Introduction: Making Delicious Authentic Fermented Hot Sauce

My early experiments with pickling peppers and making hot sauce were total fails but in the end I prevailed! The great hot sauces of the world are fermented, not just preserved with vinegar like my early attempts. The unique flavors of hot sauce, pepperoncini and pimentos develop from bacterial and yeast activity during lacto-fermentation. I’ve been fermenting peppers since before it was hip to ferment things and am sharing this recipe that I have used every year for over ten years to make gallons of delicious hot sauce. Fortunately, it is easy to make and requires no special equipment!

This instructable is in both video and text form

You will need:

Water (I use my untreated, unfiltered spring water)


Vinegar ( optional. used to shift the ph of the brine lower)

Canning Jars (any size from half cup to half gallon)

Canning Seals (used seals are fine to use if they are not scratched on the underside)

Canning jar rings, or better yet these reusable white plastic lids for canning jars which don’t rust. I have tons of these for fermenting in canning jars.

Step 1: The Peppers

Picture of The Peppers

Use fresh, clean hot peppers. I’ve used a number of different varieties over the years. Cayenne is delicious and very productive. It has become my staple for red sauce. Beautiful Ho Chi Minh makes a delicious bright yellow sauce. The famous Tabasco peppers (yes, it's a pepper not just a brand) are a different species than most common peppers and don't grow well in all climates. Count yourself lucky if they grow where you live. You can also use peppers that aren’t hot, or blend hot and sweet peppers together to make mild sauce.

Wash the peppers and drain

If the peppers are narrow and small without with small seed cavities, there is no need to cut them. If they are large and very hollow inside, either cut off the stem ends, stab each one through once with a knife or just chop them into pieces to let the brine in.

Step 2: Jars and Brine

Picture of Jars and Brine

Choose the right sized jar. The jars should not be stuffed to the top, but there should not be a ton of room left either. Try to leave about an inch or so of space at the top of the jar. No size of jar is too small. Put the jars in an inch of water in a pan and bring to a boil along with the seals to sanitize them.

Pack the peppers into the jars.

The brine is made in these proportions

2 cups of water

1 Tablespoon of salt

2 Tablespoons of vinegar (again, this is optional. I usually use it, but not always.)

Mix until the salt is completely dissolved and fill the jars.

Step 3: Fermentationization

Picture of Fermentationization

Pour the brine in the jars. If you cut or stabbed the peppers, it will take a while for the liquid to fill their cavities. Poke the peppers around with a knife to get some of the air out, and leave them for 20 minutes or more to fill with brine.

poke them again to get out as much air as possible and top the jar up with brine to within about 1/2 inch from the top. It is actually okay if the peppers are above the brine as long as the jar is closed, but try to push them down.

Put on the seals and rings, but just very lightly. Turn them just until you feel the very first resistance. See the video version of this instructable for an example of how tight to close the jar. Putting the lids on lightly like this will allow most of the pressure to escape so that when you open the jar it doesn’t fizz all over the place.

Set the jar in a little bowl or saucer to catch any spill over caused by fermentation.

The bacteria and yeasts that cause fermentation should already be present. Some like to add a starter culture, such as some brine from another successful batch of fermented vegetables, or some of the thin liquid whey the floats on top of yogurt. I rarely add starter, but it’s fine if you want to. You need very little to inoculate the brine. A 1/4 teaspoon should be plenty.

Allow to ferment at room temperature. It usually takes two weeks or more. Canning jars are made to vent when under pressure, but not allow air or liquids back in. The jars won’t break. I’ve done this hundreds of times and never seen a single jar break, even when fermenting with the lids pretty tight.

The fermentation will start slowly and then become rapid. It is normal for the brine to become cloudy and for a white sediment to form in the jar.

When the fermentation starts to slow down a little, within less than a week, snug the lids down a little tighter. You want to do this before fermentation is over. Don’t open the jar again until you are ready to use the peppers! By sealing the jars before fermentation finishes, you assure that the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation pushes out all the oxygen containing air in the jar and replaces it with a blanket of inert, preservative carbon dioxide. This creates a habitat that is very unfriendly to most spoilage organisms. I always do this, and regularly keep my peppers in the cupboard for over a year. This storability gives us a huge advantage over fermenting in open crocks and containers.

