Introduction: Miracle Powder: Peppers, Garlic, Salt, Acid, Smoke

About: Book designer, fisherman, fish artist, gardener, pickler, fermenter, carpenter, dad.

The Powerful Powder to Cure Any Food of Any Affliction

Over the past 10 or 15 years I have fallen in love with pickling and fermenting. Everything I grow in my garden is there to be fermented or pickled, and these days the things that I grow the most of are peppers and garlic destined to be fermented into amazing hot sauces. In recent years, though, a byproduct of the hot sauce process has stolen the show. It gets me more excited than the actual hot sauce, I give it away to my friends at every opportunity, and I eat it all the time.

I call it Miracle Powder.

This is not some cheap exaggeration. It really IS miraculous: it tastes amazing on pretty much anything and it makes pretty much anything it’s on taste amazing. Lifeless frozen or leftover pizza? Healed! Comatose eggs? Revived! Same old pointless popcorn? Inspired! Potatoes going nowhere? Enlightened!

As with any miracle, we mere mortals can’t help but ask the obvious question: How’s it DO that?

Unlike most miracles, there’s a simple, concrete answer: it does it by combining the powers of a few of the most important discoveries in culinary history:







You don’t have to ferment this to get something amazing, but you probably should if you can. (See more about fermentation in step 2, below.) Fermenting the peppers creates a depth of flavor you can’t get any other way. You could pickle it instead, or you can skip the acid. I’ll outline 3 methods in step 4.

Why go to all this trouble instead of just grinding up some peppers? Because you deserve more!

If you were the sort of person who cared only about speed and simplicity, you could just dehydrate some peppers and grind them into a powder, but the result would be one-dimensional. BORING! You could take a little more time to smoke them first, then dehydrate and grind them, but that would get you two dimensions at best. You’re better than that.

You want full 4-dimensional sensory overload. You want a technicolor, life-transforming miracle. You know it’s worth it to push yourself just a little further. It’s not much work and the reward is immeasurable.

Step 1: ​Equipment, Tools, Safety

This list looks long, but much of it is optional and a lot of it can be adapted to what you have.

  • Jar(s) to hold the mash while it ferments (or rests in the fridge)
  • Airlock(s) or Easy Fermenter lid(s) if ferementing
  • Gloves, glasses/goggles*
  • Food processor
  • Blender
  • Knives for chopping
  • Cutting board that can be washed (porous wood is probably not a good idea)
  • Stainless steel or glass mixing bowls
  • Digital scale if weighing ingredients
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Canning funnel (helpful for filling jars without spilling)
  • Mesh strainer or food mill
  • Small jars or bottles to hold the hot sauce
  • Parchment paper (the kind made for baking, not actual antique book pages),
  • Foil baking pans (pie plates or similar size) as they allow bending if necessary to fit in the smoker, and you probably don’t want to permanently blacken your good bakeware with smoke
  • Smoker, including charcoal (if needed), wood chips or pellets, etc.
  • Food dehydrator (or oven)
  • Spice (coffee) grinder
  • Desiccant packets (you’re already saving them from every product you buy, aren’t you?)
  • Small spice containers, zip-top bags, or other containers to store the Miracle Powder in

*WARNING: Wear gloves. Wear eye protection (one drop splashed in your eye is going to ruin your day). Don’t breathe the fumes coming off freshly pureed peppers. Don’t accidentally snort the powder because it smells so good. Don’t let little kids touch any of it!

I once (once!) mixed two gallons of hot sauce with my bare hands—really got in there and kneaded it—and I paid the price for two days. Sometimes my hands were on fire, then they’d be ice cold for a while, and sometimes they’d go completely numb (presumably when the signals overloaded the system). I also burned anywhere else I’d touched, such as my eyes and various spots on my face, arms and legs. Other places, too. It was one of the most intense sensory experiences of my life. Though I knew better in the logical parts of my mind, there were periods where I wondered if I was doing permanent nerve and/or brain damage.

The moral of the story? Please wear gloves and be careful. Saying “I’ll just be careful not to touch the peppers” will NOT work. I’ve tried that too. Capsaicin gets on everything, and you won’t know until it’s too late. Don’t be a hero.

One more thing: Cheap disposable gloves are thin and rip easily. You might not notice for a while. I always wear two layers.

