Chili Pepper Madness

September 20, 2017

How to Make Fermented Pepper Mash

How to Make Fermented Pepper Mash How to Make Fermented Pepper Mash

Learn how to make fermented pepper mash at home so you can make your own homemade hot sauces and help preserve your abundant chili pepper harvest.

There are many ways to make hot sauce, and as you can tell by our Hot Sauce Recipes section of the web site, I’ve made a lot of them. However, one way we have yet to explore is making them with fermented chili peppers.

If you’ve ever enjoyed Tabasco sauce, you’ve tasted fermented chili peppers. Tabasco starts with tabasco peppers which they crush, mix with salt, and ferment in oak barrels for up to 3 years. The original Tabasco sauce only uses 3 ingredients – tabasco peppers, salt, and distilled vinegar.

A number of hot sauce makers use fermented peppers in the form of pepper mash to make their products, and a good pepper mash makes a difference in the resulting flavors. If you’re interested in making sauces from pepper mash, good news. It’s easy to make at home and you don’t need to wait 3 years for it to be ready.

But first…

How to Make Fermented Pepper Mash

What is Fermented Pepper Mash?

Pepper mash is a collection of chili peppers that have been mashed together with salt then aged until they break down chemically. Fermentation is one our oldest methods of food preservation. Humans have preserved many foods this way, from cheeses to wine to a slew of other vegetables.

Fermentation, basically, is the decomposition of foods by micro-organisms (Lactic Acid Bacteria) or enzymes. We create an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment for the peppers so the natural Lactic Acid Bacteria can thrive, and other undesirable bacteria cannot. Bad bacteria, such as rotting molds, cannot survive in an anaerobic environment, which we create with salt and brine, therefore protecting the peppers while the good bacteria do their work. The salt is not actually the preservative. It is the acid produced by the fermentation process that does the preserving.

Lactic acid bacteria consumes carbohydrates in the peppers and converts them to acid. After fermenting, the carbohydrates have been predigested, leaving them with more vitamins and flavor than fresh peppers.

It is akin to a controlled decay process, and there are numerous benefits to fermentation, including more digestible foods and more desirable flavors. With peppers, you’ll notice a mellowing of flavors, changes in color, and in the pleasant smell of the resulting mash.

How Safe is Fermenting Peppers?

Very safe! Before I began my exploration into fermentation, I succumbed to the common misconception that fermenting could easily lead to rotten or even dangerous foods, but in truth, fermentation is very simple and hard to mess up.

The key is to ferment properly. You’ll know if you’ve made a mistake by the smell of a ferment. It will smell “off” or “rotten”.

The fact is, we’re fermenting in a controlled environment, so just be sure to follow the proper procedures.

Making Basic Pepper Mash

How to Make Fermented Pepper Mash

You can make fermented pepper mash from any type of chili pepper, even dried peppers. Your only consideration is the thickness of the pepper walls. Thicker walled peppers may need to be strained after the fermentation period, to remove the coarser skin, so you don’t need to seed them if you don’t want to.

Thinner walled peppers won’t need straining, so you may want to seed them first if you prefer a smoother result when you process the mash later on.

To make pepper mash, first process your fresh peppers in a food processor. If you don’t have a processor, use a mortar and pestle or simply finely chop them.

Next, mix in salt. You should use 1 teaspoon salt per pound of peppers. The peppers will begin to release their moisture right away. A note about salt: most salts are fine to use, but avoid using salts with additives, such as table salt.

Place your mash into a jar and press it down to remove any air pockets. Leave at least 1 inch of headspace. The peppers may rise a bit when fermenting. The brine will rise up and cover the peppers. It is important to keep the peppers covered with brine to avoid spoilage. Check this daily.

Screw on the lid and set the jar away from direct sunlight to ferment for at least 1 week. Ideal temperatures are between 55-75 degrees F. The most active fermentation period is between 1-2 weeks, so be sure to monitor it during this time. “Burp” the jars often by unscrewing the lid a bit to let out some of the accumulating gases. Or, use an airlock or membrane for easier fermenting. See below for what I like to use.

After 1-2 weeks, the fermenting activity will diminish. Move it to a pantry where you can let it ferment longer if you’d like, or use it right away. You can ferment for months or even longer to allow the flavors to more fully develop.

