Fermented Hot Sauce Mega Guide

We’ve seen the emails, the Instagram comments, and we’ve even seen the Reddit posts. We're excited to finally bring back Escarpment Labs Hot Sauce with our newest addition, Humo (which is now available)! Blended with a house-made shoyu for a little extra umami, Humo is smokey & complex, almost like a BBQ sauce with some kick.

To celebrate the return of hot sauce, we’re bringing you the “Hot Sauce Mega Guide”, so you can ferment your own hot sauce the next time we accidentally take too long making a new batch (Sorry! It’s bound to happen again...). 

This guide will cover everything you need to know about making hot sauce: from choosing your peppers, the fermentation environment, additional ingredients, and bottling. We will include a quick step by step guide for a quick 1 pepper fermentation, so even the greenest of hot-saucers can give it a shot!

Give a brewer hot sauce, they eat good for a day.
Teach a brewer how to hot sauce, they eat good for a lifetime.
 

In order to redeem your free hot sauce, place an order through the website and the prompt for your bottle will be post-payment in the check out process. Available to pro breweries and wholesalers in Canada only.

Choosing Your Chili Peppers

This is the most vital step of producing your own hot sauce, as the chili peppers you select will dictate the flavour profile, colour and style of your final sauce. Chili peppers come in many different varieties and preparations, so it can all be a little daunting. The spiciness or hotness of chilli peppers is measured using the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) scale. It is a useful statistic to reference as it will give you a general idea of how hot your sauce will be. A rating of 0 on the SHU is not spicy at all, and pure capsicum (the compound responsible for spiciness in chilli peppers) rates 16,000,000. We have included some charts separating some chili pepper varieties into different categories for your viewing pleasure.

The Core Four

These peppers are a great entry point for making a hot sauce as many recipes will contain these peppers and you won’t have any trouble sourcing them. You should be able to find them at your local grocery store or farmers market - or you could grow your own! Learn them, love them, consume them! 


Common Name

Colour

SHU

Description

Bell Peppers

Green, Yellow, Red, Orange

0

These peppers do not produce capsicum and therefore rate 0 on the SHU. They are very sweet and can be used as a base for a sauce.

Jalapeños

Green

3,500-10,000

The most common pepper worldwide. 2-3 inches in length. 

Cayenne

Red

30,000-50,000

3-5 Inches in length, curved, skinny and very hot.

Habanero

Orange/Red

100,000-350,000

2 inches. Slightly fruity flavour but also massive HEATTTT.


Fresh Chili Peppers

This group of chili peppers is a little bit more exciting. Along with the core four, these are the peppers traditionally used in Mexican cooking. They might be a little harder to source (check farmers markets and Mexican food stores!) but they will provide you with a more complex and diverse flavour palate compared to using the more standard peppers.


Common Name

Colour

SHU

Description

Anaheim

Green

500-2,500

5-6 inches. Generally, very mild and are great for salsas or other sauces where HEAT isn’t the main player. Another great base pepper.

Poblano

Green

1,000-2,000

4-5 inches. Earthy and mild spiciness. Great for stuffing!

Mirasol

Red

2,500-8,000

Mild pepper, with a vibrant red colour. Known for their slightly strawberry-like flavour.

Serrano

Green

10,000-23,000

1.5-2.5 inches. Looks like a skinny stretched out Jalapeno. It provides a little more kick than a jalapeno but similar flavour profile. 




Dried Chilli Peppers

Chilis are a vital ingredient to delicious cuisine year-round, so even out of season, dried varieties can be found and also used to make hot sauce. The use of these dried peppers is so prevalent in Mexican cuisine that they receive new names once they are dried! Smoking and drying are often used in tandem to create another sub set of flavours you can bring to your hot sauce.!

*These peppers will have to be rehydrated before use in standard cooking (15-20 mins in boiling water) but for our purposes they are fine as is*


Common Name

Colour

SHU

Description

Ancho

Red

1,000-2,000

Ancho chilis are dried Poblano peppers. They have a rich smoky characteristic with mild spiciness. 

Chiles de Árbol

Red

15,000-65,000

Wide range of heat between chilis. Keep their vibrant red colour when dried so great for colour and heat additions!

