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

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.

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.

YouTube video
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.

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179 Comments

  1. The yield for this recipe says about two quarts. How is that possible using the single quart jar listed in the recipe with 4 cups of water and 1/3 cup of vinegar?

    1. Hi Jim! The 1.5 pounds of peppers displace a lot of liquid! You’ll likely need to two quart jars to hold them and all the brine. But these amounts are approximate and will depend on the mix of peppers you use, how you cut them, etc. So you might end up with more or less depending on exactly what mix of peppers you use.

  2. Hello, trying this recipe (chesscloth and bag with water), but after 7 days the brine is cloudy but still no bubbles. Any way to save it?

    1. Hi Mieke! Cloudy is good! This isn’t the type of ferment that will bubble vigorously. If you tap the side of your jar, you’ll likely see some tiny bubbles rise to the top. But the main thing you’re looking for is that it got cloudy. You can see the difference in our photo above that shows Day 1 alongside Day 7. If yours is looking like that, you should be good to go!

  3. Hi! This might be a dumb question, but 1.5 pounds of peppers….is that weight before or after stems removed? And if using bell peppers, do you get rid of excess inner flesh/seeds and how does that come in to the weight?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Chelsea! Definitely NOT a dumb question! That weight is before the tops and stems are removed. 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!

  4. Hi!
    I started the fermentation yesterday, and the water already looks a bit cloudy and there are some bubbles… Is this okay/ normal?

    1. Hi Megan! That sounds like what you want, and it’s totally normal for it to happen at a faster or slower rate than we give in the post because it’s very dependent on the temperature in the place you’re fermenting it. You can definitely keep fermenting it for another day or two (or more!) to get the flavor and probiotics you want. Just know that the longer it ferments, the stronger the fermented flavors will be!

  5. I tried the fermented version last year and got super sick a few weeks after making it. I’m sure it was something I did, but do you have any idea what it might have been? I want to try fermenting again but I’m not sure I can stomach the risk of going through that sickness again. If you have any suggestions please let me know! Thanks for sharing the recipe Cassie.

    1. Hi Andrew! Without more info, it’s really hard for us to determine what, if anything, went wrong. We’re sorry to hear that you were sick, but are you you sure the hot sauce was the problem? If you think that’s the case, could you tell us more about what you did? Were you keeping it in the fridge? Were there any indications that something was off—visible mold, off smells, etc.? The more info you give us, the better we can help you troubleshoot! Feel free to drop us an email if that’s easier.

  6. Fine recipe, but does ANYONE have a ‘Small-batch” recipe ? I’ve googled and searched and searched and type in ‘small batch pepper sauce reciple’ and all I get are 1 pound, 2, pound, one even had 5 pounds. A lot of us grow several types and don’t have just one specific type to have pounds and pounds of the same type of pepper. I just want to make 3 or 4 jars with peppers from 2 plants. Does anyone know how to make hot sauce with a small batch? Sure can’t find them on the web

    1. Hi Don! You can make a small batch of this, just as long as you can be sure the peppers stay under the brine while fermenting. Once the fermentation is finished, just add less of the reserved brine into the blender to get the consistency you want. Let us know how it turns out if you give it a go!

  7. I’m eager to try the fermented recipe. I’ve made pickles before and it was fun. We have hot sauce bottles with tops that include the meltable seals (sealed with a hair dryer). Does your recipe have a shelf life without being refrigerated? We give pickles, jams, salsas, etc. as gift baskets and would love to include hot sauce in that basket.

    1. Hi Anne! Both the quick-cooked and fermented hot sauces made using our recipe need to be refrigerated. If you’d like to find something shelf-stable, you’ll need to look for a recipe developed and tested for canning safety. Unfortunately, that’s not this one! That said, these bottles will do okay for a short time out of the fridge if you’d like to gift them. We usually recommend keeping them in the fridge until your gift exchange then letting your recipients know to get it back into the fridge as soon as they can!

    1. Hi Barbara! The best way to preserve this recipe for long-term storage is to freeze it. Shelf-stable hot sauce is possible at home if you process it in a waterbath canner. But you’ll need to seek out a recipe that’s been tested and proven safe for canning. Unfortunately, our recipe has not been tested for that, which is why we recommend storing it in the fridge or the freezer. The other thing to consider is that the beneficial bacteria created in the fermented version will be killed off by the high heat from the canning process. It will still be delicious, but you’ll miss out on the added benefit of probiotics the fermented version offers.

    1. Hi Mark! We haven’t tried our fermented hot sauce method with dehydrated peppers before. We’re not sure if it will work the same way. If you give it a try, please let us know how it works for you!

  8. Could you add any spices or seasonings such as cumin, turmeric, or coriander? Or would that ruin it or compromise the shelf life?

    1. Hi Brian! Adding dried spices should be fine. It won’t change the shelf life in the fridge in any noticeable way. Fresh flavorings like herbs, fruits, etc., would need to be added either before fermenting/cooking or they would change the shelf life. But for the seasonings you mentioned, you should be good to go!