Step 4: Blend It Up!

Picture of Blend It Up!

If you didn't let any air in, you can store the jars in a dark cool cupboard and pull them out as needed to make batches of hot sauce throughout the year, or you can make the sauce as soon as they are done fermenting and store the hot sauce instead.

It is possible for the peppers to spoil, though it is uncommon. Use your senses and common sense. They should smell appetizing, clean and sharp. The flavor should be sharply acidic, clean and tasty! They should not be slimy or excessively smushy and the liquid should be liquidy, not ropy or snotty.

Next you blend the peppers with liquid. The mother brine is full of flavor and lactic acid, but it will not preserve the hot sauce at room temperature when it is exposed to oxygen. Mix the Mother brine with half vinegar which will act to preserve it. I prefer to use mild flavored rice or white wine vinegars.

Blend the peppers with the 50/50 brine and vinegar mix. You can add a lot of vinegar and brine, or a little depending on how fluid you want your sauce. You can also strain the seeds out or leave them in. I usually leave them in. If you blend for a long time, you may be able to blend the seeds up completely, which is fine too.

Step 5: Bottle and EAT!

Picture of Bottle and EAT!

Bottle the hot sauce and store in a cool dark place if possible. Light will degrade the quality and dull the color over time.

I eat a TON of my delicious hot sauce on eggs, in omletes, on half avocados, in tacos and burritos and all sorts of other places. There is always a bottle on the table. I hope you try this recipe and like it. It’s easy, healthful and it rocks!

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions to make this instructable better. Check out my Website, SkillCult for more skills than you can shake a stick at!


hhots (author)2017-04-21

Great Video! The one thing I was really hoping to see at the end was how the color of those yellow peppers holds up. Does it keep the vibrant color through the fermentation process? Would love to see some shots of the final product. Im working out a new yellow sauce recipe and want to know if a ferment is the way to go or not!

trumprocks (author)2016-09-05

thanks skillcult my fermented jars have a white thin layer on top guess its the lactobacteria is that ok ? should.i.remove it ? di you blend that as well ? cheers

skillcult (author)trumprocks2016-09-05

That is mold and stuff growing on top because the jar was not sealed well enough during fermentation or storage. If it is light, you can skim it off and use the peppers as long as they are smelling and tasting good. If there are peppers on top in the scum toss those out though. Seal the jars slightly more snug during fermentation and tighten them before storing. The jars won't break. Canning jars are designed to vent pressure.

That type of scum is actually common and expected in ferments that are exposed to air, but it is skimmed off and precautions are always taken to keep the food below the liquid. With jars like this, we can seal them and prevent that from happening at all because the fermentation pushes all of the air out of the jar. By sealing the jars up with a blanket of carbon dioxide, they are protected. IF you open them and let out he carbon dioxide and let air in, they will start to grow stuff on top and eventually spoil, even in the fridge.

So, to summarize, start the ferment with a light twist on the jar lids. After the most active fermentation is over, but they are still working a little, snug the lids down. The carbon dioxide formed as it finishes fermenting will push out the air. Don't open it after that point until you're ready to use the peppers or you let more air in. Just yesterday I opened one of the jars that I made in this video. The peppers were above the brine, but they are fine and there is no scum, because there was no air. In the old days, people had to use open crocks, but we have better options.

trumprocks (author)skillcult2016-09-05

many thanks for your answer i'll be more carefull next time :)

rainingfiction (author)2016-07-03

NICE FRESH AND SPICY, just how I like it

Dwargh (author)2015-12-07

Well explained and documented! I like it!

jhawkins14 (author)2015-11-12

Exactly what I was looking for.

