"Cheater" starter: am I a bad person or just missing out?


I've done a lot of research on different ways of starting a starter, but the couple of times (once all white flour and once with white and rye) I've tried to make a wild yeast starter it just smells bad and I give up. I tried Dom's way recently: the second day it started to smell bad but I kept on for a week and a half, following his timeline. It seemed like it didn't smell as bad after a week but it still smelled bad. Considering what got me interested in this was instructions to make a starter from commericial yeast (which I did successfully, easily, several times, and even managed to keep my first one alive for a couple months before my morning sickness hit and I got neglectful), maybe I just don't know what a "real" starter should smell like.


So... if there is anyone on here who has been a cheater and had commercial yeast starter, does it smell different? Also, if I had a starter from commercial yeast, over time would it basically be the same as a starter from wild yeast? Because I'm finding it really easy just to maintain an active starter and if I can expect it to age well, then I won't worry about trying again with wild yeast for now. And if I feel like I know how a real starter is supposed to behave and smell, then I will order one online from one of these reputable companies that sells them without worrying about messing it up.

258 users have voted.


Sid Bailey 2010 September 13

A very sad little letter - making sourdough bread is not that easy.  I am sure that if you had persevered all would have come out in the end, perhaps because you got used to the stuff you had made and called "bread".  But why add a further complication to the many?  I have made bread from commercial yeast for 15 years, perhaps more, so I am not a beginner in the bread making stakes - and the bread was (is) good.  We have not eaten commercial bread except in America where bread seems to be of a far higher standard (and cheese a lot lower in standard). Recently I have moved on to spelt flour as my daughter is allergic a little to wheat flour, and finally taken the jump into sourdough.


I tried to make my own starter and it smelled rotten and after the time stated in the instructions I threw it away and went back to commercial yeast.  Later I trawled the net and discovered lots of sites which supply starters from exotic places - San Francisco I fell for, also Alaska as a reserve "just in case", Tasmania I have in mind as it is claimed to be specifically for spelt flour.  My San F. starter smells a little of alcohol, and a little acidic, and instead of being able to make bread automatically while doing other kitchen chores I now pore anxiously over recipes with instructions like "leave for 8 to 12 hours" or "leave overnight in the fridge": once the bread is made there are more problems "too acid", "tastes fine with cheese but not with marmalade",  Buy a starter of your choice, and then start the very difficult job of making good sourdough.



hitz333 2010 September 14

They do have good commercial bread in America, but I haven't had anything I could smile about since I moved halfway across the country 5 years ago. The area I live in now is seriously lacking in good bread. I've had kaiser rolls, Italian, French, and other various kinds of bread that all basically tasted like the same dry fluff to me. That's not the kind of bread I grew up on, where we have some good bakeries and even the supermarket bakery breads are mostly wonderful.


I am very much a beginner when it comes to bread making - both in sourdough and yeasted breads. My first starter (with commercial yeast) I made following instructions in a country cookbook and for a month and a half was used only to make biscuits (as my husband discovered I knew how to make good sausage gravy and requested the meal quite a bit). Other than a couple of loaves in the bread machine and some pizza, sourdough was really the first bread I ever made. Since then I've been all over the internet and read different methods in different books and such: commercial yeast, grapes, pineapple juice, and nothing but flour and water. I learned that what I called the "wet paint" smell my first starter developed was due to underfeeding and too much acetic acid. Once I moved to twice a day feeds while at room temp and 2 refreshes before baking the smell went back to a very pleasant smell: slightly sour, slightly yeasty when at peak. I took it out of the fridge last night, fed it, and fed it again this morning, about an hour ago. Right now it smells more like yeast than ferment but by tonight it will be more balanced. The recipe I've been using is from the Fields of Greens cookbook for Sourdough Batard which involves mixing, kneading, and leaving overnight at room temp overnight, then shaping and another 2-3 hour room temp proof before scoring and baking. I've made this 3 times now (so that's how much of a beginner I am). The first time I made it with the starter that had too much acetic acid and the taste of that carried through to the bread, but the texture of it was what I thought real bread should be (remember I hadn't had anything decent in years) so I carried on. I made it last week and it just seemed perfect to me, especially on the second day. Perhaps my taste buds need some adjustment, but having a white bread that actually has flavor makes me really want to experiment and learn, and develop the feel and the smell and the taste for good bread making. I've also been making a whole wheat bread with milk and honey and tried Reinhart's pain a l'ancienne (both yeasted), and both were good, but I felt the sourdough had the best flavor for eating simply toasted with butter.


