Its what gives sauerkraut tang, pickles potency, and kimchi character- FERMENTATION. Or more specifically, lacto-fermentation.
Whats cool about lacto-fermentation is that you don’t need a yeast or a “starter culture”; lacto-bacterias are naturally present in the air that surrounds us. When food is left exposed to the environment, and the temperature is warm enough, the bacterias will reproduce and commence fermentation (wherein carbohydrates are converted to lactic acid). In order to protect the vegetables from bad bacterias as well as to prevent oxidation of the vegetables, all of the fermenting material is submerged below a salty brine. Beneficial bacterias can survive in the brine, while bad bacterias cannot.
I have enjoyed fermented foods for some time now, but only recently have I tested the salty waters. My first fermentation adventure was a workshop on making a Tabasco Style Hot Sauce, through Urban Greens Co-op in Providence. The first step in creating a Tabasco style hot sauce is fermenting the hot peppers for days, months, or even…years(!) in order to acquire a desired flavor or probiotic content. Hot peppers are one of the best choices for beginner fermenters because they are extremely antibacterial. This is an extra barrier against unwanted bacterial strains, but one that does not affect the presence of lactobacillium.¹
MAKING A TABASCO STYLE HOT SAUCE
1. Choose either one kind or a range of organic, fresh hot peppers. One to two pounds is a good amount to start off with.
Hot peppers (clockwise from orange ones): Jabañeros, Padron Peppers, Serrano peppers, Cherry Peppers, Hungarian Wax Peppers, and Thai Bangkok peppers.
2. Chop what you would like to ferment. Smaller pieces will ferment faster, while larger pieces will ferment slower; though the difference in rate is not very significant.
Hot Peppers Chopped
3. Pour salt over peppers. A general rule of thumb is 1-2 tablespoons sea salt (with no additives) to 1 quart of peppers. These ratios can be tailored to your liking. Wearing rubber gloves, mix the peppers and salt and squeeze them together with your hands. Liquid will begin to form. After squeezing for a few minutes, smoosh mixture into a clean mason jar.
Hot pepper + salt mixture smooshed into a jar
4. Let the fermentation begin! But first make sure that whatever you are fermenting is submerged below the liquid in the jar. To achieve this, a weight can be placed on top of vegetable matter, pushing them below the surface of the liquid. Some additional water can be added if needed. Ferments can rest for a few days or a few months. it is said that they reach peak probiotic levels after 28 days of fermentation.
5. After the fermentation period, the “mash” is blended in a food processor, then strained to remove skins and seeds and such. (Note: you dont have to strain it, but if you opt out your end result will be a chunky hot sauce)
6. This liquid is then mixed with vinegar to preserve the concoction and slow or stop fermentation (depending on the amount of vinegar used). White vinegar is the norm, but healthier options with distinct flavors can also be experimented with. These include wine vinegars, rice vinegars, and apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar, or ACV, is a popular choice because unfiltered, raw ACV is a living probiotic as well. Thus, using it in a fermented hot sauce provides an ever broader range of beneficial bacterias in the end product.
A standard ratio is 2 parts fermented pepper juice : 1 part vinegar
For example, 1 cup of fermented pepper juice, mixed with 1 /2 cup of vinegar. (This could be one kind of vinegar or a mixture…try a taste test with a small batch!) These ratios can also be tailored to your taste buds.
7. Pour hot sauce into glass bottles or jars and stick in the fridge. They do not have to be refrigerated, but if left out fermentation may continue.
Not only are the bacterias that colonize the gut complex and fascinating, they also hold serious potential in the treatment of a multitude of health conditions. They work wonders for digestion and because our digestive system our other systems are heavily influences by our digestion, their beneficial effects can be widespread. Recent studies have pointed to lactobacillium for immune enhancement against viral infections and tumors.²