Some of the worlds tastiest (in my opinion) hot-sauces are fermented. Sriracha? Yup, fermented. Tobasco? You betcha'. Louisiana Hot sauce? YUP, it's fermented.
So, what exactly does fermented mean? Fermented means that bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, have gotten into the food and eaten the sugars. The sugars, through the magical process of anaerobic respiration, have been converted (a fancy way of saying burped and farted) into CO2, alcohol, and lactic acid. Lacto fermentation is when the main by-product of the controlled fermentation product is lactic acid. Lacto-fermentation is NOT related to milk, or milk products. Like I said, it derives it's name from LACTIC acid, which is not related to lactose.
How does it work?
Lactobacillus is present on pretty much every living thing. Every vegetable or fruit has some on its skin. This is good news, because it makes fermenting vegetables very easy. All you need to do is provide an environment that favours the growth of lactobacillus and inhibits the growth of other bacteria. There are only two conditions you need to provide in order to make something ferment. Salt and a low oxygen environment. Given those two criteria, lactobacilli will thrive.
How do you know if it is safe to eat?
If any other bacteria has gotten a foothold in your fermented product, it will stink to high heavens. You will not want to put it close to your mouth, let alone eat it. If it smells bad, it's not safe.
Naturally fermented foods are more nutritious than non-fermented foods. Through the action of burping and farting through the sugar, the bacteria have managed to make many nutrients, vitamins and minerals more bio-available to our body. In addition to the extra nutrients, lacto-fermented food helps with your digestion by helping increase the beneficial bacterial colonies found in your small intestines.
Did you know that a lot of sugar and fizzy cravings can actually be minimized by eating fermented foods? If you were to lacto-ferment a batch of pickles, and eat one every time you had a sugar craving, those sugar cravings would go away. Crazy, but true.
Why bother making your own hot sauce, when there are so many amazing ones out there? My reasons are two fold;
1) Because I can.
2) I like to eat fresh, raw food free of preservatives and "crap" when ever I possibly can.