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20 September 2017

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. Fermenting chili peppers is a fun, great way to preserve them, and essential for making hot sauces.

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?

Fermenting peppers is 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 (5.69 g) per pound (.45 kg) of peppers. 1 pound of peppers should process down to about 1 cup (220 g, or 7.75 ounces) of mash. So, use 1 teaspoon of salt per cup of mash, which is roughly 2.3% salt by weight.

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 (2.54 cm) 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 (12.78-23.89 C). 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 (.95 liter) unchlorinated water with 3 tablespoons (54 g) 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 (12.78-23.89 C). 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

Frequently Asked Questions about Fermenting Peppers and Making Pepper Mash

Why Does My Pepper Mash Taste Bitter?

I sometimes get some bitterness with my fermented pepper batches. I’ve seen a lot of discussion on it, whether it is from kahm yeast or from the starting peppers themselves, where the slight bitterness is amplified in the fermentation process. The best way to counter it is through the addition of other ingredients.

Also, some people report a bitterness from the pepper seeds, so try removing the seeds before fermentation and see if that affects your resulting flavor.

To counterbalance the bitterness, try adding an acid like vinegar or lime juice, which can help balance it out, then a sweetener like sugar or honey. Certain roasted vegetables can help, too, like carrots or other flavors. Garlic is good. They can all help balance out the bitterness. Give the final sauce time to rest and let the flavors meld in the refrigerator.

What is Kahm Yeast?

Kahm yeast is a whitish film that can sometimes appear on top of your ferment. It can form when all of the sugar in your ferment is consumed. The PH drops because of lactic acid buildup, allowing kahm yeast to form. It is not a mold, and can be scraped away from your ferment.

Sweeter vegetables, particular peppers, are more prone to kahm yeast.

How do I tell if peppers are fermenting?

You will often see bubbling activity in the jar as the fermentation process takes place, but not always. Sometimes you may have what is called a “quiet ferment”, where it seems little activity it taking place. Fermenting peppers give off a slightly sour, pleasent smell, so trust your nose to know fermentation is taking place. 

How Do You Know if the Fermentation is Bad?

You can usually tell if a fermentation is bad by sight or smell. If you see signs of fuzzy or pinkish colored mold, the ferment is infected. If the peppers are very mushy, something has gone wrong. 

If the ferment smells rotten or disgusting to you, it has gone bad. Trust your nose to know if something is bad. A good ferment will have a slightly sour smell, but will smell pleasant.

Hot Sauce Recipes with Fermented Peppers

Here are some of my own recipes that use fermented chili peppers.

Check out more Hot Sauce Recipes or learn more about How to Make Hot Sauce.

The best ph meters that I recommend are from Thermoworks. Get yourself a ph meter from Thermoworks today. I am a happy affiliate.

Got any questions? Please contact me anytime and I will do my best to help. Good luck with your pepper fermentation!

How to Make Fermented Pepper Mash
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