Tag Archives: lactobacillus

Lacto-Fermented Hot Sauce

5 Feb

After reading an essay about Tabasco sauce, getting a Sander Katz book as a present, and taking a class at Preserved Oakland, fermented hot sauce was on my mind, and I like how my first batch (a blend of 4-6 week fermented jalapenos, Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers, garlic, and spices) turned out. In photos:

Jimmy Nardellos submerged in an 4-5% concentration sea salt brine with a few hot thai chilis, garlic cloves, black peppercorns, corianted seed, and brown mustard seed:


Jalapenos, a few cayennes, and garlic and peppercorns submerged in brine:


I left some peppers at room temperature for a few weeks, but also put some peppers in one of my temperature-controlled “fermentation fridges” (a mini-fridge retrofitted with a temperature controller, allowing me to hold it at 55-60F for a slow, long, 4-6 week fermentation even during warm weather). Also shown: a hard cider aging:


Blending the various peppers and garlic and a bit of the drained now-probiotic / live cultures brine to make a fermented chili paste (or in a few cases, to strain to make a thinner hot sauce):img_3674img_3687

My understanding in more detail:

Traditionally, many cultures’ hot sauces were made through lacto-fermentation, the same general process behind sauerkraut, kimchi, half-sour pickles, and other live-cultured foods. Rather that using vinegar, this involves packing vegetables and spices in a salt brine, and letting a series of wild bacteria (most commonly from the skins of the vegetables) multiple and progressively transform the food and environment over the course of weeks to a few months.

There are good and bad bacteria (and molds and other undesirable microorganisms), so the name of the game is all about creating environments (salinity, acidity, oxygen or lack of oxygen) that favor the growth of the desired microorganisms and shut down the undesirables.

There are plenty of books about this so I won’t recap all the details here, but I’ve always found it fascinating. There’s not just one bacteria involved– one bacteria may thrive in a salty but neutral-pH environment and as it multiplies lowers the pH of the environment, making it more hospitable to a new bacteria that will then start to multiply and further lower the pH (shutting down the previous bacteria).

These intermediate modest-pH fermentation steps may produce strong, funky, and occasionally unpleasant smells that make you think it’s spoiling (mine did for about two weeks but then faded as fermentation progressed), and white cloudy yeasts and slimy fluids may also form from this complex colony of microorganisms. It takes some effort to get past a reflexive disgust– but given the right time and environment and vegetables well-submerged under the brine away from surface mold, these fermentations generally all end up dominated by lactobacillus, an especially low-pH-tolerant bacteria that defines lacto-fermentation and the particular (good-tasting) fermented vegetable tang. This web page has a more detailed step by step of the phases of fermentation and the microorganisms involved, and highlights how lactic acid bacteria are only present in small amounts on vegetables, but through this progressive environment change are favored to multiple and eventually take over.

There are a number of ingredients that also help prevent formation of mold and preserve the sauce, including traditionally spicy ingredients (garlic, hot peppers) as well as juniper berries and grape leaves– so fermenting hot peppers should be a bit easier than some other vegetables.

I took the approach of submerging peppers in a salt brine of about 4-5% (for every quart of water I used 2.5 Tbsp of a mix of coarse sea salt and a Japanese “moon salt” (also presumably a sea salt), but this is based on an estimated conversion between volume and mass— for future fermentations I used a scale to weigh out 4% salt).

I went through this roller coaster of smells, textures, and appearance on the first two batches of peppers– at 2-3 weeks they smelled fairly unpleasant, and I had to skim off some significant surface scum (mold?) on the room-temperature bottles (this seemed to be somewhat less of a problem for the ones in the 60F fridge). But after 4 weeks the smell had mellowed out, and at five weeks when I took off the weights and extracted the peppers they had a intense but pleasant kick of funky fermented tang, and made a good hot sauce when blended with the fermented jalapenos and garlic. I kept this hot sauce in the regular fridge after this to slow down any further fermentation.



