Hooch accumulating too quickly?

Newbee here… and I’m not exactly sure about the “subject” title. I’ve been told that the skim that develops on my start is called “Hooch” and is an indication that the start needs to be fed. Recently, I’ve noticed that it develops in 2 or 3 days, where I used to feed it about once a week. This doesn’t seem normal. Any information would be helpful.

Many advance Thanks!

How do you keep and maintain your starter?

I keep it in a quart jar, in the refrigerator. When I feed it, I add equal amounts (1/4 Cup) of water & King Arthur Bread flour, let it set until it rises then falls, then put it back in the refrigerator. This has been my method for about 7 years. Only recently, has the hooch been forming after two or three days.

As an experiment, try putting it back into the fridge as soon as it rises 1.5x or 2x - before it falls.

Also, does the jar you are storing it let any air in / C02 out?

OK, will put it back after rising & before it falls and hmmm… I don’t tighten the lid much but do have a lid on it, both while rising and when it’s in the fridge. I can do both today as I’m baking (my bread always turns out great) and have just fed the start…twice to build up my supply. I’ll give it a few days and check the result. :slight_smile:

Better to leave it un-tightened for two reasons:

  1. so C02 can escape otherwise pressure will build up in there.
  2. because anaerobic (without oxygen) fermentation leads to the production of alcohol (aka hooch).

Hi Paul,

Well, it’s been there days since I put my start in the fridge. As you suggested, I put the lid on very loosely. Today there is hooch forming, but only a little. I’ll keep watching, see what it looks like at the end of a week. By that time, it generally has about a half inch or more hooch on the top. Maybe this picture will be helpful:

/Users/dianeknight/Pictures/Photos Library.photoslibrary/resources/proxies/derivatives/10/00/10a2/UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10a2.jpg

Maybe I’m on the right track. I appreciate your help!


Is the “hooch” dark and murky or clear?

Somewhat clear, sort of like an egg white:

This looks like separation to me, not hooch. Hooch is normally murky but your starter has clear liquid on top. This is what it looks like in the photo, I was just confirming. You can try lowering the hydration of your starter by about 10-20%.

Thanks Abe! It looks about the same today so I’ll give it a few more days before feeding. I’m assuming you mean that I add about 10% less water at the next feeding. If so, I’ll do that and see how it responds.

Yes. It certainly looks more like separation than hooch. You can carefully take the water off and give it a good stir. When feeding next try less water and if using the same flour for your breads bear in mind this flour, or some other factor causing this, will need less water. Perhaps it’s a change of flour, or humidity,or storage etc. It certainly looks like a higher hydration than 100%. What does it smell like?

Hmmm… smell? No distinct strong smell and not necessarily “sour”. I use King Arthur Bread Flour, have been for years and my bread always turns out great… although sometimes it has less air pockets than other times.

If it was hooch I’d rather think it’d have a strong alcoholic smell. All pointing to separation. Next time you feed just make sure it’s thicker.

I have a totally different starter management strategy and eventually get hooch too. I don’t worry too much about it. I grow my entire starter jar on the counter when I’m going to bake, and after harvesting ripe starter from the jar, I feed what’s left in the jar and refrigerate it immediately. Over the next few days, it doubles in the fridge, and then eventually by day 4/5, it starts to fall and develop hooch. I rarely let more days pass before baking, but when I do, the starter is okay – just needs 1-2 feedings instead of sometimes 0 new feedings if I’m baking on day 2 or 3 of this process.

Will do. Thanks!

When I first started making Sourdough breads, etc. several years ago, I always refrigerated it immediately after feeding it. I rarely had hooch form… but then I used it weekly. I may add this method to the other suggestions and see how that goes. To clarify, ripe start is what’s in the jar before feeding, correct?

Yep, the starter in my jar has doubled/tripled and might be starting to fall by the time I feed it and then refrigerate it. In the summer, the starter is around 80F at room temp and takes longer to cool down in the refrigerator than in the winter when the starter might only be 67F at room temp. So the food supply still gets used faster in the summer even with immediate refrigeration.

That makes sense. I’m learning so much from this one post! I appreciate your input!

You’re welcome. There are lots of ways to manage starter, and mine may not work for everyone. Interest in having discard and frequency of baking are definitely factors to consider. Btw here’s my jar after almost exactly 5 days in the fridge. It started at the rubberband level. It’s falling, and warming it up won’t do much to activate it…maybe there are a few microbes that warmer temps will rouse. It’s not ripe but it’s not particularly dormant either imo. I’ll probably use half of it as is for a slow and chill pizza dough and feed the other half for a couple loaves of bread to mix up this evening.

Edited to add:
it’s been an hour and a half since that first photo and apparently there still was food even though starter had fallen a bit… because now it’s grown 🤷