Introduction: Ferment Your Own Hot Sauce

Picture of Ferment Your Own Hot Sauce

Last year's crop of pepper plants were extremely fruitful and I ran into the problem of having too many peppers (I know, horrible problem to have)! So, since I already brew my own beer, and coincidentally brew with hot peppers, I thought it only natural to ferment my own hot sauce.

As a lover of all things spicy, I set out to find out how to do it but I was disappointed in the lack of good step-by-step instructions. Once I pieced it all together and made my first successful batch, I naturally decided to write an instructable on it and share the acquired knowledge.

Step 1: Ingredients

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Making hot sauce is super easy, cheap and fun.

Ingredients:



• Peppers
• Filtered Water
• Salt
• Greek Yogurt with Active Cultures


Utensils/Implements:



• Gloves
• Knife
• Cutting Board
• Metal or Glass Bowl
• Small Sauce Pot
• 2 Glass Bottles or Mason Jars
• Immersion Blender
• Air Lock
• Fine Mesh Sieve or Cheesecloth
• Small Bowl


Step 2: Warnings & General Information

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Safety

I'm sure I don't have to remind everyone that knives are sharp and boiling water is hot, what I may have to warn about is the peppers. Capsaicin, the molecule that gives peppers their "heat", is extremely irritating to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat, mouth, lung, and (not to be crude, but this is important) the genitals. I say this because capsaicin-containing oil from peppers can stay on the skin for days and can be transferred to anything (and anywhere) your fingers touch. In extreme cases it can result in hospitalization.

While all this is probably obvious to those of use who have handled hot peppers before, what may be less obvious is the air above hot peppers is equally noxious when breathed in. This can happen even when the peppers aren't being cooked. What happens is, when the protective cuticle of the pepper skin is cut (or in our case pureed) aromatics and volatile compounds become airborne. Since capsaicin is both volatile and aromatic, it is easily dispersed into the air. The rate at which this happens is compounded with increased surface area, heating and fermentation (where it "hitches a ride" with off-gassing CO2), all of which we are doing in this instructable.

So remember to wear gloves and work with ample ventilation. If your air passages begin to burn, remove yourself from the area immediately. If you get pepper juice onto your skin, wash with ample soap and water. If you get pepper juice in your eye, rinse immediately with milk (any non-skim milk will do, the more fat content the better) then flush with water. Capsaicin is not water soluble, so it needs something in which it's long chain fatty acid side chain can dissolve (oil, milk, soapy water, alcohol) and/or a detergent that will remove it from the associated pain receptor (soap or casein in milk).


About Fermentation

About a year or two ago I came across an incredible article on the fermentation of foods and beverages that summed everything from history to health up nicely. Unfortunately, my brain is like a sieve and I cannot remember which magazine or journal it was in or if I saved it in the stacks of Nature, Scientific American and Popular Science I have in my basement. That notwithstanding, there's still plenty of articles abound about fermentation and how it works, the history of it and the benefits. Be judicious in your research, while there is scientific backing and/or strong theory behind a lot of the health claims being touted, be wary of anyone claiming fermentation (vis-à-vis probiotics) is a panacea for all things that ail us. The microbiota of our gut is a strange, complicated and ever-changing world that we are just beginning to understand. That said, there is a growing body of research showing the clear and many benefits of probiotics.

About Hot Sauce (and Spicy Food in General)

Hot sauce does more than just jazz up bland food. It is reported that it aids in weight loss, fights cancer, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and improves mood. That last benefit is due to the release of endorphins, the happy chemical in your brain. It's this reason that has been attributed to more adventurous people liking spicy foods! All those benefits are just from the capsaicin in peppers, that doesn't even touch the health benefits of Vitamin C and flavonoids commonly found in hot sauce!

Conclusion

All the science and gobbledygook aside, fermentation makes some darn good food and drink. Without it we wouldn't have wine, chocolate, sauerkraut, pickles, soy sauce, beer, and of course hot sauce. Our main goal is to make something tasty, any health benefits we get from it are an added plus!

Heck, even the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) has a section on fermentation in their surprisingly comprehensive Complete Guide to Home Canning, which I recommend everyone who is interested to read and reference.

Step 3: Prepare the Ingredients

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First, put your filtered water in a small sauce pot and bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, rinse your peppers and trim the stems off. Don't bother de-veining, de-seeding or removing the caps. Put the prepared peppers into your bowl.

