Hot Sauce, pt. 2: Peppers, Fermentation, and Paranoia

After finishing the initial bottles of my first two batches of hot sauce (see original post), I wanted to try something different with the last bunch of summer cayennes. Although it had been in the back of my mind for years, I was hesitant to try making a fermented, aged hot sauce both out of fear and a lack of patience. I had read various posts on how fermentation should be achieved as well as several horror stories of mold and pepper mash gone bad. Thoughts of botulism preoccupied my already paranoid imagination and the dream of a complexed, aged pepper sauce (made by me) quickly died.

The end of summer brought our West Coast vacation and with it, the resurrection of aged-pepper sauce making aspirations. The pepper bushes out back were full of ripe cayennes, which I knew would be past their prime by the time we returned—I needed to pick and use them. The three-week vacation also offered the perfect time for the peppers to ferment without me worrying over them on a daily basis. The worst that could happen would be a jar full of mold upon our return, in which case I’d toss it and know I at least tried.

I began in the same manner as before, finely chopping the cayennes. I placed all the cayenne pieces into a sterilized jar and covered generously with sea salt. I covered this with a sterilized bowl (to let any gasses from fermentation escape and, hopefully, keep out any contaminates) and placed in our basement covered by a drop cloth, both to keep out light as well as any dust/debris.

Upon our return, I was happy to find no mold on the pepper mash. I also found no liquid; I had read that there should be some liquid produced from the fermentation process. I don’t know if there was liquid and it evaporated or if it just never fermented. I re-covered with the drop cloth and waited three more weeks, just to give it a little more time.

After the sixth week, I removed the jar from the basement, poured just enough vinegar over to cover the pepper mash, and left in the refrigerator for about two weeks. At this point, my mind started imagining food-born illness scenarios: just because I didn’t see any mold or contamination didn’t mean there wasn’t any. I decided to boil the pepper/vinegar mix, just to be on the safe side. If there were any microbes the vinegar didn’t kill, the boiling surely would take care of them. Afterward, I followed the same process as before: blend the pepper mixture in the blender until smooth, pass through sieve, and bottle.

The first thing I noticed when I tasted the finished product was salt. I think I put too much salt in the pepper mash (which was the only time salt was applied). The second thing I noticed was that it didn’t taste much different than my first batch of un-fermented pepper sauce. I don’t know if the fermentation stage ever happened, or if any flavors that were developed during this time were ruined by boiling the mixture. I do know I’ve eaten enough of the sauce and have not gotten sick.

6 responses to “Hot Sauce, pt. 2: Peppers, Fermentation, and Paranoia

  1. John, thanks to you, I have been making batch after batch of sauces. Now, thanks to you, I will not try to make my own fermented hot sauce. If there was no change in taste, I can justify the wait. Thanks for trying it out!

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  2. Heh, gotta love life’s little learning curves. That is how i think everyone’s first batch goes. It’s the perfect time of year to try again. I’m gonna give you some pointers that i’ve learned over the last few years.

    If you have a local specialty liquor shop that sells wine making equipment, you have it made.

    Here’s how i do mine. I run whatever peppers i plan to use through my kitchenaide grinder. (ie. chop up the peppers). I add 1/2 cup non-iodized salt per gallon. Splash in some kefir. Place in a carboy or jug and place a fermentation lock on it. The kefir is a wonderful concentrated lactobacillus culture that will jump start lactic acid fermentation. This allows you to decrease the salt to the 1/2 cup/gallon. Stick the jar/carboy in the basement and let it ferment. I turn mine about once daily for the first month, then forget about them for a while. Keep the fermentation lock filled to prevent air contamination.

    Let it ferment for at LEAST 3 months. It takes that long to get the really wickid good flavors (as has been beaten to death on the web, tabasco ferments theirs for 3 years. [Why they then destroy it with vinegar i have no idea]).

    OK, i’m making this all up, but i’m not dead yet, so i think it’s safe-ish. When done fermenting, there should be enough lactic acid produced to get you a pH ~3.4. That should be safe for canning. If it’s not that low, you either are a huge failure, or you just need to add a little vinegar to get the pH down (I have yet to need to add vinegar).

    I then run the mash through a food mill to remove all the bits of skin and seeds. I boil the liquid for 10 minutes and place in boiled 8oz woozie bottles and cap. I like to put shrink foil and labels on them for looks.

    Keep it simple for your first time through, it’s early in the learning curve. Later, you can experiment by adding more flavors like apples, mango, garlic, onion, and peach. I’m trying one with 2 cups of strong coffee in it and am still thinking about adding canned coconut milk to the next batch.

    You didn’t ask for this opinion, so take it for what it cost you. 🙂 Good luck.

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    • Thanks! Lots of good information here; I do need to keep up w/ the experimentation. This year we didn’t grow peppers, so I’ve been trying out small batches here and there as I get peppers from friends.

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  3. Pingback: Kimchi « John Schumacher | jarsloth blog·

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