Info

All demo content is for sample purposes only, intended to represent a live site. Please use the RocketLauncher to install an equivalent of the demo, all images will be replaced with sample images.

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?

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

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.

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.

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. Fermenting chili peppers is a fun, great way to preserve them, and essential for making hot sauces. | ChiliPepperMadness.com #Fermenting #Fermented #HotSauce #MakingHotSauce

51 comments

  1. Christal Bartholomew

    Okay. First time trying the mash. I’m using hatch chilies because I wanted a green. Couple of questions. I seem to still have a lot of foam from the peppers in the food processor. Two. The brine is forming at the bottom of the jar. So I drained the jar and put the brine over top, used a storage bag to push the mash down again and poured the rest of the brine in the bag for weight. Think this will work?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Christal, the foam is probably from air and the vigorous processing of the peppers. That usually subsides. Yes, it is necessary to keep the peppers below the brine. The brine in the bag should work perfectly. Very smart! I use a small glass weight to keep mine down. Let me know how it turns out for you.

  2. Hi! I followed these instructions and about 14 hours later, no brine has come to the top. I am using about 14 oz of jalapenos with just under a tsp of salt.

    Should I just make my own brine? Add more salt?

    As a side note, I read another site that said one should not do this with green hot peppers, but gave no reason why. Any thoughts on that?

    Thanks!

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Lizzie, if you are concerned, it is probably best for you to use the wet brine method. You can use the peppers you are already using. Let me know how it goes. I have done both methods with green hot peppers without issue. It could just be a low moisture content of the peppers you are using.

      1. Thanks for the fast reply!

        I made some brine (couldn’t get to it until about 48 hours later).

        It looked like there was some white stuff on the top of the non-brined peppers. Perhaps the start of fermentation? I did not scoop this out, but did attempt to pour in the brine. Even though everything was packed down, some pepper bits rose to the top. Maybe they’re processed too finely?

        Anyway, I then drained this in a strainer, and repacked the peppers. I managed to slowly put in the brine a spoon at a time. It’s a bit better, but still quite a bit footing at the top.

        Should I have scooped out the white bits? Is this a lost cause?

        1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

          Lizzie, the white bits might have just been kamh yeast, which is normal. You can scoop it out. It’s somewhat bitter. The best way to judge if the ferment isn’t working or is spoiled at this point is to inspect it. How does it smell? Is it off putting? Smell rotten? Is there a gross taste to the brine? You will know when it is bad.

  3. Do you know of anything that I could buy in my local grocery store that would work as a fermentation culture? I froze a bunch of peppers from my garden over the last couple months and I put them into jars today to ferment. I don’t know if Amazon can get me a culture packet soon enough if it doesn’t start fermenting. How often do you need cultures when you have fermented frozen peppers? Thanks again for all the help.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Brandon, not sure if your local store will have dried starter cultures or not. You can always try to strain yogurt or kefir and use the separated whey as a starter. I haven’t tried that yet, though. If you do so, let me know how it goes. Just be sure it is properly strained and separated from the solids.

    2. I’ve used about a 1/4 cup of sauerkraut brine (not jarred, use bagged or home made) to jump start the fermentation in the past, but a starter culture usually isn’t necessary from what I’ve recently read.

  4. During the 1-2+ week fermenting process, can you top up the pepper mash with additional chilis? The Serrano plant keeps producing and I figured I’d throw them into the batch during maybe the first week.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Trent, I don’t see any real issue with this other than two things – an increased risk in contamination when you open the lids and the different levels of ferment in the peppers. I don’t think either is a big deal, though. Just be sure to watch out for any signs of contamination above the water line and make sure the added peppers are properly submerged. Let me know how it goes.

  5. Mike, great site and recepies. I’ve been growing chilies for some time and now have ideas what to do with them. Ine question tho. I started the mash with 3 different types of chilies using brine. Good non-clorine water and sea salt. They fermented quickly (I live in a hot climate 80+) but all of them have pretty strong bitterness. Can’t kill it even with sugar or honey. Any ideas what went wrong?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Jack. 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. You’ve tried sugar and honey, but try adding an acid like vinegar or lime juice, which can help balance it out. 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. Let me know if this helps counterbalance that bitterness for you.

  6. I tried making this last night and had a bit of a problem. I live in a warm climate and overnight a lot of the liquid overflowed and it all seems a bit dry now. After stirring it up I was able to get some of the liquid from the bottom mixed in but again it seems a bit dry. What can I do to save this? Add more water? Thanks!

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Eliot, just make sure you have enough liquid in the jar to cover the peppers and you should be OK.

  7. Phillip Lander

    hiMike

    just wondering if you have ever combined rosemary with chili as a ferment or sauce

    I would like your opinion

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Phillip, yes, I have used rosemary and other herbs in making sauces and hot sauces, both fresh and fermented. It’s a great addition for certain sauces. Give it a try!

  8. I have been fermenting about a pound of Serrano’s and a pound of Habaneros for almost a month now. I have been burping them every day and have dad to skim off a little bit of white off the top a couple times. In the bottom of my jars there is some white around the circular groves of the bottom of the jar. Both jars have a sour smell. I have never done this before so I don’t know how it’s supposed to smell or taste. Do you think it’s still good?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Eric, it sounds to me like the whitish color around the bottom grooves is a result of sediment, which is harmless. The sour smell is fairly common, and often described differently by fermenters. Finished ferments should smell acidic and pickly, which can smell a bit sour. As long as it doesn’t smell “bad”, like nasty rotting.

  9. Greg Pope

    Do you have thoughts on a mash of Caroliner Reapers? Any thoughts on how I avoid doing serious injury to myself? I normally ferment with Cayenne chilis as I love the flavors. This will be my first experience with the reapers.
    Greg

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Greg, I’ve made many mashes with superhots, so you should be fine. The biggest thing is ventilation. Make sure you are a well ventilated room, or maybe do it outside if you can. The fumes can really get you. Also, wear gloves if you have sensitive skin. Peppers don’t bother me, but I do feel the Reaper. True heat! Let me know how it turns out for you.

  10. I want to try this but I keep reading that for frozen peppers I may require a starter. Can you tell me what a starter is or what you recommend?

    REPLY: Leigh, it’s a “fermentation culture starter”. Do a search on Amazon or Google to find products. I don’t have a specific recommendation, but have had success with some. — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  11. Hi, thanks for the recipe. I grew A LOT of pepper last year and froze them. I’m following your recipe to ferment them but my pepper mash keeps on rising up and the liquid brine keeps on the bottom.
    I food processed all of my red peppers into a mush and made the liquid brine to top them off but it just ends up at the bottom and the peppers are constantly in the air.
    I decided with my greens and habeneros to just slice them and add the liquid brine and that worked way way better like pickling.
    Anyhow what can I do with my red pepper mush to keep it from floating, should I take out all the brine on the bottom and add the salt dry?

    REPLY: Cam, I use small glass weights to keep the mash under the brine, though you can use large cabbage leaves. Let me know if that works for you. — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Hi, I have mashed my chili’s and mixed in 1 teaspoon of kosher salt with pound ofchili 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.

  19. 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.

  20. What is a starter culture?

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

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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 witha 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. How would you do this with dried peppers? If rehydrate first, howto 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin185
Share150
Tweet
Yum
Email
335 Shares