I normally discard it, but is there any scientific basis for either practice?
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It is a waste product of metabolism and so probably will not be of any value. So best to get rid of it.
On the other hand....
If we were talking about simple yeast, then I would agree. However, sourdough is more than yeast. It is also acetobacter, and or lactobacillus. These bacteria feed on the "waste" of the yeast, and that would be hooch.
Surely if you discard the hooch you're changing the hydration of your culture?
That might not matter if you're just going to build it up again, but even so!
Not sure about the theory or chemistry, but I've thrown hooch away and stirred it in and if the starter is still alive it comes good with some regular feeds either way.
Good point Merrid. You are changing the hydration of the starter by discarding hooch, but as you imply with your last comment, when you subsequently build it up it makes no difference after a couple of feeds. It's like deliberately changing your starter hydration. You can do that in as little as two feeds, or even one, and as long as the culture is healthy no problem.
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