Once it is ready, store it in the refrigerator where it will last for a year or longer.

Making Brine Pepper Mash

How to Make Fermented Pepper Mash

An alternate method to the basic pepper mash is using a brine, which is a salt water solution. The primary difference is that we’re adding water rather than using the natural juices from the peppers. This method ensures the peppers stay beneath the brine, and is more ideal for thinner walled peppers.

To make a brine pepper mash, first process your fresh peppers in a food processor. If you don’t have a processor, use a mortar and pestle or simply finely chop them. Pack them into a jar, leaving at least 1 inch of head space. The peppers may rise a bit when fermenting.

Next, mix 1 quart unchlorinated water with 3 tablespoons sea salt. Pour just enough brine over the peppers to cover them, pressing them down a bit as you go. It is important to keep the peppers covered with brine to avoid spoilage. Check this daily.

Screw on the lid and set the jar away from direct sunlight to ferment for at least 1 week. Ideal temperatures are between 55-75 degrees F. The most active fermentation period is between 1-2 weeks, so be sure to monitor it during this time. “Burp” the jars often by unscrewing the lid a bit to let out some of the accumulating gases. Or, use an airlock or membrane for easier fermenting. See below for what I like to use.

After 1-2 weeks, the fermenting activity will diminish and the brine will turn cloudy and taste acidic. Move it to a pantry where you can let it ferment longer if you’d like, or use it right away. You can ferment for months or even longer to allow the flavors to more fully develop.

Once it is ready, process it with a food processor. You can use it right away to make hot sauce or store it in the refrigerator where it will last for a year or longer.

I personally like to add a bit of vinegar at this stage before storage.

Equipment for Making Pepper Mash and Fermenting Peppers and Other Vegetables

Aside from jars and your ingredients, I like to use Masontops lids, which include pickling weights and a membrane allowing gases to escape without the need for burping. You can use them with any wide mouth mason jar. Here is a link to where you can buy them on Amazon. It’s an affiliate link, my friends. FYI!

Buy Masontop Lids for Fermenting Chili Peppers (and More)

I also highly recommend this outstanding book by fermenting experts, Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey – “Fiery Ferments: 70 Stimulating Recipes for Hot Sauces, Spicy Chutneys, Kimchis with Kick and Other Blazing Fermented Condiments”. I learned a lot from this book as well as through my own experimentation. Grab a copy today.

Good luck, and happy fermenting! Let me know what you make with your pepper mash.

How to Make Fermented Pepper Mash

Don't Stop Here! How About Some More Chili Pepper Recipes and Info?

26 comments

  • Comment Link Susan February 19, 2018 posted by Susan

    I have a freezer full of various peppers and was wondering if I can still ferment them?

    REPLY: Susan, yes, you can ferment from frozen peppers, though you may need to use a starter culture to get things going. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Chris January 29, 2018 posted by Chris

    I've heard of cooking the hot sauce after fermentation and before bottling. Is this common? I imagine you could feel certain you are creating a more shelf-stable product. Would this affect the fermented hot sauce negatively in any way?

    REPLY: Chris, yes, this is common. People often use the ferment as only a part of the recipe, cook it down with other ingredients, then cool and bottle it. It's a great way to make hot sauce. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Charles January 13, 2018 posted by Charles

    Hi just tried fermenting some chillies. I used a bowl with a porous cloth over the top, it's been a week now and the mash has a white buildup on one side and smells rather like beer.

    I presume I have to put this batch down to experience and start again?

    REPLY: Charles, that is most likely kahm yeast, which is not harmful. You can just skim that off. It often happens when temps are a bit warm or when the salt content is low. No worries! -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Andy C January 11, 2018 posted by Andy C

    Hey mate, excellent and informative as always. I was wondering do the chillies have to be the same type to work at its best and do they need to be fresh. I have a lot of frozen chillies of mixed types and was thinking of doing a batch but can wait till my overwintered plants start up again once Summer hits the UK

    REPLY: Hey, Andy. You can ferment mixed types of peppers without any issue. I do it all the time. Also, you CAN ferment frozen peppers, though you might need to use a culture starter to get the fermenting process going. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Imogene January 10, 2018 posted by Imogene

    Hi Mike
    Loving the recipes and tips. I am doing my first batch of fermenting with brine and 3 days in my liquid is at the bottom instead of the top...should I be worried?

