Author Topic: What to do with the hooch  (Read 3507 times)

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Offline MTM2

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What to do with the hooch
« on: November 10, 2011, 09:59:41 PM »
I've been working with a couple of starters I purchased from sourdough.com for sometime now and everything seems to be working OK.
As I understand it, the hooch (dark liquid on top) produced by the action of the yeast on the flour is alcohol. My thinking is that alcohol is a drying agent and therefore should be poured off before any feeding or using the starter in making pizza dough. Although I've also read that some people say - stir it back into the starter.
Is there any value to stirring it back into the starter? What would that be?


Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2011, 10:28:12 PM »
When a starter develops hooch, it's usually a sign that the starter is overly mature (acidic).  My current practice is the dump the hooch, and 75-90% of the old starter, refresh it, and use when it becomes active.  Or stick it back in the fridge after refreshing it.

Chau

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2011, 08:18:38 AM »
As the name "hooch" implies, it has some alcohol in it, but it is certainly not pure alcohol or anything close to it. Probably just a couple percent. I don't know what the benefit of stirring it back in is, if any, but Chau's post is the first I remember reading of anyone not doing so.

CL
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Offline MTM2

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2011, 11:11:41 AM »
Thanks - I thought it was just a normal part of the whole starter process. OK I'll try refreshing them and see what happens. It's time to put them into new containers anyway.

I think TXCraig1 is saying that everyone stirs any hooch found back in as standard practice. So after the refresh process I'll stir any hooch formed back in and see if that has any affect.

I mean my goal, of course, is a good tasting dough with some WOW factor, right now it's just OK dough.


Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2011, 11:30:23 AM »
Have you considered that some of what is considered as standard practice is actually misinformation that is spread around and around endlessly?  Just because most ppl are doing somethings a certain way doesn't necessarily make it true or right.  Take it for what it is worth.  Stirring the hooch back in will not help your starter or your dough.  8)

Chau

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2011, 11:42:26 AM »
... Stirring the hooch back in will not help your starter ....

Hi, Chau. On what do you base this?

I rotate between 5 different starters, so I encounter plenty of hooch. I used to always pour it off. Now I always stir it back in. I think my starters are more flavorful and predictable now, but I've never done side-by-side tests. Curious as to why you say this. Maybe I've been doing it wrong all these years!

Offline vwbpizza

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2011, 12:13:46 PM »
"Stirring the hooch back in will not help your starter or your dough"
But at a minimum, wouldn't at least maintain the hydration level?

Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2011, 12:41:01 PM »
Hi, Chau. On what do you base this?

I rotate between 5 different starters, so I encounter plenty of hooch. I used to always pour it off. Now I always stir it back in. I think my starters are more flavorful and predictable now, but I've never done side-by-side tests. Curious as to why you say this. Maybe I've been doing it wrong all these years!

Bill, I haven't done extensive testing or side by side testing and it's really based loosely on my experience and preference for a light sourdough taste and not a heavy one.   From what I've seen, starters typically develop more and more acids as they become mature.  Hooch develops long after a starter has fallen with the acids destroying the gluten matrix and releasing the majority of the water.  That hooch can contribute added flavor in form of acids, fermentation byproducts and what have you, but it's not going to contribute any more flavor compared to pouring the hooch out, and refreshing your (overly acidic) starter with more water and flour (less than the amount of existing acidic starter).   There are already plenty of acids and flavor in a overly mature starter as it is.  IMO, the hooch only adds excess acids that are detrimental to the the dough, if a large % of your dough is starter.  If you don't watch the dough carefully, these acids break down the gluten matrix leading to an overly sour loaf and a dense crumb.   I guess that can be ideal for some folks, so I shouldn't say it's absolutely wrong.  

Bill, what percentage of starter are you typically using?  If you are mixing in only a small amount (say 1-5%) starter, it matters less if the starter is overly acidic or too hoochy ( I think this is a word), because the acids are diluted out to a point of not being a noticeable detriment.  If you tried to make a dough with 50% overly mature (acidic) starter with hooch, then you will see the negative effects quite readily.  

So, for me hooch is bad and doesn't make sense.  Why do we dump half (or more of starter) and refresh anyway?  What is the purpose of this exercise?  Because when you do dump, you are actually dumping out flavor (acids, metabolites, etc).   Why not just take a starter from the fridge with all of it's hooch, stir back in, and use it as is?  What kind of result can we expect?  What will we get? and why?

So what's the big deal about stirring back in the hooch anyways?  What is the effect of that?  It's not a huge deal, but it will (in theory) delay your reactiviation time or time until the starter is ready to be used.  Of course this also depends on how much starter you use to start with and what point one deems it ideal to use a starter.  If one were to retain or use 1% of the old starter versus 50% (of the old starter) in the new starter batch, it would take much longer.  In this case, hooch has little effect.  But in a 50% scenario, hooch has a much bigger effect.  The acidic environment (I believe) slows down yeast activity.  So how detrimental hooch is depends on how much is used.  In general, I don't think it's a good thing, but it doesn't have to be wrong either per se.

