Fermented Hot Sauce – The 2012 Version

Hot sauce really seems to get people excited!  It was a sort of ‘Holy Grail’ for me when I started preserving – I wanted (NEEDED) to know how to make it and I did some experimentation with vinegar, hot peppers and other ingredients and was never quite satisfied… until I started to ferment.

If you’ve never fermented before, this is an ideal item to start with.  You can make it in a mason jar (for a small batch) or in a fermenting crock (for a large batch).  The recipe is provided in ratios so you can make as little or as much as you want.

Fermented Hot Sauce   The 2012 Version Pepper (Hot) Hot Pepper

Fermented hot sauce has a complexity that’s unique to itself.

If you’re new to fermentation, here’s a few basics:

  • Unlike waterbath canning, you can be inventive and experiment with your recipe.
  • This has to be kept in the fridge (this will keep the lovely good bacteria alive).  It will also improve with time.
  • You can strain the sauce, blend it smooth or keep it chunky (like we do).  I prefer it chunky as there’s a lot of heat in the seeds and a pleasant bitterness to the peels.
  • Your water must not contain chlorine; it will evaporate in 30 minutes if left on a counter (although I’m hearing some towns are adding alternatives to chlorine that won’t).  You can use filtered or bottled water.
  • Your ferment needs to stay submerged (just remove anything that floats).  If you use a jar you can use a regular pepper to hold everything under (I explain how in this post on fermenting jalapeno slices); if you use a crock you’ll need fermentation weights, or plates help in place with a mason jar full of brine).
  • Fermentation speeds up in warm air, slows down in cool.  I prefer to ferment around 70 degrees (but don’t get too worried about being exact).
  • Check the ferment daily.  If mold appears (it’s natural), skim it off and discard the mold.
  • An electric kitchen scale is needed to control the exact percentage of salt in your brine; having one that reads in metric is easiest to calculate the percentages (you don’t need to understand metric to do so – your scale will show you how many grams you have; multiply the percentage you want – 2.5% in this case – and you’ll know how much salt to use.
  • There is not set time for this recipe to complete.  The amount of salt you use and the temperature it ferments at will drastically alter the time it takes.


  • Hot peppers (I used Hungarian and Jalapenos).  You can use as much as you want, I used 8 pounds.  Clean and chop the ends off.
  • Garlic (as much as you’d like).  I used a complete head (peeled).
  • Onions (I used 2), chopped fine.
  • Salt (More to come on this; I used a 2.5% dilution)
  • Water (without chlorine or other additives that will kill fermentation)
  • White vinegar
  • A vessel to ferment in and weights (I used our Gartopf crock and did not use the water seal; if you’re not sure what this means, don’t worry because I didn’t use it; if you’re still worried, click the link!).

Fermented Hot Sauce   The 2012 Version Pepper (Hot) Hot Pepper


Note: I’ve decided to write much more about my process in this years instructions; if you’re the type of person who doesn’t want options and wants to follow step-by-step, you may find our link to last years recipe more enjoyable.  For those of you that stick around, I believe there’s value in learning the thought process behind what we’ve done so you can adapt on the fly as you go.

Note 2: The process below involves salting your veggies for several hours.  In order to do this, you have to guess at the quantity of brine needed.  If you’re using a small jar (i.e. a mason jar), you may want to opt out of this and simply mix a 2.5% brine which will save you the risk of over-salting your peppers if all the water doesn’t fit.  This isn’t a concern in most crocks as you have much more space to work with.

  1. Start by estimating the minimum amount of brine it will take to cover your veggies.  I had 6 liters (quarts) of peppers, 2 onions and garlic.  I counted on a minimum of 4 liters (which is also 4,000 grams and close to 4 quarts).
  2. Calculate the salt needed for your brine – I recommend a 2.5% solution.  4,000 grams * 2.5% =100 grams of salt.
  3. Measure your water and salt but do not mix.
  4. Toss onions and garlic into the bottom of your fermenting vessel (the peppers will stop them from floating as they are larger).
  5. Toss the headless peppers into the vessel.
  6. Add salt and toss the mixture by hand (try to leave the onion on the bottom but don’t be too worried).  Salting your veggies will begin the process of pulling natural liquid from them.  Allow the peppers to sit in salt for 4-6 hours and give them a toss every once in a while.
  7. Cover the mixture with your measured water.  You must use the whole thing or your brine will be greater than 2.5% (some use up to 5%, so don’t be overly concerned).
  8. Use fermentation weights or a combination of plates held down by mason jars full of brine (don’t let the band/ lid touch the water as it will rust).
  9. Allow to ferment, checking daily for 3-10 days.  Our Hungarian peppers were becoming really soft so we stopped on day 7.  You can taste these at any point in the process (they will become softer and more sour the longer they sit).
  10. Separate the brine and the veg (do not throw out the brine).
  11. Weigh your vegetables.
  12. Using your scale, add brine and vinegar to the veggies.  Start with 10% (by weight) of each.
  13. Mix using a hand blender and taste.  Dana wanted it to taste more sour/ fermented and we added 10% more brine and 8% more vinegar.
  14. Pour into clean jars and store in fridge.  We ended up with 5.5 liters (quarts) of hot sauce.