    REPLY: Thanks, Imogene! Your peppers definitely need to stay submerged beneath the liquid. Push the peppers down beneath the brine, or use a glass weight or even a cabbage leaf to weigh the peppers down. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link red December 30, 2017 posted by red

    I make hot sauce like the Tobasco Indians still do in the villages. Stem and wash the peppers, chop fine, pack into jars and put something in the jar to keep the peppers from floating. Cover with clean cloth to keep out the insects and curious hands. If fermented in the heat (80+ degrees), it needs no salt. When it's done, use a sieve to strain out the sauce and keep the seeds and skins as pepper relish. If it's too vinegary (the sugars in the peppers will convert to pepper vinegar) it can be cut with tomato juice. A variant of this is to ferment it in an airless environment so it never turns acidic. AKA Vino del Diablo. It should hit 6% alcohol if you're into wine, and it's great for cooking.

  • Comment Link Jooste December 19, 2017 posted by Jooste

    Hi, I have mashed my chili's and mixed in 1 teaspoon of kosher salt with pound of chili as per your instructions and put in airtight jar, burped it everyday, but there is no brine forming and after week there is a lot of mould on chili's. Must I throw away. What went wrong?

    REPLY: Jooste, if there is a lot of mold, you may need to toss and try the wet brine method. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Grace B. December 13, 2017 posted by Grace B.

    Hello,
    If using the 1tsp salt/lb method and making the brine with the pepper juices, what to do if there doesn't seem to be enough liquid from the peppers themselves? Does it take a few days for all the liquid to rise to the top to cover them? After processing and adding the salt (to 4lbs jalapeno peppers), there isn't enough juice coming out to keep the mash under the brine. Can I add water and adjust the salt at this point? (That is, the 1 quart water, then 1 & 3/4 tbsp salt, considering the 4 tsp already added).
    Thanks for your time!

    REPLY: Grace, I would add them to a properly salty brine solution to control the environment, yes. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Mark December 10, 2017 posted by Mark

    What is a starter culture?

    REPLY: Mark, they are fermentation starters - microorganism that help start the fermentation process. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Paul December 02, 2017 posted by Paul

    After 2 weeks I have a small amount of what I can only describe as cotton wool mould on the top of the fermented mash. Should I throw it away?

    REPLY: Paul, if there is that much growth on top of your ferment, sadly, I would toss it. A small film is normal, but not that much. Perhaps your peppers weren't entirely under the brine? -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Joe Garves November 23, 2017 posted by Joe Garves

    After about two weeks of fermenting, a white, crusty film forms on the top of the pepper mash. Is this an indication that the mash has gone bad? Should I scrape it off and use it anyway? I've kept the mash under brine for the entire time. What's the story on the white crust?

    REPLY: Joe, usually that is a yeast growth called kahm yeast. Kahm yeast isn't harmful, though it may have an odd smell. You should skim if off to avoid the smell affecting the peppers, though a little bit in the jar is OK. It isn't harmful. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Cindy November 11, 2017 posted by Cindy

    Thanks for the great site! So... I processed about 1.5 lbs mixed peppers (3/4 misc.hot, 1/4 banana), mixed with salt, jarred and pushed out any air. Waited for liquid to rise. After a day, nothing had happened, still a solid mash. So I decided to add brine, thinking that would create the liquid needed at the top. 12 hrs later, and there is liquid, but it's at the bottom! I've pushed the mash downward again, but still no liquid at the top. As long as it all stays moist, am I good to go? Thanks!

    REPLY: Cindy, yes, as long as the peppers are under the brine. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Doug T November 07, 2017 posted by Doug T

    I'm new to this!
    My newly-planted garden yielded a beautiful single ghost pepper. (woo hoo!)
    A friend suggested making a fermented pepper mash.
    Can you do that with a single pepper?

    Phrased differently: Any suggestions for what to do with a single ghost pepper, to be able to show off its awesomeness?
    Thanks!

    REPLY: DougT, I've never fermented a single pepper before, though you may be able to. If you want to make a sauce, I suggest pairing it with other peppers, like habaneros or even milder peppers. You'll still get plenty of heat. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Chris Chaulk November 06, 2017 posted by Chris Chaulk

    Hello going to try my first take at fermenting peppers which are frozen. Do I need a starter culture and what should I use? Thank you.

