Alternative Fermentations: Homemade Fermented Hot Sauce
We’ve all got a bottle of Tapatio in the fridge at home, and probably a bottle of Tobasco as well. We use them in our wing sauce, slather them on our pork chops and use them in our marinades when we’re brining meat for the grill. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to see if I could change some of those around a bit, maybe add some heat or a fresher flavor. This week, we’re going to do just that! We’ll give your our BrewSauce Recipe with step by step instructions on how to make your own and how to customize it to your own personal flavor preferences. Making your own Fermented Hot Sauce has the added benefits of home fermented foods like prebiotics and probiotics that science says can improve health with all of the natural lactobacilli that we harness to ferment it!
There is a distinct difference between pickled peppers and lacto fermented peppers, the latter being what we’re up to today. Although both are technically pickling methods, for many pickled peppers (think pepperoncinis) they are preserved with vinegar instead of fermented. The vinegar making process itself is a very cool fermentation, but that’s another article. The point is that vinegar contains lots of acetic acid, produced when acetobacter bacteria metabolize ethanol after lactic acid bacteria metabolize sugar to produce that. This is what’s happening in your kombucha, and you can read more on that process in our article The Science Behind Kombucha to learn more.
When we ferment hot sauce, we’re doing something very similar to what we’re doing when we make our House Sauerkraut, or if we were to make fermented soybeans, which is making lacto fermented vegetables. This process creates elevated levels of lactic acid which help act as natural preservatives, as well as filling the solution to the brim with healthy LAB’s (lactic acid bacteria), and that’s what gives us the natural probiotic effects, health benefits, improved digestion and immune system and all of that good stuff. All of this AND the fun of making it ourselves? Oh yeah!
For our BrewSauce Recipe, we got lots of input from other avid food fermentationists, and it’s a pretty good mix of sweet peppers, semi-hot peppers and really hot peppers. When you’re choosing your peppers, remember that your hot sauce will naturally be toned down after fermentation, so don’t be afraid of the hot. Try our mix, which is only moderately hot but super flavorful, and use that as your baseline to make adjustments. This is our veggie mix:
- 2 lbs Red Bell Peppers
- 1.5 lbs Fresh Habanero Peppers
- 4 Jalapeno Peppers
- 4 Serrano Peppers
- 4 Wax Peppers (or any other moderately mild pepper, like banana peppers. This choice was mostly based on color if I’m being honest)
- 4 - 6 Italian Sweet Peppers (these are the ones that are about 4” long that come in a big mixed bag of red, yellow and orange)
- 2 Pasilla Peppers
- ½ of a Sweet Maui Onion or White Onion
- ½ of a Purple Onion
- 6 - 8 Cloves of Garlic
- 1% - 2% Kosher Salt, Sea Salt, or Fancy Pink Himalayan Salt
Even though this looks like a lot, figure it’s for a 1 Gallon Fermentation Jar, which will yield about 3 L or so of actual BrewSauce…. So like a 2 week supply.
Prepping Your Peppers: Chopping and Seeding
First and foremost, we chop. You figure that there will be a fair amount of chopping going on with all of those ingredients, just to fit them in. Some people like to chop less and leave bigger pieces while others (myself included) tend to chop them up smaller to fit as many as possible in the fermenter. There is no wrong way, as they are all headed towards the blender in the end, but we like to try to stuff as much flavor as humanly possible in all of our food ferments.
Keeping all of the seeds out of the fermenter is pretty much impossible, especially when you sit down with the intent to process like 5 pounds of peppers and veggies, so just do your best. We chop them in half, then use a spoon to remove all of the seeds and placental material. Now, I know this seems counterproductive to what we’re trying to do here, given that that’s where the majority of the capsaicin hides in peppers, but bear with me here! We remove the seeds because they have other compounds than capsaicin that we don’t want in our ferment, a good example of which are tannins, which will be expressed WAY more than we want them to be in the finished product.
Another thing to remember here: RUBBER GLOVES! We saved ourselves a boatload of pain and suffering by listening to our BrewCranium contributor and friend Chris, who’s experience with skin absorbed capsaicin sounded like it would have been more fun for him to set his hands on fire. Thanks for the Pro Tip, Chris! Capsaicin is an oil, and will absorb in your skin, so when doing a project like this, don’t forget your personal protection equipment!