So... if I had two starters, one from wild yeast and one from commercial yeast, would they be any different from one another a year or so from now (if all other variables were the same)?

Sid Bailey 2010 September 14

and wandering from one recipe to another is not the way forward.

My daughter is getting married in less than two weeks time, and cannot eat wheat bread:  she has asked me to make a loaf from spelt flour which she can eat at the wedding breakfast without repercussions.  The rest of the guests will have to put up with what the caterer provides.  My pride I guess does not permit me to give her no choice, so I have a wholemeal loaf and an olive and rosemary loaf in the freezer and expect to make a third sort.  A breadmaker called Shiao-ping has recipes in sourdough.com which are minutely explained, I reckon I will do her Light Rye and wholemeal as my third type, converting to spelt wholemeal flour.  Until I get really familiar with sourdough bread making, I hope to stick to this recipe and learn what the vague comments and descriptions in so many recipes mean.  There are too many variables and the process will be a long one, but this lady seems to give a lot of the details as clearly as any I have seen.  Repetition until the technique is fool-proof seems the only answer.  And you have a husband to eat up your mistakes - I only have a wife, and she does not like mistakes.

Sid Bailey 2010 September 14

and wandering from one recipe to another is not the way forward.

My daughter is getting married in less than two weeks time, and cannot eat wheat bread:  she has asked me to make a loaf from spelt flour which she can eat at the wedding breakfast without repercussions.  The rest of the guests will have to put up with what the caterer provides.  My pride I guess does not permit me to give her no choice, so I have a wholemeal loaf and an olive and rosemary loaf in the freezer and expect to make a third sort.  A breadmaker called Shiao-ping has recipes in sourdough.com which are minutely explained, I reckon I will do her Light Rye and wholemeal as my third type, converting to spelt wholemeal flour.  Until I get really familiar with sourdough bread making, I hope to stick to this recipe and learn what the vague comments and descriptions in so many recipes mean.  There are too many variables and the process will be a long one, but this lady seems to give a lot of the details as clearly as any I have seen.  Repetition until the technique is fool-proof seems the only answer.  And you have a husband to eat up your mistakes - I only have a wife, and she does not like mistakes.

rossnroller 2010 September 14

Shiao-Ping is a terrific home baker of sourdough bread, and a major influence/mentor for me. I have made many of her breads, and all have been beautiful.

You know, making sourdough bread really is not difficult. I suspect your sense that it is, is simply a matter of unfamiliarity. Work through some of Shiao-Ping's recipes (and there are plenty of other excellent ones from other great bakers on this and other sites), and I think the fog will soon clear for you. You'll probably find you'll develop a method that suits you best, and that you will be able to adapt to almost any SD recipe. And although the SD process does go over quite a few hours (or days, sometimes), the actual hands-on time is minimal.

It's not necessary to buy books, since the resources here and elsewhere on the web are tremendous, but anyone interested in artisan bread baking at home will benefit by reading the best of the best - regardless of experience. IMO, you can't go past Hamelman's Bread, followed by Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, but there are lots of good ones. Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf is a Brit publication that's inexpensive and well worth having. I must say, though, most of my regular SD breads have been contributed by home bakers. I have a small library of bread books that is largely neglected due to the constant queue of breads I have lined up to try, all contributed by home bakers.

For what it's worth, all my most valued learning has taken place on this site, The Fresh Loaf and Wild Yeast. There are some marvellous home bakers who post regularly on these sites, and contribute their expansive knowledge with unfettered generosity.


hitz333 2010 September 14

...but not in the actual making of bread! I've spent far more time at the above mentioned sites and at this site and others (not to mention reading Reinhart's BBA and Whole Grain Breads) than I have actually making bread. I too have all these recipes I'm wanting to try (most of them by home bakers on these sites). But I'm intrigued by the different techniques people use and so have been experimenting with one basic recipe but different mixing methods, different times of fermentations, etc.


