The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

excessive hooch after a week in the fridge == bad sign?

ruckerz's picture

excessive hooch after a week in the fridge == bad sign?

I'm thinking that I need to refresh my levain more than once a week. This particular one had great rise for a boule a week ago, but after refreshing that batch and letting it sit for a week in the fridge, I found a layer of hooch on the top, tried to mix it in and raise another batch but it didn't raise (it was very liquidy/foamy instead of bubbly). What's happening here? Did I kill off all the good yeast in that week with excessive acid?


Also, when people say 'feed' do they mean simply add flour and water to an existing batch and then let it sit at room temperature? Or do they pinch off a bit of the existing batch and add flour/water to that (while throwing away the parent batch).



wayne on FLUKE's picture
wayne on FLUKE

Also, when people say 'feed' do they mean simply add flour and water to an existing batch and then let it sit at room temperature? Or do they pinch off a bit of the existing batch and add flour/water to that (while throwing away the parent batch).

I'm no expert, but feeding means discard almost all of your starter and then feed what is left with several times the amount you kept.

For example, for 100% starter you could discard all but 20 grams and add 60-80 grams each of water and flour. That way you have plenty of new food for the yeasties to feed on. If you feed the same amount to the starter without discarding, the yeast will consume the food must faster, which is probably why the hooch formed so fast.

Also, the longer you leave it out of the refer, the faster they will eat all the food. I usually put mine back in within an hour or two.

Also, since discarding a lot of starter is wasteful, you can keep the amount quite small and then just build it up to the volume you need a day or two ahead of time.


ruckerz's picture

Well I'm cruxed as to how to proceed from here. I refreshed a small portion of the levain and this is what I've got.


bad levain



The levain has the consistency of pancake batter but i'm getting foam and no lift. Should I just add some flour and water to this batch?


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, ruckerz.

Your photo shows a fully ripe liquid levain. At this point, you need to either make bread with it or feed a small amount of the levain with more flour and water.

Liquid levains ripen faster and need to be fed more often than firmer levains.The yeast multiply faster in liquid media, and there is proportionately less flour (food) for them to ferment, so it is depletely more quickly.

A liquid levain does not expand much in volume as it ripens. It doesn't form the kind of gluten network that traps the CO2 and leads to expansion. In physical terms, there are just too many water molecules between the gluten strands for them to get together and bond. So, a liquid levain's CO2 bubbles jus rise to the surface and pop. The sign of a ripe liquid levain is lots of little bubbles on the surface. It may expand a little.

The first thing you will see if you leave it too long between feedings is that it will shrink and leave a "ring" around the wall of your bowl. If you leave it longer, it forms hooch.

If your liquid levain is needing to be fed more often than is convenient, you could convert it to a more firm levain.


proth5's picture

I'm going to disagree with David a bit and being fresh from some classes on this subject I may need to insist.

I also have worked with a liquid levain for many years.

A liquid levain (100% hydration - equal parts by weight of flour and water) will most certainly double.  When it is fully ripe it does not resemble pancake batter.  If you have properly weighed your flour and water, the mature levain will not only visibly double, it have an elastic quality and an open structure.  When you attempt to pour it or spoon it, it will resist just a bit.

That pancake batter with foam on top is over ripe liquid levain.  It has matured so quickly that you missed the peak and it is now degraded.  It may never have doubled (yeast may not be strong enough, yet after storage) but the mousse like quality and the thin consistency indicates that the action of the levain has degraded the flour.

Remember that even though just mixed flour and water may not have elasticity, the seed you have added will acidify the pre ferment and give it strength.

A liquid levain at most people's room temperature really needs twice a day feeding.  I keep mine healthy on once a day feedings because my room temperature tends to be colder than what most people enjoy.

Hope this helps.

dmsnyder's picture

If the pictured levain was 100% hydration, I agree with you. My diagnosis, based on the photo, was that this is a 125% hydration or greater levain. The streaks on the bowl didn't look to me like it had collapsed. The surface didn't look foamy, just bubbly.

