Fermented hot sauce and unfermented hot sauce are the two main options when making homemade hot sauce. The point of fermentation is to lower pH, which creates a hostile environment for microbes that cause spoilage. You will be accomplishing the same thing with the unfermented hot sauce, but by following a different method. The two processes result in very different products even though the ingredients are often the same. Our PepperScale Showdown will show you what sets them apart.
Fermented vs. unfermented hot sauce: How do they differ?
The process for making a fermented hot sauce involves ensuring that the pepper mash used to make the sauce is in contact with the atmosphere around it. The exposure to air is necessary since you want to introduce lactobacillus, which is necessary to the fermentation process. This is similar to the process needed to make any fermented food item including yogurt or wine, with the difference here being that you will not be manually adding the bacteria since they will naturally get into it the sauce from the air.
If you are making a fermented hot sauce at home, you will want to place your pepper mash (blended pepper and seasonings with no vinegar) into a mason jar and cover with a porous material. The best option for a porous material is cheesecloth, but you can use a paper towel. Screw on the mason jar’s ring to hold the cheesecloth or paper towel in place. This protects your mash from insects and debris but air and microscopic organisms will be able to get to it. Store your pepper mash at room temperature to begin fermentation.
An unfermented hot sauce will not require exposure to air since you won’t be needing the lactobacillus. Instead, you will combine your pepper mash with vinegar. A good starting point is a fifty-fifty mix of pepper mash and vinegar but you can play with the ratio to get something that suits your taste preferences.
Because of the time required for fermentation, a fermented hot sauce will take at least a week to be ready. Some recipes involve much longer fermentation periods. An unfermented hot sauce requires only the time it takes to measure and combine the ingredients. Check out our simple jalapeño hot sauce as an unfermented example.
Does fermentation impact taste?
Fermented hot sauces are popular for having greater complexity in their flavor profiles when compared to unfermented ones. Fermentation has different effects on each hot sauce ingredient, resulting in a more layered and nuanced taste. Unfermented hot sauces tend to have all of the ingredient flavors up front and in your face, so to speak. There is not as much subtlety or complexity.
How does fermentation affect heat?
Fermentation tends to mellow out the heat from chili peppers, so that fermented hot sauces tend to be milder in addition to having more flavors. Unfermented hot sauces tend to be hotter since these sauces have not undergone a fermentation process to mellow out the chili peppers.
When should you use fermented hot sauce and when should you use unfermented?
Since fermentation brings many new properties to a hot sauce including umami notes, it may be better suited to adding more flavors to milder dish or food item. Use unfermented hot sauces when you mainly need heat and are not as focused on the other flavors. Use it in dishes where you don’t necessarily need a bunch of extra flavors.