Last Updated on September 12, 2023
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of hot sauce or spicy foods, or haven’t dabbled with fermentation much in the past, you have to try this fermented hot sauce recipe! Because this isn’t your ordinary hot sauce… The fermentation process completely changes the sharp, hot, often overpowering flavor profile of chili peppers – and transforms them into something far more mild, complex, flavorful, tangy and tasty than any other preparation of peppers! You will be pleasantly surprised.
Truth be told, I never liked hot sauce before (or any spicy foods, really) until we started making fermented hot sauce as a way to preserve peppers from our garden. Now, it’s one of my go-to condiments! I love it with tacos, tostadas, eggs, veggie burgers and more.
So, read along to learn how to make fermented hot sauce. I call this our “sweet and spicy” fermented hot sauce recipe because it is made with a combination of both hot chilis and sweet peppers. Therefore, you can easily tailor it to your taste buds with the types of peppers you choose to ferment.
What is the difference between fermented hot sauce and regular (unfermented) hot sauce?
Fermented hot sauce is made with peppers, onions, spices, and a mild salt water brine – not vinegar. As the peppers soak in salt water for a week or longer, beneficial lactic acid bacteria that are naturally present on the peppers get to work at lowering the pH of the brine. Thus, the lacto-fermentation process effectively preserves the hot sauce AND introduces gut-healthy probiotics, making fermented hot sauce more nutritious than regular hot sauce.
In contrast, traditional unfermented hot sauce that is preserved with vinegar is devoid of probiotics, and also tends to have an overwhelmingly hot and single-note vinegary flavor. By fermenting it instead, the flavor of fermented hot sauce is usually more complex, interesting, and in my humble opinion, better.
Should I add vinegar to fermented hot sauce?
Some folks wonder if they should add vinegar to fermented hot sauce once it’s done fermenting, as some recipes suggest to do this to potentially extend the shelf life. However, I don’t find it necessary. Naturally lacto-fermented hot sauce without vinegar already has an incredibly long shelf life: well over a year when stored in the refrigerator.
Plus, adding too much vinegar will halt the fermentation process and kill the beneficial probiotics you worked so hard to create! That defeats much of the purpose, if you ask me. Instead, we add a small splash of fresh lime juice at the end of our fermented hot sauce recipe – which gives it a nice tart little zing, but isn’t strong enough to kill the beneficial bacterial.
The following ingredient list fills a one-quart mason jar for fermenting, and makes about 16 ounces of finished hot sauce at the end. Scale up or down as needed, keeping the proportions similar. We routinely double the recipe and make a half-gallon!
- Peppers of choice – approximately 1 pound. We use about half (or just over) hot chilies such as serranos, jalapeños, gochugaru, Hungarian wax peppers, habaneros, or cayenne peppers, along with half sweet or mild peppers such as banana peppers or bell peppers.
- Fresh cilantro – 1/3 to 1/2 cup, loosely packed
- One small onion, or 1/2 medium to large onion. We prefer to use sweet yellow onions for our fermented hot sauce, though white or red can also be used.
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice – which you won’t need until the end of the fermentation process, a week later.
- Sea salt, pickling salt, or kosher salt – not iodized table salt!
- Filtered water – chlorinated water may interfere with the fermentation process
Adding other vegetables to fermented hot sauce
We’ve made many fun variations of this fermented hot sauce recipe, using other vegetables in addition to peppers. Adding different vegetables to fermented hot sauce creates even more complex and interesting flavors, so feel free to experiment! For example, we have added carrots or tomatillos from the garden. Simply stick with the same ratio (1 pound of veggies/peppers) per the other listed ingredients. For example, half a pound of hot peppers plus half a pound of chopped carrots. I suggest cutting tomatillos in half or quarters. Everything will get blended together later.
- A container for fermenting, such as a pint, quart, or even half-gallon mason jar
- Fermentation air-lock lid and weight. We use an all-in-one Kraut Source fermentation device, or this all-in-one ferment lid from Ball. Another option is to use a ceramic or glass ferment weight plus a separate airlock lid.