Step 2: ​How to Make Something Miraculous

Remember: hot sauce is not complicated

My usual fermented hot sauce—and its divine sibling, miracle powder—includes 3 ingredients: peppers, garlic and salt. That’s it. Acid is added naturally during fermentation.

Basic concept

It’s really pretty simple: chop up all the edible parts of all the ingredients and mix them with the salt to make your mash. Shove the mash into a container. Wait as long as you can.

You have a choice to make

The instructions that follow may seem biased toward fermenting, because I am biased that way. That’s how I do it. Even if you’re not fermenting (and I promise not to judge you for that decision) you probably ought to read the whole thing anyway. You might get some good ideas.

A. I’m not going to ferment it this time

A simpler—and faster—option is to combine the ingredients and let them spend some quality time together in the fridge so their flavors can meet, mix, mingle and meld. It won’t be the same as if you’d fermented it, but it will be tasty and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it.

After all, the underlying idea is to get the peppers and other ingredients nice and salty, to break them down and soften them, and to join all the flavors together into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. A fermented sauce and powder will have more complex flavor, but do not underestimate the powers of salt, peppers, garlic and smoke! These are all great flavors worth making and eating. Plus, the non-fermented version is faster, and you’ve got things to do.

B. Of course I’ll be fermenting it!

If you choose to ferment it but aren’t already experienced in the process, you should do some reading first. I can’t cover the whole process here. There are thousands of good articles, videos and recipes online, and many good books have come out in the last few years. Just search for fermentation, hot sauce, and similar topics right here on this site and you’ll find tons of good guides.

Wait, what's "ferment" even mean?

There is no need (or space) to go through the science of fermentation in detail here, since you can find a million explanations online and in books, but here’s a very brief overview of how it works: during fermentation, salt-tolerant Lactobacillus bacteria eat the sugars in the peppers and other ingredients, burp out CO2 gas and excrete (OK, poop out) lactic acid. Thanks to the salt, the sorts of microorganisms that spoil food (such as “bad” bacteria and molds) can’t take off before the good ones are established. The acid made by the bacteria pickles everything (this is how sauerkraut, kimchi and some cucumber pickles are made) and makes it even harder for unwanted organisms to grow. At the same time, the CO2 they give off is trapped in the jar, meaning yeasts and molds that need oxygen can’t survive. This is why you use an airlock of some sort: so the CO2 can push out whatever air was trapped when you closed the jar but won’t build up enough pressure to actually explode the jar (it happens and it’s not a pretty sight). If you don’t keep the space in the jar free of oxygen, you are likely to get mold that would ruin it or yeasts that would ferment it like wine or beer. You don’t want either.

Warning: I have found peppers to be more prone to growing unwanted yeasts than other vegetables, so make sure you use a sterile container, keep air out of it during fermentation, and otherwise maintain an environment that’s hospitable to the good bacteria and not the others. Again: read up on fermentation before you begin if you’re not experienced.

Step 3: Ingredients and Making the Mash

Required ingredients:

  • Peppers (hot for sure, but feel free to add sweet ones—the more variety, the more complex the final results) Color doesn’t matter, as long as the taste is good. I like to use only ripe (red or at least orange) peppers as green ones can sometimes be bitter. If your chosen hot peppers aren’t very meaty (such as habaneros) and therefore not very juicy, you might want to include some fleshier ones (even if they’re not hot).
  • Salt (non-iodized, such as pickling/canning salt). I only use finely ground pure salt.
  • Garlic (and lots of it!)

Optional, but good:

  • Onions (white, red and/or yellow; normal, sweet or both)
  • Feel free to explore fruits, vegetables, etc. (But maybe keep it simple for the first batch.) Most fruits and vegetables will provide a lot of sugars for the bacteria to eat, meaning a more active (gassy) ferment, so make sure your container and airlock are ready for this.

Is there going to be an actual recipe in here somewhere? (Hint: No.)

The exact amounts of the various ingredients can vary quite a bit. I generally go for a ratio in the neighborhood of 10-12 parts peppers to 1 part garlic. If I use onions, they’re usually about a quarter the weight of the peppers. (I never really worry about this. I just chop up what I have and see what I get.)

For example, a particularly tasty batch I made last year:

Peppers4200 grams
Onion950 grams
Garlic350 grams
Total5500 grams
1% of 5500 = 55
Salt (2%)110 grams

This is the batch seen in the two 1-gallon jars, each about 2/3 full, with airlocks. It fermented for 7 months before becoming delicious sauce and it made the best Miracle Powder yet. In fact it's the smoked mash nuggets and powder you'll see near the end of this guide (and on the cover photo).

