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How to Make Your Own Hot Sauce (Fermented or Quick Cook)

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DIY Gift5 days
We rarely have a meal where there isn’t a hot sauce bottle on the table! Here's how to make both traditional fermented hot sauce and a quick cook version.
Two bottles of labeled hot sauce sit on a counter. One of the bottles is open.

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I used to be a total hot sauce hater. I didn’t get why people would douse their food in something so spicy that you couldn’t taste anything else!

My tune was changed a few years back when I was gifted a more mild hot sauce that was bursting with layered flavor. It tasted vinegary. It tasted sweet. And of course, it tasted spicy. Suddenly, I was a total hot sauce convert!

Close up of a bubbly red hot sauce.

Now, we rarely have a meal where there isn’t a hot sauce bottle on the table (and more often than not, multiple bottles). In fact, we love hot sauce so much, I’ve taken to making my own! This started off as a fun project to use up a bounty of peppers from a garden, and turned into a homemade hot sauce delicious enough to package up and give for gifts!

Close up of red peppers and garlic fermenting in a glass jar.

How do you make hot sauce? What’s it made of?

The traditional way of making hot sauce involves fermenting either straight hot peppers or a mix of hot and sweet peppers and other aromatic veggies (like garlic or onion). When the fermentation time is up, the whole shebang is blended with vinegar until smooth as silk. To help keep the hot sauce from separating, emulsifiers are usually used during the blending process—we recommend xanthan gum—which keeps the hot sauce smooth when bottled.

Two bottles of homemade hot sauce, with printable labels.

Wait. Do you have to ferment homemade hot sauce?

Don’t get intimidated! This is a super easy fermentation—even easier than sauerkraut—and it gives a complex, interesting flavor to the hot sauce. Here’s how easy it is to ferment your own hot sauce:

  1. Combine salt with warm, filtered water to create a brine.
  2. Fill a jar with peppers and garlic.
  3. Cover with brine.
  4. Cover the jar with a fermentation lid or cheesecloth, and let ferment for 5-7 days (or until the brine looks cloudy).

Wholefully Protip

If you choose to use cheesecloth, you’ll need to use some sort of weight to keep the peppers submerged under the brine. You can purchase speciality weights to do this, or fill a zip-top sandwich bag with water and submerge it in the top of the jar.

Side by side shots showing Day 1 and Day 7 of fermenting red peppers and garlic.

That being said, if fermentation isn’t your thing, we do provide a quick cook version in the recipe card below. It doesn’t have quite the complex flavor of the fermented version, but it’s done in a jiffy! It also doesn’t last as long in the fridge—make sure you use your unfermented hot sauce within a couple of weeks.

What are the best peppers to use for homemade hot sauce?

Jalapeños, reapers, Thai chilies, habanero, cayenne, ghost peppers, serranos, OH MY. It’s easy to get lost in the world of chile peppers! Which hot peppers you use really depends on your personal heat tolerance, the flavor profile you’re looking for, what’s available nearby, and pepper color. Yup, color! Feel free to mix and match different types of peppers to get the flavors and heat levels you desire, but make sure you stick to the same color family. Why? Well, if not, you’re going to end up with a brown hot sauce—which, trust me, doesn’t look so appetizing when drizzled on your food. The two hot sauces in the photos here were made with these mixes:

  • Red Medium Hot Sauce: Red bell peppers, red cayenne peppers, and red jalapeño peppers (we let jalapeños ripen until they were red)
  • Green Mild Hot Sauce: Green bell peppers, green jalapeños, and poblanos

Fermented red peppers in the basin of a blender.

Whatever you choose, just remember that you can always add more spice in, but you can never take it out once it’s been blended. I tend to like a more mild hot sauce, so I start with a 3:1 ratio of sweet peppers to hot peppers. When using a milder hot pepper, like jalapeño, I cheat to more like 2:1 or 1:1. Some folks use nothing but hot peppers—so it really is up to you to pick your poison here. Remember: you can always have an extra super spicy pepper nearby to drop into the blender if you want to up the ante. I recommend checking out a Scoville scale (which tells you how spicy peppers are) and making your plan based on that.

Blender full of blended hot sauce.