I'm finding sourdough to be wonderfully flexible, and I'm loving how my refrigerator is improving both the flavor and the convenience factor of my sourdough bread and yeasted pizza dough. I get impatient to start my next dough, but I feel the obligation to wait until my small family is close to finished with the one before. French toast for dinner last night freed me to start on TWO new batches today! One is basic (all-white) but thrown into the fridge after a couple hours out. The other is mostly white with a little white whole wheat and cornmeal, along with some herbs, which I hope to get some cheese into in the morning and maybe, just maybe, make decent sourdough bread bowls. Black bean soup is on the menu tomorrow or next day and so I've set my sights high, although I guess if the bread comes out horrible I have actual bowls in which to serve my soup.


Always learning!

Sid Bailey 2010 September 14

Although I think you are completely wrong in your basic premise that making sourdough is easy :) . You cannot deny that the choice of commercial starters is vast and if you buy one you are mocked and sneered at by a lot of sourdough bakers on the net.  Some say the starter will soon change due to the local yeasts and bacteria in your area, others say that the starter is a stable mixture of organisms which will maintain the culture as it was when you bought it.  The small amount of kit needed is not easy to find: one of my gurus uses a 45x30x20cm  plastic box for rising, I will have to get a plastic scraper and a couple of baskets on the net - I have ordered an internal thermometer on eBay as they are cheap there, but none of the other things I might need are available there. I have a copy of "Bread makers Apprentice" and very good it is - but when recipes say the mixture should be a little thicker than batter - I do not make batter.  I have just made up a saying very wise and true "Never buy an instruction book heavier than the object you expect to make". Put hot water in the oven - cold water in the oven - put ice cubes in the oven - turn the oven off when the water is added.  Oven temperature should be 240'C, 160'C, damage your oven so you can cook at the clean-up temperature (900?).  Ingredients are hard to come buy, and flour does not keep well for a long time so bulk buying is out.  Barley grains I wanted, and had to travel across England to get them.  Spelt flour is available -but not always, a mere 20 miles away. Diastatic malt I could get - in 100 pound drums.

Last but not least I can make a particularly good bread with commercial yeast while I was up, leave it for a couple of hours and cook it.  Always good, never fails, far better than "shop" bread. Unfortunately it is not as good as sourdough.

So I will print out your email and add it to my growing pile of recipes, lists of useful facts and inspirational notes and continue - so far only one lot of bread was inedible and I think there will not be such a failure again.  So thank you, but you "sell yourself short" if you think what you do is easy.

rossnroller 2010 September 14

Poor Hitz did not claim that making SD bread was easy - I did! And I reckon you'll agree once you've followed a couple of good solid recipes to successful conclusions. There IS a lot of information out there, and some of it is conflicting, it's true. Really though, you can make gorgeous SD bread at home without modding your oven or worrying about hot spots etc, without chasing down obscure and elusive ingredients, and without spending any more than the cost of

1. a cheap set of digital scales ($30-50)

2. a pizza stone or similar ($8-$20)

3. a dough scraper ($2)

The rest is just quality flours, water, starter, salt and some knowhow.

You don't need a thermometer, bannetons or couches or brotformen, or diastatic malt.

Don't let information overload deter you. Just pick a Shiao-Ping recipe you like the look of and follow it to the letter. Take notes, so you can make tweaks next bake if need be. That's it! KISS!

Once you've got a handle on the recipe you choose, try another one. KISS! And so on...

In a very short time, my bet is you will be agreeing (albiet probably reluctantly) that it's not that hard!


Sid Bailey 2010 September 14

Thanks for the advice - many of the comments I have made on another reply apply equally or more so to you.  Although sourdough bread making is not easy it will get easier - becoming in the end just very very difficult and time consuming.  Your advice will help a great deal - more that "The Bread Maker's Apprentice" (which I have), I believe.  Do my replies go only to the person being replied to or are they all seen by people looking at the thread?? Thanks again, I will find the spelt thread, but the rest of your email will be very valuable.