Making the mash

You’re aiming for mash that doesn’t have much liquid beyond what it takes to keep all the little chunks in suspension. It should slosh around in the jar when shaken, but shouldn’t be watery enough that you could create waves. Some possible comparisons: less watery than most store-bought salsa, more chunky than store-bought spaghetti sauce. This is oddly difficult to describe. Hopefully the photos will help. (Note that the color of the mashes in the photos varies depending on the colors of the peppers that went into them.)

It can’t be too dry or it won’t ferment properly. If not fermenting, this is less of an issue (but you still don’t want it to be dry).

It’s best if all the liquid comes from the ingredients themselves, but if they aren’t very juicy you might have to add some saltwater brine. Before adding any liquid, wait at least a day to see how much water the salt pulls from the ingredients. Add as little as possible—just enough that all the little bits of ingredients are in suspension, but not enough that you can imagine light getting through it from the other side of the jar. You can also add liquid by adding more, wetter ingredients. Onions hold a surprising amount of water and taste great in this; some thick-walled pepper varieties are fairly juicy. Fruits are also an option.

A couple simple brine ratios, if you need to add some:

  • 1 teaspoon (6g) of fine salt per cup (250ml) of water will get you a 2.5% brine.
  • 1¼ teaspoons (7.5g) of fine salt per cup (250ml) of water will get you a 3% brine.

Note: Any salt that isn’t uniformly ground, such as “natural” salts, many kosher salts, etc., should be measured by weight as their volume is unpredictable.

Also note: Use non-chlorinated water if you’re fermenting, such as spring or well water. If your town supplies your tap water, it’s probably chlorinated. Chlorine kills bacteria, and bacteria are your hard working employees.

And: In all the years I've been doing this I have never added brine to any hot sauce batch. The ingredients have always provided all the liquid needed. Trust your ingredients and they'll reward you.

Take notes

IMPORTANT: Always, and I mean ALWAYS, write down how much of each ingredient you used (including the salt). It’s much easier to replicate the perfect batch the next time, or to adjust the next batch to your taste. Make sure to put a date on the notes and to label the jar (I write on blue painter’s tape) with the date and any other key facts).

By the way

This whole instructable will work with pretty much any hot sauce (or similar) recipe you can find. Investigate sriracha, piri piri, xni pec, achar, pico de gallo, chutney, and so on if you want ideas. Get creative. (You can even smoke and dehydrate store-bought salsas or sauces if you’re scared of real miracles.)

Step 4: Procedures

I promised 3 procedures, so here they are. After the second set of steps (what I'm calling Part B here), the procedures are the same for all of them.

But first, for fermenters: See the moving picture of bubbling pepper mash? That's fermentation. Every one of those infinite bubbles is full of CO2, burped out by busy bacteria. That is what you want to see. Also, notice the little spaces in the mash. Those appear all over against the glass (and everywhere else, but you can't see them) as the bacteria get to work. They burp so much that their accumulated gas inflates little caves in the stuff they're eating. Another sign that you are on the right track.

Cook & Smoke
(Simplest and fastest)

Fridge Pickle, Wait & Smoke
(Slightly more complicated, takes longer)

Ferment & Smoke
(Best tasting but slowest)

Part A: Mash it

Part A: Mash it, pickle it

Part One: Mash it, ferment it

Remove stems from peppers, skins from onions and garlic, inedible parts of any other ingredients.

Remove stems from peppers, skins from onions and garlic, inedible parts of any other ingredients.

Remove stems from peppers, skins from onions and garlic, inedible parts of any other ingredients.

Chop up the edible parts of all ingredients.

Chop up the edible parts of all ingredients.

Roughly chop up anything large (finely chop if not using food processor).

Optional: Weigh it if you can.

Optional: Weigh it if you can.

Weigh it all.

Optional: Calculate salt percentage.

Optional: Calculate salt percentage.

Calculate 2% or 3% of the total weight. (It’s much easier if you do this all using grams.)

Optional: Weigh out the desired percentage of salt.
(Otherwise, follow next step.)

Optional: Weigh out the desired percentage of salt.
(Otherwise, follow next step.)

