What Is The Liquid On Top of My Sourdough Starter? | Sourdough Hooch

If you’ve been working so hard on creating your own sourdough starter from scratch, and then one day end up with a bunch of liquid at the top of your jar, you may be wondering what is going on and if you have to dispose of your entire sourdough starter?

I’m here to tell you what that liquid is, what it means and how to take care of it going forward.

What sourdough hooch looks like: a liquid formed on the top of the sourdough starter in a jar | Gathered In The Kitchen

If you’ve been following my directions or some similar to my How To Make A Sourdough Starter from Scratch, you know sourdough starter is just a combination of flour and water mixed together. Once mixed, you let sit in a warm spot and the flour and water will ferment, making these grains more easily digestible to us humans as well as giving our bread lift/rise when baking! *Sourdough starter is an alternative baking method that uses baking yeast to give bread rise.

Even if you’ve been following the directions to a T, you may still end up with this beer-colored looking and nail polish-like smelling liquid on top of your sourdough. How do I know? Because it happened to me when I was making my very own sourdough starter!

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The liquid that forms is called sourdough “hooch”. Kind of an odd name for sure. But don’t worry, your sourdough starter is not ruined! It’s just trying to tell you something!

What sourdough hooch looks like: a liquid formed on the top of the sourdough starter in a jar | Gathered In The Kitchen

What Does This Mean?

What this means, is that your sourdough, the creamy colored pancake-like mixture, is hungry!! It needs to be drained and fed. Fed with equal parts flour and water.

In these photos, my sourdough starter had not fully become active yet, meaning it was not bubbly and ready to be baked with. My starter took about 14 days to really mature and become active, and these photos were taken around the 7 day mark. The starter had been beginning to become active but was super hungry. Think about this as a growing baby. They aren’t super active, but they eat a lot!! This is the same with a premature or developing sourdough starter. *see this post for reference photos of what an active starter looks like.

Here’s another example of what hooch can look like. As you can see in this photo, there is no where near the amount of liquid in the above photo. However, you can still see that liquid has formed and that the starter looks slightly chunky. Don’t be worried if this is what your stater looks like. Just discard half, feed and water! And you’ll be good to go!

Sourdough Hooch | Gathered In The Kitchen

How To Solve It

The way to “solve” hooch from being in your sourdough starter is to simply pour it out. Yup, pour it right down the drain.

What sourdough hooch looks like: a liquid formed on the top of the sourdough starter in a jar | Gathered In The Kitchen

At this time, it would also be important to discard half of the sourdough mixture and feed it with equal parts flour and water.

How to make a sourdough starter | Gathered In Kitchen

Dark/Purple-Looking Liquid On Sourdough Discard

What happens if your starter has a liquid on top but it doesn’t look like a yellowy-beer, like the photos above? What if the color is darker or slightly tinted purple?

Note: if your starter EVER has the shade of pink = that means it has bacteria. Unfortunately, the entire starter needs to be disposed of as it is no longer safe to consume.

Dark/Purple-Looking Liquid On Sourdough Starter Discard | Gathered In The Kitchen

Yep! I’ve had this happen too! This basically means the same thing as the above scenario. It is just hungry! This photo is of my discard that I keep in the refrigerator. Basically my “overflow” or excess discard starter that I did not actually throw away. I keep it because you can actually bake with this discard in lots of recipes! See below.

As you can see in the photo above, there is a darker/purple tinted color on top, but you can see that there are still bubbles throughout the discard (the pancake-like mixture). If this happens to you, grab a wooden spoon and give it a good stir! It’s just another form of hooch forming.

Stir it in and then make sure to feed your starter equal parts flour and water. Stir again and place back in the refrigerator.

Creating A Healthy Starter

Once your sourdough starter is active and mature, it will not need a lot of maintenance. You can store it in the refrigerator for weeks and months, ensure that you feed and water it weekly.

Here is a photo of what a healthy sourdough starter discard looks like, that is kept in the refrigerator. (it’s mine!)

Healthy Sourdough Discard | Gathered In The Kitchen

Saving Discard

Once your sourdough starter has become fairly active, it doesn’t need to be fully bubbly and doubling in size, you can save your discard. The portion of starter that you throw away before feeding and watering your starter.

Check out my post for How To Store & Keep Sourdough Starter Discard to learn more! I save mine so I can bake with it all of the time! After all, it’s just flour and water!

Sourdough Discard Recipes

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Liquid on top of sourdough starter: what it means and how to fix it | Gathered In The Kitchen

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