Help! My Sourdough Starter has Liquid on Top!!

If you find a layer of liquid on top of your sourdough starter, don’t panic! You’re not alone, it’s actually quite common. In this guide, you’ll find out what the liquid is called and whether it’s a big problem in making sourdough.

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Liquid on top of sourdough starter?

If your sourdough starter has liquid on top, just floating, don’t worry! It is an issue, but it’s easily fixable. A runny liquid on the surface of a sourdough starter is common, and is a display of your starter feeding well, actually, too well!

As it is fed a starter rises, once it runs out of food it will fall. When the starter is left for too long without fresh food (flour), it starts to produce a liquid on top. This liquid is called “hooch”.

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Hooch can range in colour. It can be brown, brown, grey, black or clear. Generally, the longer the starter has been left unfed, the darker the liquid.

The good news!

Hooch isn’t harmful or toxic so there’s no need for concern about consuming it. It doesn’t affect how well your bread turns out either, but I would recommend using less of the hoochy starter than usual as it can be a little more potent!

Sourdough Starter has Liquid on Top called hooch

What should I do if there is hooch on top of my starter?

A sourdough starter has liquid on top means the starter just needs more flour to feed it.

The hooch is harmless, you can simply stir it back into the starter, and feed it with fresh flour and water.

Hooch is common if you have left it longer than usual between feedings. If you see hooch between every feed, then the starter needs more microbacteria to feed on between refreshments.

It is running out of food and exhausting before the next feed. To remedy a regular hooch problem: When refreshing, increase the amount of flour and water, whilst decreasing the amount of existing starter.

If you currently feed with a 1:1:1 ratio of old starter, flour and water; say, 100 grams of each. Switch to a 1:2:2 ratio of 75 grams starter to 150 grams of flour and water. This will remove the problem of recurring hooch found on your sourdough.

What if this doesn’t fix the problem?

If you increase the amount of fresh flour in your feeds and still discover hooch liquid, you have four choices:

  1. Increase the amount of flour and water in your feeds again
  2. Feed it more regularly
  3. Switch the flour
  4. Cool it down

Let’s look at them in more detail:

Increasing the feed size

If your starter is still too active you could increase the feeds to a 1:3:3 ratio. I prefer a 1:4:5 ratio of old active starter, water and flour as I prefer mine to be thicker when I’m ready to bake with it.

Feeding more often

Some starters are fed daily, but many bakers prefer to feed theirs twice a day. This will always fix your problem. 

What if I am not in all the time to feed my starter?

We can’t all work from home and watch our precious sourdough fermenting on the windowsill! If you view my sourdough starter recipe you’ll see a few feeding routines that you can follow or adapt to suit your needs.

Switching the flour

The perfect type of flour for a sourdough starter can take a little trial and error. Switching for a better brand can fix your hooch issue. If you are using all-purpose flour, try trading it for a high gluten bread flour. This will provide more food for the starters bacteria, wild yeasts and enzymes.

Switching a portion of white wheat flour for rye flour or another flour that’s high in bran will add more minerals to be devoured. Organic flour has benefits too!

Cooling down the starter

If you are in a warm climate, your room temperature can be too warm. This speeds up the rate of fermentation in the starter and can cause it to peak too quickly. If this is the case, over-fermenting the starter to develop hooch is likely.

To reduce the number of feeds required each day, you can opt to cool the starter to somewhere between 23 – 30C by finding it a new place in your home.

What if the hooch turns red?

If the hooch turns red or any other colour that represents mould it’s sad news, you shouldn’t use the starter right now, but it can be fixed. You can follow the steps in my how to fix a mouldy starter guide (just remember to wash your hands). This method can take longer to recover than starting a new one would.

Any other questions, or if you are still struggling to troubleshoot your starter or sourdough bread, use the comments below.

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8 Comments

  1. I keep feeding my starter but about 2-3 hours later hooch is on top of it. This is the first time I am making sourdough starter. I have changed to feeding it 2 times a day but there is always a layer of hooch!! I have no clue what to do. Also it is fine if I use all purpose flour to feed my starter? Should I feed my starter 3 times a day!?!

  2. Your starter is still running out of food! Increase the amount of fresh flour and water when you feed your starter, and/or lower the amount of old starter you leave in the jar. A 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water) ratio, or even 1:3:3 ratio should do the trick. You shouldn’t have to feed it 3 times a day.

    You can use all-purpose flour but bread flour has more minerals so will supply more food for the bacteria and yeast cells. If you use bread flour you will have less chance of hooch.

  3. I live in a warmer climate so our kitchen may be a bit above 70° F. Is there a way to handle sourdough in warmer climates?

  4. Hi, Jennifer. What issues are you having? Sourdough likes it consistently warm. You might like to invest in a home proofer or my DIY proof box. I set mine at 90F

  5. Just wanted to say that I love your suggestions! … I have had a sourdough starter since 2009 when 1 of my daughters made it in a Home Ec class in high school! It’s so cool. A couple of xmasses ago I made sourdough bread from it for her & her family- she is now married & has 2 children.
    Fun sourdough stories!
    Love from the mountains of New Mexico.
    Laura

  6. Wow they teach sourdough at school where you are! That’s fantastic! Thanks Laura

  7. My sourdough always seems to have hooch and is fairly inactive. Very little growth if any at all after a feeding. I don’t know when to discard and feed since it looks like it’s not feeding. It’s left in the fridge. Have I killed it somehow? I can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong. Been trying the 1:1:1 ratio.

  8. Hooch is a sign that it has run out of food. It is most definitely not dead. Try upping to a 1:2:2 ratio and feeding it every 24 hours. After a few days, you should see it rising clearly. Then start feeding it when it peaks.

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