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A Beginner's Guide to Home Fermentation

When you hear the word “fermentation,” your mind probably goes to a jar of unidentified vegetables sitting in some dark, dank place for weeks on end. While these are definitely included in the list of fermented foods (and are quite delicious I should add), you might be surprised to find out that you probably eat or drink at least one food made through fermentation with every single meal. Whether it’s bread, chocolate, yogurt, or kombucha, fermented foods are everywhere, and don’t you want to get in on the fun?

While getting started may seem daunting, luckily humans have been fermenting foods for thousands of years, and in that time we have figured a few things out. There are tons of resources that delve into the funky world of fermentation. My personal favorite of these is Bon Appetit’s online show, “It’s Alive”, which is hosted by national treasure Brad Leone. This is where I learned most of the things I know about fermentation, including the recipe I’ll be talking about in this article: hot sauce!

The Prep

The first thing you’ll need is a jar to put the ingredients into. It’s really important to get fermentation grade jars, because the fermentation process produces gas, and if you don’t “burp” your ferments or get one of these fancy shmancy airlocks, there’s a chance the jar may explode. No one wants that, and thankfully, it’s easy to avoid. If you’re not using a jar with an airlock, you just need to open the jar once or twice a day. This process is called “burping” due to the release of gas that occurs when the jar is opened.

It’s good to check up on your ferments to make sure that everything is going well. Remember, failing is the best way to get better at something! The first fermented thing I ever made was hot sauce inspired by this episode of "It’s Alive." It’s difficult to mess up, making it a perfect way to get started fermenting!

The Recipe

First, halve and take out the seeds of some peppers (I used a mix of fresnos and habaneros), crush a few cloves of garlic and then put them into your fermentation jar. Throw in some spices like dried hibiscus, some mixed peppercorns and even a few cardamom pods if you’re feeling adventurous.

The beautiful thing about fermentation is that, for the most part, you really don’t need to be all that precise. Once all the ingredients are in, fill the jar up with a brine of water, sugar, and salt, and let it sit for two weeks while "burping" once or twice a day. When you open the jar, you should be able to see a bunch of bubbles rising to the top. This is a good sign the fermentation is happening correctly.

The Result

At the end of the process, strain the peppers and blend them up with a little bit of the brine. You’ll be left with a rich, flavorful hot sauce that’s perfect on pretty much anything. During the fermentation, the peppers lose a good bit of heat and gain a little “funkiness” that you’ll learn to love.

The world of fermentation is truly endless. The key is to try some things, fail, and learn as much as you can. There are few more satisfying feelings than digging into something you’ve been fermenting for multiple weeks, or even months. Plus, the process adds a depth of flavor that you really can’t get anywhere else. Have fun and happy fermenting!

Originally published by Spoon University.


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