During the process of feeding your sourdough starter, you may have noticed a little liquid collecting along with your starter. This is called hooch, and this normally occurs once your starter has consumed all of its available food. It may seem like the flour and water have dispersed. However this liquid is actually quite normal. So if you’re a little concerned about the liquid on top of your sourdough starter, then let’s delve deeper into it’s many reasons.
Why Does my Sourdough Starter Have Liquid?
If you are an avid sourdough baker, then you may have noticed that your starter has formed a little pool of liquid on top of it. Some people call this hooch, and others call it alcohol. The truth is that hooch is actually the by-product of fermentation and in no way should be consumed because it contains alcohol.
It’s important to understand what this slightly sticky liquid forming on top of your starter is, and whether it is here to stay!
Let’s start with the basics: in its simplest form, your sourdough starter is just flour and water – and a bit of salt if you’re using some. The flour contains starches that when combined with water begin fermenting under certain conditions. This process is called leavening and produces carbon dioxide bubbles, which give bread its characteristic airy texture.
You’ve probably seen this happening before, when you’ve tried making homemade bread; sometimes though instead of creating bubbles within the dough itself (resulting in lighter bread), fermentation can cause bubbles outside of your dough too! When there isn’t enough food left for your yeast cells to eat up all their food quickly enough, some will remain hungry. These cells will then begin consuming any available sugars left in order to survive until they can be fed again later on.
Should I Get Rid of the Hooch?
You may have heard that hooch is bad for you and your starter. Well, that’s not entirely true. In fact, it’s quite good.
Hooch gives your starter it’s distinct tangy flavor and helps to produce even more sourness in the final loaf of bread.
If you do choose to discard some liquid from your sourdough starter, it’s important to remember that this will change the hydration of the remaining mixture. So try not to go overboard when doing so!
If your sourdough has formed its little puddle of liquid, mix it back into the starter before discarding a little bit of the starter in time to feed.
The only time we recommend getting rid of hooch from your sourdough is if it has been stored in the fridge for a long time – like months or years – and there is an abundance of dark brownish colored liquid on top, which can indicate mold growth.
What Color is Hooch?
The color of your hooch will depend on the kind of starter you are using. A very young sourdough starter will have a clear or slightly cloudy liquid on top, while a more mature one may have a black or purple liquid sitting atop the dough.
This is quite normal, and won’t affect the performance of your starter. Although you may want to refrain from allowing it to become more darker. Simply stir in the liquid and discard before feeding again.
If you see a mold growing on top of your starter, then it’s time to discard that batch and start again with fresh ingredients.
How to Prevent Hooch From Appearing?
If your starter is consistently producing hooch, even after it has been fed, you may need to change a few things.
Hooch may be harmless, but it is an indication that your starter is hungry, meaning that you’ll need to increase its food, and stop it from consuming it so quickly.
To tackle this, try increasing the regularity of feeding, so instead of feeding your starter every 24 hours, attempt to feed your starter after 12 hours. If this doesn’t work and the hooch still appears in excess amounts then try moving your starter to a cooler spot and maintaining a temperature of 70 °F or lower. This will hopefully ensure that it consumes its feed slower.
Feeding at a higher ratio of flour and water may also contribute; try increasing the flour by 10% each time until no more hooch appears on top of the sourdough starter.
How do I Know When my Sourdough Starter is Ready to Use?
You may have noticed, but there are a few things that can help you know when your sourdough starter is ready to use.
First of all, look at the jar or container that you are using. You will see bubbles on the surface and sides of your starter. The bubbles mean that it has risen up with carbon dioxide gas and this means that it is ready for use.
The second thing to look out for is how long it takes for your starter to double in size. This should take anywhere between 12-24 hours if everything goes according to plan. If this happens within 12 hours then you needn’t worry anymore, because something went wrong somewhere along the way. It has resulted in an overall problem in the sourdough starter recipe!
The Correct Way to Feed my Sourdough Starter
The best way to start feeding your sourdough starter is with equal parts flour and water. Once you’ve mixed these ingredients together, cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let it sit for 8 hours at room temperature.
After you have given your starter its initial feeding, check on it after 8 hours. If there’s still liquid on top of the dough, don’t worry! This is a sign that your sourdough is working properly. Just give it another hour or so until all of the liquid is absorbed into the dough.
If in doubt, stick around. You’ll know when it’s time to move on because there will be no more wet spots visible on top of your starter, instead, there should be lots of little bubbles throughout!
How to Refresh my Sourdough Starter?
Refreshing your sourdough starter can be done in a variety of ways.
One method is to remove 1/4 of the starter and add 1/4 flour and 1/4 water, then place it back in with the remaining starter for 24 hours. Once this period has elapsed, feed again with 1/4 flour and 1/4 water.
Another common method, is to discard all but about an ounce or so of your current sourdough starter, which will still have plenty of life left, add new flour, water and salt and let it sit out overnight at room temperature. Then feed your starter once again with equal parts new flour, water and salt before returning it to its container.
What to do if my Starter is too Runny?
If your starter is too runny, it may prevent your starter from growing, and rising. The gas bubbles rapidly escape through the runny liquid, and not through the top layer of flour, as they should.
This is often caused by using a different type of flour with a different type of gluten than what is normally used for sourdough starter. Essentially, using very hot or cold water when making your next batch of sourdough bread can also result in a very runny starter. The best way to revive a runny starter is through discarding most of it and leaving a tiny amount in the jar.
Use a spatula to scrape all the remains of your sourdough starter out of its container, place it in a clean jar, then add 20g of wholemeal flour and 20g of water. Mix thoroughly with the remaining old starter until a smooth paste forms. Add some more water if necessary until the correct consistency is achieved. There should be no dry crumbs left at the bottom.
Clean off the sides of the jar with a spatula and leave it on a countertop with a loose lid for 6-12 hours. After this time some activity should have occurred within the jar, meaning that your starter has successfully revived!
For some tips on troubleshooting sourdough starter that doesn’t provide that perfect rise you seek, check out our blog: Sourdough Not Rising – What Went Wrong and How to Fix it.
How to Make the Perfect Sourdough Starter?
Once you have your sourdough starter, it’s important to keep feeding and maintaining it.
First, take out a few tablespoons of the starter and mix them with equal amounts of flour and water. Then, place the mixture in a glass jar with an airtight lid. Follow with covering loosely using a towel or cheesecloth (this will help keep flies away).
In order to maintain proper moisture levels for your starter, keep an eye on its consistency. Add more water when necessary to ensure that it remains nice and loose.
Take enough care of your starter so that your it begins to showcase these signs:
- Your starter should appear bubbly, active and release a sour smell. It should also be able to hold its shape.
- Your starter should be able to double in size overnight.
Furthermore, you should ensure that your starter is fed regularly. Feeding should be done after every use of the sourdough, whether it is used daily or once a week.
So About the Liquid on my Sourdough Starter?
Coming down to check on your starter in the morning? Find a little liquid forming on top? It’s not a cause for concern.
Unless there is mold involved, you do not need to get rid of the hooch. In fact this little pool of dark liquid is what provides your sourdough loaves with its perfected tanginess!
Generally, you shouldn’t remove the liquid (or hooch) off of your sourdough starter. This becomes a part of your sourdough starters hydration, and pouring it off will jeopardize the hydration of your starter.
Generally, the hooch that forms on top of your sourdough starter is harmless. However it isn’t recommended to drink it directly, but you can use it to make beer, wine etc.
You can tell that your sourdough starter has gone bad if it doesn’t respond to regular feedings, especially if it has been left unfed for a long period. Other signs can include discoloration and mold, which would indicate that it’s time to throw it out and start over.