Sid Bailey 2010 September 14

You are quite correct, and I felt tied to not saying that my Hitz333 reply was an error, as that email was a pleasant one.too.  I almost agree with you, but I remember reading an account of the guy who crossed Niagra Falls on a tight-rope, he said it was easy also.  To prove my point, a dough scraper will have to be purchased on the internet, the rest I have (I have a very small scraper, intended to apply filler to wall cracks, useful but too small).  My next problem is to make a loaf without a tin which does not spread .  I am purchasing a thermometer as I have the idea that the centre of my loaves are about 1% doughy, I may not have the nerve to leave it cooking quite long enough - partly due to some people advising 240'C, others 160', or 140.  I could have gone on with my list of complications you know, involving all the French names for loaves which have to be looked up, but enough is enough.  Thanks again and I will follow your advice.

hitz333 2010 September 15

I will agree with ross and advise you to pick one recipe you feel you can handle and follow it to the letter, rather than take a mixing method from this, a baking temperature from that, etc. Now that I feel I've achieved success with my initial recipe I am starting to experiment.


But... I don't have any special tools. I don't have a scale (so I've been using recipes that give volume measurements for now) or a scraper even, let alone a thermometer or a banneton or a lame or couche or malt or a stand mixer or special flours (although I'll admit a scale and some special flours I'll be looking for soon). I'm fortunate to have a pizza stone, and I've found letting my shaped loaf proof on parchment paper (which I found at my grocery store) on the back of a sheet pan and then transferring paper and all to the preheated stone works best for me. My dough spreads quite a bit during the final rise but has terrific oven spring and so that method works for me.  I normally slide the loaf directly onto the stone after the steam period. With my first loaf I didn't cook it long enough (besides the fact that I was questioning myself at every turn) - I thought the top was getting too brown too soon so I threw some foil on top but still took it out early. The next time I made it I let it go longer, even let it get browner, and I found that when it had cooled the crust was not "too done." Third time I made it I admit it seemed quite perfect. Next time I may reduce oven temp a little, who knows?


My point is that people have been making bread almost since the beginning of time, and I imagine they had to deal with quite a bit more variables with a lot fewer tools (and they used sourdough, no less). I am fortunate enough to have a home that stays somewhere within the "room temperature" range, an oven and fridge I can set the temp on and get the same temp on every time I need it to be that temp. I even have store-bought flour which, as long as I buy the same stuff, gives me pretty much the same result every time. The reason there are so many different ways of doing things is that so many different ways work. It seems to me all of the experienced bakers on here have, through experimentation, found ways they like best. And it's a very good thing, because everyone has slightly different tastes in how the final bread should turn out. Some like it chewy, some like it crusty, some like more or less of a "sour" flavor, sometimes you want a bread to eat with sweets, sometimes you want a bread to eat with savory and salty foods. And so on and so forth. Keep it simple and learn what works for you, and then we can both experiment with things involving words that go right over our heads.


That being said...  things I've picked up across the net...

lame = serrated knife or razor blade from a utility (Stanley) knife or
box cutter"

banneton = colander lined with a tea towel and very generously dusted with flour (I have yet to try this)

couche = again, tea towel generously dusted with flour and bunched into the shape needed (again, yet to try)

steaming method - any way that gives you the result you like

stand mixer - working on my stretch and fold technique for very wet doughs, but giving it a little time, using oil on the hands, and being willing to get a little messy seem to work


Excuse my long-windedness - have to admit lately I've lost my ability to be concise. I'll work on that while I go work on lunch.

Sid Bailey 2010 September 15

I am getting close to ordering some bannetons, I am also looking around shops in case I find something suitable, but luckily I found a scraper - almost suitable as it was originally used to scrape filler into wall cracks a little small but it is really really useful, transforms dough handling tremendously.  Apart from this item which seems essential,  I think the rest can be fudged.  But I do fancy the appearance of bread shaped in a banneton...

mozzie 2010 September 18

Not sure you *need* a banneton, but helps get a "professional" shape.  Most of my bread (weekly bake) is set to rise on bread-boards covered with a floured tea-towel that is bunched or folded to keep the loaves or rolls separate (couche - if you like). One advantage is  ... these are easily washed, I rinse most of the flour out and chuck them in the normal wash.