Stuff That Jar to the Brim!
When we cut up our peppers, we chop them pretty small and one color or type at a time. This is because if you layer them in your fermenter, this fermentation is beautiful! It honestly doesn’t matter how you put them in, but we like to layer them color by color just for the aesthetic enjoyment of the whole thing. I mean, if you’re going to go through the trouble, it might as well be pretty!
As with all of our food fermentations, stuff your jar to the brim and pack everything in as tightly as you can. You’re going to lose way more mass than you think during the fermentation process, so don’t be afraid to load it up! Once you have everything layered in the fermenter, it’s time to turn it into a brine!
Building the Brine
Brine is really just a fancy way of saying salt water. As you know, we need to make the right environment for our lacto and other LABs to get down to business and ferment our peppers and such, and to keep out the bad stuff that we don’t want, like botulism and other nasties. For our hot sauce, we tend to stay at or just above a 1% brine. This means that if you take the weight of the veggies in the fermenter and the water (not the fermenter itself), 1% of that weight is how much salt you add in. For us, we converted the weight to grams, which seemed like the easiest way to get an accurate measurement, and it was somewhere around 70 grams. Grams also convert very easily to cups, especially with a known substance like table salt (1 cup of salt = 273 g), so if you prefer to make a dry measurement, or your scale only works in pounds and ounces, there you go!
A 1% brine is very common for a fermentation like this, although you can easily do a 2% or 3% and be just fine. The more salt in the brine, the more you taste in the finished product, so try to keep that in mind as you ferment more and more of your produce. It’s not always a bad thing, and you don’t want to go below 1% for safety reasons, but 1% seems to be a great place to have a more neutral fermentation.
Fermentation and Waiting
This is always the hard part for me, with food and beer. It’s like 2 weeks of the Jeopardy theme playing on a loop in my head. We actually expected the BrewSauce fermentation to take a little longer, but it wrapped up pretty fast at two weeks on the nose. You can leave yours for longer, and it won’t hurt anything, but the whole patience thing is a problem for me!
You’ll wake up on day 3 to see a pretty active fermenter, and it’s definitely worth putting your jar in the sink or in a small plastic container to catch any overflow. By day 7 or 8, it will have slowed down quite a bit, and you might have to open your lid up and push some of the peppers back down into the brine.
Blend It, Bottle It, Eat It All!
After all that waiting, this is the easy part! Now that everything is fermented down, it’s all soft and ready for the blender! Grab your favorite slotted spoon or spatula and scoop them all right out of the fermenter and right into the blender. Depending on the blender, you might have to do it in two runs, which is no biggie as long as you put it all back in one big vessel before you bottle it up to make sure that all of the flavors are even throughout.
We also like to use the brine to help thin it out a little bit. We ended up using about a ¼ cup, but you can always add a little bit more as you’re blending to make the whole thing the consistency that you want. If you want it even thinner after blending, grab a Fine Mesh Bag and a funnel and force it through with a spatula. This is time consuming and a little labor intensive, but you will end up with something more like store bought sauce if that’s what you’re looking for.
We bottled ours up straight from the blender, pouring it all out into 187 mL Champagne Bottles with Tasting Corks using a small funnel so that our presentation was a pretty as the ferment itself! You can use whatever you want, from Flip Top Bottles to Mason Jars.
After you bottle it up, keep it in the fridge and it will last forever. Well, technically you’re supposed to only keep it for a month or so, but in theory, especially at cold temperatures, you shouldn’t have to worry much about any bad microbes getting in there. It’s already pretty acidic from fermentation and full of live cultures of LABs, so anything that is going to take hold will have to fight pretty hard to multiply and take hold.So this is where you make your own! Try it and let us know in the comments how much you love it and any twists that you put on your fermented hot sauce! Thank you for reading, and hopefully your inspired by how crazy easy it is to make this! Check out our BrewSauce Recipe if you want a printed version of the recipe and instructions. Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest to stay up to date on all of our fun fermentations! Head over to YouTube and subscribe to BrewChatter TV to watch our fun and informational videos, and if you haven’t already, sign up for the BrewChatter Newsletter to get updates direct to your inbox! Brew On!