Homemade: Basic Fermented Hot Sauce

Bottles of Tabasco brand sauce are permanent fixtures on the tables of restaurants all over the U.S. You’ll also find them in company lunchrooms and cafeterias, and in the cabinets and refrigerators of average people like you and me. The actual recipe for the sauce, and many others like it, is a closely guarded secret. But you can find out quite a bit by visiting the company’s web site, including a couple of important details.

For one thing, it’s a special variety of peppers that are used. Tabasco peppers are a variety of Capsicum frutescens, and require a long hot summer to mature the fruits. This made them ideal for growing on Avery Island, Louisiana, which is where Edmund McIlhenny first planted them for his pepper sauce back in the late 1800’s.

Secondly, the peppers are mashed up and fermented for a full 3 years in white oak barrels. That lengthy process is what gives Tabasco sauce its very distinctive taste. But aging the peppers isn’t unique to Tabasco sauce. Other hot sauces are also aged, including one that’s a favorite for making Buffalo Wings: Frank’s RedHot Sauce. And the famous Huy Fong Foods Sriracha is supposedly aged for a bit.

The exact taste of Tabasco, or any other brand for that matter, would be extremely difficult to duplicate at home. But you can make your very own aged hot sauces, and that’s exactly what I set out to do this summer when the peppers in our garden started ripening. The aging process allows the peppers to undergo a lacto-fermentation, which is also what makes cabbage turn into sauerkraut, and milk turn into yogurt. It’s an ancient method of food preservation, and one that is gaining in popularity again as more people discover the healthy benefits of lacto-fermented foods. These foods are more easily digested, and are populated by bacteria that are beneficial to our digestive systems.

peppers used for fermented hot sauce (click on any image to enlarge)

For my first foray into making a fermented hot sauce, I decided to keep it simple. I used a mix of fresh hot peppers from the garden, mostly serrano and cayenne, predominantly ripe peppers but with a couple of green ones thrown in for good measure. After researching, I decided to remove the stem of the peppers but to leave the green ‘cap’ covering the top of the pepper intact. It is said to add to the complexity of flavor of the finished sauce. I have no idea if that’s the way the folks at the McIlhenny company do it or not, but that’s the way I did it!

After removing the stems, I gave the peppers a coarse chop and put them in my mini food processor, along with some sea salt. About 1-1/2 tsp of salt is added to each cup of chopped peppers. The salt helps extract the water from the peppers, and also creates an environment where the ‘good’ organisms can go to work, but the ‘spoiler’ organisms can’t survive. Salt has been used as a preservative for thousands of years, and has a proven track record.

Salt, peppers and time are the only three ingredients you really need for a fermented pepper sauce, but I decided I wanted a little extra insurance. I also added one tablespoon of dairy whey to each cup of peppers. The whey supplies lactobacilli bacteria, and acts as an inoculant for the lacto-fermentation process. This makes for more consistent results, and also speeds up the fermentation procedure. For those who make yogurt or cheese at home, whey is a familiar by-product of those processes.

jar of dairy whey

To make whey, line a strainer set over a bowl with a clean paper towel or coffee filter, and spoon in some yogurt. Let the yogurt sit at room temperature and strain for several hours. The whey will run out into the bowl, and the milk solids will remain in the strainer. What you have now is not only whey, but also some yogurt cheese! The whey will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Of course the yogurt cheese is tasty and very edible as well.

I let my peppers age for one week in a glass jar with the lid tightly closed. After a few days, the mix started bubbling, and I knew the fermentation had begun. This Mother Earth News article titled Have Fun, Save Money: Make Your Own Hot Sauce suggests you can let the peppers ferment for a full month. I decided one week was long enough for this batch. That was plenty of time to add a rich, complex flavor to the peppers. If any fuzzy growth appears on the top of the pepper mix, just spoon it off and throw it away. That did not happen on my batch.

bubbling indicates peppers are fermenting

This is an easy to make basic fermented hot sauce that lets the taste of the peppers shine. It makes a great sauce for table use, where a little bit will go a long way to add flavor and fire to your meals. Bottled and kept tightly closed, it will keep for several months in the refrigerator.  And it would make a nice homemade gift for your hot sauce loving friends and relatives!

straining the pepper sauce

You can strain the fermented pepper mix for a liquid sauce, or use as-is for a chunky sauce. Either way you decide to do it, you can vary the types of peppers used and the length of fermenting time to make a one-of-a-kind sauce that is sure to delight you and anyone else you care to share it with.

