill44's picture
Bill44 2006 February 16

Yep, I'm with No3 also, I just started mine with bakers flour and water in a glass bowl. Heating the oven at the moment for my first "overnight in the fridge" loaf. First one using my 1KG banneton. Will post pics later.

SourDom 2006 February 16

There's no question that #3 is in the lead at the moment, though I still have some concerns about whether it will stay the course.

Here is this morning's race update

no change (the tortoise of the group)
still adhering to race plan - won't disturb for another day or two

has a layer of dark brown hooch again. Faintly acidic smell - not unpleasant. Few bubbles through the liquid.
Today - discarded 3/4 of the starter (gone in the compost)
added 100g water to the remains - stirred then put that through a sieve to remove chunky bits (sultanas). The liquid obtained has gone back in the jar, and added 100g flour
(DL adds 125g flour to have his starter at 80% hydration. Apart from anything else I am running out of room in my little jars again. I think I will adjust the water quantity tomorrow)

taken out of the fridge this morning. Still has that vaguely cheesey smell I associate with a bottle of milk that has turned. All except 1 tablespoon of starter (approx) discarded. Added 75g W/W flour and 85g water. stirred. left uncovered.

hopefully no escape attempts today
Temp forecast - Max 31 (enjoy the sun while it lasts Mick, there are going to be storms later)


Graham's picture
Graham 2006 February 16

Dom thanks for starting this blog. We have been trialing some dedicated blog software but haven't made it live yet. In the next week we will test it live. I am uncertain as to how it will change the dynamic of the site but it will give more options for projects like this.

My hopes were also with No.3 but have been surprised with its pace. For the purists this looks like a win...though its hard to forget the times this type of mix was stubbornly hard to start (I have to admit to never trying the fruit or yoghurt mixes). I don't wan't to take the wind out of your conclusion, but do you have any thoughts yet on what effects the "extras" are having on their respective brews?


SourDom 2006 February 16

although a race analogy has been used I am more interested in which method predictably gives an active healthy starter, than in which gets there first.
Since I have no real plan to repeat the experiment multiple times I am not going to get an answer to that question. However if there is more than one active looking starter at the end of this we will have a 'bake off' to see if there is a difference in the bread.

There are a couple of interesting questions about how starters develop that arise from the 'fruit question'. One question is where the yeast come from that populate the starter. One theory says that they come from the environment (the air). Adherents of that theory (eg the 'starter doctor' Brian Dixon) suggest leaving the jar/bowl open to the air - even having a fan over the bowl so that airborne yeasts will land in it. An alternative theory argues that yeast spores can be found in the flour (particularly wholewheat flour?), or alternatively on the surface of grapes/sultanas (thats why they need to be fungicide free). If the latter is the case, the starters that I end up with should be quite different between the ones started with sultanas, and the one with whole-wheat flour. (Since I won't have access to a friendly microbiologist I am not going to be able to tell except by looking at behaviour and baking performance).

The other issue with early starters is the balance between microorganisms. As I understand it, the lactobacilli and yeast have a sort of symbiotic arrangement, which discourages the growth of other bacteria. Early on in a starter, there is the danger that the starter will be contaminated by other bacteria, which will lead to the starter 'going off' (hence the importance of clean, ideally sterilised containers and utensils). I imagine (though don't know), that if you populate the starter with friendly yeasts at the start (for example by adding sultanas), that there is a higher likelihood of success.

There are so many variables that it is going to be difficult to reach any firm conclusions without being far more rigorous in my starter experiments. Interesting though that would be, I don't know that I have the energy.

will update you on the starters in the morning. No explosions today.


SourDom 2006 February 17

There has been a race upset overnight!


The favourite has lost its clear lead, and number 2 is gaining ground rapidly. Number 1 is showing some promise. The 'tortoise' may yet emerge as a contender.

There are a few bubbles amongst the sultanas. It is now starting to smell more wine-like, so I am pretty sure that fermentation is happening. We are going to wait one more day before using the fermented grapes.

Smell is complex - sweet, slightly acidic. There are quite a few tiny bubbles in the liquid (but not lots), and a bit of froth on top. It is now behaving like an immature starter. Could almost start baking with it, but I think that it is going to need a bit more time to mature and gain strength.
Discarded most of jar.
Added 100g white flour and 80g water
(at this stage Dan uses all white flour rather than a mix with rye, and keeps the starter at 80% hydration)

less activity overnight. There are a few bubbles in the mix. It has partly separated. Still has that slightly 'off' smell. Quite liquidy
Discarded all except 1 tablespoon (about)
Added 75g water and 75g wholewheat flour (NB reduced hydration to 100% to try to get the consistency more like 'thick mud')
Plan is to leave out for 12 hours, and put in the fridge for 12 hours.

Weather forecast: max 34C, cloudy with showers developing

(stay tuned. there are some anxious punters out there this morning...)


SourDom 2006 February 18

(there are a few people in the stands swearing and tearing up their tickets)

I went to a workshop given by Dan Lepard last night, and I will have a few insights to add later. However for now the starter update


Definite bubbles in amongst the sultanas. Pleasant 'wine' smell when uncovered.
Put the liquid and sultanas through a sieve. Pressed out some extra juice from the sultanas - gave about 70g liquid.
Added 70g white flour. Stirred and covered.