Once the water is boiling, add ½ to 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. You can play with the amounts of salt, but it is important that you use it since it creates an environment that favors lactobacillus fermentation. Stir until the salt is dissolved.

Step 4: Combine and Puree

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Pour enough of the saltwater solution (brine) to cover the peppers in the bowl. It is not necessary to let the brine cool first and it may help rid the peppers of any competing bacteria and yeast.

Take your immersion blender (a.k.a. magic wand of the kitchen) and puree the peppers and brine as much as you can. Immersion blenders make quick work of this process, though you can also use a blender or food processor. You will want to do this with ample ventilation because you'll be breaking open the peppers' cells and the steam from the water will help carry that capsaicin right up to your nostrils.

The resulting puree should be of the consistency of a thick soup, not a stew. If needed, mix in some more brine. Remember it's always easier to add more brine than remove it.

Step 5: Whey Cool

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Ideally you'll want to begin harvesting your whey from the yogurt the day before, but you can also do it all in the same day by pouring the whey off of yogurt that has been left to sit for a few days.

The best way to harvest your whey is to take a small clean (preferably sanitized) bowl and suspend cheese cloth or a fine mesh sieve above it. Then spoon your yogurt into the cheese cloth or sieve, cover tightly with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator overnight.

The cloudy liquid that collects in the bowl is whey and in it is the lactobacilli (and other organisms) that will be doing our lactic acid fermentation. If your yogurt isn't fresh or if you're making a lot of sauce, consider making a starter in a clean bottle or mason jar with a 2:1 solution of water:sugar.

Step 6: Combine Ingredients

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Pour the cooled pepper puree into a clean (preferably sanitized) glass bottle or mason jar, this is your fermenter. You'll want to fill the jar or bottle up only to about three-quarters of the way to avoid overactive fermentation and to allow for some space while stirring. Add the whey then put the lid on or airlock in and stir by swiftly moving the fermenter in a circular motion on the counter.

I recommend using a sanitized 12 oz. or 22 oz. bottle with a No. 2 drilled bung (stopper) and an air lock. This allows for gas to escape while fermentation occurs while also preventing anything from getting in. Do not reuse this bung and airlock in anything but lactic acid fermentation. You can use a mason jar, but you will have to regularly open the top to allow gas to escape.

Step 7: Fermentation

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Fermentation should begin in 12-48 hours, as may be evidenced by bubbles forming in the bottle and in the airlock.

The two requisite cultures found in yogurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus (U.S., I'm not sure of other countries). Both of these are homofermentive cultures, meaning they make only lactic acid while fermenting. Cultures that are predominantly or exclusively made up of these two species of bacterium may not form any bubbles at all while fermenting. However many yogurts also contain Lactobacillus casei, a heterofermentive species that will also produce CO2 when fermenting, which which along with other heterofermentive strains may cause bubble formation.

Stir your fermenting hot sauce regularly by quickly moving the bottle in a circular motion on the counter. During the early stages of fermentation, aim for stirring 3-5 times daily tapering off to once a day towards the end of fermentation (approximately 2 weeks). You can be somewhat lax in how often you do this, it won't affect fermentation too much but it will ensure a more complete and expedient process.

You can still get fermentation without using whey at all, though if you go this route make sure the brine is at room temperature before adding it to the peppers. This is historically how fermented foods were made, utilizing a brine solution and the endogenous microorganisms on the surface of the fruit/vegetable.

Step 8: Filter, Rinse, Repeat

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Once fermentation has ended, in about 2 weeks, you can pour your fermented pepper puree through a sieve or cheesecloth into another clean bottle. You can either stop here or extract more from your fermeneted puree by mixing it with vinegar overnight (rinsing) or by starting the process over again by adding new/fresh pureed peppers and brine.

During pepper harvesting I kept the process going by continuously adding new puree to the bottle. Fermented peppers are pretty shelf-stable so even after fermentation was over I would just leave it on the counter. In fact, we moved some of our pepper plants inside and continued to harvest into late fall/winter using the same puree we started with in the summer.

Step 9: Enjoy

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Done!

All that's left to do now is enjoy your hot sauce and take pride in the pain, I mean pleasure, it brings!

I keep my finished hot sauce in the fridge, though that's probably unnecessary.

