Sourdough Starter Smells Like Alcohol? Here’s How To Fix It!

Published Categorized as Sourdough Starter

While sourdough starters a certainly a game changer, there are a few trials and tribulations that come with making one. For instance, if your sourdough starter smells like alcohol, then you’re probably wondering if it’s time to throw the whole thing away. But before you do, pause, and consider some of the ways to fix it. Because once it’s fixed, you’ll have nothing but successful bakes.

Sourdough starter smells like alcohol? Here’s how to fix it!

Table of Contents

What Is A Sourdough Starter?

A sourdough starter is a live fermented culture of fresh flour and water. The yeast and bacteria are extracted from their environment to feed on the sugar and starches. A small portion of this wild yeast is added to bread dough to help it rise, and provide a complex, yet delicious flavor.

What Should A Sourdough Starter Smell Like?

A sourdough starter should smell slightly sour with a touch of yeastiness.

If the smell of your starter makes you wrinkle your nose in disdain, then your starter might be beyond fixing at that point!

Why Does My Sourdough Starter Smell Like Alcohol?

Generally, sourdough starters tend to smell slightly alcoholic. The yeast fermentation produces ethanol which is an alcohol, which explains the mild alcoholic scent. However, if your starter smells incredibly alcoholic, then it is a sign that the starter may need to be fed more frequently.

If a starter has been left unfed, the yeast in the flour will continue to go through fermentation, therefore producing ethanol, which will make your sourdough starter smell even more alcoholic.

When the starter hasn’t been fed for quite some time, the yeast and bacteria can die, resulting in failed fermentation when added to the dough.

Simply put, a well-fed starter will not smell so strongly of alcohol. This is because the levels of ethanol are significantly reduced whenever we discard and feed the starter with fresh flour and water.

It’s important to keep your sourdough starter fed so that the lactic acid bacteria and wild yeasts are established enough for the fermentation process in your sourdough bread.

How To Prevent Your Starter From Smelling Like Alcohol

The overpowering smells are caused by hunger, meaning that your number one priority should be to prevent your starter from going hungry.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to go about this:

  • Firstly, try to feed your starter more often i.e., once per day.
  • Secondly, store your starter at an appropriate temperature. The main thing that causes the bacteria to become more active and hungrier is the heat. The average temperature your sourdough starter should be stored is 75°F. If you store your starter at a higher temperature, then it can become more active and hungry.
  • Thirdly, you can always store your starter in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process. This is especially great if you wish to take a break from sourdough baking for a while. But if you wish to bake soon, then you should avoid this, and try to take care of your starter properly.
  • If you’re planning to store your starter in the refrigerator then you must take it out at least a week before using it to make sourdough bread. This will ensure the starter will be strong and back to health.
Sourdough starter smells like alcohol? Here’s how to fix it!

How To Fix Sourdough Bread That Smells of Alcohol?

Most of the ethanol produced in the sourdough starter evaporates during the baking process, leaving a hint of an alcoholic aroma to combine with the flavors of your bread. Though small, there is a possibility that the smells may become overpowering.

Here are some common issues that may make sourdough bread smell like alcohol after baking:

Dough Was Over-Proofed

The yeast in the sourdough starter will make use of the oxygen during the early stages of rising. Once the oxygen is out of use, the yeast is left with no air, and it will ferment to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. Over proofing leads to more alcohol production, thus a lingering aroma after the bake.

Dough Was Over Fermented

During the first rise, if there has been too much gas created, the oxygen in the dough will have been used up, and the yeast will continue fermenting. By the time the dough has risen, it will contain too much alcohol.

Dough Was Not Kneaded Dough

Underdeveloped gluten can play a major part in the overall structure, taste, and smell of your dough. If the gluten is underdeveloped, it’ll need more time to rise. This is because the gluten won’t be able to stretch properly, meaning more gas will have escaped, and the dough will need a longer rise to create more alcohol.

Dough Was Too Warm

If your dough was too warm the yeast will burn through the sugars during the first rise. While this might not seem so bad, there will be fewer sugars during the second rise, and the gluten structure will be immature, and less capable of capturing gas.

Starter Was Overripe

Sourdough starter ferments in the same way as a loaf of sourdough bread, which means that it also produces alcohol. If the starter exhausts the nutrients from the fresh flour, the alcohol levels will increase.

Weak Starter

A weak starter won’t have enough good bacteria and too much of bad ones. Using a weak starter to bake sourdough bread will require longer fermentation time, consequently producing more alcohol. For a mature starter, keep feeding and refreshing it for a few more days, so that it can become populated with the correct enzymes.

How To Fix Your Starter

If your starter releases some smells that are a tad overpowering, the best way to combat this is through regular feedings. Simply discard a small portion, and feed the rest with fresh flour and water. A common trait of a hungry starter is one that strongly smells of alcohol.

Starter Smells Like Alcohol

Keep the alcohol smells in your favorite drink, such as whisky sour. Not in your starving starter.

A strong-smelling starter will usually indicate that it is hungry and needs to be fed. Frequent feedings will mute the overpowering smells, making it perfect for baking sourdough bread.

Sourdough Starter Smells Like Alcohol FAQs

Can I Use Sourdough Starter If It Smells Like Alcohol?

Yes absolutely. If your starter smells like alcohol, this is just a sign that it is hungry.

How Do You Get The Alcohol Smell Out of A Sourdough Starter?

Simply increase the starters feeding frequency, unless the starter has been neglected for a while, whereby it may require a little more effort to revive it.

Can I Use My Sourdough Starter If It Smells Like Acetone?

Yes, absolutely. However, you should feed your starter before using it, as the smells indicate that it is hungry!

How Can You Tell If Sourdough Starter Is Bad?

If your starter has been neglected for long enough it will develop mold, or show signs of being overtaken by bad bacteria.

By Natasha Krajnc

Hi! My name is Natasha and I'm specialized in home sourdough bread baking and currently based in Slovakia - a very small country in Central Europe. My bread baking story began in 2011 when I decided to give up commercial yeast. I felt tired all the time (especially after eating bread and other foods made with yeast), I wasn’t motivated to do anything, had trouble concentrating throughout the day, my abdomen was bloated and I was like a trumpet on steroids – basically, I was quite a wreck. I was a big bread lover (and still am) and having to stop eating bread was quite hard at that time but I felt I was on a right way to give my body a chance to heal itself.

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