Scrapers are easily found in cooking or baking shops here in AU. I use a hard plastic one and a more flexible silicone version depending on the task. My only real lack is a razor holder (Lame) as the carving knife I use is a bit big

Sid Bailey 2010 September 18

Thanks for the notes.  The main problem is that something is wrong with my loaves and I do not know what it is: when I put dough to rise without using a tin it turns into something between a loaf and a pancake - perfectly edible but not much use to make sandwiches.  I hope a banneton will get it to the right shape and keep it there long enough for the crust to form in the oven.  This will be a bit quicker than waiting for my skills and experience to develop sufficiently to put things right.

Cooking or baking shops, no, I understand the words, but they do not mean much in this country.  There may be a source closer than the Internet, but I have never seen a baking shop in my life.  I picked up a banneton in a craft shop yesterday by chance and was very pleased to do so, now I should be able (I hope) to get the bread a little better in shape by next Saturday when I am supposed to provide my daughter with some respectable looking bread for her wedding day. She cannot eat ordinary flour and I have to use spelt flour - which is also not easy to get.  I have not tried slashing loaves yet, have not the confidence, but we seem better off over here as most "handymen" have Stanley knives and replacement blades with a very sharp edge are available.  Right should have a new selection of small loaves ready by this evening, hope I get lucky, my starter is bubbling not merrily but steadily.

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 September 20

Have just read this thread, and I know this might be throwing a spanner in the works, but LD just posted a recipe for "barley bread" which may be of use to you Sid.  It might be another option to try rather than spelt (which I know is difficult to handle), as long as you can find some barley flour of course.

And another thought, clearly you really want to be able to make your daughter some gluten-free bread for her wedding, but don't get yourself so stressed out about the bread that you don't end up enjoying her special day.  If push comes to shove, can you buy some gluten-free bread for the wedding and just enjoy the day with your girl?  I know weddings are stressful enough as it is - go easy on yourself.

And Hitz33 - as for the smell of starters and will a cheaty starter revert to a natural leaven over time?  I would say a SD starter doesn't smell quite as yeasty as one made from commercial yeast (ie a biga or poolish), but very similar with a bit of an "edge" to it (which would come from the lactobacilli and the slight acidity).  I should still smell yeasty and fruity, but can start to smell a little more chemical if left unfed for a while.  If it does this, feed it up some more until it bubbles away then make some bread.  Will a biga or poolish convert to SD over time and after multiple feeds? at a guess I'd say yeah maybe it would, afterall you've got the same ingredients as you use to make a SD starter, except you've added in some yeast to give it a kick - but only use a very small amount of yeast (if you must use it at all).  After following Dom's starter making instructions, did you actually try making some bread from it?  If it bubbles up after being fed, it's a goodie.  Maybe don't be scared of the smell so much as it won't be the same as with yeast, see how it reacts after being fed, and just give a loaf a whirl!  What have you got to lose?  You do have to do the fed and chuck thing for at least a few weeks before the SD starter will become strong enough to make a loaf, but the fun is in the trying!

Sid Bailey 2010 September 19

I think I need a distraction while the ladies in my family go bananas while I sit around doing nothing.  I have been warned that my use of the kitchen needs to stop soon in any case.  The idea of a barley loaf is a great one, assuming barlet flour is as effective as spelt.  I really look forward to that one as I got some barley flour from a home-brewery shop but have not got around to trying it out.  Hope to report back a success to you later.  Incidentally what are the problems with spelt - I read that there are some, but not what they are and how to prevent them spoiling the bread - mine is a poor shape often and wholemeal tends not to rise too much but he bread tastes fine - sometimes has very funny shaped sandwiches. Thanks for that idea. (I guess you must be Australian - apart from small artisanal bakeries in farmers markets, here in England commercial bread is very poor. Right into the kitchen and thanks again.