Guajillo

Red

2,500-8,000

The Guajillo is the dried Mirasol pepper. They have a very complex flavour profile being described as berry or raisin like.

Morita

Red

2,500-8,000

Moritas are smoked red-ripe Jalapeños. This is one of your two classic “chipotle” peppers. Very rich flavour profile



The Freak Show

**PEPPERS FOUND ON THIS LIST ARE VERY VERY VERY SPICY. PLEASE WEAR GLOVES, DO NOT TOUCH YOUR EYES, OR DO ANYTHING WITHOUT WASHING YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY**

Now that you have been warned, let’s get into these very interesting and intense chilis. These are the hottest of the hot, the chilis that make grown folks weep for their mommies! I'm not joking, these peppers are ridiculously hot, so hot you likely cannot add them to cooking in their whole form. They are great additions to hot sauces due to the ability to add intense, layered heat to your sauce with only a few peppers! Please be careful if you start experimenting with this class of peppers.


Common Name

Colour

SHU

Description

Scotch Bonnet

Yellow, Orange, Red

150,000-300,000

These chilis are similar to Habaneros, they are slightly fruity and pack a HUGE spicy punch. They are used heavily in Caribbean and Jerk cuisine.

Ghost Pepper

Red, Yellow, Chocolate

Over 1,000,000

These were the hottest peppers on earth until 2011. They are incredibly spicy and should be used sparingly. 

Carolina Reaper 

Red

1,500,000

Known for their fruity start and a heat that has been described like lava. Be very careful with these peppers!!!

Pepper X

Green/ Yellow

Approx. 3,000,000

Hottest pepper in the world? Unofficially at this point in 2021, but if you can get your hands on some, be careful.

 

The lists I have provided here are literally just scratching the surface of the chilli pepper world! Each of these types of chilis will have 1000’s of varieties and there are thousands more I did not mention. Use these lists to help guide your pepper selection, but don’t feel like you have to use one or any of these. Do some research! Ask questions! Go to your local farmer’s market or farm! This is your chance to experiment with different peppers! Go wild!

Fermentation Environment

Alright so you’ve got your chilis. You know what style of hot sauce you want to make. You are gungho and ready to make sauce, but you have one burning question (pun intended)... 

“How the #$%^ do I ferment this?”

It is very easy but also the only step protecting your sauce against contamination and expiry so pay attention! The answer is salt. The peppers already have all the microorganisms on them to ferment away. Placing your peppers into a brine (salt + water) solution will protect them from nasty microorganisms that could make you sick or rot your peppers but allows good microorganisms to survive and ferment (Lactobacillus and yeast). 

We use a 3% brine solution for our hot sauces. The easiest way to make a brine is to weigh the water you will be using to cover your peppers and multiply that by 0.03. This will give you the amount of salt you will need to add into the water. For example:

5 kg of water x 0.03=0.15 kg of salt

I can see you reaching for that box of table salt, “salt is salt”, you say. STOP. We prefer to use non-iodized salts, like kosher or sea salt. Iodized salt will also work but does cause some problems for the lacto and yeasts we are trying to grow, so be weary!

Along with placing your peppers into the brine solution you will want to make sure they are weighted down so they stay consistently submerged under the water. Oxygen is your enemy here and will cause nasty things like mold to grow on your peppers. We use a plate and a bag of salt to weigh down all of our peppers!!

*Mold is not the end of the world for your sauce, make sure to remove the moldy peppers and ensure all peppers are submerged under the water*

When choosing a vessel for your fermentation ensure you select one with enough space for all of your peppers so that they can be totally submerged under the brine solution. We tend to use plastic buckets as we make lots of sauce at a time, and we can also drill a hole into the top to add an airlock. If your vessel does not have an airlock or you cannot add one make sure to burp your sauce every day to release some of the gas build up.


Fermentation is finished when you stop seeing gas produced, or you could do a pH test to check for lactic acid production. These will both give you an idea that the fermentation is finished. Generally, it should not take very long, 1-2 weeks in total for a standard sauce. 

