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What qualifies as a bad smell from a starter? - Forno Bravo Forum: The Wood-Fired Oven Community

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What qualifies as a bad smell from a starter?

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  • What qualifies as a bad smell from a starter?

    I took the plunge into sourdough and ordered the "Italian" cultures from Sourdough International. The two cultures are "Camaldoli" and "Ischia Island." I think one (or both) may be the same cultures Jay ordered from the same source.

    I started the culture activation yesterday on whole wheat. I stuck them in my Excalibur Dehydrator and set it at 90 degrees per the activation instructions. That thing nails the temperature like a dream. The culture was right at 90 degrees when I checked it throughout the day yesterday.

    I started it around 8:30 Sunday morning, and anxiously checked it a few times that day. It had a nice, wet wheat smell, and a few bubbles had appeared by late last night. This morning I checked it and found that the Camaldoli had nearly doubled in size and was nice and bubbly. The Ischia Island hadn't quite doubled, but it was bubbly and had increased in volume by about 50%. Life was good. Then I smelled the cultures.

    The Ischia Island still had the wet wheat smell with alcohol and sour overtones. No fragrant badness there, and I figure that's how a starter should smell.

    The Camaldoli was a bit different. It had a very strong smell that I first interpreted as not a good thing. On further whiffing, though, I was able to overcome my initial panic that I had nasty beasties growing in my culture, and I began to identify specific components of the odor. The alcohol smell was very strong--so strong that I could feel a little bit of burn from it in my throat. The wet wheat smell was very subdued; I could barely make it out. It was somewhat pungent, but it wasn't a really strong sour smell. I'd liken it to sniffing a cordial liquor without the fruitiness to the scent, but at the same time not a winey smell. Once I fed it this morning and mixed it, the scent calmed down significantly, so I think it may have just been the hooch. For the moment, I'm trusting the culture for the next few days before I get worried.

    So the question is, what's a "bad" smell from a starter? Dead rat found under the porch? Limburger on the manifold? Fish in the back seat on a hot day? Grape juice went very bad after being unrefrigerated for a month? Is it one of those "you'll know it when you smell it" things?

  • #2
    Re: What qualifies as a bad smell from a starter?

    Good question! I have never had a "bad" smell from my starters. Young starters are notoriously fickle though and I would suggest you simply keep feeding them. The good bacteria will almost certainly eventually take over and then the good yeast will thrive. Until the acidity of the starter gets serious the baddies can run amok. And that can certainly smell bad. I doubt there is a very singular description of bad smell!

    Good Luck!
    Jay

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    • #3
      Re: What qualifies as a bad smell from a starter?

      I wouldn't revive a purchased culture on whole wheat - I'd use a nice roller-milled white flour like Caputo or a commercial A/P, at least until the intended culture was established and stable. Whole wheat (or rye) is good when you're starting from scratch, because of the higher concentration of yeast & bacteria on the bran particles; white flour is less likely to introduce unwanted organisms. It'll probably sort itself out - did you reserve any of the original culture, just in case?

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      • #4
        Re: What qualifies as a bad smell from a starter?

        The problem sorted itself out. The smell disappeared after a couple days, and everything seems fine.

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