Since times immemorial, humans have craved spice in their lives and their meals. And using lacto-fermentation to preserve and make condiments, relishes, pickles, and hot sauces has been around for ages, across many cultures.
Fermenting sauces and pickles packs in flavors, enzymes, nutrients, as well as probiotic goodness. A fermented hot sauce is a healthy way to add spice and good bacteria to our meals.
These days, we get sauces and chutneys containing vinegar and other quick acidification ingredients that try to pass off for that great fermented taste. However, these vinegar-based condiments are not ‘alive’. Sure, they might taste great, but they are not healthy and many even contain artificial preservatives such as oils, and dyes.
Fermented sauces are a great way of adding back spice and life to our meals. They are rich in probiotic enzymes that are good for the gut and help enhance digestion.
Fermented sauces and pickles are ideal accompaniments to the main dish. Adding a bit of the sauce can enhance the taste of bland foods like rice, broths, soups, or porridge.
Fermented hot sauces are great for dipping, in burgers/sandwiches/wraps, as bases for soups and stews, and even as marinades for fish or meat.
Trust me: Once you have tasted a fermented hot sauce, you will never feel like picking up that artificial, vinegar-based sauce ever again.
Fermented hot sauces around the world
Many cultures around the world have given us fermented sauces. The popular Sriracha comes from Thai and Vietnamese cuisines and is a hot sauce containing chilies, garlic, vinegar, and salt. Traditionally, it is fermented, although today people add vinegar to give it that fermented sour taste.
Most people agree that the fermented version tastes better and also has a longer shelf-life. Sriracha is great as a dipping sauce as well as in soups, condiments, stews, and even on pasta, pizzas, burgers, wraps, and chowmein.
Another great fermented hot sauce is Korean Gochujang. It is made by fermenting sweet rice flour, Korean chilli powder, and soybean powder in large earthenware pots for about 3 weeks.
Gochujang is not as fiery as other fermented hot sauces. But it still has a complex spicy-sweet- deep flavour, a pasty texture, and a color that ranges between deep brick-red to ketchup-red-orange (depending upon the period for which it is fermented).
Like sriracha, Gochujang is great as a dipping sauce and also adds depth and flavor to marinades, soups, and stews.
Before we move on to an easy tomato-based, fermented hot sauce recipe, let’s discuss different methods of making fermented sauces.
Methods of making fermented hot sauces
There are different strategies to make fermented hot sauces. You can ferment, then cook, then add live cultures, and then ferment again. Conversely, sauces like Gochujang are simply boiled and left outside in the sun to ferment for a few weeks.
The difference clearly lies in the ingredients being used. Certain ingredients like tomatoes are troublesome to ferment because they are higher in sugar. These sugary fruits do better with yeast fermentation than with bacterial fermentation.
We make wines and meads with yeast and not with bacteria. The same principle holds true for tomato-based fermented sauces.
Lacto-fermentation of tomatoes renders a bad taste and the flavor is certainly not something most of us would enjoy. There are two ways to work around this issue: either use sun-dried tomatoes or cook the tomatoes first and then ferment the sauce. Both these methods reduce the sugar content of tomatoes and the result can be seen in taste and flavor after fermentation.
With that premise, let’s move on to the fermented hot sauce recipe with cooked tomatoes.Print
This is a fermented hot sauce in brine containing cooked tomatoes, Serrano peppers, and chile peppers that add tons of flavour and spiciness to the recipe. It is fermented twice and takes about 10 weeks to get ready. Be patient, the results are worth it!
- 1 ½ lb stemmed chillies – Serrano and cherry make a fantastic combination
- Coarsely chopped red onions – 1 or 2 medium
- 3 garlic heads – peeled and chopped coarsely
- 1 quart brine. To make this, use a quart of filtered, un-chlorinated water. Add 3 tbsp pickling salt or sea salt to it and dissolve completely
You will need the following ingredients once the fermentation part is over (after about 4-6 weeks).
- 6 roasted tomatoes
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- Cayenne pepper – 1 tsp. This is an optional ingredient. You can use it if you like your sauce spicier.
- In a fermenting vessel or a crock, add onions, chillies, and garlic, and cover them completely with brine.
- Set the mixture in a clean, dark place at room temperature to ferment for about 4-6 weeks. Keep an eye on the contents of the crock. You must make sure that the ferment is completely submerged in brine.
- Once the fermentation is complete, strain the peppers, onions, and garlic, and reserve the brine.
- In a food processor or blender, add the strained onions, garlic, and peppers along with a little bit of the brine and process until smooth. This might take some time since the peppers have seeds. You might have to add brine a few times to ensure smooth grinding. Ideal consistency to look for is a paste that is thinner than Sriracha but thicker than Tabasco. Now it is time to add some tomatoes.
- Roast 6 tomatoes. Add them to the blender/food processor with the pepper and onions and process until smooth.
- In a saucepan, add the tomato-pepper mixture, cider vinegar, and brown sugar. Add the cayenne pepper if you want your sauce to be spicier. Bring to a simmer and continue to simmer for 45 minutes. Stir to prevent burning.
- Remove the sauce from heat, cool it and add the remaining brine. Stir to mix well.
- Pack the sauce in a mason jar with a lid, leaving about 2 to 3 inches of headspace. Store in a cool place and leave to age for about 2-3 weeks. The sauce will ferment slowly and you might have to burp it from time to time.
- After 3 weeks, transfer the sauce to the refrigerator. The sauce lasts for about a year.
How to store fermented hot sauce
Store the fermented hot sauce in the refrigerator. You can transfer a small quantity to a jar and keep it outside at room temperature for daily use. The sauce lasts about a year.
- Make a small quantity first. When you make ferments in small batches, do keep an eye on them. You want to make sure that the chillies, onions, and garlic are submerged in brine.
- Always use non-chlorinated water for the brine since chlorine tends to affect fermentation.
- The heat index of this hot sauce recipe depends on the chillies used. So choose as per your taste.
I hope you try this twice-fermented hot sauce. It might seem tedious to make, but the result is a deep, richly flavoured sauce that will last you for months. It is great in subs, sandwiches, salsas, soups, stews, broths, and pretty much any savoury dish you can think of. Enjoy!