Comments

baggins435 (author)2016-10-07

This comment is waaay late because I just found the article.

Here is my newbie experience making hot sauce for the first time this year.

I researched and found different ways to ferment from "Wild" which is using no starter for fermenting, to using something to kick start the process. One thing several sites mentioned was to avoid store bought peppers as they are usually irradiated to prevent spoiling during shipment. I decided to try the Wild fermentation as I didn't have anything to use as a starter.

I had a handful each of Habanero, chili, Golden Cayenne, Serrano, and Tabasco plants this year. I got a lot of peppers in total, but there wasn't enough of one type ripening at the same time to use before they spoiled and I was leery of freezing them in case that prevented them from fermenting after they thawed. I eventually wound up buying several pounds of Habaneros and Serrano from the grocery store. I mixed mine with the store bought and they are still fermenting after over two weeks.

One of the sites I looked at said you could use sweet wines instead of the purified water, so the Habaneros and Cayenne are in white wine brines and the Serrano are in a red wine brine. The chilis are in purified water.

The Habs I mixed with a whole fresh pineapple I gave a ride in my Blend Tech blender. The Serrano I mixed with a whole diced white onion and an entire head of diced garlic.

I bought some medium roasted oak chips from a home brewer supplier to use when I start the aging so they will have that "aged in oak" flavor.

Ivriniel (author)baggins4352017-10-13

I make my own ginger beer, so I used 1/2 a cup of my gingerbug culture liquid as a starter.

jelte1234 (author)baggins4352017-03-25

Hi Baggins435,

How did your different mixes turn out?

baggins435 (author)jelte12342017-03-26

I don't know yet, I'm letting them age. I went back home (Louisiana) after my dad passed in November and I've been helping take care of my mother since then. I have to get back to my home (Utah) to do my taxes, so I'll be able to check on them then. The Tabasco peppers were still ripening in my makeshift green house when I left, but they have undoubtedly died from neglect. My neighbor has been keeping me up to date on all of the snow I missed.

Mmmmm baggins435, your combos are making my mouth water!!!

Sounds great, please comment again after you've had a chance to try them all, I'm excited to hear how they came out!

Ivriniel (author)2017-10-13

I use mason jars to keep my gingebug and sourdough cultures. I just cover them with a paper coffee filter and a rubber band. Keeps stuff out, and no need to open the jar to release gasses.

LucasM77 made it! (author)2016-01-12

Thank you for this great info. I was wondering if you could explain the rinse abit more. Like how much vinagar to use and if i should strain it again. :)

zymurgeneticist (author)LucasM772016-01-12

Hi LucasM77, great looking sauce!

It really depends upon your taste. For mine I added about half the volume of vinegar as I did brine, mixed it, then let it sit overnight. The resulting sauce was thinner, but still really good (I ended up bottling this separately). I stopped there and just used the remaining solid matter (peppers) as a sort of relish to add heat and color to other dishes.

LucasM77 (author)zymurgeneticist2016-01-12

Perfect! Thank you very much.

zymurgeneticist (author)2015-12-23

For those of you looking for some more info on why peppers are hot, take a look at this video produced by the ACS:

lynmiller (author)2015-01-26

Can I use whey from cheesemaking for this, or does it have to come from Greek yogurt?

Good question lynmiller, it would have to depend on the cheese culture you started with. Do you know what it was?

The whey i have is from mozzarella made with citric acid and rennet. Is that the right answer? :)

Also do you think I could freeze whey now to save until pepper season? Obviously, there aren't any in my garden in January, and our cow will be dry next summer, so I won't be making cheese.

And, could you give me an idea of how much whey one container of yogurt would produce?

Hi lynmiller, it looks like you may be out of luck. The method you are using to make mozzarella is an enzymatic method requiring no bacterial cultures in which to make the mozzarella. There is a method to make mozzarella using bacterial cultures which would be perfect for hot sauce that includes s. thermophilus, l. delbrueckii, and l. helveticus. I'm not sure if the enzymes remain active after freezing (or after use), maybe someone on here could help you out with that.

In my experience the amount of whey from one container of yogurt left overnight in the refrigerator is about a tablespoon. I've never actually measured it, but it'sin that ballpark.

Oh well! I thought I might have found one more use for that excess whey. It will work though, if I use regular unflavored yogurt instead of the Greek--am I right? I have trouble finding interesting ingredients like this here in Ukraine, but I'm willing to try 'cause we can't find very hot sauce either.