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 September 20

Spelt flour seems to be highly variable.  I have made spelt bread and it seems to make a nice loaf.  There are others on this board that have tried to make a spelt loaf and they end up with pancakes.  I would say if you are having problems with a spelt loaf try a different flour.  The other key to working with spelt that I remember right now is don't knead it to much.  I just knead it enough to get the dough to come together and the gluten starts to form then I stop.  Handle it gently after that because it is fragile compared to a wheat dough.

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 September 20

Hi again Sid, because I'm a Kiwi and very practical, I decided to go the extra mile for you!  Here's a distraction for you while the ladies go mad around the house getting the wedding sorted, it should involve a few phone calls, nice relaxing drive, some fresh air and hopefully little or no stress (unlike perfecting a spelt loaf!).  I have done some online searches for bakeries that sell spelt/gluten-free/artisan bread around your neck of the woods and this is what I have found (and I'm sure there are plenty more):

Butler's of Norwich - http://www.butlersofnorwich.co.uk/bread.html

Metfield Bakery, Norfolk and Suffolk - http://www.metfieldbakery.com/index.php

Artisan Bread Organic, Kent ( a bit far away, but they do online) - http://www.artisanbread-abo.com/Naturally+Gluten+Free.htm

Arjuna Wholefoods, Cambridge - http://www.arjunawholefoods.co.uk/Pricelist/Bread.htm

Bury Farm Bakery, Nuthampstead - http://www.buryfarm.co.uk/BuryFarmBakery.html - also supplies other outlets

The Cake Shop Bakery, Woodbridge - http://www.cakeshopbakery.co.uk/

or try Dan Lepard's gluten free bread recipe: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/may/23/baking-white-bread from The Guardian.

Go on, get out of the house, leave the women to it!

Sid Bailey 2010 September 20

I will be trying out one or two of your breadmakers, Woodbridge and Norwich certainly appeal, but I am now very happy with the bread I made today - the loaves are probably the best I have made to date, and after working quite hard and long and very happily I am now the proud possessor of 8 loaves - some of them smallish and suitable for two or three people to help their cheese down, but eight loaves nevertheless.  one more big and easy bake to supply the hordes of "normal" eaters and I can sit back and enjoy something or other.  I am quite surprised what you have managed to find on the net, and I am very grateful for the effort you put in on my behalf.  Thanks a lot once again - and today's bake has been pleasant and very successful, we have several guests from "down under" and I will be sure to let them now the origin of the expert help I have had.  Cheers.

Sid Bailey 2010 September 20

Perhaps the spelt flour I can get is luckily a reasonable sort, as I can make edible bread from both the wholemeal and white.  I have seen no choice apart from these two varieties, and usually mix the two flours. Instead of heavy kneading I have been using the fold-over technique mentioned amongst others by Siao-ping and it seems to produce a reasonable bread - not violently risen but adequate. Need to work on the mixture of flours, I like some rye in the mix and this is likely to reduce the amount of rise I expect.  If I get get into the kitchen in the next 24 hours I hope to try a mainly white one with a small amount of rye and wholemeal and a few seeds.  I am wishing mself luck.

hitz333 2010 September 21

Thanks Karnie, for replying to my original question. I never use yeast in my "sourdough" bread; they are 100% starter raised. With my "commercial" starter, I used a little yeast only with the very first mix, and only feed it with wheat flour (all purpose white flour) and water. It of course was very happy and bubbly, essentially being a regular sponge that I could have gone on to make a normal bread with in 2 hours. On the second day it started to get a little bit of that fruity/sour smell and that night I prepared a loaf for next day's bake, which came out great, although by flavor it was evident the starter was young and not much devleoped. The one sitting on my counter now is only a few weeks old but is happy and active and I feel like this time I know what I'm doing. The smell is not very strong but is pleasant. I've found that my starters seem to behave the same as everyone else's, and I've used information on here to troubleshoot with great success. Like you said, if gone unfed for too long, it smells more chemical, and so I've learned by smell as well as sight when my starter needs another feeding before using it.