A word of warning about working with hot peppers:

Let’s stay safe here when working with hot peppers. So even when you’re working with “mild” hot peppers like poblanos and jalapeños, it’s important to:

  • Wear gloves while handling and cutting.
  • Wash hands extremely well after handling.
  • Wear goggles and work in a well-ventilated area (this is particularly true with super hot peppers).
  • Wash all cutting boards, knives, and utensils well after preparing.

What is the best vinegar for hot sauce?

Vinegar adds a tangy flavor, and it also adds acidity to the hot sauce—making it have a much longer shelf life. You can use either white distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar here. I prefer the slight fruity flavor of apple cider!

Three bottles of homemade hot sauce, lined up on a counter.

How long does homemade hot sauce last?

The beauty of this acidic hot sauce is that it’ll easily last quite awhile in the fridge! Our quick cook version lasts in the fridge for 2-3 weeks, and the fermented version will last much longer—easily 3-6 months. Thank you, beneficial bacteria!

What’s the best way to preserve homemade hot sauce? Can it? Freeze it?

If you’d like to preserve your hot sauce for longer storage, you can either freeze it or process it in a waterbath canner (if you choose to can hot sauce, use a recipe that has been tested and proven safe for canning instead of ours). A caveat here: the beneficial bacteria created in the fermented version will be killed off by the high heat from the canning process. It’ll still be delicious, it just won’t add any probiotics into your diet.

A hand holds out a bottle of red hot sauce.

What are the best bottles for homemade hot sauce?

The ones you have! I’m a big believer in upcycling and reusing what you have, so any small bottle with a tight fitting lid will do the trick. If you can’t get your hands on bottles to reuse, I really like these hot sauce bottles from Amazon. These are what we package our hot sauce in for gift giving.

Where can you get those snazzy hot sauce labels?

Download our free hot sauce labels here. These are designed to print on Avery 2 1/2” round water-resistant labels. The water-resistant part is really nice when working with a food product that inevitably ends up on the bottle. If you can’t get your hands on these labels, you could also affix a regular paper label and just cover it with clear packing tape.

Three bottles of labeled hot sauce sit on a counter. One of the bottles is open.

Looking for fun ways to use your homemade hot sauce? Check out these recipes:

And check out these reader favorites!

  • Bread and Butter Pickles. These are the simplest pickles you can make. Mix up a batch to eat straight out of the refrigerator, or can a batch for later!
  • Mixed Berry Jam. Jars of this red-purple jam make for beautiful gifts—just wrap a ribbon and label around the rim, and you’re all set.
  • Homemade Sauerkraut. If you’re new to fermenting, sauerkraut is the perfect place to start.
  • Canned Salsa. We can’t get enough of this zesty salsa, and canning it means we can have delicious salsa all year long.
  • Homemade LimoncelloThis Italian lemon liqueur is sweet and boozy and makes a great gift.
  • Instant Pot Apple Butter. Make your own spiced apple butter at home. It’s fast and easy with the use of the Instant Pot!
  • Strawberry Wine. If you’ve never made fruit wine before, you’ve got to try it. The process is straightforward, and the results are absolutely amazing!

I hope you have fun experimenting with hot sauce making in your own kitchen! It is easy and the results are absolutely delicious. Enjoy!

 
Two bottles of labeled hot sauce sit on a counter. One of the bottles is open.

Homemade Hot Sauce (Fermented or Quick Cook Recipe)

Yield: About 2 quarts
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Additional Time: 5 days
Total Time: 5 days 15 minutes

Homemade hot sauce makes a perfect gift! Make either traditional fermented hot sauce or a quick cook version, which is done in less than half an hour.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds peppers of your choosing (a mix of sweet peppers and hot peppers), tops/stems removed, halved
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum, optional (see notes)

Instructions

For the Fermented Version

  1. Place the peppers and garlic in a clean wide-mouth quart canning jar. Set aside.
  2. To make the brine, heat the filtered water and sea salt in a medium saucepan until the salt has dissolved completely. Let cool to room temperature. 
  3. Pour the brine over the peppers and garlic, completely submerging them. If you run out of brine, you can make more by mixing 1 cup of warm filtered water with 1 teaspoon of sea salt.
  4. Fit the jar with a fermentation lid or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band (see notes on weighing down the peppers if using cheesecloth). Place in a warm, dark spot for 5-7 days, or until the brine looks cloudy and small bubbles begin to appear when you tap the side of the jar. Make sure the peppers stay submerged under the brine during the entire fermentation process to prevent mold-growth.
  5. When the fermentation time is up, strain the brine, reserving it. Place the fermented peppers and garlic in a blender, and add in 1 cup of the brine, plus the apple cider vinegar, and honey or maple syrup, if using. Blend until completely smooth, adding in additional brine to reach the desired thickness. 
  6. While the blender is running, sprinkle in the xanthan gum, if using, and blend for an additional minute.
  7. Transfer to a bottle and store in the fridge for 3-6 months.

