Learn how to make a fermented hot sauce – a simple way to enhance and preserve your abundance of garden chilies to use throughout the winter. Full of healthy probiotics, this easy recipe has many health benefits. Plus it just tastes good! Video!
For many of you with gardens out there, this is the season of harvesting. Here’s a simple way to use all those chilies you’ve got growing out back and turn them into something that will bring you a little kiss of sunshine during the cold months – Fermented Hot Sauce! Now before you feel intimidated – know that this only takes 20 minutes of actual hands-on time and no special equipment. It’s ridiculously easy!
watch how to make fermented hot sauce! | 30-second video
Mother nature will literally do all the work for you! And after 5-7 days you will end up with the most delicious, alive hot sauce that will get better and better with age!
Why I prefer fermenting over canning:
Fermentation creates ALIVE food- but must be refrigerated (whereas canning is shelf-stable).
Fermented foods are incredibly rich in probiotics. These good bacteria are living creatures that work with our microbiome to improve digestion, boost immunity and help us maintain a healthy weight.
I prefer fermentation over “canning” because canning kills all the healthy bacteria and also halts the development of flavor. Fermentation keeps these healthy bacteria alive, and as a result, the fermented food actually tastes better and better with time!
Because fermented things are stored in the fridge (after making) they will remain healthy and active, continuing to ferment at a very slow rate.
Our bodies love foods packed with healthy probiotics—good bacteria—another way to boost our gut health.
How to make Fermented Hot Sauce:
Step one: Fill a 2-quart jar with any type of fresh hot chili, onions, garlic and thinly sliced carrot. You can use bell peppers to temper the hot chilis if you want a milder version. Just stick with the same color palette so your fermented hot sauce stays colorful and vibrant.
In this recipe, I used Padrone Peppers, a Spanish variety that had turned red, which I found at our farmer’s market. But feel free to use any kind you want or a blend. You’ll need about 1 pound in total. (You can easily halve this recipe)
Step two: Make a saltwater brine, using 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt, per cup of warm water.
Salt Ratio for Fermentation:
Having the right proportion of salt to water is important. Not enough salt may allow unhealthy bacteria to grow. Too much salt will kill all the bacteria and the chilies won’t ferment. If you need to add more water to the jar, then add salt accordingly.
Use 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt per 1 cup of water.
Step Three: Combine! Pour the saltwater brine over the chilies and push them down so they are completely submerged under the brine.
Step Four: Weigh down the chilies. You can use a fermentation weight, like this version that I really like, that will fit perfectly into a mason jar, to keep everything submerged.
Or in a pinch, a zip lock bag filled with water can be used as a weight, just place this over top.
The water in the bag will be work as the fermentation weight here.
Here you can see I’m working on a mild green hot sauce which is in the fermenting phase still.
Step Five: Place a lid on top-leaving it loose. You want the fermentation gasses to be able to escape while keeping creatures (bugs, flies) out. A couple of layers of cheesecloth also works here.
Step Six: Place the jar in a bowl or pan to catch any liquid that may spill over, and place it in a cool dark place, like a basement. If you don’t have a basement, or dark cool place, a lower cupboard in the kitchen is an option.
Check after 3-5 days. After a few days, the brine will turn slightly cloudy, and when you tap the jar, you should see little bubbles float to the surface, signs of life! Feel free to ferment longer. I usually go 7 days, long enough to soften those carrots!
Why is the Brine Cloudy?
A cloudy brine is a natural by-product of the fermentation process-a combination of lactic acid and yeast and is the reason why they call it Lacto-fermentation.
Various strains of bacteria are present on the surface of all plants, especially ones growing close to the ground. Lactobacillus bacteria convert sugar into lactic acid, preserving the peppers.
Lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. Over time the cloudiness can settle out of the brine to the bottom of the jar. Some batches are naturally cloudier than others, but all are safe to consume.
A cloudy brine is a sign that you have a safe, successful, and tasty ferment.
Step 7: Blend! Strain the brine, saving it. Add the strained chilies/carrots/garlic to the blender with one cup of brine and blend until smooth. At this point, you can add herbs,(oregano or cilantro is nice here) spices (cumin, coriander, chipotle). Add a little splash of Braggs apple cider vinegar if you like (this is optional, but also full of healthy bacteria) and more brine to desired consistency.
