Why does sourdough smell like vinegar? Is it safe to eat?

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Those who have dabbled in the realm of sourdough-making know that, particularly when you’re just starting out, sourdough may smell of a variety of things, including smelly feet, vomit, and poor cheese. It may also have the fragrance of alcohol, nail polish remover, and vinegar.

Unless you detect apparent nasty mold, this seldom indicates that your sourdough has gone wicked. It does, however, signify that your sourdough starter is creating more of a certain sort of component, which gives it its fragrance, owing to a system imbalance.

Why is this happening, and what chemical is causing your sourdough to smell like vinegar?

Why Does Sourdough Smell Like Vinegar?

A starter that produces too much acetic acid causes sourdough to smell like vinegar. A good sourdough starter should have a yeasty, somewhat sour aroma. If it smells like vinegar, it suggests the dominating bacterium has created more acetic acid, maybe owing to a shortage of food. Increase your starter’s feedings and relocate it to a warmer location to regain its equilibrium.

My Sourdough Smells Strangely of Vinegar! What happened?

The lactic acid bacteria overproduce acetic acid, which causes a distinct vinegar scent in your sourdough bread.

Although some acetic acid is required since it is what gives sourdough its distinctively tangy and sour flavor and smell, too much of it may overshadow your sourdough starter and make it unpleasant to smell.

So why is this happening?

A Starving Starter

A beginning that smells like vinegar is probably extremely hungry and requires extra food. The yeast and bacteria that dominate in a system like a sourdough starter need a steady source of food; otherwise, they would start devouring their waste products and rotten or discarded yeast for nourishment.

When this occurs, it throws off the system’s equilibrium and may cause unpleasant smells in your starting, which might affect your bread.

Cultures for Health is a one-stop shop for all things fermentation, and when we asked them why sourdough starters occasionally have a weird scent, such as that of alcohol, nail polish remover, or vinegar, they helped throw light on what could be going on.

They informed us in an email that if a starting smells unusual, such as vinegar, it is probably hungry and needs to be fed more.

When the starter isn’t fed often enough or you skip feedings, the bacterial balance shifts since certain bacteria flourish in particular circumstances more than others, causing the starter to produce an excess of additional items, in this example, acetic acid.

Health-promoting Cultures It is said that if your starting smells like vinegar, it is extremely hungry and has created an overabundance of acetic acid. The bacteria have depleted all of the flour nutrients and are desperate for food.

Thus, if your beginning is starting to smell like it might be used for salad dressing, it’s probably because it’s hungry and needs to be fed more. Increase the frequency of its feedings to see whether the odor goes away gradually.

Try Moving It To A Warmer Place

Acetic acid is normally created by lactic acid bacteria during fermentation, and this might give your starter a vinegar scent since vinegar is mostly made of acetic acid and water.

There are two kinds of lactic acid bacteria, according to Serious Eats. One converts carbohydrates just to lactic acid, whereas the other converts sugars to both lactic acid and acetic acid.

Lactic Acid Bacteria (or LAB) that create just lactic acid are known as homofermentative and prefer higher temperatures, while lactic acid and acetic acid producing LAB are known as heterofermentative and flourish at considerably lower temperatures.

If your sourdough starter smells like vinegar, the heterofermentative bacteria may be in charge. Acetic acid is naturally required in every sourdough starter since it lowers the pH significantly to fight off harmful bacteria and is responsible for the sour flavour of your sourdough.

To check whether the bacterial balance changes, move your sourdough starter to a warmer location while increasing feeding.

The frequency with which you feed your starting, the temperature, and the kind of flour, water, and ambient atmosphere in your fermentation space all impact the scents and textures of your sourdough starter, but the first step is always to feed your starter more.

What Is A Sourdough Starter?

A sourdough starter is a symbiotic and stable colony of wild yeast and beneficial bacteria formed by the fermentation of wheat and water and used to leaven and flavor bread dough. It is a system that must be continually maintained and fed in order to preserve its equilibrium.

While the microbiome population would rely on the organisms present in the flour, water, air, the jar, geographical location, and some studies even indicate, the baker’s hands, the particular composition of yeast and bacteria in each starter is distinct.

Each starting starts with a group of yeast and bacteria, and the best, most robust group of bacteria and yeast ultimately prevails, giving the starter its distinct microbial makeup.

The precise strains for each starter may change, but they are always made up of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria. The yeast is responsible for manufacturing the carbon dioxide required to generate the fluffy, fragrant bread that is every bread baker’s dream.

The lactic acid bacteria is crucial for lowering the pH and giving it that tangy, sour flavor, as well as preventing unwanted bacteria from multiplying in the starter.

After the first battle for control, the emerging colony produces something that is actively bubbling and rises when fed, with a nice yeasty and faintly sour fragrance.

Once stable, each starting will have its own distinct odor. Yet, during the first procedure, the scent might vary from vomit to old socks, filthy feet, spoilt milk, and bad-smelling cheese.

