Last Updated on July 31, 2023 by Lori Walker
I use sourdough starter in many of my baked goods, including bread, pastries, and cakes.
However, sometimes sourdough starters can develop an unusual odor that resembles nail polish remover. This can be concerning for bakers who are used to the tangy, fermented smell of healthy sourdough starter.
We’ll explore why your sourdough starter might smell like nail polish remover and what you can do to fix the issue.
5 Reasons Why Sourdough Smells Like Nail Polish Remover
- Yeast Metabolism: Nail polish remover contains acetone, a byproduct of yeast metabolism. Certain yeast strains can produce acetone as they ferment the sugars in the flour and water, giving the sourdough starter a smell similar to nail polish remover.
- Stressed Yeast: A sourdough starter that needs to be better maintained or is exposed to extreme temperatures can become stressed. When yeast  is stressed, it may produce acetone, which can cause the sourdough starter to smell like nail polish remover.
- Over-fermentation: If a sourdough starter is left to ferment for too long without being refreshed, it can become over-fermented. Over-fermentation can cause the yeast to produce high acetone levels, leading to a nail polish remover smell.
- Unbalanced Bacteria: A healthy sourdough starter comprises a delicate balance of yeast and bacteria. If the bacteria in the starter becomes unstable, it can cause the yeast to produce acetone, leading to a nail polish remover smell.
- Contamination: In rare cases, a sourdough starter can become contaminated with bacteria or mold that produces acetone. This can cause the sourdough starter to smell like nail polish remover.
Check out these signs if your sourdough starter is dead here.
How To Fix It
- Discard a portion of the starter: If the sourdough starter has become too over-fermented, it may produce high levels of acetone. Discarding a portion of the starter and replenishing it with fresh flour and water can help restore the balance of yeast and bacteria and reduce the acetone levels.
- Refresh the starter regularly: Regularly refreshing the sourdough starter by adding fresh flour and water can help maintain a healthy balance of yeast and bacteria and prevent over-fermentation.
- Store the starter in a warm, consistent environment: Yeast thrives in a warm, consistent environment, so store your sourdough starter in a warm place that is not exposed to extreme temperatures.
- Monitor the pH of the starter: A sourdough starter that has become unbalanced may have a pH that is too acidic. Monitoring the pH of the starter and adjusting it if necessary can help maintain a healthy balance of yeast and bacteria.
- Use a sanitary approach: Ensure that all utensils, containers, and surfaces that come into contact with the sourdough starter are clean and sanitary to prevent contamination.
Is The Nail Polish Remover Smell Harmful?
The nail polish remover smell that sometimes develops in sourdough starters is not harmful in itself, as the acetone responsible for the odor is a byproduct of yeast metabolism and is not toxic.
However, the acetone  odor may indicate that the sourdough starter needs to be more balanced or balanced, which can affect the quality and flavor of the bread.
“If you really want to make a friend, go round someone’s house with a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread!”– Chris Geiger, Columnist
In such cases, it is best to discard a portion of the starter and refresh it with fresh flour and water to restore the balance of yeast and bacteria.
It is important to note that sourdough starters can become contaminated with bacteria or mold, which can cause health problems if consumed, so if you notice any signs of contamination, it is best to discard the entire starter and start over with a fresh mixture of flour and water.
Can The Smell Affect The Flavor Of The Bread?
Yes, the nail polish remover smell from the sourdough starter can affect the flavor of the bread. When a sourdough starter becomes over-fermented or unbalanced, it can produce high levels of acetone, giving the bread a bitter or off-taste.
In addition, an over-fermented or unbalanced sourdough starter may need more yeast and bacteria to produce the characteristic sour flavor that is associated with sourdough bread.
To ensure the best flavor in your sourdough bread, it is essential to maintain a healthy balance of yeast and bacteria in the starter, which can be done by refreshing it regularly with fresh flour and water and storing it in a warm, consistent environment.
Can You Prevent The Nail Polish Remover Smell In The Sourdough Starter?
Yes, you can prevent the nail polish remover smell in sourdough starters. One way to avoid the smell is to refresh the starter regularly by adding fresh flour and water, which helps maintain a healthy balance of yeast and bacteria.
Storing the starter in a warm, consistent environment can also help prevent over-fermentation and reduce the nail polish remover smell risk.
“In the alchemy of sourdough, as wild yeasts awaken, the tangy symphony of fermentation sometimes dances with the scent of nail polish remover, reminding us that even in the unexpected odors lies the promise of deliciously satisfying bread.”Leonelli Bakery
Monitoring the pH of the starter can also help ensure that the yeast and bacteria are thriving and not producing high levels of acetone.
Why does your sourdough starter smell like a banana?
A sourdough starter that smells like bananas may be a sign of over-fermentation or an imbalance of yeast and bacteria.
This can happen when the starter needs to be refreshed regularly or stored in a warm, consistent environment. The yeast likely produces the banana-like odor in the starter as it consumes the sugars in the flour.
What does a healthy sourdough starter smell like?
A healthy sourdough starter should have a slightly sour, yeasty aroma. It should not have any strong off odors, such as a strong vinegar or nail polish remover smell.
A healthy sourdough starter should have a slightly tangy, fermented smell and a somewhat wet, batter-like consistency.
The nail polish remover smell that sometimes develops in sourdough starters is not harmful, but it can indicate that the starter needs to be more balanced or balanced.
This can affect the flavor and quality of the bread and may even result in a bitter or off-taste.
To prevent this, it is essential to maintain a healthy balance of yeast and bacteria in the sourdough starter by refreshing it regularly with fresh flour and water and storing it in a warm, consistent environment.
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