    REPLY: Chris, if starting from frozen, you might need to use a starter culture, yes. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Carolynn Angle October 24, 2017 posted by Carolynn Angle

    whats the ratio for a proper salt brine ferment? i'm going to process different peppers in 50# batches.

    REPLY: Carolynn, use 3 tablespoons sea salt per 1 quart unchlorinated water. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Gord October 22, 2017 posted by Gord

    Hey I like to smoke my peppers first do you think this would affect fermentation.?

    REPLY: Gord, yes, you can ferment smoked peppers, but you may need to use a culture starter to get the process going, depending on your smoking method. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Lib October 14, 2017 posted by Lib

    great site txs
    I froze down approx 30 jalapenos this summer: Just saw previous mention on frozen peppers: do I have to purchase a starter culture or can I use some brine from sauerkraut? Cheers

    REPLY: Lib, if you have a homemade brine, you should be able to use that to start your peppers. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Farmer Dan October 10, 2017 posted by Farmer Dan

    I ended up with only about a half of qt. jar of pepper mash . i added the brine , will that be a problem not having a full jar?

    REPLY: Dan, that will not be a problem. Just be sure to keep it properly sealed and use as needed. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Bert Faith October 03, 2017 posted by Bert Faith

    Mike,
    Can you ferment frozen peppers from a previous harvest? Ideally how long should I be letting them ferment? I have a setup with a quart mason jar and a lid with a water/air lock.

    REPLY: Bert, yes, you can ferment frozen peppers, though you may need to use a starter culture to kick start the process once they are thawed. Let me know how it turns out. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Martin W October 01, 2017 posted by Martin W

    I'd like to make a banana and chilli sauce/ketchup. Would I add the bananas at the fermentation stage? I've chosen Aji Amarillo chillies by the way.

    REPLY: Martin, I would add the bananas with the ajis, though I've never done this personally. Super curious how it turns out for you. Please let me know! -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Louis September 30, 2017 posted by Louis

    Just discovered your site and I'm loving it! Quick question about salt: the quantity of salt would be different by volume if I were to use coarse, kosher or table salt. I rather not use sea salt. Is it possible to have the quantity of salt by weight?

    REPLY: Louis, I believe this is what you are looking for.

    1 TBS sea salt – 19 grams – .67ounce

    -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Harry Varnis September 30, 2017 posted by Harry Varnis

    How would you do this with dried peppers? If rehydrate first, how to do that? I'm eager to try thus but all my peppers are now dried. Thanks.

    REPLY: Harry, you can ferment peppers with dried pods. Depending on how they were dried, though, you may need to use a starter culture to get the process going. Rehydrating is simple with warm water. Just let them soak an hour or so until they rehydrate. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link John September 29, 2017 posted by John

    Mike - you mention using dried peppers. I've got a slew of dried peppers that I further powdered from my harvest last year. Would that work for fermenting? I want to try your Louisiana Hot Sauce recipe.

    REPLY: John, you CAN ferment dried peppers, though depending on the drying process, you may need to use a starter culture to get the process started. -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Michael September 25, 2017 posted by Michael

    I'm waiting for your tabasco-like sauce recipe, step-by-step and the chili pepper types recommendations. I'm sure it would be delicious!

    REPLY: Michael, coming soon, actually! -- Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  • Comment Link Dick Johnson September 24, 2017 posted by Dick Johnson

    Yeah dude

  • Comment Link Matthew S September 21, 2017 posted by Matthew S

    A handful of years ago, I was given a moderately-sized fermentation pot (7.5 Liters.) I have successfully fermented chile peppers and garlic for the past three years. Fermented chiles are amazing and give a much deeper, rounder flavor. Seems to kick up the heat factor, too. I'm happy to see more information being published regarding chile fermentation--it wasn't so easy to find info a few years back!

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Hi, Everyone! It is nice to meet you. Welcome to Chili Pepper Madness, the food blog run by Mike and Patty Hultquist, a couple of spicy food lovers. Chili Pepper Madness is a special tribute to all things chili peppers, including chili pepper recipes... LEARN MORE ABOUT US

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