Making fermented hot sauce is a unique method for preserving fresh peppers and other produce. Fermenting peppers is also a method for creating a hot sauce without vinegar.
With a proper pH, the sauces can keep in the refrigerator for many months, and we believe the sauces improve in flavor over time.
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In This Article
- What is lactofermentation?
- Avoid potential risks
- Making fermented hot sauce (steps)
- What pH should it be?
- When is fermentation done?
- Fermented flavor
- How long does it last?
- Kahm yeast
What is Fermentation (Lactofermentation)?
Like it or not, bacteria are everywhere. For the folks who don’t like the sound of that, many bacteria are beneficial to our overall health. If you’ve eaten yogurt, you have likely heard of the benefits of “live active cultures.” This benefit is also present in any fermented food, including hot sauce!
Fermentation is a natural microbial process that occurs when organic materials are broken down into simpler molecules by bacteria. Lactofermentation is the process that occurs in most food fermentation, and is perpetuated by the lactobacillus bacteria, which is contained in many fruits, vegetables and within the human body.
“Lactobacillus exhibits a mutualistic relationship with the human body, as it protects the host against potential invasions by pathogens.”(Source)
Fermentation is used to produce wine, beer, liquors and many other common foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Fresh produce is submerged in liquid (usually water) and deprived of oxygen. Energy is then extracted from carbohydrates like sugars by good bacteria, breaking down the vegetables.
Lacto Fermentation Danger
One of the common questions regarding lacto-fermentation is, “is it dangerous?” Put simply, no, lactofermentation is not dangerous. However, precautions should be taken to avoid common issues with fermentation, including mold growth and spoiling.
Here are the common signs that lactofermentation has gone wrong:
- Rotten smell
- Fuzzy mold growth on surface
- Overly slimy vegetables
- Rancid flavor (spit it out!)
Avoiding these negative outcomes is easy if you follow our steps to producing a healthy ferment.
Making Fermented Hot Sauce
The process of fermenting hot peppers is very simple. However, it is not a set-it-and-forget-it method of preservation. You will have to monitor your ferment on a once-daily basis to avoid any potential issues along the way.
Materials & Ingredients
- Glass jars
- Burping lids (Get them on Amazon)
- Fermentation weights (Optional, see on Amazon)
- Kosher or sea salt (without iodine)
- Filtered water (chlorine-free)
- Hot peppers
- Fresh garlic (optional, but recommended)
How To Make Fermented Hot Sauce
This fermented hot sauce will use 4 basic ingredients: Peppers (jalapeno, ancho, and habanero), garlic, kosher salt, and water. You may add sugar or other flavorings to your liking.
- Prepare The Peppers.
Wash and dry your hot peppers. Cut off the tops and slice the peppers lengthwise. Remove seeds (optional). You can also slice the peppers into smaller pieces, but it is not necessary. Always wear gloves when handling spicy peppers!
- Sterilize The Jars.
If you are using a brand new jar, it should be pre-sterilized. However, if you are using an older jar you should boil the jars in a large pot for 10 minutes to ensure the jars are clean. Remove jars from boiling water and allow to full dry on a drying rack.
- Fill The Jars.
Add the garlic and peppers to the jars. For this recipe, we are filling our jar with peppers to about 24 oz before adding liquid. Tip: Always put the smaller items first, as they have a tendency to float.
- Add Salt to Dry Peppers.
For a normal-sized ball jar (about 16 oz), use 1 tbsp of kosher or sea salt. Shake the salt and peppers briefly to coat, and then allow to sit for 3-4 hours. This will bring moisture out of the peppers and help initiate the fermentation process.
- Cover With Water.
It is important that the peppers and garlic are all submerged in water. If any parts peak above the surface, you may encounter mold. To keep peppers submerged, use a long pepper to tuck underneath either side of the lip of the jar. Or, use fermentation weights (see on Amazon).
- Cover Jars.
During fermentation, carbon dioxide will be produced and will cause pressure if the jars are tightly closed. Use cheesecloth and a rubber band to allow airflow, or ideally, use specifically designed fermentation lids from Amazon. If you do not use a fermentation lid, you will have to allow CO2 to escape on a daily basis (burping the jars) to prevent cracking.
- Ferment For 3-21 Days.
How long fermentation takes is always different. The biggest factor is temperature. If you keep the jars in a warm place, the process can happen quickly. Check on your ferment daily to burp the jars, check for yeast or mold, and to eventually taste test for readiness. The level of fermentation will give distinctly different flavoring, so deciding when to refrigerate is up to your preference!
- Separate Peppers From Brine.
Pour your fermented peppers through a strainer, and be sure to keep the liquid. This will be used to thin out your hot sauce to the desired consistency.
- Blend The Peppers.
Add the peppers and garlic to a blender, and add a small amount of the brine to start. Don’t add too much, as this can cause an overly thin sauce. After blending, add slightly more brine until the sauce is just thin enough. Optional: Add apple cider vinegar in addition to brine to have a more acidic flavor, and to keep the hot sauce for longer.
- Bottle and Refrigerate.
All fermented foods must be refrigerated. As a result, this hot sauce will last for months in a sealed container. Use the original mason jar, or use a small funnel to fill standard 5oz hot sauce bottles (get on Amazon).