If the balance is not maintained, the sourdough starter may begin to smell like other things as well. A strong odor of alcohol, nail polish, or vinegar suggests that there is an imbalance in the colony.

What Can I Do With A Starter That Smells Of Vinegar?

A vinegar-smelling sourdough starter may frequently be rescued by increasing the number of times it is fed. According to Cultures for Health, if a starter has been ignored for a long period, it will take more time to wake it up and restore the proper balance in the system.

Patience and consistency are essential; just keep feeding it until it regains its natural equilibrium. Sourdough starters, according to experts, are very hardy and do not perish quickly. Increased feedings should do the job most of the time.

If increasing the feedings does not help the starter for whatever reason, Cultures for Health has this to say:

Take out 2 teaspoons of starter and replace it with a cup of water and a cup of flour. When it’s time to feed the starting again, return to your usual feeding schedule.

Health-promoting Cultures

You give your sourdough a fighting chance to reestablish its natural state of balance by diluting and introducing a fresh set of bacteria to populate the starting.

How Do I Know When It’s Time To Toss My Sourdough Starter?

Additional feedings will generally repair a sourdough starter that smells strongly of alcohol, nail polish remover, or vinegar.

But, if you see anything pink or orange in your starting or visible mold, it is a solid indicator that evil bacteria have taken over your sourdough starter and, regrettably, the good bacteria have been defeated.

However, if your sourdough starter does not react even after feeding, it is most certainly doomed. When this occurs, it is preferable to dump it and start over.

Is Sourdough That Smells Like Vinegar Safe to Eat?

It is okay to consume sourdough that smells like vinegar. The scent will usually bake off as you create the bread, but if it persists, it should still be safe to consume. Some individuals want their sourdough bread to be more sour than others, and if that is the case for you, this may be an excellent circumstance for your taste buds.

According to Cultures for Health, you may control the sourness of your sourdough bread by modifying the circumstances of your starting habitat as well as how you raise and ferment your bread.

Acetic acid-producing organisms prefer drier, colder conditions and whole-grain flours. Using these elements in your starter as well as how you raise your dough will result in a more sour and acidic outcome.

Organisms that create lactic acid, which is responsible for the delightfully yeasty, yogurt-like fragrance, flourish in more damp and warmer conditions.

Manipulation of your sourdough starter conditions in this manner might assist you in adjusting the taste of your dough. If you loathe sour bread, there are certain things you can do to mitigate the sourness.

What is Sourdough Bread?

Sourdough bread is organically leavened with wild yeast and bacteria using a starter formed by fermenting wheat and water.

Sourdough, as opposed to normal bread, depends on natural, wild yeast and the beneficial bacteria created during the fermentation process to rise. It has no additives and depends on the natural fermentation process to generate its distinctive acidic taste and chewy texture.

Sourdough may take a long time and patience to create, especially if you’re just starting out and producing your own starter.

There are several tools and instructions available to assist you in getting started. Yet, you will need to apply a lot of intuition and observation since your sourdough starter will be unique and will have a unique combination of variables that will impact how it grows.

Is Sourdough Healthy?

Sourdough bread is often healthier than other forms of bread for a variety of reasons.

Naturally leavened

Sourdough bread is claimed to be healthier than white bread since it is naturally leavened and does not include the artificial yeast and chemicals present in store-bought bread.

Fiber and Digestive Health

Sourdough includes fiber that aids digestion, especially when prepared with whole wheat flour. Sourdough includes a lot of probiotics during fermentation, but not many of them survive the baking temperatures.

Yet, the prebiotics it contains survive and help feed the healthy bacteria that already reside in our bellies, facilitating and maintaining gut health.

Increased Bioavailability

The lactic acid in sourdough bread also serves to make the vitamins, minerals, protein, and other elements in the bread more accessible, or absorbable by the body.

As a result, the nutrients become more valuable to our bodies. This occurs during the fermentation process due to the breakdown of phytic acid, which generally hinders vitamin and nutrient absorption.

May Help Manage Blood Sugar Levels

Sourdough also has a low glycemic index, which means it does not produce blood sugar spikes since it is absorbed slowly by the body. As a result, unlike conventional white bread, it aids with blood sugar management. This is particularly useful for folks who need to monitor their blood sugar levels.

Less Gluten and More Digestible

Sourdough has less gluten than conventional bread due to the slow and extended fermentation process, and is therefore easier on the digestive system. According to one research, sourdough bread is more readily absorbed by the body than ordinary bread.

The fermentation process is what makes sourdough bread a healthier option for bread, as it provides our bodies with more readily accessible nutrients that it can utilise to promote health and well-being.

Is Sourdough Gluten-Free?

Sourdough has a naturally tart taste and, since it is slow-fermented, many people believe it is healthier than other forms of bread.

