Whether you are new to maintaining a sourdough starter, or you’ve done it all for many years, you’ve probably wondered what the gray liquid is that forms on the top of the starter. That’s called hooch and it’s totally normal! This blog post is intended to answer the question, “What is hooch on sourdough?”
I’ve created many resources on sourdough: Frequently Asked Questions About Sourdough, How & Why to Put a Sourdough Starter in the Fridge, Maintaining and Feeding a Sourdough Starter, and more! Using a sourdough starter is a learning curve, but I hope these resources will aid you along the way.
Every sourdough baker encounters a gray liquid floating on top of their starter. What is it? Is my starter now ruined? What do I do with it? Can it be prevented in the future? We’ll answer all of these questions (and more) in the following blog post. Don’t panic! Your starter is far from ruined because of this liquid called hooch.
What is Hooch on Sourdough?
Hooch is the liquid that collects on top of a sourdough starter when it hasn’t been fed for some time. Hooch is a mix of water the alcohol that formed during the fermentation process. Its presence doesn’t mean that something bad happened to your starter, it just means that it’s hungry.
Why Does Hooch Form on Sourdough?
As previously mentioned, hooch forms when the starter is hungry. This likely means that it’s been a bit too long in between feedings, so another dose of flour and water typically solves the problem!
A few other factors, besides forgetting to feed it, can also cause your starter to be hungry:
- Temperature: Temperature can have a huge effect on how a starter acts, how much it needs to eat, and how fast it eats. The ideal temperature to store a starter is between 70°F(22°C) and 75°F(24°C). Storing it at a temperature lower or higher than this will have effects on how often the starter should be fed. If the starter is stored at a higher temperature it will become more active and need to be fed more often. If it’s stored at a lower temperature the opposite is true, it won’t require to be fed as often.
- Wrong Feeding Ratio and Measurements: Starters are usually fed according to a ratio, the most common one being 1:1:1, but there are more, like 1:3:2, or 2:3:1. A ratio like 1:3:2 means that you will be using 1 part starter, 3 parts flour, and 2 parts water, which can mean 50 grams of starter, 150 grams of flour, and 100 grams of water. Different ratios will result in different types of starters, some can be more liquid and some can be more solid, but all of them have one thing in common. Any good ratio will always use more flour than starter. Using less flour than starter means that you are not giving your starter enough food.
- Improper Flour: When making a new starter it’s recommended to use flour that hasn’t been bleached and to continue using the exact same flour to feed the starter for the first few weeks. The bleaching process removes a lot of the nutrients that a starter needs in order to develop. You can switch to feeding it normal flour, but only after your starter has had enough time to develop properly, until then you should use unbleached.
What to do With Hooch Once it Forms on Sourdough
You basically have only two options, you can either throw it away, or you can mix it with the rest of the starter. Both options are perfectly fine and won’t affect your starter in a bad way, but they will have a significant impact on the bread made with this starter.
The liquid is a combination of water with alcohol, which resulted from the fermentation process, and it’s very sour. If you mix it in with the rest of the starter, the bread that you will make using this starter will be more sour than it would have been if you were to throw the liquid away. And if you throw it away, there will be no difference in the bread.
How to Prevent Hooch From Forming on Sourdough
Watch the Temperature:
Temperature has a huge impact on how quickly a starter ferments flour and water, so take some time to get a feel for the temperature where your starter is located.
If possible, move it to a slightly cooler location. This will slow down the fermentation process and still enable you to feed it once per day without the formation of hooch.
Unable to find a cooler place to store it? You may need to begin feeding it twice per day in order to keep up with the demand.
Temperature doesn’t affect your starter in any bad way, it just makes it more active and hungrier. This can also be beneficial to you if you are going to use your starter to make bread soon, as the starter will be more active and in better shape.
If feeding it twice each day is too much of a hassle or creates more starter than you can possibly utilize, then stick it in the fridge. This will press pause on the fermentation process until you bring it back out and give it another feeding. I have an entire blog post on Storing Your Sourdough Starter in the Fridge. Read it here!
Change the Feeding Ratio:
If the feeding ratio was your problem you can simply change it to a proper one and your starter will stop producing hooch right away. But keep in mind that this will most likely alter the texture of the starter, so don’t get scared if in the next few days it will start becoming slightly more solid.
And remember that you can use any kind of ratio that you want, as long as the amount of flour that you are adding is equal, or greater than the amount of starter that you are keeping.
Try an Unbleached or Whole Grain Flour:
The best flour that you can use to make and maintain a sourdough starter is whole grain flour. If this isn’t doable for you, try to find an unbleached all purpose flour instead. This’ll work well too!
Whole grain flour is made using all the parts of the grain, unlike white flour which is made using only one part, and as a result, it has a lot more nutrients. Whole grain also doesn’t undergo any bleaching process, so none of the nutrients are removed.
So for the first few weeks, you should be using whole grain flour, and only after your starter has risen and fallen constantly, without separating, for about a week, you should switch to white flour.
More Sourdough Information
Why Is A Long Fermentation Time Healthier?
Fermentation allows the sourdough to break down the flour and make the crackers easier on the digestive system. You can read more details about this amazing process here.
How Can I Make My Own Sourdough Starter?
Interested in implementing sourdough into your kitchen? Here’s everything you need to know to get your sourdough starter going.
All it takes is flour, water, and about 7 days time.
I also answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about sourdough over here.
How is Sourdough Healthier than Regular Bread?
Read more in depth about the health benefits of sourdough here. I explain four reasons that sourdough is one of the healthiest breads you can consume, as well as describe how the fermentation process of sourdough works.
More on Sourdough
- Maintaining and Feeding a Sourdough Starter
- 5 Favorite Ways to Use Sourdough Discard
- How & Why to Put a Sourdough Starter in the Fridge
- How to Start a Sourdough Starter
- Frequently Asked Questions About Sourdough