Weigh out an amount of salt that is your desired percentage of the total weight of ingredients. If you’re confident in your fermentation skills and setup—meaning your ability to avoid yeast or mold contamination—you can go as low as 2%. If you want to err on the safe side, make it 3 or even 4%.

Add about ½ tablespoon (9-10g) of salt per pound of ingredients for a 2% ratio. You could go as high as a full tablespoon (18-20g), or 4%. More salt now means a saltier final product. Feel free to experiment.
(A tablespoon of [fine] salt is about 18-20g. One pound is about 450g, so 1% of a pound is 4.5g. This means that 2% salt would be 9g per pound of mash.)

Add about ½ tablespoon (9-10g) of salt per pound of ingredients for a 2% ratio. You could go as high as a full tablespoon (18-20g), or 4%. More salt now means a saltier final product. Feel free to experiment.

(A tablespoon of [fine] salt is about 18-20g. One pound is about 450g, so 1% of a pound is 4.5g. This means that 2% salt would be 9g per pound of mash.)

Pour salt over the chopped ingredients and give it a quick mix. (Doesn’t have to be thorough.)

Optional: You could process it in a food processor but there’s really no point in doing that to this one since you'll be breaking it down with heat.

Optional: process in food processor following instructions in the next column.

Warning: Do not breathe above the food processor when you open it.

Finely chop in food processor until you have a pretty uniform mash. There should still be pieces, just not big ones. You're not making juice.

You may have to do this in small batches so you don't overfill (or even worse, overflow) the food processor. The blade also does a better job when there's room in there.

Warning: Do not breathe above the food processor when you open it.

Put it all in a non-reactive pot and cook it at a simmer until everything is soft enough that you could mash it with a fork.

Put the chopped or processed mash into a clean, sterile jar or other non-reactive container.

Pour each batch from the food processor into a bowl until you've got it all, then pour (or ladle) into your sterilized fermentation jar using a canning funnel.

Optional, but recommended for more flavor later: To pickle these peppers, you’ll need some acid. You can look at recipes for refrigerator-pickled peppers for ideas. Or, to keep it simple, add ½ cup of vinegar per pound of solid ingredients. You could also experiment with replacing some of the vinegar with lemon or lime juice. Remember not to make your mash too soupy. Don’t forget that the salt will pull lots of water out of the vegetables.

Refrigerate as long as you can stand to wait. At least a week, but several weeks (or even months, maybe) would be good.

Seal jar with airlock and let it ferment as long as you can stand it. I often go 6 months or more. Active, visible fermentation will stop after a few weeks, but flavorful things are still happening in there. The longer it goes, the more complex the flavor will be.

Keep an eye on it for mold or yeast growth. Slightly open the container occasionally to release any built-up CO2 pressure, but don’t open it and let oxygen in.

Follow normal fermentation instructions and procedures, and watch for mold or yeast growth. Make sure your airlock has liquid in it if it’s that kind.

There! Now you've got a mash and it's doing its thing. Resist the urge to mess with it. Keep an eye on it, but let it be a relaxed eye. You're not watching it like a guard, you're noticing it occasionally. Like a friend. Say hello. Trust it and it will trust you.

Until you squeeze out its juices, anyway.

Part B: Separate sauce from pre-Miracle mash

Let cool, then puree in blender.

[Optional: Puree in blender before straining. This will make more hot sauce and result in less powder.]

[Optional: Puree in blender before straining. This will make more hot sauce and result in less powder.]

Strain well or run through a food mill. Get as much liquid out as possible. You could try saving that liquid and using it as hot sauce, but it will probably not have a ton of flavor. You can try acidifying it with vinegar and/or lemon/lime juice or thickening and concentrating its flavors by cooking it down. You could also use it in a salsa or other dish.

Strain well or run through a food mill. Get as much liquid out of the mash as possible. Save that liquid and use it like hot sauce.
You may need to cook it down to concentrate the flavor and get a thicker product.

Strain well or run through a food mill. Get as much liquid out of the mash as possible.
That liquid is hot sauce. It’s delicious. Bottle it, put it in the fridge. Enjoy it daily!
(You’ll need to boil it if you want to stop fermentation, but the fridge will slow it way down. You could add a little vinegar or lemon/lime juice, if you want a more acidic flavor.)

In the next step you'll finally produce the powder everyone's been waiting for.

Step 5: Smoke! Dry! Powder! Enjoy!

