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?

10 comments

  • 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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