Thanks for your help! I'm really new at this. Never fermented anything but sauerkraut, which did work! Oh, and I do make yogurt!

Crossforge (author)lynmiller2015-11-08

Lynmiller. Sauerkraut is also produced by Lacto basillicus. Adding a table spoon or two of the brine (water) from your sauerkraut will be just as effective as the whey to kick start the fermentation.

It will absolutely work if you use regular unflavored yogurt instead! I'm glad you get to be the one to bring serious hot sauce to Ukraine, don't forget to stay in touch and update us on how it turns out!

I just finished making cheddar with mesophilic culture. I'm supposing that this will work in the same way. Do you know if there is a time limit on how long the whey (either yogurt or cheese) is beneficial in fermenting? By that I mean does it have to be used within 3 hours of yogurt or cheesemaking (I do both) or can it be pulled out of the 'fridge the next day and be just as successful?

Hi ApronsRUs, I know a whey culture left covered overnight in the fridge will work. It will obviously become less viable as the days pass but I've used whey that was sitting in the fridge for several days without a problem. The lag time (time it takes to start fermenting) may be longer, just let the whey come to room temperature before pitching.

Brato (author)2015-11-06

Hey guys I have a question, don't know if its a bit stupid but, maybe someone can let me know if it works or not. Well if we are talking about a fermented product using lactobacillus, that work at a temperature around 47ºcelcius, why cant we try and use this preparation with the chillies and put it in the yoghurt machine and make the fermentation as a normal lactic fermentation during the 8h period? Any comments on that?

Eduardo Mendes made it! (author)2015-10-18

Very inspiring and excellent instructable!

The results go far beyond my expectations: an amazing flavoring and the nice color that you can see. Thanks!

Thanks Eduardo! I agree, the color just pops and so does the flavor.

Beautiful picture of your sauce by the way!

tgrimler (author)2015-08-28

I would like to use your hot sauce method in a small town newspaper column. May I have your permission? If so, how would you like me to cite you? Should I use your instructables name and reference this page or do something else?

zymurgeneticist (author)tgrimler2015-09-02

Hey Travis, sorry I missed this comment, I have replied to your pm. If you have an electronic version of the finished article, please link to it in the comments!

tgrimler (author)zymurgeneticist2015-09-02

No problem. I'll link you when it gets run.

tgrimler (author)tgrimler2015-10-15

Sorry it took me so long, I'm also not quite certain where the rest of the column went. There was at least one other recipe to go with it, and a rant by me. http://www.pineandlakes.com/lifestyles/recipes/3845663-grims-tales-recipe-homemade-lacto-fermented-hot-sauce

zymurgeneticist (author)tgrimler2015-10-20

No problem, I hope you find the rest of the column!

chasc (author)2015-02-09

As with beer, are there different types of active cultures that will produce different flavors? I can't find any online providers of hot sauce cultures, but am thinking that whey from different brands of yogurt may provide slightly different flavor experiences. Has anyone tried this?

zymurgeneticist (author)chasc2015-02-09

Good question chasc. I began this whole endeavor looking into commercial cultures from homebrewing lacto-fermented beers (i.e. Wyeast 5335 and White Labs WLP677) but I was making nowhere near the 5 gallons that a standard pitch was designed for. I didn't even bother looking for a hot sauce culture provider.

That said, I guess the flavors imbued by the strains would depend upon the secondary metabolites of each strain. Sounds like a good experiment to pursue, but I haven't personally played with different strains.

crazyindy (author)2015-01-26

I have some questions. when are you supposed to add the whey? and how much are you supposed to add?

You wouldn't want to add the whey until the pepper mixture was cooled off to 80 degrees or less. (Heat kills lactobacillus and other cultures). A ratio of approx. 1oz whey to a 1 quart jar of pepper puree and be sure to use 1-2 tblsp Celtic Salt per each quart jar as well.

Thanks for the specs Sandra!