Made an escape attempt yesterday. Significant increase in volume. Thick froth on top. Lots of tiny bubbles through the starter.
Discarded almost all of starter (left a tablespoon or two).
Added 52g white flour, 28g rye flour, 64g water
[reduced the overall volume again because of problems with starter escaping jar. Added some rye back in again because I am going to keep this starter as part rye - however not necessary]

worrying news for the supporters of this starter. No signs of activity (bubbles etc), off/cheesey smell persists.
I confess that at this point it is tempting to consign this starter to the compost. However in the interests of science I am going to try resurrect it. I have gone back to Brian Dixon's instructions for a 'polluted starter'
Today: Taken 1 tablespoon of "starter" - put into new, clean jar. Added 75g water and 75g w/w flour. Stirred and left uncovered. Plan to leave out for 24 hours, then put in the fridge for 12 hours.

more later if I have time during the day...

(forecast top temperature 25C)


SourDom 2006 February 18

I was at a class given by Dan Lepard in Melbourne last night.
He had a couple of insights into new starters that I thought were interesting.

He has made lots of new starters when in Australia previously and teaching. He has found that it is much easier (and quicker) to get a starter going in Australia than in the UK - something that he attributes to the quality of the flour (and the corresponding presence of bacteria/yeast). In Australia he doesn't use sultanas to help get his starters going.
On the other hand he has found that sometimes starters have raced along too quickly due to contamination (sound familiar readers?). He recommends adding a small amount of yoghurt (about 1 tablespoon) to the starter for the first couple of days. The presence of the lactobacilli in the yoghurt tends to inhibit nasties.

Dan had half a dozen starters to demonstrate behaviour at different stages in the development of a leaven. Five out of six starters had developed well. One had a more unpleasant smell, and Dan's recommendation was to discard that one and start again.

The other pearl (to my mind) was about starter behaviour when conditions change. He described a phenomenon whereby a healthy starter will suddenly decrease in activity if conditions change. That might be a change in the flour used to refresh it, a change in the water etc. In that situation, the yeast apparently produce spores in response to the 'threat' rather than reproducing normally. If conditions revert to normal, the starter will 'come back to life'.
I have noticed previously that when I wanted to change my usual (white) starter to a rye one, that there was a noticeable difference (decrease) in activity. However according to Dan, if the change is made more gradually (perhaps adding a small amount of rye for a couple of refreshes, and then increasing the proportion), the starter will get used to the change.
[Incidentally, for those who are wondering, yes it is possible to change the constituent flour in a starter. That means in theory at least that you only need to keep one starter going. Your white starter can be converted to wholemeal, or rye, or vice versa.]
Dan described getting a starter to get used to sweet doughs, by adding a small amount of sugar (perhaps a teaspoon) to each refreshment for a period of time. [Mick, that might be worthwhile trying for next years pannetone?]

I haven't been at home, so I don't know how the babies are behaving. Will let you know in the morning.


SourDom 2006 February 19


This starter has behaved quite differently to the more mature #2, though there is lots of signs of activity. Rich network of bubbles. The starter itself has remained quite thick in consistency, rather than becoming more liquidy over 24 hours (as my usual starter and #2 does). There is a strong, pleasant fruity smell.
Discarded most.
75g white flour
75 g water

Much as yesterday. Didn't escape the top of the jar. Complex, slightly acidic smell. Lots of tiny bubbles through the starter, froth on the top.
Discarded most
52g white, 28g rye
64g water

Slightly more promising than yesterday. Has a few tiny bubbles through the starter. Smell still isn't right. I had planned to follow Brian Dixon's instructions and put the starter in the fridge for 12 hours after I had left it for 24 hours. However I got carried away, and ended up doing what I was doing with the other starters. I discarded most of the starter
75g w/w flour
75g water
I have put the starter in the fridge for 12 hours now, and will take out this evening.


SourDom 2006 February 20

Across the board the starters are looking encouraging this morning.


Less active than the previous day, however over 24 hours, starter doubled in volume, with lots of small bubbles evident this morning (not so clear from the photo). Still the best-smelling of the starters!
Discarded all except 1 tblsp
+75g white flour
+75g water

Very active starter. Volume increased within 4-6 hours (peak). Rich and complex acidic aroma. Lots of bubbles. Had subsided a bit by 24 hours.
Discarded all except 1 tblsp
+52g white, 28g rye, 64g water
(have also taken some of discard to make up some starter to bake with tomorrow)

getting much better. smell is not quite pleasant yet, but not as 'wrong' as it has been. Increased in volume without going crazy. Lots of tiny bubbles this morning. It is only 12 hours since I took it out of the fridge, so I am not going to refresh it until this afternoon.

weather: today max 23C


SourDom 2006 February 21

No photos this morning, as the camera batteries are flat.
In any case, there is a certain similarity between the photos (and the posts from day to day).

Supporters of #3 will be pleased to hear of its amazing recovery.

