A Recipe: Fermented Hot Chili Sauce

Fermented hot chili sauce – explosive with heat and teeming with food enzymes, beneficial bacteria, vitamin C and carotene.  Traditionally, all hot chili sauces were prepared through fermentation – and many of the world’s most renowned and well-loved sauces are still prepared through this time-honored technique of combining hot chilies with salt and allowing it to sit and brew away.  Both Tabasco sauce and sri ra cha are traditionally prepared through lactic acid fermentation – chilies, salt and time are the only absolutely necessary ingredients.

choosing chilies to ferment

When I saw the lovely habañero chilies at the farmers market – orange and red, yellow and green, I knew that while a fresh salsa might be lovely, a fermented hot chili sauce would be divine.  So I packed several brown bags, filling them with some of the worlds most fiery peppers.  They’re not the hottest, though; rather, the Ghost chili takes that prize averaging between 850,000 and 1 million Scoville units.  My vibrant and lovely Scotch bonnets?  Why, they rake in a mere 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units.  Of course any chili will do – cayenne peppers, jalapeños, Holland chilies all do beautifully, and I’m particularly partial to the combination of green jalapeños coupled with tomatillos for its fresh and slightly herbaceous undertones.

How to Ferment Chilis for Sauce

To prepare a good fermented hot chili sauce, you need just three simple ingredients: chilies, salt and time; however, the addition of garlic provides a depth to the sauce while the inclusion of unrefined cane sugar provides a sweetness that mellows the fire of the chilies.  The first step then is to separate the stems from the chilies, while keeping that star-like green cap intact for it adds a very subtle complex perfume-like flavor to the sauce.  Next, simply puree the chilies with salt, adding other additions as you see fit – unrefined cane sugar, herbs, garlic, onions or anything else.  A starter culture such as fresh whey reserved from making cheese, raw milk yogurt or milk kefir, or even a packaged starter can then be added to inoculate the chilies with beneficial bacteria – ensuring a speedier and more reliable fermentation.

Where to Find Starter Culture

This recipe does best with a starter culture.  You can use the whey leftover from making yogurt or milk kefir, the brine from sauerkraut or beet kvass or you can use a commercial starter (found here).


fermented hot chili sauce recipe

Fermented Hot Chile Sauce

By Jenny Published: June 9, 2014

  • Yield: about a quart
  • Prep: 20 (active time) mins
  • Cook: 5 to 7 days (fermentation) mins
  • Ready In: 25 mins

Seasoned with fresh garlic this fermented hot chili sauce is rich with flavor, bright and fiery. Use it in strict moderation to add flavor and heat to your meals. You’ll notice that the flavor of this sauce is more uniquely complex than vinegary sauces you can purchase at the grocery store.


  • 3 pounds fresh chili peppers (Scotch bonnets, Jalapenos, Serranos etc.)
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar, optional
  • 2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt
  • vegetable starter culture dissolved in 1/4 cup water, or 1/4 cup fresh whey


  1. Snip the stems from the chilies, but leave their green tops intact.
  2. Combine all all ingredients in a food processor, or mince by hand, until chopped to a fine pasty texture.
  3. Spoon the chili paste into a glass mason jar and allow it to fermented, covered, at room temperature for five to seven days.
  4. After the chili paste has bubbled and brewed for about a week, set a fine-mesh sieve over a mixing bowl and spoon the fermented chili paste into the sieve. With a wooden spoon, press the chili paste into the sides of the sieve so that the sauce drips from the sieve into the waiting mixing bowl.
  5. Once you’ve pressed and pushed the chili sauce through the sieve, pour the sauce from the bowl into jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator. The sauce will keep for several months.