The chilli is a fruit and has over 200 compounds that contribute to its flavour. Volatile compounds such as esters (fruity aromas), alcohols (earthy and fruity), aldehydes (grassy), lactones (peach), and terpenoids ( essential oil) are sought after. Fermented hot sauce geeks are always experimenting with different combinations of species to unlock a multitude of flavour journeys. However, it’s the heat that has made this particular fruit so special.
The Heat Trick
The secret of the chillies’ survival is a compound known as capsaicin. It acts as a chemical irritant to avoid grazing mammals and invading fungi over digesting its seeds and hindering its ability to sow the land and propagate. The irritant comes in the form of a burning sensation that the sensory receptors on our tongues detect. Capsaicin mimics a deep burning sensation and tricks your nervous system. There is no actual burn, but your brain’s alarm system is set off. This bit of brain con is known as chemesthesis. Picture an ancient human, after foraging and finding a delicious red fruit, he bites into it only to believe his mouth is literally on fire, He spits it out, clasping his face in pain, seeds go flying. Job done! However we humans are a strange bunch. Our seemingly sadistic inclination has driven us closer to the chilli and not running for the hills as nature intended.
A pepper’s heat can be measured using Scoville units (SHU), a scale based on diluting peppers with sugar water and measuring how much or little dilution is needed to make the heat register on the human palate. From the mild jalapeno (7,000 SHU) to the ominously named Carolina Reaper (2,000,000 SHU) the range is both exciting simultaneously frightening.
Hot sauce mania is here, and homemade Lacto-fermented chilli sauce is up there and trending with the lockdown darling, sourdough, and garnering a cultured and passionate following of the original 21st Century fermentation breakout, craft beer.
It does not take long to find the swell of interest in fermenting chilli sauce, look no further than the ever-growing Facebook groups, Youtube channels, and Instagram hot sauce hashtags. You will quickly fall deep into the hot sauce hole. Not only is it relatively easy to fermented chillies, but there are also so many variations and combinations to try that getting bored is not on the menu. There is now an explosion of hot sauces with regional and cultural culinary dialects. But where do chillies come from?
In the contemporary world, chillis are found across the globe with a spectrum of species from all different shapes, a range of hues, and combinations of flavours. However, chilli peppers, fruits of plants in the Capsicum genus, were once only found in South America and can be traced back to Bolivia and Brazil as far back as 7500 BC.
Europeans exported the fruit back to the continent in the 16th century via trading ships whose long arduous journeys required the preservation benefits of fermentation.
Chilli mania quickly spread across the world, in China the first recipes to include them date back to 1790, while perhaps the world’s best known fermented hot sauce, Tabasco, was created in 1867 in the US.
While there is now a plethora of chile species, the few that account for most hot sauces are all variants of the Capsicum genus. Bell peppers, cayenne, and jalapeño, habanero and Scotch bonnet peppers, tabasco, and peri peri.
Simply put, nothing can extract a flavour journey quite like Lacto-fermentation. Naturally occurring friendly lactic acid-producing bacteria (LAB) like Lactobacillus, transform the chilli fruit as they ferment food carbohydrates. As well as producing lactic acid they also release alcohols, aldehydes, acids, esters, and sulphur compounds which all contribute to flavour development. Fermenting chillies is a controlled transformation that creates a depth and complexity of flavour. As fermenters, we do not ferment, we curate an environment that allows bacteria to work their transformative magic. Fermentation can be short from a couple of weeks to years. Tabasco as an example is fermented for a minimum of one year.
Fermented chilli sauce health benefits us twofold. The first being the nutritive alteration of raw ingredients and the biosynthesis of bioactive compounds. The second being the modification of the human gut microbiota, and the development and modification of the immune system. In laymen’s terms, it releases the good stuff from usually inanimate foods and provides your hard-working immune-boosting gut bugs with some reinforcement and nutrition. Read more about the benefits of consuming fermented foods Here
Throw in capsaicin induced endorphin highs, a whole lot of vitamin C and vitamin A and there is a good reason to have a daily dose of fermented chilli sauce*.
Want to start fermenting chilli sauce? Or are you fermenting already and looking for some interesting recipes. We have put together a recipe booklet in collaboration with five contributors from basic ferments to internationally inspired sauces. Click below for some recipes. Become a Fermented Patron and get the complete five recipe booklet free.
5 Fermented Chilli Hot Sauce Recipes. –
1.Terry’s Homemade Hot Sauce
Terry is a proud Zimbabwean who is culinary curious. He has dabbled in the art of various ferments but his love for the flavour explosion empowered by our microbial friends sees him stuffing fermenters with chillis more often than not. He has shared with us his basic recipe that is the culmination of hours observing Youtube and various hot sauce experiments that have him buzzing for more.
2. Ridhwaan’s Red Masala
Ridhwaan is a fermentrepreneur and Chief Saucier at Ridhwaan Foods based in Johannesburg, South Africa. His wild fermented hot sauce are brought to life through a microbial transformation that induces deep umami flavours which will light up your taste buds. He has graciously shared his red masala recipe which can be used in 99% of all Indian cuisine.
3. Funkbal Sambal
Chris founded his artisanal chilli sauces and preserve company in 2020. G.Lillies produces kimchee and a dragon paste sambal which harness the wonders of Lacto-fermentation. Organic, vegan and delicious Chris’s creations are flavour journeys of the finest order.
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4. Fermented Ushatini
Bulelwa Princess Mbonambi
Bulelwa is an accomplished South African chef, trainer, and entrepreneur whose flair and eye for detail can be found across various establishments across Johannesburg, South Africa. She is particularly interested in telling cultural narratives and migrant cuisines through her menus. She is currently running her hospitality consultancy under the flag of PBM hospitality services. Bulelwa has shred with us a fermented riff on a traditional Zulu salsa (Ushantini).
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5. Habanero , Apricot & Carrot Hot Sauce
Savage Craic is a living partnership between Llewyn Máire, Lisa Newman and an eclectic family of microbes. They handcraft wild fermented sauces, miso, vinegar & ceramic crock krauts in the Republic of Ireland. The recipe in our booklet is based on their ‘MIghty Hot Sauce’ (Habanero, Carrot & Apricot). You could easily replace the Carrot/ Apricot with some Beetroot and the Habaneros with some Carolina Reapers to make a version of our seasonal Deadly Hot Sauce
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Thank you to our patrons, without your support over the last two years, Fermented would simple not exists.
Dave Starley, Anastasia Nylund, Carlyn Strydom, Tameron Haralambous, Cameron Gray, Dion van Huyssteen and Dean Langkilde.
Luke Stroebel is a self-described maker of things’. whose superpower is to convert people’s imaginations into illustrations that are rad. He is also has a well-educated pallet and is never shy to consume fermented products. Check his work out @luke_stroebelT
Thank you to Le Parfait South Africa for supplying us with glass jars for our various fermentation experiments. The premium preserving, pickling, fermenting & storage jars are now in SA! Go check them out.
*Disclaimer: I am in no way a doctor, dietician, microbiologist, food scientist ecologist, immunologist and understand very little about microbial genetics. So please consult your preferred expert for advice on this topic before you go all fermented crazy. Fermented foods that are good for you should be consumed in moderation. What I am doing is to create a platform for collective learning in the hope that I can learn from others and delve more into the microbial re-awakening
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