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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  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.

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What people are saying

    • Jenny says

      Bummer … I didn’t see Erin’s question until now. I find it works better with a starter, but you should be able to increase the salt and still ferment it without a starter.

      • Kim says

        Hi Jenny, when you starter culture, how much should be used? A whole packet? My rule of thumb is 1/2 packet per quart, but I’ve never fermented peppers before….

    • Gabriel says

      Shred a little cabbage or green onion into a jar, add a little kosher or sea salt, and as the vegetable sweats, tamp it down so it’s underneath the liquid. Let this sit at room temperature for a couple of days. Then, it should taste sour, and you’ve got your starter. Just put a little bit of the vegetable into the blender with the chilis and salt.

  1. walter says

    Hi I want to make the sauce but can you name what starter culture to use.For instance can I use dry yeast or a actife yogurt. What would you say is best, because thats the only 2 things I can find for know. Thanks Walter

    • Dave says

      You should not use yeast as a starter; these are lacto-fermented peppers so no yeast!

      Use whey (as in the water released from active yoghurt) 0r use fermented brine from another project (such as sauerkraut brine or sour pickle brine). If you don’t have those then follow the other poster’s suggestion to ferment some cabbage or green onion (lots of other veggies work too but you want a juicy one for this particular purpose) and then add that to the blender. This is functionally equivalent to using brine from another project, but without the other project ;-)

      • David McIlvaine says

        I used a commercial yogurt starter (burglarious, acidophilus, thermophilus) with cayenne peppers and fermented them for seven days. I had to ferment it outside (warm days/cool nights) The color, texture and flavor out of the gate were marvelous, sadly it has a lingering bitter aftertaste that is off-putting to the point where I may just trash the whole thing. Does anyone have any clue what went wrong? Maybe I should have left it inside for a more even fermenting temp or did I use the wrong culture? Maybe I should have let it ferment longer?? Thanks!
        Dave

        • Troy says

          Dave,
          Did you have any white mold? If so did you pick it out or simply stir it back in? I have known the sauce to have an off putting after taste if white mold is stirred back in instead of picked out.

    • nancy says

      Karen, I haven’t made this recipe but am very familiar with all kinds of salsas and chilis because they are grown where I am in far west Texas. Chilis can be combined in whatever way you prefer according to your taste or if you want a color mix. It’s trial and error as far as your taste, but there aren’t any rules as far as I know. Try some individual chilis raw (careful!) for an idea as to their taste, and then have at it! I have never fermented chilis but when fresh are great with onion, pineapple, apples, mangos, or pears, and I would love to try fermenting some of those combinations if it can be done successfully.

      republic of Texas

  2. nancy says

    Is it necessary to strain out the solids? this is Texas, we like the chunks :) Would leaving the solids affect the life of the salsa? thank you
    Nancy
    republic of Texas

    • jenny says

      Absolutely! Any probiotic liquid (except kombucha/water kefir which can turn veggie ferments slimy) will work.

      • Bill says

        Please tell me more about this. I don’t use dairy so I only have water kefir. So far my pickles turned out nice, but my cabbage (kraut) did not. I have whole pickled peppers in now with a little bit of water kefir grains. SHould I find a different way of doing this?

        • Audrey says

          Leave out the kefir. Your cabbage is teaming with good bacteria, so completely unnecessary to use any starter at all. Try making it with just salt and cabbage. I make a ton of fermented veggies without starters. I used to use whey, but always hated the flavor and the sliminess that surrounded the veggies. Once I realized it was unnecessary, I started using a vegetable starter or juice from sauerkraut when rushing a ferment. But usually, I just let them ferment themselves using a salt water brine. That always has the best flavor. Dairy bacteria is completely different from vegetable bacteria. They just don’t work well together for my taste buds. I went from ferment hater to ferment lover!