Step 8: Store! For everyday use store the fermented hot sauce in squeeze bottles– leaving the tip open in the fridge. The hot sauce will continue to ferment in the fridge, and the open tip will allow the gasses out. Before using, cover the tip with your finger and give it a shake.
A little Warning:
If you place the fermented hot sauce in tightly sealed bottles, unrefrigerated, they will EXPLODE! This is because the hot sauce is still fermenting and will continue to do so, creating bubbles. Remember it is alive and this is NOT canning.
*If giving as a gift, yes feel free to use a “cute bottle” but with instructions to refrigerate and loosen the lid.
But my hot sauce is way too hot!
Don’t be too alarmed if your hot sauce tastes overly hot when you first go to store it. A week or two in the fridge and the gradual slow fermenting will mellow out the heat substantially! It’s actually quite surprising. Many a time I’ve made a hot sauce and tried it thinking there is no way we would be able to eat it because of the heat level. But after a week or two it really does calm down the heat. Fermenting the hot sauce gives it another layer of flavor, adding more and more complexity. This will keep indefinitely in the fridge.
Types of chilies to use:
Use any fresh chili pepper you like or a blend of different peppers (in the same color palate). To temper, the heat, feel free to add a similarly colored bell pepper ( red, yellow or green bell pepper). For example- add a golden bell pepper to habaneros to temper the heat. Or a green bellpeper to serano chilies.
Keep in mind, you will be blending the sauce, so stick with the same color palate to make a vibrant colored sauce. For example, mixing red and green peppers will yeild a brown hot sauce- not the prettiest, but up to you. 😉
Also, keep in mind, fermentation will mellow out the heat of the peppers over time.
I am hearing that frozen peppers can be fermented ( please read the comments) , but have not personally tried this.
Currently experimenting with fermenting dried chilies- will report back soon!
Making Fermented Hot sauce is a fun little project that only takes about 20 minutes of hands-on time. A lovely way to use up all the chilis in your garden (or a way to try out all the beautiful varieties at the farmers market) and a healthy way to bring more healthy probiotics into your life!
More Fermentation recipes you may like:
- How to Make Kimchi! A Quick Easy Authentic Kimchi Recipe
- Simple Cultured Cabbage (Sauerkraut)
- Beet and Cabbage Sauerkraut
- Curtido & Cultured Salvadoran Slaw
- How to make Fermented Pickles!
A simple delicious recipe for Fermented Hot Sauce using fresh summer chilies, with no special equipment and only 20 minutes of hands on time!
Saltwater Brine: ( 1 1/4 teaspoon salt per 1 cup of warm water)
- 5 cups filtered water, lukewarm (see notes)
- 6 1/4 teaspoons finely ground sea salt (or Pink Himalayan salt) – use 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, per 1 cup of water.
2 Quart Mason Jar Fillings:
- 1 pound chili peppers, sliced in half (about 6–7 cups) seeds removed, see notes
- 1 carrot, very thinly sliced (do not peel)
- 4–6 garlic cloves, cut into quarters
- 1–2 shallots, sliced (or ½ an onion)
After fermenting, add optional seasonings to taste. Keep in mind the “heat” will mellow with age.
- optional: herbs (oregano, cilantro, celery leaves) and spices (cumin, coriander, chipotle powder, smoked paprika)
- 1–3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, (optional- for extra tang and for more healthy probiotics)
- honey or sugar to taste (optional, good if making Sriracha style)
- If your hot sauce is not hot enough, you can always add cayenne or ground chipotle to taste. Free free to add spices ( 1/2- 1 teaspoon) cumin, coriander, chipotle, allspice, etc. Make this your own.
- Heat the water and stir the sea salt into the warm water until dissolved. Let cool to lukewarm.
- Wearing gloves, slice the small hot peppers in half, and remove stems and seeds if you like (for less heat). I left the seeds in mine. If adding bell peppers to temper the heat, cut into thin strips. Thinly slice the carrot (do not peel), slice the shallots, and slice the garlic.
- Layer all into a 2-quart mason jar. Pour the saltwater brine into the jar over the chilies, pressing them down under the liquid. If you need to add more brine, remember to use the ratio of 1 1/4 teaspoon salt per 1 cup of water.
