Sourdough Starter Smells

Sourdough bread has been a staple of human diets for thousands of years. The secret to its unique flavor and texture is the sourdough starter, a mixture of flour and water that is left to ferment for several days. During the fermentation process, bacteria and yeast break down the carbohydrates in the flour, producing lactic acid and other organic acids that give sourdough its characteristic sour taste. However, sometimes sourdough starter can produce off-putting smells that can be alarming to bakers, especially those who are new to the process. In this post, we will explore the different types of sourdough starter smells and what they mean.

Starter Smells like Cheese

One of the most common smells associated with sourdough starter is a cheesy odor. So if your sourdough starter smells like cheese just know that this is fairly common and you have nothing to worry about! It is caused by the presence of certain bacteria, such as Leuconostoc mesenteroides, which is commonly found in cheese.

Sourdough smells like blue cheese

This type of smell is not necessarily a bad thing and can be an indication that the starter is healthy and active. However, if the smell is too strong, it may be a sign that the starter is over-fermenting or has been contaminated with other bacteria. Properly caring for your sourdough starter by feeding it regularly and discarding any old liquid that accumulates on its surface can help prevent this type of bacterial contamination.

Starter Smells like Acetone or Nail Polish Remover

Another smell that can occur in sourdough starter is an acetone or nail polish remover odor. This is caused by the production of acetone by the yeast in the starter. Acetone is a byproduct of the fermentation process and is generally not harmful in small quantities. However, if the smell is very strong, it may be a sign that the starter is not being fed frequently enough or is being kept in a warm environment, which can cause the yeast to produce more acetone.

Sourdough smells like nail polish remover

So if your sourdough starter smells like acetone or nail polish remover try increasing your feeding frequency (example: going from once a day to twice a day) in a warm environment to see if this fixes the problem.

Starter Smells like Vinegar

A sourdough starter that smells like vinegar is generally an indication that the starter is over-acidic. This can be caused by a variety of factors, such as using too much mature starter in the feed, not feeding the starter frequently enough, or keeping the starter in an environment that is too warm.

Sourdough smells like vinegar

If your sourdough starter smells like vinegar you can try experimenting with your variables (feeding frequency, starter quantity, flour type, and temperature) until you find the right balance. But don’t worry, you can totally bake with it and still achieve amazing sourdough bread. Pay close attention to the recipe and make sure you allow your dough ample time to proof.

Starter Smells Sweet

A sweet smell in sourdough starter can be a sign that the starter is not acidic enough. This can be caused by a variety of factors, such as using too much new flour in the feed, not feeding the starter frequently enough, or keeping the starter in a cool environment.

Sourdough smells like sweet

If your sourdough starter smells sweet, it may be a sign that it is not yet mature enough to use in baking and needs more time to ferment.

Starter Smells Bad

If your sourdough starter smells bad, it is possible that it has been contaminated with unwanted bacteria or mold. A bad smell can be an indication of spoilage and is a sign that the starter should be discarded. Some common causes of contamination include using contaminated utensils or containers, not feeding the starter frequently enough, or keeping the starter in a warm and humid environment.

Why does my starter smell bad?

So one question to ask yourself is how bad does it really smell? If you feel like you’re going to get sick just by smelling it then don’t take a chance, just toss it and start a new starter. However, if it just smells a bit “off” you may want to try feeding it more frequently, adjusting its environmental temperature, or using a new kind of flour to see if you can recover it.

Starter Smells like Alcohol

An alcohol smell in sourdough starter is generally a sign that the yeast is producing too much alcohol. This can be caused by using too much mature starter in the feed, not feeding the starter frequently enough, or keeping the starter in a warm environment.

Starter smells like alcohol

If the alcohol smell is too strong, it may be a sign that the starter is over-fermenting and needs to be discarded. To prevent over-fermenting, you should feed your starter every day, or at least every other day. When feeding, make sure to use equal parts flour and water by weight. Once the starter is active, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks without needing additional feeding. As an added measure for ensuring the health of your starter, you can periodically take some of it out and re-feed it with a fresh mixture of flour and water. This helps to keep the yeast active and prevent spoilage. When using the starter in baking, remember that its flavor will be stronger if fed before use than if stored longer without feeding. And most importantly, always remember to save a portion of the starter for future batches.

Starter Smells like Stinky Feet

If your sourdough starter has a stinky feet-like smell, it could be a sign that the starter contains a specific type of bacteria called brevibacterium. While this bacteria is harmless, it can create an unpleasant odor. To reduce this smell, try feeding your starter more frequently or by using it sooner in the fermentation process.

Stinky Socks or Starter

So if your sourdough starter smells like feet just try feeding it more frequently for a couple of days and see if this changes the scent profile sufficiently for you.

Starter Smells like Vomit

Another off-putting smell that can occur in sourdough starter is a vomit-like smell. This smell is caused by the presence of butyric acid, which is produced by some types of bacteria during fermentation. While a small amount of butyric acid can give sourdough bread a unique flavor, an excessive amount can make the bread taste and smell unpleasant. Nobody wants their starter to smell like puke after all! Gross.

Sourdough smells like vomit

To reduce this smell, try feeding your starter less frequently or by using it sooner in the fermentation process. Additionally, make sure to keep your starter well-aerated and at a warm temperature. This will help prevent the bacteria from producing too much butyric acid. So if your sourdough starter smells like vomit just follow these steps and it should be back to normal in just a few days.