Looking at the photo again, I can see it either way.

In either case, it looks hungry.


ruckerz's picture

130% water actually (Local Breads by Leader). I took some of this (37% for the starter) to start a boule and I'll see if it raises that. I also refreshed a portion of this (and tossed the rest). For now  (1 hr into it at 78ish F) they're both showing dimples of gas. 


ruckerz's picture

It's been 5 hours now at a reasonably warm (80 - 90 degrees F) and I get no volume on the levain or the starter. Just foamy at the top (A lot like the original picture). Sigh... Leaving out at room temperature over night (75-78F). 

I might pitch the boule starter in the morning if there's no bubblyness + volume and spike the levain with some rye flour on the next refresh... 10 grams?

SourdoLady's picture

It looks like it is way too liquidy. Add enough flour so that it is not runny, but before you do that discard most of it. Old starter gets very acidic and the acid eats the gluten so you won't get a good rise.

proth5's picture

that was important information  (sorry, David).  Looking at the picture I can't make a definitive call on the hydration level, and it looks for all the world like my 100% hydration levain after ithas degraded.

130% is pretty wet (although what I may do is whomp up a batch of 130% levain with my healthy starter and see what it does) and since you are not experiencing success, you may want to try a more traditional 100% levain.  You can keep your storage starter at 130%, but have a lower hydration for the levain.

At 130% hydration I will suggest you need to be feeding the thing twice a day at least.

Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

I've had problemes with excessive hooch but not concerning breadmaking.  :)

When developing my wild starter, I made multiple attempts and was discouraged by the hooch that developed in 24 hours.  I thought I had killed the starter. A friend just commented that hooch means it needs to be fed.  I went to twice a day feedings and all was well.

ruckerz's picture

10 grams of rye flour in the next refresh did the trick. I've got lift and bubbly goodness... Should I continue with rye flour with each refresh from now on? or just go back to flour and water?

proth5's picture

Other times I should stick by my guns.

I made up a 130% hydration levain and got lift (see pictures)

130 hydration - just mixed

(just mixed)

130 hydration 8 hours

(after 8 hours)


development 8 hours

This is very much like my 100% hydration levain.

The feel was a little looser than my 100% hydration levain, but hardly pancake batter. So I stand by what I said.  You did not have a good, ripe levain.

During the wait time I was thinking that two things create bubbles - yeast and bacteria.  Bacterial action could account for the "foam" and no rise of your "levain."  And enzyme + bacterial action could account for the pancake batter like consistency.  However bacteria won't raise things very much.

Rye is a very rich source of wild yeasts and you my have introduced enough yeasts to revive your starter - or, after several feedings the poor weak yeasts gathered strength and started doing their thing.

I don't think that you need to continue feeding the starter rye forever (a couple more times wouldn't hurt) but rather not leave a 130% hydration starter in the fridge for so long.  If you want to refrigerate you starter you may wish to try a lower hydration.  Or remember to revive it with rye when it goes desperately over-ripe.

Hope this helps.

longhorn's picture

To get hooch in a week suggests to me that your refrigerator is seriously warm. Would be wise to check its temperature!

amolitor's picture

This is a TERRIBLE phrase to use, since pancake batter is all over the place. My pancake batter barely pours, for instance!

Think of more consistent liquids. Things that might be more consistent:

  • pure water
  • household paint
  • vegetable oil
  • tomato juice
  • ketchup
  • molasses
  • mayonnaise
  • peanut butter

At any rate SOME of these ought to be pretty consistent, even in many other countries!


proth5's picture

Sorry about my "terrible" phrasing.  Frankly the thing didn't feel like any one of those items.  It might have been household paint, except I don't know what that feels like.

To me it felt like a very thick batter - or slightly thinner than just mixed 130% hydration starter.  Which might be the right way to describe it.  Mix one up yourself and see what it feels like.

I know some people make thick pancake batter, but I was echoing the phrasing of the original poster. Thin pancake batter is a very apt description of over ripe starter and spoke clearly to me - at least.

Geez - I was just trying to help.