  3. nancy says

    Hi, I want to try this with our long green chilis that are fresh in the stores now in El Paso. Where do I find starter? I also want to know if I can add pineapple, onion, and/or other fruit to ferment the sauce successfully. Combined fresh, it’s fantastic but don’t know how it would work by your process. I grew up making all kind of homemade pickles and saurkraut, but this on is new to me. Thank you-can’t wait to try it!

    Nancy

  4. Michelle Smith says

    This looks so good. I love really hot foods. Do you have to strain and discard the solids or can you use as is? A few of my favorite (non-fermented) hot sauces still have the chili solids in them and I would love to use them.

  5. Dave Williams says

    I’m a recently retired person and have spent the last year growing, selling and processing a crop of jalapenos. Lots of vinegar pickles, some cooked sauces and oak smoked chipotle. I live in Cape Town in South Africa so my winters are 6 months away from the Northern Hemisphere. The one new trick i need to learn is how to bottle lactofermented chile sauce. Obviously the bottles must be boiled to sterilise them, as we have been doing with cooked sauces. I have a six-month-old lot of lactofermented chile/garlic/ sweet pepper in tibetan salt brine mixture that I want to blend and strain to make a thin chile sauce. Basically the fermentation is well over. What I need to know is the following : do I need to do any heating of the finished product before bottling? would really appreciate advice from people who have done something similar. Thanks Dave W

    • Andy Edgar says

      Hi Bob, I am recently made redundant and have been thinking of following a similar path to your self. With a view to growing larger crops of chillis and making pickles/ sauces/ pastes? and dried chillies to sell. I was hoping we may start an e mail exchange to chat about how it is going/ tips, ideas, pit falls. I love growing my own and need a money project too!
      Regards Andy

    • Daphne says

      If you let the milk kefir sit long enough it turns into curds and whey (the yellowish liquid) you can then use the whey as the starter.

  6. Rebecca says

    Hi!
    How much of the sour kraut juice would you use as a starter,would it be 1/4 cup? You wouldn’t have to dissolve that in water, that’s only if using a starter, right?

    • ruthie says

      Depending on their taste, saltiness, e.g., you could throw them in with some queso for a really zippy sauce, or you could mix it into cornbread, or into masa for a spicy tamale wrapper. All depends on if it’s something you’d want to eat.
      I’ve never tried this, so I’m guessing, but would it have enough zing left to infuse some vinegar for a hot vinegar condiment?

  7. MamaCassi says

    i followed the recipe with a lot of hot peppers from a local farm (they were looking underpicked) and my sauce keeps bubbling out of the mason jar. i put on a metal top, and it stayed pretty leak free for 2 days, but today i opened it, and my hot sauce bubbled out like a spicy volcano. i still have another day or two to let it ferment, but was curious about this whole exploding pepper issue…..

    i’d love to make more, should i not be sealing the top?

    thanks!

    • Chad says

      MamaCassi, how far from the top did you fill your jar? You should leave atleast 1 inch if not 2 when fermenting like this. When lacto-frementing, from my experience, you don’t to ‘seal’ it with a lid. You should only cover it with something like cheese cloth to keep out bugs, dust, etc. Putting a lid on it will not let the gas that is created during the fermenting process escape. This could potentially cause the jar to explode and create a mess.

  8. says

    Help! I made this sauce, and added a bit of whey ontop of the sauce to ferment (like you say to do with the ketchup) and a big white fluffy cloud of mold has grown on it. Is it saveable? Is it food poisoning? Did it get too hot (too close to the crockpot)?

  9. says

    Hi There.

    Just curious why the green tops (but not stems) are included? Does this add additional flavor or provide a different use? Looks awesome! Just starting to get into growing peppers and making sauce now.

    thanks!

    Jason
    Farmcraftfoods.com

    • Cheryl says

      You can use the green stems to make your own yogurt starter, I just read that on another web site, instead of buying yogurt starter. Really…

  10. Kev says

    My pepper mash has got white fury mold growing on it after a few days. Can I scrape the mold off and still use the sauce?

