Louisiana-Style Fermented Hot Sauce

Fermented Hot Sauce Peppers

You can find Louisiana Cookin‘s recipe for Fermented Hot Sauce here.  

In the May/June issue of Louisiana Cookin’, our Foodways writer and Southern Food & Beverage Museum Director Elizabeth M. Williams discussed the art and history of one of Louisiana’s most cherished condiments: hot sauce. The Bayou State’s contribution to the hot sauce pantheon is fermented hot sauce. To delve further into the science and technique of fermented hot sauce, we turned to Chef Instructor John Carriere of the Louisiana Culinary Institute. This is what he had to say:

Fermented Hot Sauce vs. Canned Hot Sauce

So what is the difference between canned pickles and fermented, or also known as lactopickles? In my opinion, they couldn’t be more different, and each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Pickles made with vinegar, such as canned pickles, are sterilized to avoid stray bacteria or pathogens; sterilization also kills the good bacteria necessary for fermentation (commonly referred to as probiotic bacteria). Fermented pickles are not sterilized, and are made by creating a meticulous environment in which amazing, healthy lactic acid bacteria can grow and thrive. Probiotic bacteria are all over the news and supermarket shelves. They are microbes that are extremely beneficial to everything from digestion to immunity, and lactopickles are full of them.

By creating the right selective environment for good bacteria, naturally present lactic acid bacteria gobble the sugars in your vegetables. When they do that, they convert said sugars into many things, including lactic acid, which then does the work of preservation.

Fermentation does a lot of things—including preserving vegetables, making them healthier, and even making them safer to consume—but what it doesn’t do is make them shelf stable for extended periods of time. If you are looking for a product that will stay the same on your shelf for a year or more, you are looking for canned pickles, not fermented ones. If you are looking for a product that will change and age and become more nutrient-rich and acidic over time, you are looking for fermented pickles.

Canned pickles are shelf stable, but sterile and stripped of many nutrients. Fermented hot sauce and pickles will continue to change over time and eventually be inedible (or soft and decayed) and are more nutrient rich than the fresh, raw vegetables that you started with. Storing fermented pickles in a cool spot, such as a fridge or cellar will help preserve them longer.

Create The Right Environment For Fermenting

Temperature – Room temperature is the ideal temperature for pickling. Most sources agree that 68°F (20°C) is optimal for fermentation, although most also agree that anything in the 64°F to 78°F range (17.7° to 25.5°C) will work just fine. Warmer temperatures will speed up fermentation, lower temperatures will slow it. If temperatures are too low, fermentation may not start at all. If they are too high, fermentation will happen too quickly, leading to a faster decomposition of your yummy ferment and sometimes a less crispy pickle.

Submersion – There are different kinds of fermentation. Some require air (aerobic), others require no air (anaerobic). Pickles are the latter. There are lots of ways to create anaerobic conditions for your pickles. I prefer to do this in a crock with weights and a water seal, or in a bowl with a weighted down plate or in a jar. Remember, the veggies must be submerged if you want fermentation to happen. Without total submersion you will get surface mold (yucky, but not deadly) or your veggies will turn to mush.

Salt – Salt is not essential for fermentation, but it’s much better to make pickles with salt than without it. First, salt helps strengthen the vegetables’ pectins, yielding a crispier pickle. Second, the bacteria you want, lactic acid bacteria, are relatively salt tolerant, whereas some of the less desirable bacteria aren’t. Salt will slow fermentation and help your ferment last longer. Salt makes everything taste better, too. And here’s one, lesser-known benefit: fermentation makes minerals more easily absorbed by your body.

Fermented Hot Sauce

What’s Best to Ferment?

There are a large number of vegetables that ferment beautifully, and a small number that ferment horribly (with a few in between).

Firmer vegetables tend to ferment well, while vegetables on the softer side tend to ferment not as well. There are ways to ferment just about everything if you adjust your expectations and your recipes.

Lettuces, squashes, tomatoes, cucumber,s and bell peppers are some that can be challenging. Outside of those, so many things are almost fail-safe. The brassica family is usually good place to start, but be aware that Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli can produce a strong odor while fermenting. Combining these with other, less odiferous veggies can help.

Fermentation Schedule and Storage

Fermentation time will vary according to your acidity preference, but here’s my rule of thumb: one to two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter, though some ferments happen faster than others. The ferment is done when it is acidic enough for your preference. Since it’s not a good idea to break the air seal too frequently, start checking at a week. Once you learn your preferences, you won’t have to check so often.

Storage time is entirely based on the vegetable, the amount of salt used, and the temperature at which the ferment is stored. Generally speaking, try to get through or give away your pickles before three months have passed. They tend to lose their maximum quality after 3 months or so, but I’ve eaten some pickled veggies that were still delicious six months or even a year later.

One of my favorite things about fermented hot sauce and other foods is that, for the most part, they empower you to use your senses. If it looks slimy, feels too soft or smells or tastes “off,” it’s time for the compost pile. If none of the former is so, then go ahead and eat them!!!

The first few times you ferment something, it is probably a good idea to follow a recipe or some general guidelines. Fermentation creates strong smells and flavors, and if you aren’t accustomed to eating them, you might think the “right” smells are actually wrong. Better yet, find a more experienced buddy to guide you through your early days!

Go forth and ferment!

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