Basic Fermented Hot Sauce Print This Recipe Print This Recipe
adapted from several recipes

1 cup hot ripe peppers
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp whey
1 tbsp white wine vinegar or cider vinegar

1. Wash peppers thoroughly and let drain. Remove stem from peppers, leaving the green ‘cap’. Coarsely chop.
2. Combine peppers, salt and whey in food processor. Process until peppers are finely chopped into very small pieces.
3. Spoon pepper mixture into clean glass jar with tight fitting lid. Let sit at room temperature for 1 to 4 weeks. Mixture should begin bubbling in a few days. If fuzzy ‘bloom’ develops on surface, skim off and discard.
4. Add vinegar to jar and stir to combine.
5. Set a fine-mesh strainer or sieve over a mixing bowl. With a spoon, press the chili mash into the sides of the strainer to extract the juice and as much of the pulp as possible, leaving the skins and seeds behind in the strainer. For a chunky sauce, you can skip the straining and use as-is.
6. Transfer contents to small, clean glass jar and refrigerate. Makes about 4 ounces of strained sauce, or 1/2 pint if used as-is without straining.

Servings: 24 (serving size 1/2 tsp)

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 3 calories, <1 calories from fat, <1g total fat, <1mg cholesterol, 146.3mg sodium, 21.8mg potassium, <1g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, <1g sugar, <1g protein, 1.3mg calcium, 0g saturated fat.

I’ll be back later with yet another fermented hot sauce I’m working on. And it’s a homemade version of another one of America’s favorite hot sauces!

You may also be interested in:

  1. Homemade: Sriracha-Style Hot Sauce
  2. Homemade: Fermented Hot Sauce
  3. Homemade: No-Rooster Chili Garlic Sauce

 

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16 Responses to Homemade: Basic Fermented Hot Sauce

  1. Wilderness says:

    Love hot sauce. Wish I could work with raw hot peppers. I don’t grow them for that reason.

  2. kitsapFG says:

    I feel inspired to give this a try! Only problem is that I have jalepeno’s only and they are mostly all still really small at the moment and very very green. They will eventually get to harvest size though and I will have quite a lot of them, so I may very well just give this a whirl.

  3. TS says:

    Wow, what a great informative post! I had no idea that those hot sauces were fermented. I’ll definitely have to try this as my hot peppers are finally starting to turn red.

  4. Mrs.Pickles says:

    oh that looks great !

  5. How fun! We use quite a bit of hot sauce around here, and next spring, I suspect we’ll have more whey than we know what to do with. Definitely will have to this, and maybe I’ll plan to plant a few extra hot peppers for it next spring!

  6. Robin says:

    Oh thanks so much for posting this! I’m going to be working on hot sauces next week!

  7. LynnS says:

    Glad to read your progress and “experiment” as I plan to make some in a few weeks. Our small hots aren’t red yet so I wait….. A few months ago, one of the episodes of “How Its Made” filmed the process and seeing huge quantities of hot sauce makes you realize just how many folks love hot sauces.

    The juices of hot peppers that vaporize have really begun to affect my lungs during the process. I cough and cough. Yeah, I inhale…. Does the juice bother you to breathe, or am I the only one ?

    • Dave says:

      I try and hold my breath when I’m chopping them up or processing them. It does make me cough or sneeze sometimes, but not too much. My bigger problem is tasting them, and burning my mouth!

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  9. Kira says:

    This is great, thanks so much for sharing! I have a TON of green jalapenos I pulled from our garden. I thought they’d be hard to grow and I’d get just a few from 3 plants… ha. Could I use this recipe with them? Or does it only work with ripe peppers for some reason?

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  11. Michelle Russell says:

    Have had an incredible pepper harvest here in Indianapolis this year and followed these directions last weekend. This is my first try at fermented anything, and I’m not seeing any bubbling action though a white mold is growing on the top. I did add the “insurance” whey on top of the pepper mash in the jar; should I have stirred it in and are there any other markers I should look for?
    Really appreciate all you share of Happy Acres!

    • Dave says:

      I generally stir the whey into the pepper mash. The bubbling is subtle, but you should see it for a couple of days early on in the process. Then it seems to quit bubbling for the rest of the fermentation period.

  12. Brett Thompson says:

    I make hot sauces of several different peppers. A nice touch is smoking it for a few hours with hickory or even mesquite for extra kick. I’ve even smoked the raw peppers and then made the sauce. Enjoy!

    • Dave says:

      I have wondered about using smoked peppers for hot sauce. I have been smoking peppers lately, so I will give this a try. Thanks for the tip!

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