My starter smells like buttermilk, but is not rising. Is it worth reviving?

Hello! I got some starter from a coworker, and for some reason, almost overnight, it went from smelling like dough to smelling like nail polish remover, with lots of little bubbles on the surface. This went on for about two days with one feeding per day, so I upped the feeding to twice a day. The starter smells like buttermilk now, with maybe 4-5 bubbles on top, but there no rising. Am I on the right track to bringing it back to life, or should I start over?

  • Posted by: Sheree
  • November 16, 2019


Stephanie B. November 17, 2019
I think it's worth reviving. I've neglected mine until it smelled strongly of vinegar a couple times. When this happened, I did daily feedings for a few days, and then every other day, and then eased back into normal. I judged when to slow down feedings by smell, and to smaller extent bubbles: strong vinegar smell and tiny and/or few bubbles meant daily feedings, and as the vinegar smell decreased and the bubbles became bigger and more bread-like, I'd slow down on feeding. When it was really bad, it didn't rise again for days despite the feedings. But I just kept on feeding and smelling. I think the neglect threw off the balance of yeast/lactic acid bacteria to acetic acid bacteria, and the feedings helped dilute out some of that acetic acid to give a chance for the yeast/lactic bacteria to grow again. Basically this is a long winded way of saying the starter is pretty hearty, it can weather some neglect and sub-optimal acidity. And boulangere is right, buttermilk is not a bad smell and it's an improvement from acetone.

I would recommend filtered water though. I've tried tap and filtered and noticed a big difference in activity with the filtered water, it just seems healthier.
Sheree November 16, 2019
I should also mention, when I was feeding once a day, I used water straight from the tap, and with feeding twice a day, I had the water and flour premeasured and sitting for overnight or throughout the day before feeding.
boulangere November 16, 2019
I'm sure it's fine. That it smells like buttermilk is actually a good sign. Two of the by-products of sourdough fermentation are lactic acid and acetic acid. The latter obviously give it its tangy aroma and flavor. Lactic acid gives it a creamy aroma and flavor. When you shifted into feeding it twice a day, all that happened is that its fermentation slowed down. Even a sourdough starter can't eat quite that fast. By now, a discard or use/feeding schedule of every 3 days should be perfectly adequate.
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