This has just been my experience, but I would love to hear other theories out there.  

Chau
« Last Edit: November 13, 2011, 07:27:43 PM by Jackie Tran »

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2011, 12:52:42 PM »
Thanks, Chau. Your position is based on the assumption that the hooch is acidic - maybe very acidic. I'll check the pH of the hooch next time I take one of the cultures out. The well water I use in my dough is alkaline, so it may be neutralizing the hooch. But I use well water only in the dough. Bottled water is used for feeding. My typical pizza dough is 4%-5% of total dough mass.

The starter that is currently in rotation is fed ~3-4 times per week - never any hooch. When I bring an older one back into the rotation, it has been dormant for 3-4 months, maybe more, so I feed it for ~2 days to get it super-active. Never checked to see if that time would be less if I poured off the hooch.

Bottom line for me is that the activation/feeding/fermenting regimen I have developed produces a mild, complex dough - never sour.   

Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2011, 12:57:54 PM »
"Stirring the hooch back in will not help your starter or your dough"
But at a minimum, wouldn't at least maintain the hydration level?

Yes it does maintain your hydration level, but in the big scheme of things it won't affect your overall dough hydration if you dump it.  A hoochy starter is beyond immediate use anyway whether you dump it or not.  You will still be dumping half or more out to refresh, so in a sense you are still discard the hooch via discarding the old starter.  The longer a starter sits (also depending on the temperature), the more hooch will develop in it and the longer it will take to reactivate it.  This is why you may read that it can take multiple feedings over the course of a day to bring back a hoochy starter versus a starter that is only a week old in the fridge.  When you stir hooch back in, I think you are really just taking more time than is necessary.  If you pour the hooch out and only take a bit of this overly acidic/mature starter and feed it into a new batch of say 5-10% old starter and 90-95% (flour and water), you can actually get an active starter in less time.  I haven't done any scientific tests, but this is how I make sense of starters.

In this scenario, the 5-10% hoochless starter will not really affect the hydration of your dough much.  At least not to a relavant degree.   As far as flavor of the starter, it really depends on what specific starter you are using and at what point you use it.  Starters, when used young have a much different flavor than when used mature, being that the mature starter will be more acidic and more sour.  

For me, I taste the raw starter at different phases and compare that to the flavor of the end product to assess the effect of using a starter at different phases and to assess how much flavor I like or don't like.  You can get a fairly sour tasting loaf, using only a small amount (<5% of flour weight) of mature and active starter like ischia, without ever using any hooch at all.  

It's not that I think hooch is evil or anything like that.  The way I understand things (and I may be wrong), hooch doesn't serve much purpose and can actually be detrimental to a dough.  I use to stir back the hooch as well, when I didn't know any difference and no one told me not too.  The use of hooch and overly mature starters (a relative point I know) made using starters much more difficult to learn than it had to be.

Chau
« Last Edit: November 13, 2011, 01:46:26 PM by Jackie Tran »


Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2011, 01:22:28 PM »
Thanks, Chau. Your position is based on the assumption that the hooch is acidic - maybe very acidic. I'll check the pH of the hooch next time I take one of the cultures out. The well water I use in my dough is alkaline, so it may be neutralizing the hooch. But I use well water only in the dough. Bottled water is used for feeding. My typical pizza dough is 4%-5% of total dough mass.

The starter that is currently in rotation is fed ~3-4 times per week - never any hooch. When I bring an older one back into the rotation, it has been dormant for 3-4 months, maybe more, so I feed it for ~2 days to get it super-active. Never checked to see if that time would be less if I poured off the hooch.

Bottom line for me is that the activation/feeding/fermenting regimen I have developed produces a mild, complex dough - never sour.   

Bill, I would be very curious in the pH levels of the hooch as well as I have not tested it yet myself.  But let us also keep in mind that at some point, when a starter becomes overly mature/acidic, yeast activity slows way down and so does acid production.  So I wouldn't be surprise if the pH of the hooch isn't any lower than the pH of the starter when it first collapses.  I truely don't think that starters become more acidic indefinitely, but rather it should peak out at some point.   

Also as I mentioned, as you are only a small percentage of starter (total flour, dough, water - not much difference here), the negative effects of a mature/acidic starter are minimal and won't likely to have detriment to a dough.

But also let me say that even if hooch is dumped out and only a small percentage of a  starter is used to make a young starter.  If you leave that young starter at room temps for an extended time, that young starter will also develop into a mature starter, and then eventually release it's water and develop hooch as well. The process just happens a lot faster at room temps compared to being in the fridge which could take several weeks.  So in the end, it's up to the user to decide on the specifics of how to and when to use their starters and dough to achieve the best result for them.

In general, I would advise new users to dump the hooch, but if you are only using a small amount of starter and getting great results, then I wouldn't necessary change anything about your routine Bill.  Bill you make phenomenal products, and they speak for themselves. 

