Every once in a while you might bake or buy a loaf of bread that has a whiff of alcohol rolling off of it.
Don’t worry, it hasn’t been at the bar all night, and it’s likely fine to eat.
Let’s find out why this happens and how to avoid it.
What Causes Baked Bread to Smell Like Alcohol?
A smell of “alcohol” in baked bread is often a sign that the bread dough was over-proofed.
It’s no big deal when this happens, it just means the bread dough was left rising a little too long before it was put into the oven.
What Causes Bread Dough to Smell Like Alcohol?
When yeast is added to bread dough and allowed to rise in a warm environment, it begins to ferment, which produces a bit of alcohol.
The warmer the environment, the faster this process happens and often, the stronger the smell will become.
A long ferment, too much yeast in the loaf, or over-proofing your dough can all increase the smell of alcohol.
While the alcohol will bake off in the oven, a smell can sometimes linger, particularly if the dough was very warm, or was over-proofed.
How to Stop Your Bread from Smelling Like Alcohol
Avoid over-proofing your dough by following the two steps below:
- Use cool water, and proof the dough in a cooler environment. Think between 70-80°F.
- Shape the dough as soon as it’s ready. You can tell when the dough is ready to shape by pinching off a small bit and plopping it in a cup of cool water. When the dough floats vigorously, it's ready to be shaped! Once the dough is shaped, allow it to rise again until it has nearly doubled in size. Bake the dough immediately.
Does Moldy Bread Smell Like Alcohol?
Most of the time, mold will smell musty or like a rotting plant.
Some mold can give off a slight smell of alcohol, but for that to be the problem with your bread, you would likely be seeing a decent amount of mold on the loaf.
Signs that Your Bread Should be Discarded:
- Visible mold on the bread.
- Condensation in the bag, or unexpected moisture on the bread.
To avoid this, store your bread in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Always cool your bread completely before storing. Freeze the bread in the summer if you aren’t going to eat it within 5-7 days.
Types of Bread That Commonly Smell Like Alcohol
It is highly unlikely that a typical loaf of sliced sandwich bread purchased from the grocery store bread aisle will smell like alcohol.
These breads are low in hydration and preservatives are often used. All of which discourages long fermentation in the bread.
You’re more likely to come across a loaf with a whiff of alcohol in the artisan bread department.
Over-proofed boules, baguettes, buns, or focaccias have trouble holding their shape and may appear slightly larger, or flatter than normal.
These may have a bit of an alcohol smell, though they are perfectly fine to eat.
This most often happens when a bakery hires a new team member who is inexperienced with the proofing process and over-proofs a batch by mistake.
You’re also more likely to get a loaf that smells like alcohol when making it yourself, or when receiving a loaf from a home baker.
Sourdough Bread and Alcohol
There are two types of sourdough bread:
- True Sourdough - Bread that is leavened using only a sourdough starter
- Yeasted Sourdough - Bread that contains sourdough starter, but also uses commercial yeast.
True sourdough bread can often smell like alcohol. This happens not just from over-proofing, but also when the starter hasn’t been kept up properly.
Most grocery store bakeries make yeasted sourdough. While it’s still possible for a yeasted sourdough to become over-proofed and smell like alcohol, it's less likely.
Sourdough Starter Smelling Like Alcohol
If making a sourdough starter from scratch, it is very normal and actually a good sign that the starter smells like alcohol within the first week.
That is a sign that fermentation has begun, and that the starter needs to be fed regularly for a few more days before it's used.
Sourdough starters that have been kept up well (fed at least twice a day for a period of time) should smell sweet and yeasty, not like alcohol.
When you’re not actively using your starter, it should be stored in the fridge to slow the fermentation process.
When you take your starter out of the fridge, expect it to smell like alcohol. This is because it has become exhausted and needs to be fed regularly before you ask it to leaven bread.
For more information on sourdough starters, check out this article.
Baked bread usually only smells like alcohol when the dough was over-proofed.
Bread dough that smells like alcohol has usually been proofed at too warm of a temperature, is over-proofed, or contains sourdough starter that wasn’t quite ready to use.
Either way, those breads are still perfectly fine to bake and eat and you will likely not notice much difference in flavor.
Moldy bread usually smells musty, but it can smell a bit like alcohol. Throw your bread out if you see visible mold or condensation inside the bag.
Artisan loaves of bread are more likely to smell like alcohol than types of commercial bread with lots of preservatives.
Sourdough breads are also more likely to smell like alcohol than some other types of bread. Especially if they are a true sourdough.