I tried Dom's method twice, but both times only for about a week and a half. The first time I did it exactly as written, but to me it smelled awful. It also didn't seem to be gaining any "oomph" after the second day, which was when it started to smell bad but had some bubbles happening. At the time my house was fairly warm and humid, it being summer here. The second time I did it exactly as written with the exception of using all white flour and no rye. My reason for this trial was because I haven't worked much with rye flour and wanted to make sure that the unpleasant smell wasn't just from my unfamiliarity with how unbaked rye normally smells. However, day two I got the same unpleasant smell. Both times I kept it up for about a week and half, following Dom's instructions to the letter, but with no improvement to the smell. Neither time did I attempt to bake with the starter, because to me it just smelled AWFUL and unchanged. That can't be normal, but I have no idea where to go from there, so I've just been happy with my cheater starter for now.

rossnroller 2010 September 21

...is follow SourDom's starter instructions to the letter which includes using organic whole-grain rye flour as a 30% component of your flour mix!!

I was also struggling to get a starter happening a couple of years back, in the initial stages of this sourdough addiction. I was using 30% rye, but it was horrible refined grey gluey crap, and I suspect it was responsible for holding back the process. Tracking down some top quality whole-grain organic rye flour made all the difference. Try this, and I am confident you'll have a healthy all-natural starter within a couple of weeks, or less.


Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 September 22

If your house was fairly warm and humid when starting your starter, it may have run out of food sooner than Dom's feeding schedule suggested.  I'd recommend putting it in the coolest part of the house if ambient temp is quite warm.  The bugs eat fast when its warm and humid!  If it's not bubbly and happy looking, it ain't ready for bread making ;o).  Like Ross said, Dom's instructions are top notch, and rye is a cracker for getting starters excited, so maybe it was just too warm.

I personally think that if you started with a commercial SD starter, over time it will become unique to your environment and won't much resemble the starter you began with.  If it works, then just keep giving it the love.  But if you want the satisfaction of making your own, then keep on perservering.   Good luck!

davo 2010 September 22

On whether a starter made from commerical yeast will switch over, I can't honestly say I know. Some say they eventually will, but from what I have read, sourdough yeasts are generally maltose negative - that is, they don't eat the maltose, but do eat the monosaccharides (spelling?) that result from the breakdown of the maltose, by the lactobacilli. So this means that a sourdough culture is likely to be a stable mix of lactobacilli and wild yeast because they don't compete for the same food, and they produce conditions that don't favour other bugs.

Commercial yeast on the other hand is happy to eat maltose and so directly competes with the lactobacilli. Not really stable, I'd guess.

I just think you might as well start with the real thing, rather than hope a commercial yeast mix will "get taken over" by a blanced starter.

I'm not sure that using only a "small amount" of commercial yeast would be likely to make much difference either - any quantity is likely to be astronomical compared to wild yeasts which can take days to show themselves, and with exponential growth you will end up with masses of commercial yeast pretty quickly, surely?

I made my starter with a bit of organic rye and unbleached bakers flour, and never got the "off" smell. I gather some use pineapple juice for that bit of acidity that puts off some of the "bad" bacteria that can in the early days get a hold before the lactobacilli build up - there's endless stuff on this on "The Fresh Loaf".

Other people just keep on feeding their mix no matter the smell, and a lot seem to end up coming right.

The other thing is that depending on where you are, you could just ask if a nearby sourdough baker will give you some starter. I've given mine to at least a dozen people now, and they're all happily baking away.

hitz333 2010 September 23

I was using this www.bobsredmill.com/organic-dark-rye-flour.html for my rye but for my white have just been using a non-organic store brand all-purpose white flour. I think as the weather is starting to cool down a bit (with the exception of today being warm and humid and stormy) I will try again in about a month or so. I will persist a little longer too, although I hate having to waste so much flour through my discards (I wasn't about to use something that smelled awful for pancakes or biscuits).


Davo, thanks for that information. I had heard something a while back about wild yeasts being their own strains different from commercial yeast strains but didn't know what happened over time with commercial yeast. I guess I will take the time to do some serious research to satisfy my curiosity, which you've now deepened with your brief chemistry lesson.

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