Additional Ingredients

Besides peppers, water, and salt that I have already mentioned there are a few other additional ingredients you could add to take that sauce to the next level.


Vinegar - Vinegar should be added after fermentation is complete as it will totally inhibit all further fermentation from occurring. It will also provide you with a sharp, pleasant, acidity that your sauce may need to balance the intense heat. I would recommend adding vinegar to taste on all sauces.


Fruit – Fruits like peaches, pineapple or raisins are great additions to hot sauces as they provide additional sugars for microorganisms to eat during fermentation, but also provide unique layered flavour compounds. When using fruit ensure complete fermentation or use in tandem with vinegar to ensure your hot sauce stays in its bottles. Fruit should be added into the brine solution with the peppers.


Garlic - Garlic makes everything better, just put it in and thank me later. 


Other vegetables – Got a favourite vegetable and want to put in your sauce?! Go crazy! Put it in and let it ferment alongside everything else. 


Sugar – Brown or white sugar can be added to hot sauce if it is lacking sweetness. Again be very careful when adding sugar to actively fermenting products as without vinegar to inhibit the fermentation, these sugars will add life to your ferment.


Old hot sauce backslop – Peppers will have both yeast and lactobacillus naturally on their skins, and these can be used to start your fermentation au natural. However, you could also add an old bottle of fermented hot sauce to your current sauce. This will add the culture of microorganisms used to ferment that sauce into the new batch. Also, feel free to use an Escarpment Labs hot sauce (if you have any left, which I doubt you do) to start your own! It’s a never-ending sauce circle.

The options for additional ingredients are endless, and you should not feel restricted about putting anything in your sauce. If you think it’s a good idea, try it!

Bottling

This is the stage of the process where you will need a little more than just a bucket, water, peppers and salt. You will need to source yourself a blender, immersion blender or a food processor, anything to turn your sauce into a sauce.


We like to separate our solids from our brine as a first step. This allows us to dial in a specific texture and consistency to the sauce as we blend the brine back in. As you add brine back in, it is also the perfect opportunity to add vinegar to the mix if you have not already done so and want to add that hit of acid. Alternatively, vinegar can be used to adjust the consistency in place of the brine. The final consistency of the sauce is up to you! If you like a chunkier sauce then blend for a little less time. If you lean towards a more Tobasco like consistency, add liquid and blitz the heck out of it. 


Our favourite bottle to use for hot sauce is called a Woozy bottle. It is your classic hot sauce bottle, including a skinny neck so filling can be quite difficult. We suggest getting a plastic squeeze bottle, this will allow flow control when filling. If you do not take any of our advice and still want to make hot sauce, the real take-home message is to GET YOURSELF A PLASTIC SQUEEZE BOTTLE. We have made enough hot sauce and enough messes in the past to know, this is truly the key to hot sauce happiness!

 

Quick One Pepper Variety Fermentation

Supplies

  • Scale
  • Mason Jar
  • Knife

Ingredients

  • Chilis
  • Water
  • Salt

Process

    1. Start by washing your peppers gently with water.
    2. Cut the tops of the peppers and cut them in half. (Save the tops they can be used for cooking or making chili oil)
    3. Remove the veins and as many of the seeds as possible from the peppers. Don't fret about not getting all the seeds, but make sure the veins are removed.
    4. Weigh your jar empty and either tare the scale or record the weight.
    5. Place your peppers in your jar and add enough water to completely submerge them.
    6. Using the weight of the water, create a 3% brine solution. Use the formula above to determine how much salt to add.
    7. Add some sort of weight to make sure your peppers stay submerged. A plastic bag full of quarters or rocks works well, but make sure to sanitize the bag before placing it on top of your peppers.
    8. Let your peppers ferment for 1-2 weeks. Make sure to burp daily to avoid a messy explosion.
    9. Follow the steps above for bottling and sauce making, but at this point the peppers are good to eat, or store in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Sources:
https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/types-of-dried-chiles-how-to-buy-and-store-article
https://www.chilipeppermadness.com/chili-pepper-types/
​​https://www.cayennediane.com/big-list-of-hot-peppers/
https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/20-types-of-peppers-and-their-uses-article