Fermented Hot Sauce Brine (How To Get It Right)
Getting the proportions of salt-to-water correct is important. The goal is to have a 2.5-3.5% concentration of salt in the water. For our recipe, we used 5 jalapenos, 5 anchos, and 1/2 habanero pepper. This called for about 1.5 TBSP of kosher salt, and 2.5 cups of water.
Tip: Be sure to factor in the amount of space your peppers will take up in the jars. Too much salt will result in an overly salty sauce.
What pH Should My Fermented Hot Sauce Be?
We always test the pH of our fermented hot sauce to ensure it is adequately acidic. As fermentation takes place, the pH will drop lower and lower, becoming more and more acidic. A pH of above 3.9 is considered low-acidity in the food industry.
To put it simply, you should aim for a pH of 3.7 or lower when making fermented hot sauce. This ensures that your sauce will have a safe and long shelf life in the refrigerator. Some people target a pH of 3.5 for fermented hot sauce.
You can test your hot sauce’s pH using a cheap pH meter like this one.
We use a more reliable Apera meter – see it here.
How To Lower pH of Hot Sauce
If your sauce is tasty, but the pH is too high, you can add some apple cider vinegar to bring the pH lower. Add a few tablespoons of vinegar, blend and test the pH again. Once it is at or below 3.7, you can store it in the refrigerator.
How To Tell When Fermented Peppers Are Done
Fermentation will continue until you force it to slow by refrigerating. Foods fermented for longer tend to have a less salty, more sour flavor. Each person will prefer a different level of fermentation.
In short, fermented peppers are done when they are softer to the touch and have a more sour flavor. Test your ferment daily until it has reached the desired flavor and consistency.
Some people prefer a longer ferment for a more *funky* flavor, while others like a milder ferment. You can ferment your sauce as long as you like, so long as it doesn’t grow mold or spoil.
For hot sauce, we want the peppers to be fairly limp, and for the saltiness to be considerably reduced before blending.
What Does Fermented Hot Sauce Taste Like?
Fermented hot sauces have a slightly sour taste that is typical of many fermented foods. During fermentation, bacteria consumes sugars and other carbohydrates, reducing sweetness and developing a more acidic, sour flavor.
The reason for the slightly sour flavor is the production of lactic acid during the fermentation process. These acids replace sugars, and lead to a very distinctive flavor profile. The flavor of fermented hot sauce is difficult to describe in full, but it can be loosely described as slightly sour with an overall tangy character.
To really know how fermented hot sauce tastes, try making some yourself with our guide above! Most available hot sauce brands are not fermented due to the need to refrigerate. Making it yourself is fun and simple!
How Long Will Fermented Hot Sauce Last?
Most fermented foods will last for months or even years when refrigerated. Over time, the flavor of your fermented hot sauce will continue to develop, often becoming more and more delicious. However, some people think that over-fermented foods can be a bit too pungent. Others love it (like me).
As a rule of thumb, homemade fermented hot sauce will last 2-3 months in the refrigerator. We are confident that they can last much longer, but it is always wise to be on the safe side.
Always be sure to inspect your fermented sauce for mold growth or odd smells. If you are uncertain whether anything has gone wrong, you’re probably better off discarding.
What Is The White Stuff On My Fermentation?
There are a few things that a white substance on your ferment could be. The more common is harmless yeast that can simply be removed. The other might mean you need to discard your fermentation.
This is very common and is harmless to your food. You can safely consume the yeast, but most choose to remove as much as they can with a clean spoon before storing the ferment in the refrigerator.
What Causes Kahm Yeast?
There are a number of factors that can cause Kahm yeast to form on your ferment, but the most common are:
- Higher temperature
- Open-air fermentation (no closed lid)
- Fermenting sweeter vegetables, like peppers or carrots
This yeast is a live fungus that is common in the atmosphere and tends to thrive in a fermentation environment.
What Does Kamh Yeast Look Like?
Kahm yeast can often be mistaken for mold, but if you use these simple identifiers, you will know when your ferment is still safe:
- Stringy, wrinkled, film-like look
- White to off-white color
- Not fuzzy, but more flat
- Bubbles of carbon dioxide often get trapped in Kahm yeast
Here is a picture of Kahm yeast.
Mold is usually a reason to discard your ferment. There are ways to salvage a moldy ferment, but I prefer to simply call it a loss and start over.
What Does Mold Look Like on a Ferment?
There are many types of mold, but most exhibit these similarities:
- Raised from the surface
- Fuzzy appearance rather than smooth
- Spotty at the beginning, eventually coming together to form a layer
There are some harmless molds, but it is hard to be sure without doing your own research. If you suspect you have mold, we recommend that you get rid of the ferment.
Alternatively, you can simply skim away the top layer, careful to remove any and all visible mold. The remaining ferment should still be safe to eat.
Here is a picture of mold on a ferment.
Other Methods Of Preserving Hot Peppers
Want another option for preserving your hot peppers? We have tons! Check out our article on the many methods of preserving peppers here. You’ll learn how to pickle peppers, freeze them and lots of other cool tricks. Never let your peppers go to waste!
We hope you enjoyed this guide to making fermented hot sauce at home. Let us know how your sauce turned out, and if you recommend any other tasty ingredients to spice things up.