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Fermenting Peppers Guide: 13 Things to Know

If you’re like us and often go overboard with buying too many peppers, it can sometimes be challenging to know what to do with them. Even though peppers are excellent when fresh, fermenting your peppers is one of the best ways to bring out extra flavors in your dishes. Fermentation also increases the shelf life of peppers, making it a practical way to enjoy your peppers to the fullest.

Fermenting peppers is simple. All you need to do is let your peppers sit in a brine bath with a starter for around 30 days in sanitized canning jars, and then you’ll have tangy, savory fermented peppers that will last for years. To do that, you need garlic or onions, sea salt, and boiled water.

So, let’s get fermenting! We’ll walk you through the steps to fermenting peppers and give you some pro tips to ensure that your fermented peppers always turn out delicious and long lasting. We’ll also talk about the many uses for fermented peppers, the kinds of peppers you can use, and signs to look out for spoilage.

Photo of fermented pickled orange peppers
Photo by Chernetskaya

Step-by-Step Guide to Fermenting Peppers

Fermenting peppers is extremely simple, and it’s a great way to preserve your peppers. You can make hot sauce from fermented peppers, use the juice to season meats and soups, or add the peppers to your dishes to add a bit of extra spice and tang to your meals.

What You Need to Ferment Peppers

Fermenting peppers doesn’t require too much equipment, but before you start, you’ll need:

  • Some fresh peppers. You can use any kind of peppers you want, but if you’re going to use your fermented peppers for hot sauce, Jalapeños and Habaneros are excellent choices. You can also use sweeter peppers, such as Banana peppers, Pepperoncini, Serranos, and more, to achieve a less intense taste.
  • Garlic or onions (optional). You don’t have to add garlic or onions to your fermented peppers, but you’ll get a great, complex taste if you do.
  • Sea salt. You can use regular table salt, but you’ll want to use coarse sea salt to make your brine for the best taste. For every quart of water that you use, you’ll need one heaping tablespoon of salt.
  • A fermenting starter. There are several starters that you can use to ferment your peppers. Using a starter will help your peppers ferment quickly and prevent them from becoming infected. You can use the juice from sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, or sourdough starter, or you can use a vegetable starter.
  • Boiled or distilled water. Before fermenting, you’ll need water to sanitize your glass containers. You’ll also need to use either distilled or boiled water to make your fermenting brine.
  • Airtight glass containers. Usually, the best containers to ferment peppers in are canning jars with a metal and rubber-gasket lid. You can use old pickle jars or canning jars.
  • A mixing bowl. You’ll need to mix your fermenting brine in a clean mixing bowl.
  • A knife. You’ll need to cut your peppers before fermentation. You can slice them into halves, or you can finely grind them, depending on how you want to use your peppers. The smaller you cut your peppers, the less time it’ll take for them to ferment.
  • A large pot. Before fermenting your peppers, you’ll need to boil your glass containers to sanitize them.
  • Some rubber gloves. When handling peppers, it’s always good to wear medical exam gloves or cleaning gloves while cutting and touching the peppers. Even if you’re handling milder peppers, the capsaicin in the peppers can burn your hands, so it’s recommended to wear gloves when you touch them.