Part C: Smoke it

  • Get your smoker ready, start the charcoal if that’s what you use, etc. You know how your setup works, so I’ll leave that to you.
  • Spread the mash on parchment paper. I like to make sure none of the mash is more than ¼ inch thick for maximum smoke penetration.
  • You can put the parchment directly on the smoker’s grills. I like to put it on disposable foil pans (which I've used over and over for years) to make it easier to move around and because I worry about the soggy parchment tearing or getting stuck to the grill.
  • Smoke as long as you can, but at least a few hours. The exact temperature isn’t important, but I like to keep it around 180-200F/82-93C).The cooler you smoke it, the longer you can keep it in the smoker.
  • You DO NOT want it to burn, turn black or get crispy.
  • As it smokes it will lose moisture but will not be dehydrated.
  • When it's done a lump of it should still bend or compress a little before breaking, a sign that it's only mostly dry.
  • When you decide it’s about as smoky as it’s going to get, take it out and let it cool a bit, then remove from the parchment.
  • Break into chunks.
  • Feel free to taste it.

Part D: Dehydrate it

  • Spread the smoked nuggets on the racks of your dehydrator (or on baking sheets or foil pans if drying in the oven).
  • Do not leave it on the parchment as it might stick. You don’t want paper pulp in your powder.
  • Dehydrate (I set my dehydrator to approximately 135F/57C) until very dry. How long that will take depends on how dry it got in the smoker, the relative humidity in the air, the dehydrator itself, and other variables.
  • Instructables about dehydrating food:
  • If drying in the oven, make sure not to let it get too hot. If possible, set it to a temperature below 150F/65C. If not, let it heat to the lowest temperature it allows, then turn it off and leave it until it cools down; repeat as necessary.
  • You may want to close a wooden spoon handle in the oven door so it’s open slightly, allowing the moist air to escape.
  • Don’t rush it. It needs to be DRY so it will powder nicely and won’t get moldy later.

Part E: Powder it!

  • Grind the dry chunks in a spice grinder, coffee grinder (just remember to clean it out before grinding coffee [or don’t—maybe miracle coffee will be the next big thing]), or mortar and pestle (look at those muscles!).

Step 6: ​Miracle Powder! Finally! Now, Go Eat It on Everything.

    Store It

    Now that you've got the powder you need to keep it tasty and dry.

    Store the powder in old spice containers (the ones with the flip-up lid and little holes underneath for sprinkling the spice are particularly nice), small zip-top baggies, small jars, or whatever you have handy.

    Whatever you choose to store it in, make sure to include some desiccant packets. There’s probably some moisture in the powder, even if you can’t tell.*

    Trust me: You do NOT want it to get moldy.

    *If you haven’t saved any desiccant packets from products you’ve bought, they are available online and cheap (100 of them for a few dollars). You’re probably going to start powdering everything now, so you might as well spend a few bucks and have them on hand.

    Now: Eat it!

    Sprinkle Miracle Powder on just about any food. It’s great on popcorn or homemade potato chips. Delicious on eggs. Perfect on pizza. Great on meat, and if you make enough of it you can even use it as a rub on a roast, brisket, pork butt, ribs or anything else you’d use a dry rub on. And since it brings its own smoke flavor to the party, it’s even more helpful when you can't actually smoke the meat.

    There you have it. Your life may never be the same.

    Just a few more words.

    First, a warning: This stuff smells amazing. You’ll want to sniff it repeatedly. Remember not to put your nose too close to the actual powder—a big shot of this stuff in your sinuses is probably not what 4 out of 5 doctors recommend.


    • Add fruit at various points in the process (pineapple, peaches, apples… whatever—go for it, see what happens).
    • Smoke and/or dehydrate other pickled or fermented foods and turn them into powder.
    • I’ve dehydrated fermented beets and made a rich, purple powder that’s good on potatoes or mixed into a soup or stew for a deep, earthy flavor.
    • Dill pickle powder is basically a more delicious form of salt that can be used on various dishes (it’s unbelievable on potato chips fresh from the fryer) or on the rim of a cocktail glass.
    • Smoked and dried kimchi is, like Miracle Powder, good on just about anything.

    The options are endless. Get busy! Discover the next miracle!

    Please add your discoveries or suggestions to the comments.


    One final note: Thanks to my friend Irving, who handed me a little vial of this stuff years ago. I don’t know where he got the idea, but I’m sure glad he did.

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