GCone (author)2015-11-11

I don't see any link to a video

skillcult (author)GCone2015-11-11

It's at the top of the page, it should be embedded and just play when you click on it.

giorgia14 (author)2015-11-06

Very nice video! You could try to add some music though!

skillcult (author)giorgia142015-11-06

Thanks, noted. Some said they like the no music thing and the sound of working. different strokes I guess.

giorgia14 (author)skillcult2015-11-07

Yeah it's a matter of choice but you can satisfy both putting low volume music so that the sound of working won't be covered! It will be like you listen to music while working! ;)

skillcult (author)giorgia142015-11-09

Yeah, I'm sure that could work too, thanks. There's also the copyright issue and the canned public license music is limited.

Mihsin (author)giorgia142015-11-08

Play your own music Georgia 14

giorgia14 (author)Mihsin2015-11-08

wow chill out...! What happened here, we can't tell our opinion now?

nancyjohns (author)2015-11-06

Excellent video. I really want to make hot sauce now!

skillcult (author)nancyjohns2015-11-06

Great, that's the desired effect!

iboersma (author)2015-11-05

Nice Instructable! One question - I do quite a bit of lacto-fermentation of veggies (and, yes, peppers!) at home and have never used any vinegar. It sounds like you add vinegar to lower the pH initially and to help preserve the hot sauce once blended. I agree with adding vinegar once the hot sauce is blended, but am wondering whether adding it to the brine at the beginning could be slowing down your ferment as my understanding is that the acetic acid in the vinegar can kill the lactobacillus bacteria you are counting on for lacto-fermentation... Any thoughts?

skillcult (author)iboersma2015-11-05

I don't find that it slows things down, at least not that I can tell. I'm not sure it really even helps that much either though. As I said, I don't always use it. Or sometimes I just splash in a little without measuring. I think I started using it with oilves because they are usually very slow to kick off and often pre-treated in alkali, unlike most veggies. The amount is small. I think the rationale is that by shifting the ph down, the environment is more conducive to friendly bacteria and less friendly to hostiles, the opposite of what you are proposing may be the case. I should just do a whole year without any and see how it goes. There are so many variables that it's hard to know what is going on. Taking a very controlled scientific approach would remove so many everyday variables that the information may not actually be that useful. Anyway, it works for me.

For the hot sauce it seems essential in order to be able to keep it opened at room temperature for long periods of time. Nothing will grow on the sauce with 50% vinegar mixed with the brine. As you know, most lacto-ferments will start forming colonies of stuff on the surface. Once those organisms gain some headway, they will begin to metabolize the lactic acid (I think for energy?) and the ph will start to go up paving the way for further spoilage. I'm not sure if its the total acidity or the qualities of acetic v.s. lactic that makes the difference. If you know anything about that, I'd like to know. I'm inclined to think that the qualities of acetic acid are more preservative somehow, or maybe just can't be used up by anything the way lactic acid can. I had outlined an experiment to boost the lactic acid by adding sugars to see if it would result in a ph low enough to act as a better preservative, but never tried it. What are your thoughts? What kind of pepper products do you pickle? I do mostly pepperoncini, and hot sauce, with some pimentos, which are amazing for cooking and in salads.

iboersma (author)skillcult2015-11-05

Gotcha. Well, it sounds like you are doing great with the process you have, so maybe adding vinegar to the brine is not an issue at all. I may try adding some myself to one of my batches prior to fermenting just to see how it affects things. One thing that I do to prohibit mold growth is to add a layer of olive oil to the brine (maybe a tablespoon for a wide-mouth mason jar). Since oil is lighter than water and given that mold doesn't readily grow in oil, it forms a perfect "seal" between the brine and the air. While I normally do use a cap on my jars when doing this, I've had success doing this with just a cheesecloth cover on the jar and not a bit of mold was present at the end of the fermenting process.

You are so right about there being "so many variables". I've had pickle batches I did in exactly the same way from one day to the next and one batch ferments super well while the other just limps along.

Regarding the mold colonies forming on the surface - my understanding is that the "bad" bacteria/mold that forms on the surface is only due to the fact that there is oxygen there and they can colonize on the tiny floating particles present there. From what I know, mold does not live well within an acidic environment, so I'm not sure whether they actually can metabolize the lactic acid. However, I'm just going off of what I've been told, so I could be wrong here.

