If you’re interested in learning more about fermented vs. unfermented hot sauce, the differences between them, and how you can make your own fermented or unfermented hot sauce as a homesteader or gardener, then you’re in the right place!
I’ll be honest: I didn’t even know fermented hot sauce was a thing until about a year ago. My garden was overflowing with spicy peppers that seemed to grow easily, and I had no clue what to do with the literal hundreds of hot peppers bursting forth. That is, until I learned about fermented hot sauce that I could make myself!
As I was perusing ideas on what to do with all these peppers, I came across a video from The Elliott Homestead. Shaye broke down exactly how to make fermented hot sauce. I realized that fermented peppers would make the perfect base for some lovely, pourable hot sauces!
Since I had never tried fermented sauces before, I was a little concerned about how the hot sauce would turn out. But after taking a taste for the first time, I was sold by the complex flavor of homemade fermented hot sauce.
I’ll admit that in the past, I was never that big of a hot sauce user. But now, I find myself craving good hot sauce. Specifically the fermented kind vs. the unfermented. What’s not to love? It can be enjoyed on Mexican dishes, scrambled eggs, salads, grilled chicken…
And you can use any kind of peppers you want when you make your own: cayenne peppers, ghost peppers, bell peppers, carolina reapers, red serrano peppers, and the list goes on.
Why You Should Make Your Own Hot Sauce
In this post we’ll cover the differences between fermented hot sauce and unfermented hot sauce. But before we dive deeper into fermented vs. unfermented hot sauce, there’s something else you should know: I am a major advocate for making things from scratch. I also would choose a fermented product over an unfermented one any day, simply because of the health benefits.
Before doing research for this post, I actually did not know that you can buy hot sauce from grocery stores that has been fermented. Maybe you didn’t know that either… or maybe you did! However, I do think that making your own hot sauce (fermented or not) is not only rewarding, but more beneficial. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Sense of satisfaction
It’s always a confidence-booster to shake a condiment you made yourself, fully from scratch, over a meal. If your goal is to rely less and less on the grocery store for a diverse range of foods that your family enjoys, hot sauce is a great recipe to add to your repertoire! Not to mention, it tends to just taste better.
2. Using up garden goodies
It’s extremely satisfying to grow an abundance of food from our gardens, but the truth is, that’s only half of the journey. Learning to preserve and make good use of the food we produce is extremely important. Like I said before, the more diverse range of foods we can create, the more satisfied our appetites will be. Making hot sauce is arguably the best way to use up loads of spicy peppers.
3. Extra probiotics
Spicy peppers contain a compound called capsaicin that is believed to lower inflammation and improve the gut microbiome in themselves. Fermenting the peppers for hot sauce at home gives the benefit of even more probiotics that are developed from lactic acid bacteria. So, hot sauce can actually be quite good for you! And the home-fermented kind is even better!
Fermented vs. Unfermented Hot Sauce: Flavor Profiles
Hot sauce in general is known for being bold, tangy, and, well… hot (duh). It typically lends itself to a salty, peppery flavor. And it adds a flavorful kick to many different kinds of dishes. So what is the difference in flavor when it comes to fermented vs. unfermented hot sauce?
I find that my homemade fermented hot sauce is richer and more complex in flavor than any unfermented hot sauce I’ve ever tasted. It can be a bit more watery, especially if you intend to strain out all the tiny bits of pepper after blending. But it has that signature, tangy flavor.
Some commercial brands do actually ferment their peppers before turning them into hot sauce. Generally, this is what the term “aged” means if you see it on the label of your favorite hot sauce. Fermenting the peppers actually helps in mellowing the heat and giving a smoother flavor profile. On the other hand, unfermented hot sauce will give more heat (and maybe sometimes that’s desirable, but not always).
Fermented vs. Unfermented Hot Sauce: How They’re Made
Unfermented hot sauce has the addition of vinegar in order to preserve it, while fermented hot sauce preserves itself under the right conditions. It’s recommended that homemade hot sauce still be stored in the fridge, or at least in a cool, dark place. You can easily make unfermented hot sauce at home with your homegrown or purchased peppers. If you go this route, the heat will be more prominent.
With fermenting hot sauce, it takes about a week for the flavors to develop and for the peppers to adequately ferment. Conversely, if you make unfermented hot sauce, your hot sauce will basically be ready right away. Add your peppers, vinegar, any seasoning, then blend. And you’re done!
With either method, you can choose to strain or not strain. I usually do not, because I prefer the texture of unstrained. It isn’t perfectly smooth, but it does makes the hot sauce seem thicker. And in my mind, not straining means less waste. If you want to use as much of your peppers as possible, then consider not straining your homemade hot sauce.
Why You Should Eat Fermented Hot Sauce
Eating fermented foods are the best way to get in those gut-healthy probiotics. During the fermentation process, lactic acid is what breaks down the sugars in the food and turns it into a source of good bacteria. Yes, there is such a thing as healthy bacteria. That’s exactly what probiotics are!
It’s a little-known fact that when our guts are in good health, the rest of our body follows suit. The gut is the hub that turns nutrients into things your body can use. So when it isn’t balanced (referred to as equilibrium), it affects everything!
When fermented foods and/or probiotics are regularly consumed, it decreases your risk of cancer, boosts immunity, and reduces inflammation. (source) The balance of bacteria in your gut even affects your brain. Meaning, negative changes in the gut can trigger mental disorders, including anxiety and depression. It can also contribute to obesity, since the brain signals that affect your metabolism and feelings of satiation can get crossed when there’s a less-than-optimum balance.
