Fermented hot sauce is the bomb, in so many ways – explosive heat, delicious flavor, and yes, it’s good for you too, full of enzymes, beneficial lactic acid bacteria (i.e., probiotics), vitamin C and, in this recipe, beta carotene too. In traditional cultures, all hot sauce was made through fermentation. Why? It's a natural way to preserve fresh food as the lactic acid produced is strong and protective, and prevents any bad bacteria that can kill us (like botulism) from developing. Did you know that some of your beloved classic American hot sauce brands are still made this way? Both Tabasco and Sriracha are fermented with the time-honored fermented hot sauce formula: chillies + salt + time. Tabasco is aged for 3-years in whiskey barrels; I highly recommend you read the story of this product, as it's pretty cool.


I’m partial to fruity, flavorful, hot chilis like habañero and Scotch bonnet (they’re cousins, with a similar fruity taste, but Scotch bonnets are slightly sweeter). You can find habañeros almost everywhere, and I recommend choosing orange, red, or yellow for this recipe, as their fruitiness is more developed. Scotch bonnets are harder to find, but just head to any Caribbean neighborhood grocery (the neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy, Prospect Lefferts, Flatbush, and Crown Heights in Brooklyn are a sure bet) and you’ll find these babies. These are hot peppers, usually 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units (how the hotness of hot peppers is quantified). By comparison, the legendary ghost chili averages 850,000 and 1 million Scoville units. Which is basically a bell pepper, compared to the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion which has a whopping, literally face burning heat rating of 1,200,000 – 2,000,000 Scoville units. 

For most of my hot sauce recipes, my method is to create a flavorful, balanced heat that allows you to really taste the flavor of the hot sauce by combining hot chilies like habañero or Scotch bonnet with flavorful medium-hot peppers such as cayenne, jalapeños, Fresno or Holland chilies.


Fermented hot sauce is made with chilies + salt + time as a base. Then comes the fun part of making it your own and adding flavorful additions. I like to add garlic, some veggies to boost color, flavor, texture, and nutrition (for this recipe it’s carrots and onions), and in this case, I'm adding fruit as well because sweet peaches taste so, so good with Scotch bonnet peppers.

Let’s get started. Here’s the overview of the recipe.

Turn your broiler on high. Peel the onions, cut the grimy carrot ends off, halve the peaches, but leave all everything else whole. Place the peppers, onions, carrots, and peaches on a baking sheet and broil till blistered and softened. PUT ON GLOVES. Remove the pepper stems (they should pop right off), and then puree the chilies with salt, and your creative additions: a little unrefined cane sugar, the garlic, the roast onions, carrots, and peaches.  Pour this mixture into a mason jar and cover with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel. Let sit for 3 to 5 days at room temperature. Check on day 3: is it a little bubbly? Does it taste good? Don’t let it free ferment (without an airlock) too long or it can start tasting too funky and off-putting.

For extra funky fermentation, you can use a starter culture such as fresh whey reserved from making cheese, raw milk yogurt or milk kefir, or a packaged starter to inoculate the chilies with extra beneficial bacteria, which makes for a speedier and more funky fermentation. But this is not necessary. If using, add this starter culture when you puree the mixture.

A note on that white stuff that might form: chili peppers, like cucumbers, are prone to the formation of Kahm yeast, which is a benign yeast with a dusty white appearance. Kahm is often confused for mold, but, unlike mold, it never takes a fuzzy appearance and typically appears like a thin and dusty film on surface of the fermenting chilies. It also lacks any aroma, while mold will typically smell acrid. If fermenting for more than 5 days, keep your ferments in a tightly sealed jar, fitted with an airlock, will help to prevent the formation of mold.


Total time: 40 minutes | makes approximately 2 quarts or 32 x 2-ounce hot sauce bottles

:::: Ingredients ::::

  • 3 pounds fresh chili peppers (½ lbs Scotch bonnets, 2 ½  lbs Fresno, cayenne, or jalapeno chilies)

  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped

  • 1 large spanish onion, roughly chopped

  • 4 fresh peaches, halved

  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup, optional

  • 2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt

  • If using vegetable starter, dissolve in ¼ cup water, or use  ¼ cup fresh whey

  • 1/4 cup lime juice (juice from about 4 limes)

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar (real, fermented vinegar, such as Bragg's)

  • 1 oz bourbon

:::: Instructions ::::

THE PREP (You’ve already done this part above)

  1. Turn broiler on high.

  2. Place chilis, carrots, onions, peaches on a baking sheet and broil until blistered and soft, about 20 minutes.

  3. WEARING PROTECTIVE GLOVES, remove the stems from the chilies, and roughly de-seed (don’t go crazy, a few seeds are fine).

Combine all these ingredients with the garlic, sugar, and salt in a food processor or blender. Blend until desired texture is reached, adding water as needed to make a thick, pourable hot sauce.


Spoon this paste into a glass mason jar, placing a fermentation weight (or a ziplock bag filled with cold water) on top to make sure that all the bits and pieces are submerged in the brine, and allow it to ferment, covered with a cheesecloth or towel, at room temperature for 3 days. You can stop here and proceed with bottling, or you can put this mixture into and airlocked jar (see here for an example), and let it ferment in this controlled environment for 3 weeks.


  1. After the chili paste has fermented to your liking, place in a blender with the vinegar, lime juice, and bourbon. Blend until combined, and ideal texture has been reached (some like it chunky, some like it smooth). If you want a really smooth hot sauce, you can strain this mixture through a fine mesh sieve.

  2. Pour the sauce into jars or bottles, and store in the refrigerator. The sauce should keep for a year or more. How do you know if it’s gone bad? When it gets moldy or tastes extra funky (i.e., gross). 

Laena McCarthy