Hi crazyindy, thanks the comment. I clarified step 6 regarding your comment. Add all the whey you would get from the small (6-8 oz) container.

jdesilva (author)2015-01-31

I'm on day five. I used ripe jalapeños. The hardest part of this recipe is definately the waiting. Not much bubbling going on though, should I be worried?

zymurgeneticist (author)jdesilva2015-02-01

Hey there jdesilva, nice setup, you shouldn't be worried at all. Most, if any, bubbles you'll see will be within the first few days. The best way to test if you had activity, and have acidity, is to put a small amount of baking soda on a spoon and add a few drops of sauce. If you see bubbling then you are all good and may even be near completion!

PerfectionLost (author)2015-01-29

Hey--what's the value of fermenting hot sauce? I always assumed there was no fermenting in hot sauces. Can you give some examples of commercial hot sauces that are more or less equivalent to the one you made?

Thanks for the comment PerfectionLost. I supposed the most prominent fermented hot sauce is Tobasco, though most others that I see on store shelves are not fermented.

It's really a matter of taste on whether you ferment or not. Personally I like how the fermentation process "dries" out the sauce more, making it more piquant and adding depth. I feel it also showcases the peppers more, allowing the flavor of the pepper to define the flavor characteristics of the sauce more.

That gives me an idea for a fun experiment, a taste test with the same sauce made with and without fermentation to see how the flavor differs.

juanvi (author)2015-01-29

Thanks for the info! Will try for this new seasons with Habaneros and Chilis

zymurgeneticist (author)juanvi2015-01-29

You bet juanvi, sounds delicious!

ggrookett (author)2015-01-28

Always wanted to make my own going to have to give this a try soon.

That's great ggrookett, I hope you do!

terroir du monde (author)2015-01-27

Most excellent instructable!

Thanks terroir du monde, I'm glad you liked it!

EpicGastroExp (author)2015-01-26

tobascco uses oak barrels to age the peppers.

Thoughts on using a small mini oak barrel (type used to make home made aged bourbons whiskeys or mixed drinks) to age the pepper purée ?

Mmmmmm, that sounds delicious.

Sounds good to me, though you probably won't be aging any bourbons in it again! Perhaps you would like to try a more frugal approach by adding oak cubes or inserts from Time and Oak to your fermenter? Same taste and more controllable.

You could of course still use the barrel, though you'd probably have to make some serious amount of hot sauce to make it worth it. If you do use the barrel, make sure you read up on it as it will probably require a steam treatment before it is usable for this application.

t.rohner (author)2015-01-25

Cool

I'm also a food fermenter... beer, sauerkraut, bread... but not yet hot sauce.

I will give it a try.

zymurgeneticist (author)t.rohner2015-01-25

Thanks for the comment t.rohner, happy to hear from a fellow homebrewer, sounds like hot sauce will be a piece of cake for you! Just remember to keep the fermening hot sauce (and what you use to ferment it) away from your wort unless you want to make some sour beers!

t.rohner (author)zymurgeneticist2015-01-26

In fact, i made a combined (yeast, lacto) fermentation on purpose. This was Berliner Weisse. We used the lactos on the malt to make a sour mash. This worked perfect in the first batch. In the second batch we seemed to have caught a nasty strain... next time we will take a proven strain again....

zymurgeneticist (author)t.rohner2015-01-26

Yikes! Time to break out the PBW! At least you got one batch out of it, I'm thinking of attempting a sour with acidulated malt... no lacto will hopefully mean I can keep my beer fermenters clean. I've got the hot sauce completely physically separated from my beer brewing equipment.

t.rohner (author)zymurgeneticist2015-01-26

It wasn't that bad for the fermenters. I was afraid of it too, that's why i did it as follows:

The evening, before brew day, i weighed the grains and milled it. Then i mashed (at 63 Celsius for 45 min.) the most of it, holding back a pound or so. Then i cooled down the mash with my stainless immersion cooler to the upper range for the lactos. Then i stirred in the remaining pound of grist.(introducing the lactos) I left it overnight for souring in my insulated stainless mash tun. On brew day i step mashed at 63 and 71 for 30 min., then at 77 for 15 min. (Celsius, my mash tun has a 12 kW heater, batch size approx. 15 gal) after lautering, the wort was boiled for 90 min., then chilled and innoculated with a top fermenting yeast.

After a 90 min. boil, the bacteria should have been done for... so no lactos on the "cold" side. There was also no strange activity after bottling. The only thing i will change the next time, i will step mash all the grains up to 77 Celsius, cool it down and add a proven lactic culture overnight. On brew day, i heat it up to lauter temp. and start lautering. The rest stays the same.

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