Chau

Offline vwbpizza

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2011, 01:44:19 PM »
Thanks Chau,
Informative reply. Next time I'm in the position I'll check the pH as well. By the same token: sometimes I'm using the starter as a leavening agent and sometimes just to induce flavor.

Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2011, 01:51:42 PM »
Thanks Chau,
Informative reply. Next time I'm in the position I'll check the pH as well. By the same token: sometimes I'm using the starter as a leavening agent and sometimes just to induce flavor.

Again, my prediction is that the pH of the hooch will probably be the same as a starter that has recently collapsed.  What would be a great test to see is the reactivation time of a mature starter with and without hooch.  Of course this can't be done with scientific exactness  b/c the starter with hooch will naturally have a higher hydration, so adjustments must be made somehow for that.  Also using 5% vs 50% old starter may yield different measurability in the results.  At 50%, both starters may rise rather quickly making it more difficult to measure versus using only 5% where the effect of the added hooch may be minimized.   ???

UPDATE:  Okay I just check and 2 of my starters are starting to develop hooch.  I took the pH and tasted both.  Both show a pH of below 5.5 which is the lowest my strips will indicate.  I also tasted the hooch for both and both tasted acidic/sour.  I will reactivate them both and test their pH later today. 

Chau
« Last Edit: November 13, 2011, 02:27:38 PM by Jackie Tran »

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #13 on: November 13, 2011, 04:26:20 PM »
Bill, I would be very curious in the pH levels of the hooch as well as I have not tested it yet myself.  But let us also keep in mind that at some point, when a starter becomes overly mature/acidic, yeast activity slows way down and so does acid production.  So I wouldn't be surprise if the pH of the hooch isn't any lower than the pH of the starter when it first collapses.  I truely don't think that starters become more acidic indefinitely, but rather it should peak out at some point.  

A couple thoughts, (1) its not the pH of the hooch that is relevant, but rather the pH of the sludge with and without the hooch mixed back in - or rather the pH of the sludge plus the added flour and water after feeding with and without the hooch mixed back in. (2) The growth rate of C. milleri, which is likely the strain of yeast in your culture, is unaffected by pH between the range of 3.5 7.0 (I can't find any data lower than 3.5). I don't know this to be the case, but I'm doubtful that a typical culture will become acidic enough to have a meaningful effect on the yeast growth rate. In any case, the yeast growth rate is probably moderated by the food supply before the effects of acidity would be seen. (3) The lactic acid bacteria activity, on the other hand, drops off dramatically below a pH of 5.5 which would suport Chau's contention above about acid production.

The chart below shows the effect of pH on growth rate for L. sanfranciscensis LTH2581 (○) and LTH1729 (▵) and C. milleri LTH H198 (□).The shaded area represent the ranges commonly encountered during sourdough fermentations. http://aem.asm.org/content/64/7/2616.full  
« Last Edit: November 13, 2011, 04:38:27 PM by TXCraig1 »
Pizza is not bread.

Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #14 on: November 13, 2011, 04:56:15 PM »
Wow great info Craig.  Good to know it's not the acid levels affecting yeast growth.   It makes sense that food supply would dictate yeast growth before acid levels.  Craig, do you think the pH of the sludge would be similar if not the same as the hooch floating over it?

Chau

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #15 on: November 13, 2011, 05:53:03 PM »
Wow great info Craig.  Good to know it's not the acid levels affecting yeast growth.   It makes sense that food supply would dictate yeast growth before acid levels.  Craig, do you think the pH of the sludge would be similar if not the same as the hooch floating over it?

Chau

I don't know, but I guess it would be similar. I bet the pH goes up some after a feeding though.

CL
Pizza is not bread.

Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #16 on: November 13, 2011, 07:25:36 PM »
I don't know, but I guess it would be similar. I bet the pH goes up some after a feeding though.

CL

I bet you are right.  And that it comes back down slowly as the starter becomes more mature and acidic.  Well, I feed both starters with equal amounts of flour and water.  I let both get active, and tried to get a pH reading with my stripes.  I wasn't able t get a reading.  I don't think the starter is wet enough to activate the strips.  Both starters definitely taste less acidic than their parent starters.

Chau

Offline Totti

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #17 on: March 11, 2014, 12:28:03 AM »
Sorry for the mega bump - Just got my starter first feed just now. With regards to the hooch. Any updates on the general consensus? Instructions say to stir it back in, some people say to lob it. Thoughts?

Offline DNA Dan

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #18 on: March 11, 2014, 01:37:47 AM »
Drink it >:D

Offline anverc

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Re: What to do with the hooch
« Reply #19 on: March 11, 2014, 10:43:30 AM »
Sorry for the mega bump - Just got my starter first feed just now. With regards to the hooch. Any updates on the general consensus? Instructions say to stir it back in, some people say to lob it. Thoughts?

Stir it back in a few times, note the flavor.  Then pour it out a few times and note the flavor.  Then you'll have your answer :)

There's enough people stirring it back in to know that you're not going to destroy the culture, might as well experiment doing both and get it to your liking. 
i'm making a pizza utility app.  check it out and give suggestions! http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=30444.0


 

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