Temperature and Smell is part of Sourdough Starter 101 course.
What’s the best temperature for my starter?
I got great results when my starter was kept between 70°F and 80°F (21°C to 27°C).
As you may already know, a warm environment is good for yeast activity, so if you place your sourdough starter in a place that’s too cool, it may take longer for it to establish.
But if it’s too warm, it can also harm your starter, especially in the beginning. At temperatures over 85°F (30°C), your starter may be more susceptible to undesired bacteria.
So keep it in a warm, but not too warm, spot.
How can I control the temperature around my starter?
There are lots of things to do to try to control the temperature so your starter may establish sooner. You can:
- Use a yogurt maker;
- A home dough proofer;
- Your home oven with the light inside on (just remember, your oven needs to be turned off, ok?).
A sunny spot near the windows also works, as long as you protect your starter from direct sunlight. Do that by placing the jar inside an empty shoe box first.
Or you can do as I did and figure out a warmer spot in your home that works for your culture.
My starter loves a particular spot near my heater, so when it's off the fridge, it stays there while it’s on, which is basically all year long but summer.
During the hot summer months, you can store your starter inside a kitchen cabinet.
My sourdough starter was in the oven when someone accidentally turned it on! Is it dead?
If you didn’t take it out soon enough, and the temperature went up more than 85°F (30°C) for too long, it is probably dead.
A starter can survive the cold, but heat is fatal for your culture. You can always try feeding it to see if it shows some activity, though.
Why does my starter smell like alcohol?
That’s a sign your sourdough starter is underfed.
Remember to feed it regularly, at least once per day (twice per day on its first couple of weeks, as was already said). Do it, and the smell will return to normal in a couple of days.
What should my sourdough starter smell like?
It varies A LOT, as it depends on flour quality, which type you’re using, feeding schedule.
But a faint vinegar smell is normal, as is one pleasantly sweet, or sour, or fruity, or beer-like.
Smells similar to nail polish or alcohol are also common - both indicators that your starter needs to be fed, and when well-fed they will fade after a couple of days.
The more you know your starter, the more you get familiar with its aroma. You'll understand how it smells when it is active, or when it needs feeding, or when there’s something wrong with it.
Usually the first clue of something going wrong with your starter is the way it smells!
What shouldn’t my sourdough starter smell like?
Like something dead.
Rotten cheese or eggs, a vomit-like smell, spoiled meat are indicators that something is definitely wrong. Usually those smells come along with visual modifications, like mold, or color variation, and are more difficult to get.
An extremely neglected culture might develop these aromas, that usually are caused by bad bacteria or mold.