Adding sugar would certainly boost initial lactic acid creation, as you pointed out, but relatively quickly you would cross over into creating alcohol. That's why fermenting fruits, which are much higher in sugar than vegetables, result in alcohol production rather than stopping with the production of lactic acid. Nevertheless, I'm all for experimenting, so if you do end up doing this, let me know how it goes.

The peppers I typically ferment are habaneros (I like the really hot stuff), jalapenos, serranos and some chile de arbol. I love your idea of the pepperoncini and pimentos, so I'm going to be tackling that here soon.

Anyway, great stuff. Keep up the good work!


skillcult (author)iboersma2015-11-06

Good stuff Ian. I'm pretty wary of mixing oil and water in general just because it seems to rapidly increase oxidation of the oils- i.e. rancidity. I have heard of it though. The way I pretty much see it is that this type of lactic ferment is best carried out anaerobically if possible. I don't doubt that special flavor characteristics may develop with exposure to other organisms and air, but for me so far I'm happy with strictly air deprived ferments and don't need the potential hassles involved with air exposure. I do it once in a while in odd circumstances, but everything pretty much ends up sealed in a jar. There was a time when that was impossible or expensive, but that is not the time we live in.

When I was studying olive fermentation, I remember reading about how organisms would begin to form colonies coating the tops of ferments and eventually making inroads into the brine by using up the lactic acid. Right around then it happened to me. I had my first successful batch of green olives and I was beside myself! Then I came back a while later and the lid had popped off. The olives were spoiled and the ph had risen. It is a process, but apparently they can do it given time. I think it's a matter of successive species and forming a raft on the surface from which to operate.

I tried out as many pepperoncini varieties as I could get ahold of some years back and favor two. Stavros is a blunt pepper, often with a little heat and some crunch to it. My favorite is Sigaretta Di Bergamo, which may go under some other names, or have other peppers using that name or a similar one. It is long and skinny, tender fleshed and not hot at all. I prefer the tender flesh. It's not soft or mushy (at least not if everything goes right), just tender. Pimentos are a crap shoot. I've had pretty good luck with Shepard's Ram's Horn, but it's hard to find. Many fully ripe peppers will go soft if fermented.

VladM3 (author)2015-11-05

Good instructable. And +1 for the fact that you advocate for fermenting and then storing in the same jar. Much better, yes. I had read that if you add 2% of the pepper's weight in salt, you get the best results. i.e. weigh all the peppers you are putting in one jar and then weigh in 2% of that in salt. Too much or too little salt can ruin what might be a healthy ferment.

skillcult (author)VladM32015-11-06

Yeah, much better to store in jars post ferment. Thats one of the reasons I don't like those expensive airlocks that people are buying for their glass jars. I also really like that I can make up smaller batches, like if I only want to open a pint or half pint of something at a time. Using canning jars definitely leaves some room for improvement (rusting seals are an issue) but in the end it pretty much just works anyway and nothing could hardly be easier.

MichiganDave (author)2015-11-05

BIG Thanks for sharing this with us. I will attempt this soon, and I am looking forward to making a more nuance, flavorful hot sauce than what I can purchase.

skillcult (author)MichiganDave2015-11-05

You're so welcome. I find that my sauce has a sort of fresh taste compared to most commercial sauces. Tabasco especially has some kind of body in the flavor that I suspect comes from aging or oxidation or both (possibly being the same thing). Sometimes I think it's something I want and sometimes I think it tastes old, which I think it basically is. I think there is a lot of potential to explore aging in wood and possibly with some exposure to oxygen. The other fun thing to explore is blending and just trying different peppers. I've tested pepperoncini pretty extensively, but have lacked the motivation to really collect and trial hot peppers for sauce. I like the cayenne. They are always productive, make a nice sauce, and they also make good drying peppers for stringing into ristras. But, there is a whole world of peppers to explore, and for those in the south, there is a whole group of which tabasco is a part, that don't grow too well in the north.