  11. matt e says

    hi guys was wondering does anyone know how to make Chipolte pepper sauce like the Tobasco style??
    I love the smokey flavor of it and would love to make my own but a bit hotter!! how do you get smoked peppers to ferment.
    To any advice thanks in advance!!

  12. Gareth Dread says

    Hi

    Thanks for posting this recipe – I’ve been looking for a way to make a fermented chilli sauce for a while and this seems a nice easy recipe! One small query though – you say to cover the mason jar, but I was wondering if I still need to allow air to get to it (ie; cover with a cloth) or do I simply put the lid on? Thanks in anticipation of your reply and keep up the good work!

    Gareth

  13. Juan H says

    A very important thing you must know is that you are aiming for an lactic fermentation.
    This must be done by lactic acid bacterias that require an environment reduced or deprived of oxygen to grow as such. Most of the molds and fungi grow is oxygen driven so try to keep oxygen out of the equation. A neat trick is to close the jar and have a flexible tube allowing some the excess CO2 leaving the system into a glass of water. lassto search for it on YouTube. This prevents the oxygen to enter the jar.

    Fermented food is not always easy so good luck

    • Jenny says

      No. Your information is inaccurate. Lactobacillus bacteria are NOT obligate anaerobes; that is, they can grow and proliferate in both oxygen-rich and anaerobic environments. The reason most people prefer to use an airlock is that an anaerobic environment prevents the growth of other microorganisms (like mold) which may contaminate the surface of the ferment.

      • Juan H says

        Hey Jenny.

        Thanks for your reply. You are correct. They are not obligate anaerobes. However, lactic fermentation isa metabolic path that they use when there’s less oxygen avaliable. That’s what I meant earlier. These bacterias will use the oxygen to grow (it’s much more efficient for them) but the result will not be what we are aiming for

        I’ll try to find more info of the topic and get back to you as soon as I can.

  14. Juan H says

    Hello everyone!

    Just wanted to tell you I have been experimenting with this recipe. Everything went great. As I told you before, I used a couple of marmalade jars and a flexible straw to make the gases leave the system without letting any oxygen in.

    You can see what I made in the following pic:

    http://db.tt/nn2QKviX

  15. says

    Hi, I’m just wondering too along with a few others who have asked the question already, do the solids need to be drained out? I like the heat in the chilli seeds.

  16. jhanvi says

    please add more pictures if you can. that will help in understanding the results better at each step . i mean one can be sure that we are doing it right.. thanks :)

  17. sabina says

    Have you ever tried “Cultured” chili paste? (Cultured Pickle Shop in Berkeley) I’ve tried for years to even compete with that divine elixer at home, and have not even come close. She uses a combo of chilis, her amazing cultured brines, and garlic, ginger and salt. Ri.dic.u.lous!! We truly go through pints of it monthly. I will try my hand at your recipe and see if I can make an elixer that compares. The nice thing is that she has a great supply all year long and I just can’t store enough to last that long.

  18. says

    Just finished my sauce and it is wonderful! I used dried thin-walled red chilis and added quite a bit of extra water to hydrate it properly. I also mashed it up twice in the food processor to help with the hydration. My starter was sauerkraut brine. Because I had so little liquid in mine, I decided to put it through my oscar juicer in the end it turned out as a beautiful rich thick sauce – a bit like thin tomato puree. Tastes devine! no mold developed at any time – I just opened the jar and stirred the contents every day or so for 7 days. Thank you Jenny for this great recipe!

  19. PRADEEP says

    what type of bacterial culture is to be used for a mixed vegetable sauce(tomato,chilli,carrot and bottle guard)

  20. blayney says

    So I put it all in a gallon jar and the mash is on top and the liquid on the bottom. Seems wrong. I used 3+ lbs. of jalapenos and salt and sugar as per recipe and 1/3c leftover brine from fermented pickles. Should I put it in smaller jars with less air exposure or add more salt or somehow weight the mash to be under the liquid (easier in smaller jars than how I have it now). Thanks so much for any help-am hoping for great things…

  21. Cindy says

    I didn’t see a reply to mold. It’s been ten days and it is not bubbly and has little bits of whitish grey mold on the peppers that are clinging to the side. Is this okay?

