From its obscure beginnings in the early 20th century Thai town of Si Racha, this sauce has taken the US by storm, specifically in the form of Huy Fong Food’s iconic “Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce” with the rooster featured on the label.
Delicious though that sauce may be, it is not fermented (though perhaps it exhibits a slight fermented flavor on account of the vinegar) and contains some ingredients which give it a seemingly endless shelf life. While Potassium sorbate and sodium bisulphite may be needed to preserve this uncooked chili sauce, you and your body are better off without it.
Xanthan gum is also added to maintain a good consistency of the sauce, but it appears really unnecessary in this recipe. My sauce has never separated (between solids and liquids in the sauce), even when using a rather ordinary blender. If you do see separating, the easiest (and healthiest) fix is to just give it a good shake before using.
This is an all natural recipe, easily made 100% organic. All you will need are: red peppers of your choice, garlic, non-iodized salt, sugar, and water.
I’ll also give you the option (details in the recipe) to add fish sauce for a more umami flavor, and/or you can add some vinegar to achieve a flavor a bit closer to that of Huy Fong Foods. Bear in mind that for many reasons, chief among them the fermenting process, your sauce will never taste exactly like theirs. But choosing your own peppers and customizing your sauce is where all the fun is anyway!
At the end of this article, check out the advice info for beginners! It includes info about mailing or gifting sauces, so nobody ends up with an explosive bottle!
This recipe yields about 25 fl. oz. of sauce and leftover ferment brine which can be used for a variety of things as well (dressing, marinade, in soup, etc.).
To double this recipe, double all ingredients and use a half-gallon jar instead of a quart for fermentation.
You will need:
- Fermentation jar or receptacle (recipe is based on a 32-oz. quart jar)
- Blender (the gold standard for saucemaking)
- Bottling funnel (if transferring to a sauce or “woozy” bottle)
- Measuring cups & spoons
- Fermentation weight & airlock
- Kitchen gloves (for handling hot peppers)
- Hot peppers sufficient to pack your quart jar (about 2 lbs. will fit in a 32-oz. jar if sliced in half, more will fit if rough chopped), seeds removed (optional)
- ~10-15 cloves of garlic (or 2 TBSP garlic powder added at blending)
- 1 TBSP (17-18 g) additive-free salt dissolved in 2 cups distilled or filtered water (~3.5% brine); add 1-2 more tsps salt if you enjoy a saltier sauce or plan a lengthy ferment of several months
- Optional: 1-2 TBSP Thai fish sauce (or other umami flavor such as liquid aminos or organic soy sauce) per quart jar; note this isn’t an ingredient normally found in commercial sriracha
After the ferment when blending (optional):
- White sugar, according to taste (~3-6 TBSP)
- Vinegar (for flavor and reduces pH), according to taste (~1/4 cup)
Halved jalapenos with sugar and garlic
The heat of the peppers is going to be partly distributed into the brine during fermentation, and the addition of other ingredients like garlic is going to reduce the impact of the heat relative to the total mass. So you may want to pick peppers hotter than what you’d normally put into an unfermented sauce, or do a blend.
For more tips about choosing peppers and other ingredients, you can also take a look this article on ingredient selection.
Directions for fermenting
- Wearing gloves, remove stems and slice the peppers in half (or rough chop to fit more) and pack tightly in the container. If desired, discard some or all seeds. (Note the seeds aren’t a source of extra heat per se, this is really the ribs near the seeds. I remove seeds mostly for aesthetic reasons.)
- Peel the garlic and give each clove one good crush
- Place the peppers and garlic in the jar
- If you wish to include fish sauce, it may be added now. (Note: vinegar and/or sugar should be added after the ferment)
- Gently pour the brine into the bottle until around 1.5″ of headspace remains.
- Place the fermentation weight atop the contents so that no seeds or other debris rise to the surface. About 1″ headspace should remain (which over time will be even smaller as expansion happens).