Consuming probiotics prevents gastrointestinal diseases like IBS, Crohn’s, etc. They can also help protect from allergies and certain food intolerances.
Have I convinced you to eat fermented foods, including fermented hot sauce, yet? These are the primary reasons I would choose to make or eat fermented hot sauce over unfermented.
How To Make Fermented Hot Sauce
It’s time to share some hot sauce recipes! If you’re ready to make your own fermented hot sauce, here is a simple, step-by-step process that you can follow today.
1. Gather your veggies and fill a mason jar
The first step to making fermented hot sauce is chopping your vegetables and filling a quart size mason jar (or other fermentation vessel of choice). Quarts are just what I typically use for making hot sauce, but you can certainly use a pint jar or half gallon jar if you want to make a different size batch.
You can use any variety of chili peppers, just remember that the color of your pepper will affect the color of your finished hot sauce. Naturally, peppers are the star hot sauce ingredient. But what other veggies can be included in fermented hot sauce?
I like to throw in onions, garlic, and sometimes even a few tomatoes to my ferment. Since the mixture will be blended in the final step, you don’t have to chop everything into tiny pieces. Just give it all a rough chop and place it inside the jar.
2. Make a salt brine
It is crucial to have the correct ratio of salt to water for your brine. Because of this, you will want to measure for this step. Salt is what prevents harmful bacteria from growing in a ferment. And yet, adding too much salt could keep your vegetables from fermenting.
Use somewhere between 1 and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt for every cup of water. So for a quart of hot sauce, you will make a brine with about 4 cups of water and 4-6 teaspoons of salt.
Do not use iodized table salt. Iodine prevents beneficial bacteria from forming and will not result in a successful ferment. Always use a fine, natural sea salt. (If you’re not a Thrive Market member yet, join today & get this cookbook for FREE with your first order!)
Heat your water slightly and dissolve the salt in it. Then, pour directly into the jar over your veggies.
3. Use a fermentation weight
To avoid mold or other bad bacteria, you will want to use a weight. Fermentation weights are what keep the vegetables submerged in the brine.
Actual glass fermentation weights work best. But if you don’t have any, sometimes a cabbage leaf, pepper top, or other random non-metal item will work. I have even used a plastic sandwich bag with some water in it with success.
4. Lid, burp, and ferment
Now put a lid on your jar somewhat loosely.
This may sound strange, but it’s important to “burp” your jar occasionally as it sits out on the counter. I usually shoot for once a day, but it’s good to do it twice a day if you remember.
If your jar is really full, you may want to set it on top of a saucer or paper towel to catch any bubbly that decides to overflow. I like the flavor that develops after a 5-7 day ferment. But you can let it go a bit longer, if you like.
The longer your jar sits out at room temperature, the more tangy and fermented it will end up. So it all depends on your own taste.
5. Blend and store the fermented hot sauce
Pour the contents of your jar in a food processor or high-powered blender (I currently use a Ninja for this). I do strain a little bit of the brine off, but you definitely want to leave most of it. I just don’t like my sauce to be super watery.
Blend until your heart’s content. Then pour your beautiful hot sauce back in the jar you fermented it in. Or, you can store it in something a little fancier, like actual hot sauce bottles. On reason that I try to keep all the glass bottles I can!
How To Make Unfermented Hot Sauce (Vinegar Based)
If you prefer a quicker version, or just don’t care as much for the taste of fermented hot sauce, here is a simple recipe for vinegar-based hot sauce. Again, you can use any combination of fresh peppers you like. You can even substitute a few sweet peppers for the hot ones if you want to adjust the heat level a bit.
- Combine about 6 cups of chopped peppers, a diced onion, 5-6 cloves of garlic, and 1.5 cups of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large saucepan.
- Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until most of the water is evaporated.
- Let cool for a few minutes, then add 2 1/4 cups of vinegar (apple cider vinegar works here too) and blend with the pepper mash mixture.
- For a smooth texture, strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to six months.
This method is very forgiving and can be adjusted to suit your taste. If the mixture is too thick, you can always add more vinegar.
More Ways To Use Homemade Hot Sauce
Now it’s time for some suggestions on different ways to use your homemade fermented or unfermented hot sauce. I know some people absolutely love hot sauce on anything and everything. However, I am not one of those people, haha! It’s taken me a bit of trial and error to discover my favorite ways to use up garden fresh hot sauce!
- Make buffalo sauce by mixing with some melted butter
- Put a splash on scrambled eggs
- Add a few dashes to stir fry or southwest dishes at the end of cooking
- Mix with ranch dressing or sour cream for a yummy dip
- Add to a bowl of chili for extra kick
I hope this post inspired and educated on all things fermented vs. unfermented hot sauce. Fermented foods are a great way to add probiotics to your diet, and making hot sauce is the perfect way to use up those garden-grown vegetables.
Fermented Hot Sauce
- Quart mason jar
- Fermentation weight
- 3 1/2 cups roughly chopped hot peppers
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 3/4 cups water
- 1 1/2 tbsp sea salt non-iodized with no added ingredients
- Stuff all vegetables into mason jar.
- Dissolve salt into water. To do this, you can gently heat the water and salt together on the stove, or dissolve into hot water straight from the sink.
- Pour brine over vegetables in the mason jar.
- Add a fermentation weight, ensuring all vegetables are beneath the surface of the brine. Cover with a loose-fitting lid. Remember to burp the jar once a day. The hot sauce should be ready after 5-7 days!
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