I hope this doesn’t sound overly complex.  Math was my weakest subject in school so don’t be daunted!

Other Hot ferments you may want to check out:

If you’re a hot sauce veteran, do you strain yours or leave it whole?  I’d love to know!


  1. I’ve never left the hot sauce whole. Most of the hot sauce I make are cooked. Usually the hotter they are, the more I puree or strain them. The really hot ones go in to shaker bottles.

    I made a fermented Fresno Pepper hot sauce once. I chopped the peppers pretty finely in the food processor and then fermented them with some salt and nothing else in a quart bottle. After about a year in a dark corner in the basement I ran it through the food mill, a blender and then through a strainer. I diluted it slightly to taste with some rice vinegar. I was shooting for a Tabasco like sauce and it was pretty good.

    For large batches of fermented items like pickles or sauerkraut, I use Cambro containers from the restaurants supply places or even a 10 gallon food grade rubbermaid from the winemaking supply. Cheaper, lighter and a lot less fragile than a crock.

    Keep up the good work, I really enjoy this blog.

    • Keith,

      That sounds really good. IF you have access to a dehydrator, it would be really interesting to dry the solids that you strain after the year. Once dried you could put them in a freezer for 10 minutes and blitz them in a coffee grinder or high speed blender to make powder that could be used like chili flakes. Appologies if you already know this – I’m a giant fan of any type of powder… :)

      Thanks for you kind words and tip as well about the winemaking supply for buckets – it’s a fantastic idea!


  2. I don’t ferment my hot suace in a your traditional way. I put all of my ingredients in the food processor, blitz it and then pour lime juice in. I keep it in the fridge for 2- 3 days and then cook it and blitz it again so it is smooth. I am just too lazy to use the food mill. I find the hot sauce has a nicer rounder flavour doing this instead of cooking it right away. and I discovered this little trick by accident. I started making hot sauce- had to leave it and finally finished it a few days later. Best thing that happened.

    • Very cool Anita – I love your description of your sauce being ’rounder.’ I often describe the fermented sauce as having ‘throat.’ really neat contrast between the two!

  3. Great technique and very timely recipe as I am harvesting lots of chiles these days—thank you!

  4. I’ve been experimenting with fermented hot sauces (and other ferments), and I wanted to share my experience.

    I’m not nearly as careful as you (the blog author) with regard to measuring salt or other ingredients, and I’ve never worried about chlorine in the tap water. I basically do my ferments on a “quick and dirty” basis (partly because I’m always pressed for time). Most of my stuff seems to turn out good (or, at least, I think so).

    I tend to make stuff in small batches — less than a quart. I ferment in Mason jars with the lid sealed moderately tight (but loose enough for the CO2 to escape). I make small batches because as much as I like my own product, I do get tired of it after a while, and I start to crave something new. Also, I did have one experience where I tried to make a large amount of experimental sauerkraut. It ended up tasting poopy, and I had to throw it all away. Making smaller quantities is less risky.

  5. I just finished making this and it’s amazing! I did it on a very small scale with only 8 jalepenos, it made about 1 pint. I added a bit of sugar to it at the end to balance some of the intense heat and it works nicely. Do you have any ideas for uses for the leftover brine? I hate to see it go to waste.

  6. EEK, I started a 2 quart jar of various mixed peppers, and a 1 quart jar of other various mixed peppers about 2 1/2 weeks ago, just before Mr. Pablo announced that we were now going to move to our new house. I have TRIED to take care of them, skimming off the mold, but I am concerned as there are white mold ‘flecks’ down in the jars. other than that the jars have bright peppers and clearish brine. Suggestions folks? right now i still have two jars of fermented peppers (and no, I am too much of a heat wimp to taste them, problem #2) that I need to DO SOMETHING WITH….. (oh, and a rubbermaid tub full or slowly dessicating peppers that were picked in October just before the moving plans happened. ah, the joys of farming and moving during harvest season)

  7. I just started a big batch of this delicious sounding sauce. I can’t wait for it to be done! What do you think the shelf life is in the refrigerator?

  8. SanDiegoPreserver says:

    I used vintage 1/2 gallon canning jars with airlocks (the vintage jars have a regular mouth rather than wide mouth so a #13 stopper fits and I don’t have to do any retrofitting) to complete the task this year for the all the jalapeños we were harvesting.

    I fermented the peppers for 29-31 days with the airlock. Each 1/2 gallon jar yielded (4) 250 ml bottles of wonderful fermented sauce with added brine/vinegar.

    The sauce was freaking amazing! And may have to be put under lock and key.

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