For the Quick Cooked Version

  1. Combine the peppers, garlic, 2 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of sea salt, apple cider vinegar, and honey or maple syrup, if using, in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the peppers and garlic have softened.
  2. Pour mixture into a blender (making sure to leave the cover vent open, but covered with a kitchen towel) and blend until very smooth.
  3. While the blender is running, sprinkle in the xanthan gum, if using, and blend for an additional minute.
  4. Transfer mixture to a squeeze bottle and store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

Notes

  • If you choose to use cheesecloth during fermentation, you’ll need to use some sort of weight to keep the peppers submerged under the brine to prevent mold growth. You can purchase specialty weights to do this, or fill a zip-top sandwich bag with water and submerge it in the top of the jar.
  • In this recipe, xanthan gum works as an emulsifier, stablizer, and thickener. It is 100% optional. If you choose not to use it, your hot sauce will separate in the fridge. Just give it a good shake each time you go to use it. 
  • The hot sauce will thicken considerably in the fridge, so keep that in mind as you decide on the consistency while blending. 
  • Depending on the power of your blender, your hot sauce may be foamy when you’re finished blending. If so, let the hot sauce rest for 15-20 minutes, then scrape off any foam before bottling.
  • Get your printable labels here.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 384 Serving Size: 1 tsp
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 22mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

Leave a Reply

145 Responses
  1. Chris

    Can I add a mango to this fermentation recipe for some added flavour without changing anything else? Or would this then not ferment properly?
    Thanks!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Chris! You can definitely experiment with adding fruit. As long as everything stays submerged under the brine the whole time, you should be good to go! Let us know how it turns out for you =)

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Nichole! Since everything goes into the blender, we left the seeds in to save ourselves a step. But you can definitely remove them if you prefer! Some folks took them out at the beginning (when removing the tops/stems), and others ran the puree through a fine mesh strainer to catch anything the blender didn’t get. Both work well if you don’t want to worry about seeds!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Theresa! If the brine is cloudy, you should be good to go. If you’d like to continue to ferment it further for more flavor development, that’s definitely an option. The thing to keep in mind is that the longer it ferments, the funkier or tangier in flavor it will be! So if you’re not sure you’re up for that, you could finish this batch and see how you like it. Then adjust the fermenting time on your next batch to suit your tastes!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Kathleen! It’s not ruined! It should still ferment, but it might take a little longer to get going. Vinegar slows fermentation, but it doesn’t stop it! Keeping it someplace warm will help.

      Someone else in the comments did the same thing and said it turned out fine! They did still add additional vinegar when blending it, because they wanted the bright acidity it added. Check yours for taste and add more when you blend it if you think it needs it. Good luck! Let us know how it goes =)

  2. Been reading that if you use bottles for your sauce and screw on the cap that they could explode because the fermentation continues after bottling. Ever heard of this. This is with the fermentation process of course. Will be bottling in a couple days. Kind of nervous. Thanks.

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Mike! Since you’ll be stashing your fermented sauce in the fridge, that shouldn’t be a problem. The cooler temp will dramatically slow down the fermentation process, so little to no additional pressure should build up. If you were to leave the bottles out at room temp, there would be the potential for caps to blow off or for bottles to explode! The key to preventing that is slowing or halting the fermentation, which we do by refrigerating! I hope this helps alleviate your worries =)

  3. Cherri

    Just blended up the fermented garlic and peppers. So tasty and just the right heat for us. Thank you for the recipe. Can I use the left over brine for another batch of hot sauce or any other recipes? I prefer not to waste it.