Homebrew #4: Sour & Salty (Gose)

18 Aug

For my forth batch, I wanted to try something more adventurous. I’ve always liked sour beers, but many of them take 6 to 12 months to ferment… but I heard from a friend about another way to make a sour beer using a starter, and I’d recently had a Leipziger Gose I enjoyed, so I decided to try something in the general Gose vein:

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Per Wikipedia:“Gose is a beer style of Leipzig, Germany, brewed with at least 50% of the grain bill being malted wheat. Dominant flavours in Gose include a lemon tartness, a herbal characteristic, and a strong saltiness (the result of either local water sources or added salt). Because of the use of coriander and salt, Gose does not comply with the Reinheitsgebot. It is allowed an exemption on the grounds of being a regional specialty.”

I made the sour starter by leaving about 2 Tbsp of cracked two-row malted barley and 1 Tbsp of agave syrup in a cup and a half of water out on the windowsill, letting the bacteria that naturally live on the grain husk start to ferment the sugar. After a few days, there was a white scum on the top, it smelled sour, and the pH had dropped well below 4.0, which was a good sign: at this pH, bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus can live and produce lactic acid (the sourness present in yogurt and one way to sour a beer), but it’s too acidic for bad-tasting or more dangerous bacteria (e.g. botulism) to survive.


I then prepared the main wort:

Base grains:

  • 3/4 lbs 2-row barley
  • 1 lb malted wheat
  • 0.5 lbs flaked wheat
  • 0.5 lbs rolled outs
  • 3 lbs wheat DME
  • 2.25 lbs pilsner DME

I mashed the cracked grains for 45 minutes in 1.5 gallons of 150F water, then added 2 more gallons and the dry malts. Rather than boiling the wort and adding hops at this point as I would with a normal batch, I let it cool to about 100F, poured in the windowsill-soured starter I’d made the previous day, covered the pot and wrapped it in insulating towels, and let it sit for a day. This let the bacteria in the sour starter take over the wort, multiplying and souring the entire batch.

The next afternoon, I resumed brewing– I brought the now sweet-and-sour wort to a rolling boil, which also has the effect of killing any lactobacillus and other wild flora growing in it– this means the initial souring is as sour as the beer will get and I won’t get the more complex flavor of many sour beers, but I also don’t have to worry about other contamination multiplying after I bottle and ruining the beer over time. I boiled it for an hour as usual, adding hops and other flavoring typical of the Gose style:

  • 0.5oz Santiam hops @ 60min
  • 0.8oz salt @ 60min (about 0.5oz sea salt + 0.3oz lemon flake salt)
  • 0.45oz coriander seeds @ 5min


After cooling with a borrowed wort chiller, I tested the OG and it was 1.057 (corrected for temperature)– exactly what I’d been shooting for. Into a second bucket it went (since my first bucket was busy fermenting a Rye Session):


I pitched in the yeast started I’d also prepared the night before (Boiled 2 pts water + ½ cup pilsner DME for 10min. Cooled the light wort covered in a cold water sink (maybe 15min) until cool, around 85F. Put in a sanitized quart jar, pitched room-temperature White Labs 029 Kolsch yeast, covered w/ sanitized foil, shook for about a minute to heavily aerate, then set on counter to sit overnight) and off we went.


It fermented vigorously over the next few days, and other than a few tastes and gravity samples I let it go for three weeks, until the yeast dropped out, the SF stabilized at 1.015 (about 5.5% ABV), and it cleared up, eventually looking like this. Mysterious.


Before bottling, I took a taste (uncarbonated): it had a lightly sour smell, a pale, malty body with a hard to pin down “funky yogurt-like” taste, not really lip-smacking tart or citric acid acidic. We’ll see if it ends up undrinkable or interesting.

For extra amusement, I decided to label it Gözer, as a shout-out to both everyone’s favorite Ghostbusters villain and the Gose style:

goofy labels