Monday, October 10, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Making Homemade Hot Sauce

You know what they say, 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!'

When we first began cutting out processed foods early last year, I thought mostly about making our about our meals and our snacks from scratch. I never gave much thought to our condiments. Condiments were, in my mind, an INGREDIENT, not something with their own list of ingredients! Making homemade mustard and mayonaise, however, have been some of the highlights of our eating non-processed foods. My interest in making condiments stems slightly from my desire to know exactly what is in my food, my homemade versions do not contain yucky preservatives or food colorings. But really I think my interest comes from the desire for enlightenment. How does one go about making mustard? I mean, who is even talking about that?

I read The Nourished Kitchen's recipe for Fermented Hot Sauce almost a year ago. And I was fascinated by it. The ingredient list was impossibly small, peppers, salt and whey. The whey is even optional. And I do love a good hot sauce! But the post came out after pepper season was already over here last year. So I waited until this year.

I have investigated my beloved Frank's Red Hot and it does not contain any highly processed ingredients. I was pleased about that. But I am concerned about the salt content of such sauces. I am definitely a hot-head. If I am not sweating, it is not hot enough. On tacos and chili and the like I use alot of hot sauce to achieve my desired heat level. Alot of hot sauce equals alot of salt. And too much salt doesn't do anyone any good. So....that was my other motivation, not having bags under my eyes the morning after a heat seeking journey.

The first time I made the recipe, I followed the recipe. But I only had 9 ounces of peppers. So I adjusted the measurements accordingly. It was unlike other fermented recipes I had tried because there was no bath of whey and water enveloping my pepper puree. I was concerned about how the whey was going to get to all my peppery bits. Then after two or three days, my habenero puree came down with a powdery looking white mold on the top. I left the jar sitting on the counter for almost two whole weeks before I decided to deal with it. After reading several articles that told me that no injury would befall me as long as the mold was white, I decided to proceed. I finished the recipe. And my sauce was the exact consistency of my Frank's Red Hot. But the habeneroes made it super crazy ridiculously spicy. My kinda sauce!

I am living proof. White mold on the top of fermented foods will NOT make you sick. Whatever it is, it is benign. However.....the white mold does do something to the flavor. My super crazy hot sauce, as much as I wanted to love it, tasted off. It tasted turned. I ate it several times before I threw it out and started over. I never got sick but I never LOVED the sauce.

On my second try I purchased a greater quantity of peppers so as to remain closer to the original recipe.. Habeneroes are all done around here, so I chose serrano peppers. The original recipe calls for three POUNDS of peppers. Do you have any idea how much three pounds of peppers is?! It is a crazy amount. Only slightly less than 2 pounds fits into my food processor, so that was where I stopped. I used the full amount of whey given in the recipe. And the full amount of salt. I also figured since I had a mold problem the first time around I should add a quarter of a cup of water so as to increase the whey's ability to get into every pepper crevice. I did not want mold coming to the party this time!

Fortunately the sauce fermented on the countertop for a full week, and no white mold ever developed. Hurrah!! I strained the sauce and tasted it. It had the right balance of salt and sour from the fermentation. It was perfect on the heat level! It was overall exactly what I wanted it to be. Only problem...the sauce is way to watery. It is fine to add to chili. But it has the same consistency as water. So putting some on a taco might not be so awesome.

Oh we go again. Do I make a new batch? Or just live with this one? Did I make a mistake in adding the extra water? Did I not strain it well enough?

I had a truly brilliant math teacher in high school that always told us, 'You don't learn much from a right answer. One must do many many things right to get a right answer. But when you get a wrong answer it is important to look back at your work and find the ONE thing you did that produced the wrong answer.' Every recipe we make is an opportunity to get some new outcome. Limiting sugar, replacing eggs for baking soda or playing with water contents have all been some of the things I have tried in coming up with the perfect recipes. And with each triumph and failure I have learned something new. Some recipes have been good. Others have been total throw aways. This one has been in between. But I definitely plan on dusting myself off and getting this one right again.

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays Healthy 2Day Wednesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursday and Fight Back Fridays


  1. Thank you for this post! I have a ton of peppers sitting in my refrigerator from last week's CSA pick-up (although I don't think there are 3 lbs worth) and I was just trying to figure out what to do with them. My own fermented hot sauce- perfect! I'll let you know how mine turns out.

  2. I have really battled with the taste of fermented food. My taste buds just have not cooperated so far. This might be a good food to try though! Condiments were what got us started on the "whole foods" journey. Funny how we all come it in different ways!