Friday, June 10, 2005

Pepper Mash

Hot Pepper Mash (I'm fond of habaneros, scotch bonnets, and jalapenos) is mashed or ground up hot peppers, which are then fermented both to preserve them and to add flavor while reducing fresh vegetable harshness. Sauce makers use pepper mash as a base ingredient for hot sauce, ice cream, fudge, and so on. A little dab will do it, since the mash is 90% or more peppers, and fermenting does not diminish the heat.

The trick is to get the peppers to ferment in spite of relatively low sugar content, let them age, and to do so without refrigerating them or adding vinegar or chemical preservatives.

Koreans do this with cabbage (mixed with other veggies, fish sauce, and so on) and call it Kim Chi. Some pepper mashers suggest adding Kim Chi as starter. I don't bother. The technique I use is to add 10% pickling salt to the ground peppers, add a little vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to retard mold, and let the mash sit loosely covered to bubble away. Sometimes a little water must be added to keep the solids from direct exposure to air.

The solids tend to trap gas bubbles and rise. To prevent discoloration and mold, it is ideal to keep the solids submerged. When fermenting mash in a straight-sided vessel like a crock, it is best to set a plate that is slightly smaller that the crock diameter into the crock, then set a sealed plastic bag containing 3 or 4 pounds of brine on top of that. Thus, the gas bubbles will escape around the edges of the plate and never be exposed directly to air.

The fermentation is mostly finished within 6 weeks. Some mashers, Like McIlhenny, the makers of the world-famous Avery Island Louisiana Tabasco sauce, leave the mash in wooden casks up to 2 or 3 years to age and take on the flavor of the cask. Frankly, I don't care for Tabasco sauce that much, and I think the aging is pretty much a waste of time.

In spite of this, I have some mash that fermented for 9 months in glass jars, and I like the taste better than 6-week ferment. Ideally, I think mash should ferment for at least 3 months, for it does gather a richness of flavor, up to a point, as time goes by.

Last weekend I took 50 pounds of mash, packed in 96 half-pint jars, to a local pepper festival, and sold jars for $10 each under the brand name of "Jugito's Magma Hot Pepper Mash", coming home with 22 unsold. I was the only one selling mash. It was a fun event.

Members of the local Dunedin Brewer's Guild bought more mash than any other group. One of the guilders, a home brewer, went home, made a batch of fudge with my mash in it, and brought a slab back to me. It was tasty, and the heat was sneaky, noticeable only after chewing a bit. It was my first hot pepper fudge.

I had planned to enter some mash into the amateur pepper sauce and salsa competition, but the rules would not allow exhibitors to enter. I had already made up a batch of award-winning salsa, and it was too much for me and Maria, so I gave most of it away to neighbors.

I had also made a brand new sauce I dubbed "Smokey Peppamato." It contains Scotch Bonnet, Habanero, and Jalapeno pepper mashes, ground chipotle peppers (smoked jalapenos), lime juice, the extracted juices of smoke-roasted tomatoes and bell peppers cooked down with cilantro, and Bragg's apple cider vinegar. It is warm and delicious.


Unknown said...

Dear Bob,

I just started making homemade hot sauce and want to learn as much as I can about fermenting peppers and bottling techniques to get as much shelf-life as possible. I have not fermented peppers or made mash before, however have bottled my hot sauces, without opening for at least 4 weeks before using. So far so good. Are you open to giving advice to an eager learner?

Thank you for your time - Robert

Unknown said...

Sure. You can contact me through