Why Does My Sourdough Starter Smell Bad?

If you’ve ever made sourdough bread, you know that the sourdough starter is key to getting that delicious, tangy flavor. But what happens when your sourdough starter smells bad?

There are a few reasons why your sourdough starter might start to smell unpleasant. The most common reason is that the lactic acid bacteria in the starter are becoming too active. This can happen if the starter is kept at too warm of a temperature, or if it’s not used often enough and begins to ferment. However, there are other reasons why your starter will produce different smells, so keep reading to learn more.

Different flour will cause different smells in your starter

Different types of flour will produce different aromas in your sourdough starter. For example, whole wheat flour will create a sourdough starter that smells earthy, while white bread flour will produce a sourdough starter that smells sweeter.

Lactic acid is produced when the bacteria in your sourdough starter break down carbohydrates. This lactic acid is what gives sourdough bread its characteristic tangy flavor. However, too much lactic acid can make your sourdough starter smell bad.

Different bacteria appear at different ages in your sourdough starter

The first microorganisms to populate your sourdough starter are usually the coliform bacteria. They cause the starter to become more acidic. However, past a certain level of acidity, these bacteria can no longer survive. At this stage, the Leuconostoc bacteria start to take over. These bacteria are more tolerant of acidic conditions. However, they produce lactic acid as a by-product of their metabolism. This is what gives sourdough starter its sour smell.

The level of acidity in your sourdough starter can be controlled by the amount of flour and water you add. If you find that your sourdough starter smells particularly bad, it may be because the ratio of flour to water is too low. This can be rectified by simply adding more flour to the starter.

It’s also worth noting that sourdough starters naturally go through a cycle of peak activity and dormancy. During the active phase, the starter will produce more lactic acid and therefore smell stronger. However, if you let the starter rest for a period of time (usually around 24 hours), the acidity will decrease and the smell will become less intense.

Pineapple juice in sourdough starter

Some people use pineapple juice or orange juice to skip the earlier stages of the sourdough starter development and get right to Lactobacillus bacteria. While I don’t think that is a bad idea, I’ve also never found it to be necessary. In any case, the Lactobacillus bacteria make the starter more acidic, but with proper starter care the acidity remains in a range the Lactobacillus bacteria can tolerate.

If your sourdough starter smells bad and you have been taking care of it properly, the most likely explanation is that it has not been used in a while. When a sourdough starter is not used, the Lactobacillus bacteria can start to die off. As the bacteria die, they release lactic acid, which can make the starter smell sour.

The best way to fix a sourdough starter that smells bad is to use it. If you don’t want to bake with it right away, you can add some flour and water and let it sit out for a few hours. This will give the Lactobacillus bacteria time to multiply and produce more lactic acid, which will help preserve the starter.

If your sourdough starter still smells bad after you’ve used it, it’s possible that the bacteria are not Lactobacillus. This can happen if the starter is too old or if it has been exposed to other types of bacteria. In this case, it’s best to start over with a new sourdough starter.

Scientists have identified 40-50 strains of bacteria and wild yeast that can sustain a sourdough starter

Lactobacillus is just one of these organisms. But it’s the most important one because it produces lactic acid, which gives sourdough its tangy flavor and preserves the starter. But considering how many types of wild yeast and bacteria that can exist in sourdough, it’s not surprising that they can produce a variety of smells in starter.

So if your sourdough starter smells bad, don’t despair! There are a few things you can do to fix it. Just remember to add flour and water to give the bacteria time to produce more lactic acid. And if all else fails, you can always start over with a new sourdough starter.

As your sourdough starter matures, the balance of bacteria shifts, and different strains of bacteria become more dominant. This can cause your sourdough starter to smell differently over time.

If your sourdough starter smells bad, it may be because there is too much lactic acid present. To fix this, you can add a bit of flour to your starter to help absorb some of the excess lactic acids. You can also try feeding your sourdough starter more frequently to help the bacteria population grow. Finally, make sure to store your sourdough starter in an airtight container to prevent further microbial growth.

3 Different States of Sourdough Starter

The three stages of starter are:

  1. Active
  2. Dormant
  3. Hungry

An active starter is one that bubbles and has doubled in size in the past 12 hours.

A dormant starter is one that’s been refrigerated for a while and isn’t currently being fed.

A hungry starter is one that hasn’t been fed in a while and is starting to look deflated.

If your sourdough starter smells bad, it could be in any of these stages. The most likely cause is that it’s hungry. When a sourdough starter isn’t fed regularly, the lactic acid bacteria start to die off. This can cause your starter to smell sour or cheesy. To fix a sourdough starter that smells bad, you’ll need to feed it and let it ferment for a few hours. This will give the bacteria time to multiply and start producing lactic acid again. You can then use your starter as usual. If your sourdough starter smells bad and you’re not sure why it’s best to err on the side of caution and throw it away. It’s possible that your starter has been contaminated with harmful bacteria. These bacteria can cause food poisoning, so it’s not worth taking the risk.

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