- Cap and apply an airlock; ferment at least two weeks and preferably 1-3 months for a lower pH and smoother flavor
In the absence of an airlock, do not use cheesecloth or “pickle pipes” as these aren’t appropriate for long-term ferments. Rather, use the lid (plastic, not metal, recommended) and burp twice a day for a week, once a day for the following week, and every other day for the third week. After that, the sauce may be blended, or you can continue to ferment indefinitely, with burpings being needed sporadically. Many saucemakers like to ferment between 1-3 months for depth of flavor; some go for much longer. See notes below for more info on pH and heat treating / pasteurizing.
Directions for after the ferment
- Remove the contents while reserving the brine (the bottom will typically have visible spent bacteria, a cloudy or milky substance, which I prefer not to use when adding back brine during blending, but it is harmless)
- Place the fermented peppers and garlic and about a cup of brine into the blender and blend for two minutes, pulsing frequently (exact times depend on blender and your preferences)
- You may add more brine, around 1/4 cup at a time, interspersed with blending, to achieve the desired consistency.
- Classic sriracha is mildly sweet. Now is the time to add your sugar if you want a sweeter sauce. It is recommended to add 1 TBSP at a time, blend thoroughly, until you reach your desired sweetness level. (If you add sugar, read the Notes section below, as there’s effects of sugar on fermentation.)
- For each TBSP of sugar added, it is recommended that you add an equal amount of vinegar.
- Blend for another 2-3 minutes, pulsing frequently. Blending will improve smoothness.
- You may keep any remaining brine to use in things like salads/dressings, soups, and marinades.
- Transfer the sauce to bottles using the funnel. Go slowly. (To add a step of cooking/pasteurizing the sauce before bottling, read the notes below.)
Notes & Basics for Beginners
- In the future, you can experiment, such as including 1/4 cup of fresh fruit, berries, or fruit juice in the ferment or added after. Some might not consider this a sriracha anymore, but you can call it what you want.
- In bottled sauces which are still fermenting, pressure can build up to the dreaded “explosive bottle,” especially if you’ve added more sugars to the sauce after the ferment (including fruits or other additives common to some sauces). This pressure can build up in the fridge as well, as cold temps don’t stop a ferment but rather slow it, but it can be kept in check by simply using the sauce or at least twisting the cap open from time to time to release gas. I actually never have had these issues in my fridge over hundreds of hot sauces but it’s definitely not unheard of.
- The sauce is still fermenting unless you’ve verified the pH is below 3.2.
- However, the sauce is considered “shelf stable” and clear of botulism risk at a pH of 4.6 and below (but is still fermenting unless pH has reached below 3.2).
- A raw (uncooked) hot sauce with added sugar needs to stay in the fridge for regular storage and be monitored (loosen cap to release built up air pressure), as the sugars will continue to ferment and produce gas. Given enough time, the sugars will be converted to lactic acid and make an even more sour sauce.
- Alternately, you may cook the sauce, which will kill the lactic acid bacteria and stop fermentation. This will stabilize your sugars. It can also enhance the texture. A casual home hobbyist can simply bring it to a boil and then simmer covered for 20 minutes. Recommended to blend again.
- Kept in the fridge, this sauce (and fermented foods in general) can last months and more, without use of any strange lab-created additives or any type of heat treatment. This refrigerator stability is effective whether you ferment the ingredients for a couple weeks, months, or years (with longer ferments becoming more shelf stable with time due to the decreasing pH).
- Mailing/Sharing: If you want to gift (or mail) this to someone, unless you’re sure of the pH of the sauce (being 3.2 or below), pasteurization is strongly recommended (which will terminate the fermentation process). The reason for this is fermentation can become much more active back at room temperature (e.g. spending a few days in the hands of the postal service or in your friends car), especially for shorter-term ferments.
- Rather than provide all the details here of a full pasteurization (which can be easily found online), the easiest, quickest advice for a home hobbyist would be to fully submerge your bottle(s) in a pot of slow boiling water for 20 minutes. Horizontally is a good idea to prevent tipping/breaking. And I would still indicate on the label/bottle or just tell your friends to refrigerate the sauce. (I do this as standard practice, even with store sauces with preservatives, but it’s not necessary if you regularly use up the sauce.)