#1 and #2
both starters seem active, though #2 still seems to be ahead in terms of activity. The smell of the starters is quite distinct. #1 no longer smells like wine. It is now more acidic (the lactobacilli?).
Starters refreshed as on previous mornings

Came out of the fridge and was refreshed last night.
This morning the starter is full of tiny bubbles, has doubled in volume. The smell is faint, complex, acidic, pleasant.
Will go back into fridge this afternoon

At just over a week all three starters seem to be active, though I think that in particular #1 and #3 need a bit more time before I will bake with them. The plan is to continue to refresh daily for another week, and then I will probably put them in the fridge. If I get time I will try to bake with them on the weekend, to see if there is any difference in performance.


Yeastly Friend 2009 February 5
Can't really say how long it's been on the counter exactly, but it's got a pretty potent smell! Is it still safe to use? Or should I use in the gas tank of my car? No evidence of mold or anything... Just strong enough to about strip the paint off woodwork.
Duncan Smith 2009 April 26

I'm not super-experienced at sourdough, so take this with a grain of salt, but I have successfully started a few starters from just flour and water, and I've never really had any problems getting one started. I have a couple of comments on this experiment. First, I'm a pretty big believer that the yeasts generally come from the ingredients, not the air, just because there is likely to be so much more yeast in your flour. To maximise the amount of yeast in the flour I'd suggest using whole wheat or whole rye flour at first, as it's likely to have more yeasts than a white flour. Once you have significant activity you can use any flour you want. I've never needed to use yoghurt or fruit- in fact I think the yeasts on fruit, etc are not necessarily the same ones that grow well on wheat, so you might just be giving the yeasts you want a bit of competition at first- but I do think that almost any method will work.

I would suggest not discarding as much of the starter as was done in this experiment- I suspect that that might be what led to the problems with starter 3. I think it might be better to discard half each time, so as not to dilute the starter too much- that runs the risk of letting something nasty get established while your starter is fighting to re-establish the conditions it is happiest with.

Yeastly: it's safe to leave it out indefinitely, but it's not a bad idea to transfer it to a clean vessel occasionally to keep anything from growing on the sides of the container. But I wouldn't bake with it if it has an unpleasant odor- it should smell like risen bread dough with some pretty distinct undertones of fruit from the acidity. If the culture is properly established it will keep nasty stuff from growing in the starter, but it can take a while for a starter to stabilise. I've found it best to feed my starter every 12 hours when it is out in a warm room, but if your starter is slower than mine the interval might be longer.

Millsy: you don't need an enormous container to get your starter started. You want it to be 3 times the size of your starter because the starter will expand as it ferments, but to minimise waste I don't make the starter very large when I am starting it. I use a cup of flour and a half cup of water, and then feed with a half cup of flour and a quarter cup of water. You could probably use half that though. I've always just used a quart sized plastic tub.

I may have just had good luck, but I've never had any real problems getting a starter going, though I've come close to ruining a couple established ones through neglect. It might help that I live in a pretty warm climate.

Annie-Bali's picture
Annie-Bali 2009 June 2
My wonderful daughter, and a VERY successful sour dough bread maker gave me this site to look at. I am living in Bali & have started my 1st 'starter' with imported, Aussie organic flour.
It lives in a plastic 1.2L 'see through' container on my kitchen bench.
It is now 2 weeks old, and does not seem to match with any of the pics of good OR bad starters i have seen on-line. It does have bubbles but after 2 weeks i would have hoped so!!
 I have not been tipping out some of the starter as the flour was very expensive so have just kept feeding. I did start with only 50g flour & 50mls water. Too small??? I then changed and I have been feeing it every day with just 1/4cup flour & water from the tap. i do not get 'Bali Belly' from the tap water & my only other water is filtered or rain (did add 1/2 cup rain water but not sure if it is healthy enough) !
My starter today had a slight crust some small surface bubbles and smelt OK, yeasty but not disgusting.
My Q's are:
1/ If the four was imported & 'gamma irradiated' would that make a difference to the activity?
2/ If the climate is warm every day & night (24-26*) & 60-70% humidity, will this make an effect?
Can I just use 'local Bali flour' with the same kind of results?? No ability to get Rye here, unless I am prepared to pay >$15.00 for 250g
Many (hopeful) thanks for any replies
smaca 2010 March 31

I'm making my first starter using rye/white mix 100% hydration and after 6 days its starting to smell like nail polish remover.  Is this normal?



Dubs 2010 April 3

 When my starter began smelling of strong acetone, I began feeding more frequently. Every 8 to 12 hours. That seemed to do the trick. The nail polish remover smell went away and massive amounts of froth returned with a nice yeasty smell!



gabybayugar 2011 November 9

Hi, I am new in this forum and currently learning to make sourdough. I have started my "starter" and don't see much activity in it..I am wondering what might be the cause of the lack of activity.....should I keep refreshing it (I started it on Saturday morning and i am refreshing it every 24 hours now....should I keep trying or should I start a new one??? I would also like to know if somebody can tell me what is the best wholewheat flour here......I have bought an american one but I am sure that there is a place in Sydney where I can buy australian organic rye flour.




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