Listen up. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of classic hot sauce or other spicy foods, and never mind if you have dabbled with fermentation or not… you have to give this a shot! Because this is not your ordinary hot sauce recipe. Fermented hot sauce is pretty much a game-changer. You may have heard me say before: I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy things. However, I truly love this stuff – and I think you might too!
Read along to learn how to make fermented hot sauce. The lacto-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. I call this our “sweet and spicy” fermented hot sauce 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.
In addition to being delicious, fermented hot sauce lasts for up to a year in the refrigerator, making it an excellent way to naturally preserve peppers. In contrast, traditional hot sauce recipes rely on vinegar as a preservative – making up the bulk of the sauce even! By fermenting it instead, it allows the peppers and other ingredients to shine, rather than being drowned out in vinegar. Not to mention, the benefit of probiotics!
Ready to get bubbling?
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 Corne de Chevre, Serranos, Jalapenos, Aji Limo, Gochugaru, and Chayenne, 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
NOTE: We have made many fun variations of this fermented hot sauce recipe, using other vegetables in addition to peppers. 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.
- 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. 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 & 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 & Add 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
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.
The ideal fermentation temperature for peppers is about 70 to 75 °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.
In too warm of conditions, peppers 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.
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.
Note: If you are using a Kraut Source lid, keep an eye on the little moat of water on top! It may dry out as the ferment goes on, and thus should be re-filled with water as necessary.
Step 6: Blend Fermented Hot Sauce
After 7-14 days have passed, it is time to turn those fermented veggie chunks into 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. It will last for up to a year in the refrigerator, which is where it should be stored. Shake to mix before use, because some separation is normal.
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!
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
- 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.