Gary Viveiros (author)skillcult2015-11-05

I saw a TV travelogue where they visited the Tabasco factory, and fermentation was happening in huge vats. They mentioned something about anchovy paste as a medium for fermentation. Had to laugh at the host or cameraman, I forget which. They got too close to the open port to view the process and just teared-up terribly.

skillcult (author)Gary Viveiros2015-11-06

aha, that would explain something about the taste of tabasco

jeanniel1 (author)2015-11-06

I tried to vote for this, but for some reason, it wouldn't go! Great idea, and well written instructions.

skillcult (author)jeanniel12015-11-06

I think voting may be over. Thanks though :)

Razor 911 (author)2015-11-05

awesome awesome awesome awesome my pepper plants just started to grow and now you post this awesome great timming thank you

skillcult (author)Razor 9112015-11-05

Awesomely awesome!

pcarroll50 (author)2015-11-03

What do you use for an emulsifier?My sauce always separates unless I use some yellow mustard to hold it together.

tecton47 (author)pcarroll502015-11-05

While I haven't tried it myself, I think xanthan gum would be worth a test. It is used to thicken all kinds of food products, is cheap and may work as a binder.

browneaction (author)pcarroll502015-11-05

Assuming you mean how to thicken it, I use part boilled carrot which works very well blended up. Although I ferment small chillies like jalapeños and habaneros from snacks and salads, I've never actually tried a sauce from them. My sauce is made from roasted Chiklis where I now add carrot and a dash of onion and garlic during the roasting process for extra flavour and thickener at the same time. Rocottos are the best for this I find

wkozey (author)pcarroll502015-11-05

some tomato juice works well, make sure to add some apple cider vinegar and brown sugar and lime juice and simmer slowly to reduce the h20 content gives it a nice citric twist.

skillcult (author)pcarroll502015-11-03

I just shake it up, but your mustard trick sounds interesting. Sometimes I just make it super thick and it doesn't separate

WhiteThunderBBQ (author)2015-11-05

I make fermented hot sauce all the time! I add sugar to the brine as well.going to be doing a batch with ghost chilies this weekend I think.

Awesome. Obviously you don't need any converting! Aren't ghost chilis super hot? I like mine on the mild side so I can eat more of it I use it with a pretty heavy hand. Fortunately, peppers just don't grow that hot here.

_Dandy_ (author)2015-11-05

Jesus Christ!!! my mouth is watering from reading this! I need to give this a try =O!!!

skillcult (author)_Dandy_2015-11-05

hail yeah! Go get 'em Dandy!

ndjalva (author)2015-11-02

It is time to replant the garden and with the peppers and finished product; time to start the winter garden prep. Thanks

skillcult (author)ndjalva2015-11-05

you're welcome

dmastin (author)2015-11-05

thanks for the recipe, i will make this for sure !!!!!!!

dmastin (author)dmastin2015-11-05

oh and you got my vote.

skillcult (author)dmastin2015-11-05


skillcult (author)dmastin2015-11-05

You're welcome!

Fornme (author)2015-11-05

I've only read this so far, but you're awesome. I'm going to get on this and experiment with blends asap. I've just finished using my seasons peppers for jalapeño jelly and raspberry/jalapeño jelly for the first time and it was great.... looking forward to the end product on this

skillcult (author)Fornme2015-11-05

I haven't messed with blends too much yet, but I think it's a great idea. it's not too hard to grow 6 or 8 different peppers to try. The other place to go with this is aging in wood. I definitely want to try that. I think that is part of the tabasco process. Probably involving oxidation as well. I haven't had a lot of incentive though because the regular 'ol cayenne goes pretty fast around here.

ClaudioD12 (author)2015-11-05

Wow, you made a great video, lots of nice B-Rolls. I liked it a lot. I'll definetly try the recipy, my mother loves these things, it'll be a nice gift. Thank you very much.

skillcult (author)ClaudioD122015-11-05

Great. You can use the same exact technique to pickle whole peppers too!

About This Instructable




Bio: I have spent most of my life accumulating skills to be a more self reliant person. I like making stuff and doing multidisciplinary projects using ... More »
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