Add a little extra zing to your homemade pepper sauce with lacto-fermentation. To make fermented hot sauce you’ll need a few simple ingredients, a canning jar, kitchen scale, a blender or food processor and some time.
I like spicy foods. It’s something I grew up with. Not so hot that my tongue goes numb and I can’t taste what I’m eating, but zippy, spicy and flavourful. I’m also a big fan of lacto-fermentation, especially in the summer when fresh, local produce is abundant here in Ontario. I’ll often buy more than I need immediately so I can preserve some for the winter months. Simply freezing, dehydrating or lacto-fermenting are all great ways to save fruits & veggies for the winter when local produce is not readily available.
Pepper sauce (hot sauce) is a staple in just about every Caribbean household and I think everyone in my family has a different way of making theirs that was likely handed down from their parents or grandparents. Many are vinegar based with a variety of add-ins: fresh lime, mustard, spices, vinegar, herbs. Each one has a slightly different texture and flavour, and they all add some zip to a meal. I probably have 2 or 3 bottles in my cupboard right now!
I’ve never made a traditional hot sauce, I just get bottles from my mom, but one year she grew so many peppers in her garden that we all had way too many and I had to figure out what to do with them. I dehydrated some, froze some and made a few batches of homemade fermented pepper sauce.
What is lacto-fermentation?
I learned about lacto-fermentation when I was studying nutrition several years ago, and of course had to try it. There’s a lot to know about the processes behind lacto-fermentation, and it can get a bit scienc-y. In short, the bacteria (Lactobacillus) present on the surface of all plants converts sugars into lactic acid, which is a natural preservative.
What are the benefits of lacto-fermentation?
- Lacto-fermentation is a method of food preservation.
- It’s a relatively simple process that is easy to learn.
- It does not require specialized equipment. There are special items that you can use for fermentation at home, but it’s not necessary.
- Fermented foods can contribute to good gut health, which is important in immunity.
- Fermentation improves the digestibility of foods, and preserves the nutrients present.
Fresh peppers, preferably organic. Why organic? You’ll be using the entire thing including the skin and it’s best if the pepper isn’t covered in wax or other chemicals.
Blender or food processor
Fermentation weight or small glass jar that fits into the opening of your canning jar.
*You can also use whey for lacto-fermentation. I prefer to use salt because it’s already in my cupboard, and since whey is derived from dairy it’s not suitable for everyone to consume.
Let’s talk about salt
Salt is a very important ingredient in the process of lacto-fermentation. It’s the ingredient that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria & mold, and promotes the growth of the naturally occurring ‘good’ bacteria (Lactobacilli) for the fermentation process.
There are a variety of salts available to purchase, and you likely have one or more in your pantry.
Fine grain, kosher, sea salt, Himalayan salt, coarse, flake, table. Which should you choose? What you are looking for is 100% salt. Table salt is often iodized and contains anti-caking agents which could inhibit the fermentation process.
What kind of peppers should you use in your fermented hot sauce?
Choosing the kind of peppers to use is a personal choice. Each pepper has different level of heat and a different flavour profile. Select peppers that you like, all one variety or choose a few different varieties to create a unique flavour.
Things to remember when fermenting peppers:
- You want the peppers to be fully submerged in the brine. To do this you can use a specialized fermentation weight or an airlock. If you don’t have these, a simple small glass jar that fits into the mouth of your canning jar or glass lid works (I have a lid from a Weck jar that works perfectly), or you can use a small piece of parchment paper on top of the brine to hold everything in.
- The ambient temperature in the room will affect how fast your peppers ferment. The warmer it is the faster they will ferment.
- What is ‘burping’ the jar? The lid of canning jars is pliable, when you push down on the lid there is give. During the fermentation process gases build up in the jar and the lid becomes less pliable. This is a sign of gas buildup and you need to release the pressure by slowly unscrewing the lid.
- How do you know when your peppers are done? Fermentation is a natural process and while I can’t give you an exact number of days, there are a few indicators that you can follow the first few times you ferment.
- Bubbling. The fermentation process produces gases which produce bubbles. Sometimes you can see the bubbles in the jar or it will bubble when you ‘burp’ the jar.
- Smell. As your peppers ferment you’ll notice the smell changes and becomes more sour. Once you start to smell the sour, vinegar-like aroma you’ll know that the peppers are fermenting.
- Taste. In all ferments flavour is the best indictor to determine when your ferment is done. If you see the bubbles and smell the sour aroma, you can start tasting the liquid. This is likely going to be quite hot so be cautious and only taste a small amount.
Lacto-fermented Pepper Sauce
- Cutting Board
- Canning Jar
- Blender or Food Processor
- Kitchen Scale
- Large glass meauring cup
- Parchment paper, fermentation weight or small glass jar.
- 1000 ml water room temperature
- 25 grams salt
- 2 cups hot peppers deseeded (if desired) and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic optional
Prepare the Peppers
- Lightly rinse the peppers and remove the stem. Make sure you wear gloves when handling hot peppers!
- Chop each pepper in half.
- Remove the seeds and ribs of the peppers if you want less heat in your final sauce.
Prepare the salt brine
- Add water and salt to a measuring cup
- Stir until salt is all dissolved
- Add peppers and garlic (if using) to the jar. Gently push them down if you need to in order to get all peppers in the jar.
- Pour the salt water brine into the jar almost to the top. Leave about ¼ inch of space at the top for the weight and to allow for bubbling of the liquid.
- Add a weight on top of the peppers to ensure they stay submerged in the brine.
- Screw the lid onto the jar and place the jar onto a small plate or bowl to catch any liquid run-off.
Ferment your peppers
- Leave your peppers to ferment for several days, depending on your desired flavour. The longer it ferments the more sour it will become.
- Check your peppers every day. Push down on the lid to see if there is any give or if the pressure in the jar has built up. If the pressure has built up you'll need to slowly unscrew the lid to release the pressure – this is called burping. You may hear a hissing sound and the ferment may bubble up, possibly overflowing into the bowl.
- Tighten the lid and check again the following day.
- After your ferment has been bubbling for a few days and it starts to smell a bit vinegar-y or sour, it's time to start tasting. Spoon out a very small amount of the brine and give it a taste. If it's to your liking move on to the next step. If you want your pepper sauce to be more fermented put the lid back on and keep checking each day.
- Once fermented to your liking, strain the brine into a measuring cup. Put the peppers into your blender or food processor with about ¼ cup of the brine and blend to your desired smoothness. Add more of the brine if you want a thinner sauce.
- Optional: Strain the blended sauce to remove all of the pulp.
- Bottle and keep in a cool spot or in the fridge.