Fermenting Instructions

Once you have gathered all of your supplies, it’s time to get fermenting. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Sanitize your glass containers. Before you can start fermenting your peppers, you should place all of your glass containers and their lids in a large pot filled with water and boil the water for at least 15 minutes to sanitize your glass containers and their covers. After your jars are sanitized and cool enough to touch, remove them from the pot.
  2. Prepare and cut the peppers. Wash your peppers thoroughly, then cut them into chunks. The smaller you slice your peppers, the faster they will ferment.
  3. Fill the glass containers. Put the peppers in the glass containers in layers as you cut them, packing and pounding them down tightly in the container after each layer. Fill the glass containers with your peppers, leaving at least 2 inches (5 cms) of space at the top of the container.
  4. Prepare your brine. When you make your brine, you’ll need to use sanitized water, such as distilled or boiled water. For every quart (946 mls) of water that you use, mix one heaping tablespoon of salt.
  5. Pour the brine into your glass container. Fill your jars with your brine, leaving at least 2 inches (5 cms) of space at the top of the jar.
  6. Add your fermentation starter. Once you’ve filled your glass containers with brine, add your fermentation starter directly into your jars. Use a clean spoon or butter knife to pack the peppers down into the jar one more time, and make sure there are no air bubbles.
  7. Seal the container. Once you’ve removed all of the air bubbles and packed down the peppers, screw the lids onto your glass containers, ensuring they’re tightly secured. If you don’t get a good seal, the peppers may become infected, so screw the lid on as tightly as possible.
  8. Put your containers in a dark place. Place your filled containers in a dark place like a closet, pantry, drawer, or in a pot with a lid. Peppers will ferment best in a warm place, ideally at temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21 and 27 degrees Celsius).
  9. Regularly open the container’s lid. For the first two weeks of fermentation, check on your peppers every day. Your peppers should bubble a little bit, and the liquid may rise as the peppers ferment. If the pressure gets high in your jar and the liquid level increases, you should open the jar lid slightly to let the air pressure even out and encourage fermentation.
  10. Wait patiently. Usually, it takes at least a month for the peppers to ferment, but to be safe, you may want to wait 45 to 90 days before consuming your peppers. As you wait, check on your fermenting peppers regularly to ensure that they’re not growing hazardous unwanted fungi.
  11. Enjoy your peppers and refrigerate after opening. To ensure that your fermented peppers don’t become infected with harmful bacteria and fungi, refrigerate them after opening.

After they’re done fermenting, you can use your peppers for many things, including hot sauce or additives in dishes. Fermented pepper juice makes a great seasoning in all kinds of dishes, and the peppers themselves are fantastic on salads, sandwiches, pizzas, tacos, rice, noodles, and so much more.

How Long Does it Take to Ferment Peppers?

Generally, the longer you ferment your peppers, the better. The fermentation time can vary greatly depending on whether you’re using a starter and how finely you chop your peppers. If you use very finely chopped peppers and a starter such as a yogurt whey, sauerkraut juice, yeast, or sourdough starter, fermentation will take between five and seven days. Still, the longer you let your peppers ferment, the better they will taste.

When you ferment peppers without a starter, or if your peppers are cut in large chunks, you should wait at least a month before consuming them. One month is the minimum, but if you want the best taste, wait at least three months before opening your fermented peppers. You should generally wait as long as you can before opening your glass containers.

photo of jars of pickled Jalapenos and carrots chilled in the fridge.
Photo by Spicy Trio

Can You Ferment Peppers Too Long?

The best part about fermenting your peppers is that they usually never expire. You cannot ferment peppers for “too long.” That’s because fermented peppers age like wine and they only get better over time. The longer you ferment your peppers, the more complex their flavors will be. So, you’ll never have to worry about your fermented peppers going bad over time, but they can spoil for other reasons.

Why Some Fermented Peppers Spoil

Fermented peppers may spoil if harmful bacteria or fungi get into your fermentation container. When handling your fermented peppers, never put a dirty utensil, such as a used fork or spoon, into the jar. You should also keep your fermented peppers sealed in their jar or bottle with the lid tightly secured to prevent anything from getting into the jar.

Still, it’s essential to know what kind of fungal growth is good for fermented peppers and what kinds of fungus indicate an infection. Sometimes, fermented peppers will grow something called a pellicle. A pellicle is a layer of good yeasts that might form on the surface of the jar. Don’t worry if you see a pellicle, which is usually white, opaque, and crinkly looking. However, if the pellicle turns blue, green, black, bright pink, or looks hairy, it has become infected.

You can remove pellicles from your fermented peppers when you eat them. Just use a spoon or fork to lift the layer of white yeast and dispose of it. Pellicles also make great fertilizers in your garden, and they can speed up the decomposition of compost.

How to Prevent Spoilage of Your Fermented Peppers

Refrigerating your peppers will help prevent bacterial and fungal growth in the container, so you should always refrigerate your fermented peppers after opening them to ensure that they last for many years.

If your fermented peppers develop fungus or a foul smell, they may have become infected. Once the peppers have become infected, they’re not edible. To avoid any harmful cultures from growing in your fermented peppers, you should always sanitize your jars before using them for fermentation, and you should use sanitized water when making your brine.

What Should Fermented Peppers Smell Like?

Fermented peppers should smell vinegary, sour, and spicy. Usually, fermented peppers smell like spicier sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, or kimchi.

