Sourdough starter is an amazing thing. It’s basically a living organism that eats flour and turns it into bread. The process takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 months depending on the type of flour used.
When you first start making a sourdough starter, you might notice a liquid at the bottom of the container. This is called “mother” and it’s full of bacteria. This is where you want your starter to live.
But what does mother mean? Mother means that there is life in your starter. If you see a white film floating around in the liquid, that’s yeast. Yeast is what makes bread rise.
If you see a brownish film floating around in the mother, that’s lactic acid. Lactic acid is what gives sourdough its tangy flavor.
The liquid on your starter is alcohol, which is generated by the natural yeast in the flour throughout the fermentation process. It’s known as ‘Hooch,’ and it occurs when your pet becomes hungry. It’s nothing to be concerned about; it just indicates you need to feed it. Before you utilize it, give it 3-4 feedings.
If your starter is generating booze, don’t be concerned. This is a minor occurrence that occurs throughout the fermentation process and is readily remedied. Just add more water or other liquids until the level returns back down to normal.
Hooch is produced because of two things: 1) the amount of time spent fermenting, and 2) how much moisture is present during this period. When you are using fresh flour for starters, they will produce less hooch than if you use old flour.
Also, if you have too little water added to your starter, then it won’t get enough oxygen to properly metabolize all the sugars contained within the flour. As a result, some sugar remains unfermented and produces alcohol instead of lactic acid. Hooch isn’t a problem unless you’re trying to make wine out of your starter!
The amount of hooch produced also depends upon the temperature of the room where the starter lives. A cooler environment results in fewer hooch molecules being created. So keep your starter away from heat sources like ovens and stoves.
There are several ways to prevent hooch buildup. First, try not feeding your starter every day. Instead, wait one week between feeds. Also, do not let your starter sit idle for long periods of time. You should always stir your starter before adding new ingredients.
Finally, never store your starter in direct sunlight. Sunlight can kill off any remaining yeasts and cause them to go dormant.
You’ll probably find yourself asking "should I pour my starter out?" Well, yes, you should. But only after giving it three or four feedings. After that point, you shouldn’t worry about pouring it out.
Pouring it out allows air to enter the mixture, causing the yeast to die. However, since most people aren’t going to bother with this step, we recommend stirring it back in. Some people prefer stirring it back while others prefer pouring it out. Either way works fine.
The fact is that there is no such thing as a correct or incorrect response. You can pour it out if you wish, but it won’t make a significant impact.
Because the alcohol layer isn’t toxic, your beginning will be OK with or without it. If you don’t like the thought of it being in your starting and want to get rid of it, simply pour it out and feed your beginning more frequently.
The sole disadvantage of discarding it is that it causes the starter’s hydration level to be slightly off.
So what does this mean for us sourdough enthusiasts? Simply put, you can discard your hooch whenever you please. We suggest doing so at least once per month.
However, if you’ve been storing your starter in an area exposed to light, then you may want to consider keeping it around longer. Otherwise, you might end up having to throw out your entire batch due to a lack of activity.