  22. Peter says

    Hi
    Just sharing a tip on how to help keep the mold out of fermented foods.
    Place a plastic bag on top of the veges – whatever you are fermenting (I use two one inside the other, in case of leaks) then fill the plastic bag up with water.
    The bag will expand to fill the space and weigh down the vegetables so that they are always covered by brine.
    Never a trace of mold.

  23. Anna says

    I’ve made lacto-fermented chili-garlic paste before but haven’t ever strained out the solids or added a little sweetenery to make it more like sriracha. Looking forward to trying it!

    (Side note: the pepper is habanero, not habañero. Sorry for the Spanish policing – just a pet peeve of mine…)

  24. Jessie Brown says

    Would it be possible to roast the peppers a little first so that the blackened skin would give a little smoky taste? Or do they have to be completely raw starting out?

  25. jan says

    IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When you blend the peppers, DO IT OUTSIDE!! The fumes are so bad you can not breathe!!!!!
    My recipe is a variation of the but I thought I was going to do us in…

  26. Deanna says

    Yum! I have been making fermented chili sauce for awhile now. It is delicious. I made a serano chili sauce that would knock your socks off. I like to put carrots in my sauce like they do in South America. It is really nice. Then you don’t need to use sugar. The sauce mellows with age but keeps the heat.

  27. jeff says

    we do something very similar every year. never used a starter and it ferments just fine. after a few weeks we move the jar to the fridge and let it ferment for at least 6 more months in there even better to wait a year then we run it through a blender and mix with some lime. yummy. the extra time aging in the fridge is so worth it.

  28. Isabel says

    So I ended up with 2 quarts of the pepper mash, is this about right? Doesn’t 1/4 cup whey seem like very little starter for this amount of veg? I’m quite new to fermenting, just want to make sure I got the proportions right!! Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

  29. Thomas Henshaw says

    Im unsure at the moment what bottles to use for my sauce. Its been fermenting for about 4 weeks now. Bubbling ceased about 3 days ago so im gonna need to bottle soon. I was actually thinking of buying a couple of vinegar bottles with the lids that restrict flow but im cluesless as to sterilization methods. I actually bought some brucleanse sterilizer usually used for homebrew, I used this to sterilize my fermenting vessels (I used some bbq sauce bottles that were the right size to use a bung and airlock with). I assume I could use this again to sterilize my bottles and lids? Or should I boil the bottles and soak the lids in sterilizer?
    Also Ive seen another recipe that actually calls for discarding the brine completely then blending the mash with vinegar in a food processor. I kinda like the sound of that. Anyone had any experience doing that?

    Thanks for any help.

  30. Isabel says

    My pepper mash is not bubbly at all, should I be worried? I’m wondering if my whey was too old (strained from week-old yogurt), and if so, should I add more salt? Can I do anything to fix this? Would be very upset if the whole lot went to waste :(

  31. Ld Lawrence says

    This was terrific. I didn’t have whey on hand so I used some ginger bug and a splash of juice from my last batch of kimchi. I didn’t separate it…. I left it as a chow chow or hot relish. I was really happy with the results. Ill always have a jar of this on the door in my fridge. Thank you very much!

  32. Bunny Watson says

    Very spicy. Very very very flavorful. I am so excited. We are making our own hot sauce!

    Ours also made 2 quarts. I am sure that it was enough whey. If not, it will just take longer. Can’t wait!

  33. Julie says

    In China we always ferment our peppers for making hot sauce to cook with. 10 pounds hot peppers, 1 pound garlic, crushed; 1 pound ginger grated; 3/4 pound salt, 1 pound white licor, like vodka.