- Weight the chilies down with fermentation weights (or use a small ziplock bag filled with water, to weigh the veggies down). You want the veggies completely submerged under the brine. Cover loosely with a lid ( or cheesecloth and rubber band) and place the jar in a pan or bowl to collect any liquid that may bubble over. The lid is loose here so gasses can escape easily, but no creatures can get in.)
- Place in a cool dark place, like the basement, (or the bottom cupboard in the kitchen) for 5-7 days or until signs of fermentation.
- On day 5: Check for fermentation: Tap the container and see if any tiny bubbles rise to the surface, check for a cloudy brine ( see notes) or check the bowl underneath, to see if there was any overflow. All signs of activity. If you see signs, you can blend the sauce at this point or let if go a little longer (a good idea if using very hot peppers) up to you. And you can always ferment longer for even more flavor! The longer the ferment, typically the tangier this will become, and the more mellow the heat. If no signs of fermentation, give it a couple more days- then check troubleshooting in notes.
- After 5-7 days and signs of fermentation, strain and SAVE the brine. Place the fermented peppers, onions, garlic, and carrots into a blender. Add 1 cup of the brine and blend until smooth as possible. this may take a couple of minutes. Add the vinegar if using, (and honey if you prefer a sweeter hot sauce like Sriracha), and more brine to desired thickness. At this point, you can blend in optional spices and herbs. ( 1/2-1 teaspoon spices, 1-2 tablespoons fresh herbs).
- Don’t be alarmed if it is overly spicy- the heat level will significantly mellow with time, as it continues to ferment in the fridge after 1-2 weeks. Place in a squeeze bottle and store in the fridge, leaving the tip open (or loose) for gasses to escape.
- Do not place in a sealed jar unrefrigerated– this will result in an explosion– and a great big mess- as the hot sauce is still alive and fermenting! BE WARNED! I have the best luck with using in squeeze bottles and leaving the cap off in the fridge.
- If transporting to a friend as a gift, it is ok to seal for short periods of time (a few hours) but make sure to tell them to refrigerate it and loosen the lid, very soon after receiving.
- The flavors will continue to develop and get more complex over time, the heat mellowing.
- To use, cover the tip of the opening with your finger and give a shake before using.
- This will keep up to 12 months in the fridge (probably even longer!).
WATER: Regular tap water may contain too much chlorine in it, inhibiting the fermentation process (although our tap water works fine). If fermentation is not happening, you may want to try filtered water.
Peppers: Use any chili pepper you like or a blend of different peppers (in the same color palate). To temper, the heat, feel free to add similar colored bell pepper -substitute sweet red, yellow, or green bell pepper. Keep in mind, you will be blending the sauce, so I perfect to stick with the same color scheme to make a vibrant colored sauce. For example, mixing red and green peppers will result in a brown hot sauce- but up to you. 😉 Also, keep in mind, the fermentation will mellow the heat a little.
RATIO: If you need more water to cover or fill the jar, use 1 1/4 teaspoon salt per cup of warm water.
You could easily halve this recipe or use two, quart-sized jars.
CLOUDY BRINE: A cloudy brine is a natural by-product of the fermentation process-a combination of lactic acid and yeast and is the reason why they call it Lacto-fermentation. It is a sign of fermentation. Various strains of bacteria are present on the surface of all plants, especially ones growing close to the ground. Lactobacillus bacteria convert sugar into lactic acid, preserving the peppers.Lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. Over time the cloudiness can settle out of the brine to the bottom of the jar. Some batches are naturally cloudier than others, but all are safe to consume and taste delicious. A cloudy brine is a sign that you have a safe and successful ferment.
Signs of fermentation: liquid overflowing into the bowl (check the bowl to see if the jar overflowed, a good sign! Tiny bubbles rising to the top when you tap the jar. Cloudy brine.
Troubleshooting: If no signs of fermentation, double-check you measured salt ratio correctly. This is typically the most common problem (adding too much salt will halt the process). Try filtered water. Do not over-wash the peppers/carrots (for example, don’t use any type of produce soap) as the wild bacteria from the pepper skin, carrot peeling is what is starting the fermentation. I have the best luck with farmers’ market chili peppers and carrots because they are not over-cleaned or treated with anything.
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