How to Ferment Hot Peppers

Unlike store-bought condiments, these spicy concoctions are rich with nutrients and flavor developed through the process of lacto-fermentation.

| Spring 2018

It always starts innocently enough: You thought you’d grow red peppers (Capsicum spp.), half a dozen green chiles, maybe a ‘Fresno’ chile or two, and of course you wanted to try to grow ‘Chocolate’ habaneros — oh, and you love poblanos, so put a few of those in, too. They’ve grown and grown — and you’re staring at more than a peck or two of peppers. Now what? The standard preservation choices are freezing, dehydrating, or canning, but you could also freeze-dry them with the right equipment.

Let’s talk about canning. Some vegetables confound even the most seasoned canner, and peppers are one of them. Before discovering fermentation, I was that girl who canned everything. I really did try to roast and can green chiles to make our own homegrown, Hatch-style chiles. Because peppers are low-acid vegetables, they require 45 minutes in a pressure canner. They looked beautiful through the jar, but they disintegrated into mush when I went to make my first chiles rellenos. If you want to can your peppers, you must pickle them first. You have to submerge the peppers in vinegar (as the key to safe preservation is to acidify, the definition of pickling) and then water bath can them. And while they’re certainly delicious, one can only eat so many jars of canned peppers.

Benefits of Fermentation

Enter another preservation option: Create the right environment for an entire team of microbes to do the work for you (without handling hot pots full of boiling water). With fermentation, you can acidify any combination of peppers, spices, herbs, and other vegetables to make a variety of chutneys, condiments, pickles, or hot sauces. The microbes acidify everything equally, which gives you flexibility to explore and create the flavor you desire.



After the fermenting vegetables reach a pH level of 4.6 or below, they’re safe and stable for a considerable amount of time. Shelf life depends on the vegetable, but pepper ferments can last unrefrigerated for a year or more in anaerobic conditions, as long as the ferment remains sealed and not in active use. It’s best, however, to store ferments in a refrigerator. This slows down the bacteria, stabilizes the ferment, and keeps the flavors intact and delicious.

Fermentation has gained a following for various reasons in the past few years, but at its core it’s a simple, inexpensive process that has been used reliably for thousands of years to preserve food. Here we are at the beginning of the 21st century, circling back to our roots. Now fermented foods are considered artisanal, and fermenters use a combination of traditional methods and scientific knowledge to preserve food for its flavor, color, and nutritional value.






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