    I use my meat grinder to grind the peppers, then add the rest, mix well , put into crocks (the Chinese have an ingenious system with a crock that has a large lip flaring out and a cover… after covering water and salt is added to the lip to seal it. )

    We make this once a year when peppers are ripe in about August-September, and it keeps all year. Just remember to keep water in the lip.

    The Chinese do not strain out the pepper mash, but leave it and use this to stir fry. Oh, I live in Guizhou Province where everything is HOT.

  34. That One Guy says

    As someone else mentioned, ghost peppers have not been the hottest pepper in the world for quite a long time. It was surpassed by the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T in 2011, which was in turn beaten by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion in 2012, then the Carolina Reaper in 2013.

    I’ve been growing the trinidad moruga scorpions since last year and they make an amazing hot sauce… Just don’t eat them raw unless you want to experience the worst pain of your life. :-)

  35. Greg says

    I made this with 1 Trinidad scorpion and about a million Chile Pequins and a few cloves of garlic.
    It is absolutely amazing I was just wondering if there would be a recommended way to thicken the sauce since straining it took all the body away (with those seeds in it I probably couldn’t eat it anyway).

  36. MrKnits says

    Can’t wait for my peppers to ripen to try this. Thinking of using a tbsp or so of honey from our hives to sweeten. Would that work or should I stick to sucrose or fructose?
    As for the white mold it is normally geotricum candidum, sometimes some penicillium candidum too. I grow those purposely on homemade goat cheese. So long as my sauerkraut ferment progresses OK I just scrape off the mold and any discolored kraut and save the rest of the batch. I’ve never had a problem doing that (nor did Busia, my Polish Grandma). I suppose it would be fine to do the same with fermenting pepper paste.

  37. says

    Thanks you for the recipe and the detailed comments. I am fond of chili sauces and my favorite is the classic Tabasco. But I can’t get my chilies to ferment.

    First batch didn’t do anything and juiced very little (habaneros, jalapenos and Baccatums). I added little water and 1/20 of salt. Nothing happened. I had to add a lot of vinegar to press out a sauce.

    Second batch i used more chilies, only habanero, no water, 1/30 of salt, because I saw many recipes where the whole chilies are totally juiced out and even pushed up by the liquid! Do you guy really add no water? After 6 days my jar got suddenly full of mold. :( chilies are expensive where i am (Norway) and there isn’t much choice

    Where are the damn lacto bacteria? I brewed a kölsch beer last week and got a massive lacto infection, they chose the wrong target :P

    Another question: My first batch didn’t ferment, so it lacks depth in the taste, but it’s hot and good. When you add vinegar to the final product, how come Tabasco has a mostly homogeneous sauce. I mean it’s homogeneous eventhough it has to be shaken. My sauce after 2 days resting , the top part of the flask is only vinegar! It’s simple physics, but how come this doesn’t happen why Tabasco?

    Thanks for the tips!

    • Emily says

      I use a very small amount of xanthan gum in my hot sauces. It thickens it and prevents separation. I highly recommend it.

  38. Shane says

    I made this recipe recently and it was absolutely lovely, spicy and hot yet fruity. It will be a staple not in our place. Your book by the way is fantastic and is getting well read and shared around as people eat food from it I make.

  39. Jordan says

    I was wondering if I could reuse the pulp to do another hot sauce ferment? I didn’t yield as much as I wanted & have so much pulp left that is still very hot.

  40. Pat says

    I used dried chilis for my hotsauce and the paste is really thick. Should I add water or will it be fine for fermentation? Don’t see activity after 12 hours.

  41. Melissa says

    Hello,

    You mentioned using tomatillos along with jalapenos in your sauce. I currently have an abundance of both and would love to know how much tomatillo you use, and if your ferment them along with the peppers, or add them after?

    Thanks for the great recipe!

  42. Elliot S-L says

    Won’t the sugar be metabolized by the lactobacilli? I have found when I ferment apples or other sweet fruits with vegetables they loose their sweetness. Thoughts?

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