For people who are sensitive to gluten, sourdough is regarded to be a better digestible option since the gluten is broken down into a more digestible, absorbable form throughout the lengthy fermentation process, decreasing the discomforts it normally causes.

Sourdough has less gluten than conventional bread, and since it includes healthy bacteria that help the stomach in digestion, it is simpler for the body to digest and enjoy.

Although it may be simpler to digest and contain less gluten than conventional bread, it is crucial to remember that unless produced with a gluten-free starting, sourdough is not gluten-free. It is critical to remember this if you have gluten allergies or sensitivities, or if you have celiac disease.

Beyond Celiac claims that even if it contains less gluten, it does not contain enough to be termed gluten-free. Even if someone with a gluten sensitivity does not experience symptoms after eating sourdough bread, there is always a chance that harm is occurring within the stomach.

As a result, it is critical to remember to use certified gluten-free items when serving to persons who have gluten allergies or sensitivities.

Frequently Asked Questions to Sourdough Smells Like Vinegar

What Should My Sourdough Starter Smell Like?

Sourdough starters should have a scent that is a cross between delightfully yeasty and slightly acidic and sour. If your starting does not have this odor, consider increasing your feedings to assist the system balance itself.

My Sourdough Starter Smells Awful. Should I Carry on or Toss it Out?

Sourdough starters, particularly in their infancy, may go through terrible and weird smelling periods, smelling strangely of dirty socks, vomit, or rotten cheese. The trick is to continue feeding your starter until a nice combination of bacteria and yeast takes over, at which point the fragrance should improve.

Why Does My Sourdough Smell Like Vinegar?

A sourdough starter that smells like vinegar has an excess of acetic acid as a result of the starting not having enough nourishment. In the absence of food, yeasts and bacteria metabolize their own waste products and attempt to adapt to their circumstances, which may result in strong odors similar to vinegar. Increasing feedings should aid in the correction of the issue.

Conclusion to Sourdough Smells Like Vinegar

Sourdough that smells like vinegar was most likely prepared using a starter high in acetic acid, the component that creates vinegar.

This is mostly due to the fermented starter’s feeding and temperature conditions, which favor lactic acid bacteria that make acetic acid over other types of bacteria.

This produces bread that smells like vinegar and may be more sour and tangy than a beginning with less acetic acid.

It is safe to consume, but if you like your sourdough to be less tangy and sour, you may correct and change the conditions of your starter to reduce acetic acid production. This is normally accomplished by increasing feedings and transferring your starting to a warmer location.


Is it safe to eat bread that smells like vinegar?

Some folks, particularly sourdough bakers, are attempting to create bread with a vinegary odor! They’d be envious of you, so give it a go and see if you can like it! Nevertheless, eating bread that smells like vinegar has no negative health impacts, owing to the fact that it isn’t rotting. So, take everything as it comes!

Is sour smelling dough safe to eat?

Several individuals equate the odor to that of alcohol or beer. This is entirely normal and indicates that your dough is healthy and the yeast is at work. If the dough smells more like off cheese or anything is decomposing, it has gone bad and should be discarded.

Can I use my sourdough starter if it smells like alcohol?

A. The black liquid is hooch, a naturally occurring alcohol that tells that your sourdough starter is hungry. Hooch is OK to drink, but it should be drained off and discarded before churning and feeding your starting.

Should sourdough bread taste vinegary?

Sourdough gets its sour flavor from the microorganisms in the sourdough starter, which create acetic and lactic acids. The bacteria consume the flour’s sugars and emit acids. Acetic acid imparts a vinegary flavor to the bread, whereas lactic acid imparts a milder yogurt-like flavor.

What if my sourdough smells like vinegar?

If your sourdough starter smells like alcohol, vinegar, or nail polish remover, it’s hungry and has created a lot of acetic acid. The healthy bacteria have depleted all of the nutrients in the flour and are starving for more.

What happens if I eat bread that smells sour?

Product security. Consuming bread with a chemical odor caused by yeast infection may taste unpleasant and cause mild digestive complaints, but it poses no health risk.

Why does my bread smell sour but no mold?

I believe the bread was not thoroughly baked. When it ferments, yeast produces alcohol and CO2. The CO2 causes the bread to rise, and the alcohol evaporates while the loaf bakes. The dough smells sour until it’s completely cooked.

Is sourdough supposed to smell sour?

A good sourdough should not have a strong fragrance; you should only be able to detect it if you come fairly near, and even then, just a faint suggestion. If your starting has a strong odor comparable to sour milk, the issue is that it is hungry.

Is over fermented dough safe to eat?

If you’ve over-proofed your bread and are wondering if it’s okay to eat, the quick answer is YES! Over-proofed bread is safe to consume, albeit it may contain a lot of alcohol!

Can I bake with sourdough starter that smells like acetone?

Your starter may sometimes produce an acetone or nail polish remover odor. It’s quite natural; it’s just hungry, so feed, feed, feed.

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