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Cherri! We generally don’t because the info out there is mixed on reusing the brine. We follow the “better safe than sorry” mindset when fermenting. As always, though, you’re welcome to read up on your own and do whatever makes you feel comfortable. There’s a lot out there to dig into! =)

  4. Daren

    Didn’t like it when I used Apple Cider vinegar. I use white vinegar if it’s a yellow or orange pepper. If they’re red peppers I used a mixture of white and red wine vinegar. I’ve made literally thousands of batches of hot sauce, and have never used the fermenting method. I use the quick method or a variation of it, and the only ingredients I use are vinegar and peppers.
    I’m curious why you say using this method the sauce will last 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. After my sauce cooks I let it cool down and put in mason jars and let it “age” in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, but have left it in there for less than a week at times. No one told me to do it this way, it just seemed like the way to do it. After I take it out of the refrigerator I put it in 5 ounce woozy bottles and it will last easily for two to three years in the cabinet. I don’t refrigerate it once it’s aged, and have never had any go bad. Right now I’m using different varieties I made in October of last year, and no one can tell if it’s a year old or week old. Other than it being hotter. When I give hot sauce to people it takes them over a year, sometimes two or three to go through a bottle, and it’s always as fresh as the day I made it. And I tell everyone no refrigeration required. I keep it in the cabinet. And I don’t use a thickener. It separates. I shake the bottle and it’s good to go. You don’t have to shake it again during the same meal or usually for a day or two after you shake it once.

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Daren! We’re so glad to hear that you haven’t had any issues with your hot sauce spoiling or making anyone sick. But our recommendations follow best practices for current food safety standards, which is why we say that both the quick cook and fermented versions should be kept in the fridge!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Mike! As long as you make sure your peppers stay submerged under the brine, it should be fine to make a smaller batch. Let us know how it turns out for you!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Lisa! Minced garlic should be fine, just as long as the pieces are big enough to stay submerged in the brine if you’re doing the fermented version.

  5. Mike Lees

    I have used this recipe with great success. My wife went blueberry picking and we now have a significant amount. If I wanted to make a blueberry hot sauce would it be as simple as adding a cup or two to the existing recipe?

    Thanks very much.

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Mike! We’ve never done it, but it definitely sounds like a tasty experiment! You’ll want to make sure the blueberries stay under the brine when fermenting (they tend to float). Otherwise, you should be good to go. Let us know how it turns out for you! =)

  6. Dani

    I’m lining up my ingredients to try your recipe. I want to experiment and use fruit, blueberries for a batch and apples in another. Anything I need to keep in mind when adding fruit?

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Dani! Nope, just as long as your fruit stays under the brine, you can experiment away! Let us know how it turns out for you =)

  7. Michelle

    I have 3oz of Carolina reapers if I want to do mild to hot but not blow your head off hot would 1lb 5oz of red bell pepper with it be ok or should I increase the red bell bell pepper? If so what weights should I do?

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Michelle! We’ve never made a batch with Carolina reapers, so we’re not sure how many would make it blow your head off hot. Our best advice would be to make one batch as a test and adjust from there. If you’re worried about the heat, use less than you think you need for the first batch. You can always add more to the next batch!

  8. Brooke

    I’m so full of questions… My peppers didn’t fit in the jar until I chopped them up pretty decently, and then only 1.25 cups of brine actually fit in the jar afterwards. Is this okay? Was I meant to use all 4 cups of brine? I’m so worried I ruined all my homegrown peppers!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Brooke! You may not need all of the brine—you want enough to cover the peppers. As long as they stay submerged in brine the whole time you’re fermenting, you’ll be good to go!

  9. Chris

    Hoping to make a batch of about 100 5 ounce bottles for our wedding. Just wondering about the fermenting jars/cheesecloth. What is the best option for a larger batch?

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Chris! If you can swing it in your budget, we would definitely recommend going with the fermenting jars—that way you can be absolutely certain your hot sauce is safe.

        1. Danielle @Wholefully

          Hi Jamie! Yes, we would recommend leaving everything in the fridge if possible. Otherwise, you could time it so that it’s ready to bottle right before gifting. Then just let your giftees know to get it into the fridge as soon as possible. But you don’t want to risk the hot sauce either going bad or continuing to ferment and building up pressure in those bottles. So the fridge is your friend!

  10. Nicole Cummings-De Luca

    Hi, The labels are over lapping each other on the template and what size sticker paper is used for these? I like the label and would like to use it. Thanks. 🙂

Meet Cassie
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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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