- Fine strainer (or cheese cloth) & bowl, used after fermentation
- Blender, used after fermentation
- Glass bottles or jars for storage of the finished fermented hot sauce
Step 1: Prepare Peppers and Onions
Wash your peppers of choice. When preparing them, keep in mind that the goal is to fit as much vegetable matter into the jar as possible, so I suggest to cut the peppers into pieces or rings (depending on the size/shape of your peppers) instead of leaving them whole. I also highly suggest wearing gloves while working with hot chili peppers! We remove most of the seeds and membrane, but aren’t meticulous about it. Next, peel and dice the onion into small pieces as well.
Step 2: Pack Jar
In the bottom of a clean fermentation vessel of choice, add a small handful of cilantro – about ¼ cup loose. Wash it first, but it does not need to be cut up or de-stemmed. Save a similar small handful of cilantro to layer into the jar later.
Next, add 2 to 3 lightly crushed peeled cloves of garlic to the jar, followed by the diced onion. Lightly press the contents down to pack. The jar should only be about a quarter full or less at this time. The remaining space is for peppers!
Now start adding cut pepper pieces to the jar, lightly packing them down as you go – reducing empty air space. I generally mix hot and sweet peppers together in layers. Once the jar is one-half to two-thirds full, add that last little bit of cilantro. Continue layering and packing peppers until the jar is completely full. Again, it is best to have the jar as full of veggies as possible, so do your best to fill it all the way to the top, about an inch below the rim.
Step 3: Make and Add Salt Water Brine
On the stove top, combine 2 cups of filtered water with 1 tablespoon of sea salt in a pot. This is going to be your simple fermentation brine! The salt is what encourages a safe fermentation process and beneficial bacteria, while inhibiting the growth of harmful pathogens.
Gently heat the water until the salt dissolves, but avoid overheating it. The brine needs to be room temperature to barely lukewarm by the time it is added to the fermentation vessel. You could also do this step prior to the veggie prep, allowing extra time for it to cool.
Once the brine has cooled to the desired temperature, pour it into the fermenting vessel until the peppers are completely covered. Gently tap and wiggle the jar or push down on the peppers to release air pockets. Top off with more brine if needed.
Step 4: Cover with an Airlock Lid
When fermenting foods, it is important to keep the veggies (peppers, in this case) submerged below the brine. This helps prevent the development of mold. Safely tucked below their liquid salt blanket, the vegetables and beneficial bacteria have the opportunity to ferment away. They will release gasses as they do, which need to be able to escape from the jar. Ideally, those gases are allowed to escape without disrupting the fermentation process or introducing new air.
This is where your weight and airlock come in! Cover the fermentation vessel with your weight and airlock lid system of choice. The stainless steel Kraut Source ferment device that we use has a spring and plate that serve as a weight and keep the peppers submerged, along with a moat system on the top of the lid that creates an airlock. Other fermentation weight options include these glass weights made for wide-mouth jars, ceramic versions, or even boiled stones! Then, an alternative airlock lid is added on top.
Step 5: Ferment
How long should hot sauce ferment? How do I tell when it’s done?
Now it is time to let the peppers and lactobacillus do their thing in there! Set the fermentation vessel in a temperate location to ferment for 7 to 14 days. The shorter the ferment, the less “developed” and complex the flavor profile will be. However, the longer the ferment – the more chance there is to develop kahm yeast (explained below) and get a little funky, especially in warmer conditions.
As the peppers ferment, the brine will change from clear to cloudy, the peppers colors will become more muted, things will compact under your weight, and will likely produce bubbles. Some fermentation vessels bubble so much that they overflow from the container! Therefore, we always set ours on a plate to catch any runoff. Also note that ferments usually smell a bit funky, but don’t worry – they taste better than they smell! I promise.
What temperature should I ferment my hot sauce?
The ideal fermentation temperature for peppers and fermented hot sauce is about 68 to 73°F. Other ferments do okay with temperatures slightly warmer, up to the 80 to 85 degree range, but peppers are more finicky. Therefore, do your best to find a location in the preferred range. Dark or light – doesn’t matter! Ours usually lives on the kitchen counter.
A note about kahm yeast and fermented hot sauce
In too warm of conditions, the peppers in fermented hot sauce are prone to developing something called kahm yeast. Though not harmful, kahm yeast can create an off-putting odor and flavor. It will appear as a thick white layer of sediment on the bottom of the jar, on the peppers themselves, or floating on the surface. A small amount of white sediment or film in totally normal in any ferment! In contrast, too cold of temperatures can lead to improper fermentation and mold development.
