Liquid on Top of Sourdough Starter: What to Do

A sourdough starter is essential for making, well, sourdough bread. But if you’re a newbie to the whole feeding process that coincides with creating a sourdough starter, you might panic when you find liquid hanging at the top of your jar. What’s going on here?

Liquid on top of sourdough starter is harmless and can be mixed into your remaining ingredients. Known as “hooch,” this liquid is formed because your sourdough starter has run out of food. 

You can remedy this in many ways, from adding more flour and water to swapping to a new type of flour.

Hey, there! My name is Michelle, and my family and I are “sourdough people.” We love it for toast, grilled cheese, paninis – you name it! Being the big fans we are, I knew I had to learn how to bake sourdough bread successfully. 

Along the way, I discovered “hooch” and how to get rid of it.

Find out how to get rid of liquid on top of sourdough starter.

Why Is There Liquid On Top of My Sourdough Starter?

If you see liquid on top of your sourdough starter, don’t panic. This is a relatively common issue that affects sourdough bread bakers, new and old. 

This liquid is called hooch and is 100% safe, as long as it is not pink, red, or orange or emitting a foul odor. (Gray, black, and brown hues are perfectly fine.)

Hooch occurs when your sourdough starter has not been fed in a while. Essentially, the yeast has been given too much time to ferment. In turn, the yeast has given off an alcohol byproduct, the liquid you’re seeing hovering at the top of your sourdough starter.

To put it simply, it’s not ruined; it’s just hungry.

What to Do About Liquid on Top of Sourdough Starter

Liquid on top of sourdough is a simple fix. All you need to do is stir the hooch into your sourdough starter and return to feeding as usual. Make sure you add fresh food (flour and water) after stirring the hooch back into the remaining ingredients. This will render the best results. 

Some people may be uncomfortable stirring the hooch back into the sourdough starter, especially if it has an odd hue like dark brown or gray. In cases like these, you can pour the hooch out and scrape off the top layer of the starter before feeding it with fresh food.

Keep in mind that removing the hooch will cause the hydration levels to be altered, which may be difficult to fix – especially if you’re new to the realm of sourdough starters. 

Hooch will also give your sourdough bread an extra pinch of sourness, which is very delicious. That said, it’s best to avoid removing it. Mix it back into the starter.

4 Ways to Avoid Hooch in the Future

Although hooch isn’t a big deal, it doesn’t mean you want to see it sitting on your sourdough starter day in and day out. Luckily, there are a few great ways to avoid future “hooch” malfunctions.

1. Stick to a Regular Feeding Schedule

Since liquid on top of your sourdough starter is directly caused by negligent feeding, the best thing to do is to stick to a regular feeding schedule

A daily feed is adequate for bringing your sourdough starter back to life after a liquid meltdown, but some bakers will opt for two feedings per day to ensure there are no mishaps.

2. Add More Food

If you’re dealing with a sourdough starter that’s hangry rather than hungry, you might need to feed it more food. 

While most sourdough starter recipes focus on 1:1:1 (old starter, water, flour), you might consider upping it to 1:2:2. By adding more food, you can rest assured your starter won’t get hungry – and no hooch will develop.

(You may need to go up to a 1:3:3 if you have a recurring hooch problem, even following a regular feeding schedule. Some sourdough starter is just ravishing!)

3. Use a Different Flour

While some sourdough starters are OK with all-purpose flour, some are not. If you want to be successful with your sourdough starter time and time again, consider swapping for one of these top five flours for sourdough starters:

  • Bread Flour (Top Pick)
  • Rye Flour (Runner-Up)
  • Spelled Flour
  • Wheat Flour
  • Rice Flour

Give one of these top-notch picks a try, and you will immediately notice the difference.

4. Place in a Cooler Location

A sourdough starter’s ideal storage temperature is between 70 F and 85F. If you’re hovering around the 85F range, you’re allowing the fermentation process to quicken, which results in liquid on top of the sourdough starter.

While you generally want this to happen, trying to keep up with the amount of food your sourdough starter is consuming can be hassling.

To slow down the process, head towards the 70F range instead. This will slow down the fermentation process, leading to fewer feeds and less hooch.

FAQs

Although it might look odd, liquid on top of a sourdough starter is nothing to fear. It’s 100% natural and quite common. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out the commonly asked questions below.

Should you pour off liquid from the sourdough starter?

It’s best not to pour off liquid from your sourdough starter. This can affect the hydration levels and make feeding and fermenting challenging. Mix the liquid back into your sourdough starter for the best results. 

Why does my sourdough starter have dark liquid on top?

If you notice dark liquid on top of your sourdough starter, you’re struggling with the same issue: hooch. Although the dark color may be off-putting or concerning, it’s a-okay. Mix it into your remaining starter and go from there.

Can I drink sourdough hooch?

Essentially, there isn’t anything really wrong with drinking hooch. But why would you want to? I would not recommend it unless you’re very hard up for something to drink. It likely won’t taste very good, and you run the risk of ruining your sourdough starter altogether.

Should I stir my sourdough starter?

You should stir your sourdough starter every time you feed it (once or twice daily).

Final Words

Liquid on top of sourdough starter is common. It’s called hooch and is an alcohol byproduct leftover when a sourdough starter is hungry. The best thing to do is mix it back into the starter and stick to a regular feeding schedule to avoid future liquid mishaps.

Have you ever found liquid on your sourdough starter? What did you do with it? Did you use any of these ideas? Share in the comments below!

About Michelle
I have been a lover of sweets since day one. This led me on a self-taught baking journey starting at the age of 13. It's been over 10 years since the start of my baking adventures, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Now, people rave about my delectable treats, whether it’s a chocolate cake or a strawberry crepe.

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