Before eating your fermented peppers, you should always smell them to ensure that the container has not been infected with toxic fungi or bacteria. The smell test is always the best way to determine how healthy your fermented peppers are, so don’t be afraid to get a good whiff of your peppers before eating them.

If you detect a foul smell, don’t eat your fermented peppers! Bad smells like decay, rot, or compost are a sure sign of an infected jar of fermented peppers. If your peppers smell offensive, you should dispose of them. Still, even infected fermented peppers make great compost and fertilizer in gardens, so you may want to put your sour peppers outside instead of throwing them away altogether.

What Should Fermented Peppers Taste Like?

Fermented peppers taste sour, vinegary, salty, and spicy. Some people compare the taste of fermented peppers to wine, beer, kimchi, or sauerkraut. Peppers have a unique, tangy flavor that they bring to fermentation, and it’s hard to find anything that tastes like them.

If you use a starter to ferment your peppers, the starter can add a different flavor to your peppers. Usually, peppers fermented with yeast have a bit more of an alcoholic, beer-like taste. Dairy-fermented peppers that use yogurt whey or dairy probiotics generally taste sweeter and have a bitter aftertaste.

If you want your home-fermented peppers to have the best taste, you may want to buy a vegetable culture starter like Caldwell’s Starter Culture for Fresh Vegetables. Vegetable fermentation starters are excellent for producing fermented peppers since they don’t add an aftertaste to the finished product.

Using a marketed vegetable starter can also help you reduce the chances of infection, so if you’re interested in making a lot of fermented peppers and keeping them healthy, a vegetable starter is the way to go.

What Can You Do with Fermented Peppers?

The best part about making your own fermented peppers is that you can use both the peppers and the brine to add extra tang and spice to your food. The brine is sour, vinegary, and tangy, making it a great seasoning for soups, stews, marinades, sauces, and salad dressings. Really, you can add the brine to almost anything to give your food a peppery, delicious flavor.

The most popular use for fermented peppers is in homemade hot sauce. If you want to make hot sauce from your fermented peppers, all you have to do is let them ferment and then blend them or process them in a food processor. Fermented pepper hot sauce is incredibly delicious if you add garlic, cilantro, onions, or lime juice to your fermentation mix. So, if you want to design and make your own hot sauce, nothing is stopping you now.

Fermented peppers are also excellent in all kinds of dishes. They make a great snack, especially when paired with cheese and crackers. You can add fermented peppers to tacos, burritos, meatloaf, marinades, salads, vegetable mixes, stir-fries, ramen, soups, stews, salsa, noodles, rice, and so much more.

You can also use the juice from fermented peppers as a starter to ferment more peppers. Since you can re-use the fermented brine to make more peppers, once you have started fermenting peppers, it’s very simple to make more.

Does Fermenting Peppers Make Them Hotter?

Fermenting peppers makes them slightly milder, although they maintain the majority of their spice. When peppers are fermented, some of the capsaicin—which is the pepper component that makes them spicy—is killed off. Because fermented peppers have a bit less spice than fresh peppers, fermenting them can make intensely spicy peppers more digestible and enjoyable, even when eaten on their own.

In addition to toning down the spice of peppers, fermenting them gives them much more flavor.

Fermented peppers still have their hot, peppery taste, but they’re also salty, sour, tangy, and sweet.

If you keep the pepper seeds into your fermenting peppers, though, they may get spicier than they were when they were fresh. Because fermentation allows the peppers’ flavors to blend and steep like a tea bag in hot water, adding the pepper seeds of spicy peppers into the fermentation container will add extra spice to the fermenting juice of the peppers themselves.

So, whether you like your peppers to be spicier or milder, fermented peppers are an excellent option. Fermented peppers have a savory flavor that is hard to achieve with pickling or fresh peppers, and their uniqueness and complex taste profile make them a real people pleaser.

Can I Ferment Frozen Peppers?

Whether you’re trying to save your frozen peppers from freezer burn or have an abundance in your freezer, fermenting is a wonderful way to make use of your peppers. Before fermenting frozen peppers, you should let them thaw out completely.

You can let them sit at room temperature for an hour or two, or you can put them in a bath of lukewarm water for around 30 minutes until the flesh is soft and is at room temperature. After thawing, you should let the peppers sit on a towel or a cooling rack to let the extra water drain off.