Step 6: Blend Fermented Hot Sauce
After 7-14 days have passed, it is time to turn those fermented veggie chunks into fermented hot sauce! To do so, place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl. Yes, over a bowl – not the sink! Next, open and remove the lid and weight from your ferment vessel and dump the contents of the container into the strainer. Keep the collected brine that is in the bowl below!
Transfer the fermented peppers, onions, garlic and cilantro into a blender. Next, add one tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lime juice, along with ¼ cup of the reserved ferment brine. Blend, and check the consistency. Continue to add small amounts of the brine, little by little and blending as you go, until the fermented hot sauce has reached your desired thickness. Some like it thin, some like it thick! That is totally up to you. Give it a little taste-test too, and add another squeeze of lime if you’d like.
Step 7: Bottle & Enjoy
Once blended, transfer the finished fermented hot sauce into a storage container. Ideally, something that is glass and has an airtight lid. We like to store ours in fun swing top bottles, or simply in mason jars. Now you get to enjoy your very own tangy, sweet and spicy fermented hot sauce! We enjoy drizzling this sauce over, eggs, frittata, veggies with rice and beans, fiesta-style stuffed squash, lentils… the list goes on. Aaron likes to eat it with chips like salsa, or even add a dash to his soup!
How long does fermented hot sauce last?
Fermented hot sauce stays good for up to a year in the refrigerator (or longer) which is where it should be stored. Shake to mix before use, because some separation is normal. We’ve eaten fermented hot sauce that was over two years old before! Discard if mold or off-flavors develop.
In all, I hope you love this recipe as much as we do! If you need any tips on growing your own peppers and chilis, learn more here. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, share this post, and if you do make it – report back with a review!
If you’re looking for more ways to use and preserve peppers, or simple and delicious fermented foods, check these out:
- Preserving Peppers: Quick & Easy Refrigerator Pickled Peppers Recipe
- Fermented Pickles Recipe: Crunchy Brined Dill Cucumber Pickles
- How to Make Homemade Chili Powder, in 4 Simple Steps
- Fermented Dilly Radish Recipe
- Simple Fermented Carrot Pickle Recipe
- Probiotic-Packed “Pickled” Fermented Dilly Green Beans Recipe
Sweet & Spicy Pepper Fermented Hot Sauce Recipe
- Fermentation vessel, such as a glass jar.
- Ferment weight and airlock lid
- Bottles or jars, for storage
- 1 lb peppers of choice, both hot chili peppers and some sweeter peppers recommended
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed
- 1 whole small onion, or 1/2 medium to large onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp sea salt, pickling salt, or kosher salt (no table salt)
- 2 cups filtered water, to combine with salt for brine
- Wash and chop peppers and onions. Wear gloves is suggested. Remove most of pepper seeds.
- In the bottom of a clean quart jar, add a small handful (1/4 cup loose) of fresh cilantro and 2-3 crushed cloves of garlic.
- Next add the diced onion, and some peppers on top. Lightly press to compact and reduce air space as you go.
- When the jar is halfway to 2/3 full, add the remaining 1/4 cup of cilantro and then continue filling the jar with peppers, until completely packed full (within top inch of the jar).
- On the stovetop, combine 2 cups filtered water with 1 tbsp sea salt. Lightly heat until salt dissolves, but avoid over heating.
- Allow brine to cool to room temperature or lukewarm, and then pour over the peppers in the jar until the jar is full and they are fully submerged. Tap and wiggle jar to remove air pockets.
- Cover with fermentation weight and airlock lid, to keep veggies submerged below the brine during fermentation.
- Set jar in a temperate location (70-75°F) to ferment for 7-14 days.
- After 7-14 days, open jar and pour contents through a strainer that is positioned over a bowl to catch the liquid. KEEP the strained brine liquid.
- Add all solid contents (peppers, onions, garlic, and cilantro) to a blender. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lime juice, and 1/4 cup of the reserved brine liquid. Blend.
- Assess the consistency of the fermented hot sauce. Continue to add reserved brine little by little, blending as you go, until the desired consistency of sauce is reached.
- Store finished fermented hot sauce in an air-tight bottle or jar in the refrigerator. Shake before use. It should stay good for up to one year in the refrigerator.