You should not microwave or heat frozen peppers before fermentation, though, since peppers that thaw too quickly may become mushy, and their skin may harden, making them no fun to eat.

Can You Ferment Dehydrated or Dried Peppers?

You can ferment dehydrated or dried peppers, and you don’t need to do anything special to use dried and dehydrated peppers for fermentation. Add the peppers to your glass container as you would fresh peppers, then add the brine and starter. That’s all it takes to ferment dehydrated and dried peppers.

If you want your peppers to ferment faster, you may want to crush them or cut them up. Once you add dried or dehydrated peppers into the water, they’ll expand as they rehydrate, so make sure you don’t add too many. Usually, if you fill your fermenting jar up halfway with your dried peppers, they will expand to leave the optimal 2 inches (5 cms) of space at the top of the jar.

If you’re using dried and dehydrated peppers, the fermentation process will take at least two weeks. As is the case with fresh peppers, the longer you let the peppers ferment, the more complex the flavor will be.

Photo of 3 jars of fermented canned peppers set against a white backdrop
Photo by Val Armstrong

How Long Do Fermented Peppers Last?

Fermentation is one of the best ways to preserve vegetables and fruits. Fermentation preserves all kinds of foods indefinitely, just like alcohol gets better over time. That said, fermented peppers can last more than ten years if prepared and stored correctly.

The only thing that can make fermented peppers spoil is if harmful bacteria or fungi make their way into the pepper container. If you want to make your fermented peppers last as long as possible, you should follow these steps:

  1. Sanitize your containers and lids before fermenting peppers.
  2. Use distilled or boiled water to prepare your brine.
  3. Use a store-bought vegetable fermentation starter to reduce the chances of spoilage.
  4. While your peppers ferment, store them in a warm place.
  5. Store your fermented peppers in a dark spot.
  6. Once you open your fermented peppers, keep them in the refrigerator.
  7. Only remove fermented peppers from their jar with clean utensils.
  8. Remove any pellicles when you see them.
  9. Keep the lid of your container screwed on tight when storing your peppers.

Following these steps will help you preserve your peppers for ten years or more. If you want your peppers to last that long, just make sure to keep them sealed, clean, and fungus-free.

How to Tell if Fermented Peppers are Bad

When it comes to fermented peppers, the smell will usually be the first thing that alerts you if they are spoiled. Before eating fermented peppers, it’s always good to sniff them to ensure that nothing hazardous has infected them. As long as your fermented peppers smell slightly alcoholic or vinegary, and there are no signs of mold or bad fungus, they’re probably fine.

However, if your peppers smell rotten, like compost or garbage, they may have become infected. If your fermented peppers ever smell foul, you should never eat them, even if you don’t see any fungus or bacterial growth in the container.

What Fungus and Bacteria in Fermented Peppers Look Like

You may see fungal growth in your fermented peppers, which is a sure sign of infection. Fermented peppers often form a pellicle, a layer of whitish yeast that sits at the top of the brine. Pellicles are not harmful, and they actually help to preserve the peppers. Still, pellicles are prone to infection if they’re not kept clean, so you may want to remove the pellicles with a clean utensil when you see them.

However, if you see fungal growth that looks hairy, black, green, blue, or pink, you should not eat the fermented peppers. These kinds of fungus are often the cause of food poisoning, so you should remove fermented peppers with suspicious fungal growth from your fridge immediately.

If you start to see or smell signs of spoilage, don’t eat your fermented peppers. You should never risk food poisoning, so you should always inspect your fermented peppers before eating them.

If you don’t want to throw spoiled fermented peppers out completely, you can use them as compost. Fermented vegetables are excellent for speeding up compost piles and fertilizing the soil.

So, if your fermented peppers have become inedible, bury them in your garden or flower beds, or put them in your compost pile if you have one. Just because you cannot eat them does not mean that you have to throw them away, so use your spoiled peppers to your advantage.

Closing Thoughts

Fermenting peppers is an easy way to preserve and enhance fresh, dehydrated, or frozen peppers. Fermented peppers make some of the best hot sauces, and you can use them in a wide range of dishes to add a complex, tangy flavor to your meals. As long as you keep your fermented peppers sealed and sanitary, they can last more than ten years, allowing you to keep your peppers for a long time and enjoy them too.