In my house, there are four words that always go together – “fermented jalapeños” and “MORE PLEASE.” Whether it’s Mexican 8 layer dip, nachos, tacos, chicken tortilla soup recipe or even cheesy cauliflower crust pizza, these fermented jalapeños are a crowd-pleasing, delicious way to add a pop of flavor to all kinds of favorite dishes.
They taste very similar to the pickled jalapeños sold in stores, but In addition to tons of flavor, they’re also rich in two things not found in the pickled version:
- Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) that support gut health, immune function, and more.
- Vitamin C, which supports skin collagen production and “various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system.” Technically, pickled versions have a tiny bit, but most is destroyed via heat. Fermented jalapeños aren’t heated so they retain more vitamin C, and fermentation actually increases vitamin C content. (1) (2) (3)
Jalapeños are also rich in capsaicin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound (4) Oh, and you can make them with just 10 minutes of hands-on time and four easy steps (plus a few days of ignoring them while the probiotic magic happens).
- Make a saltwater solution (stir salt into filtered water)
- Chop your jalapeños and peel a clove or two of garlic
- Put the saltwater and veggies together in a jar
- Make sure the veggies are submerged, secure the lid, and let them ferment for 3-5 days
Benefits of Fermented Jalapeños
If you’ve ever made kimchi, sauerkraut or beet kvass, you’re probably familiar with the process of lacto-fermentation. It’s when beneficial bacteria (lacto is for lactobacillus) are used to extend shelf life (aka preserve) them by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.
The process works because lactobacillus are tolerant to salt while the bad guys can’t take much of it.
When we put a veggie and salt in water, the good bacteria consume some the carbohydrates found in the veggies and convert it into lactic acid. The production of lactic acid is what gives fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut their delicious tangy flavor. It also inhibits other organisms and is one of the primary ways people have preserved food for generations.
Here are some of the benefits of this approach:
- Makes some of the nutrients in jalapenos more bioavailable
- Lactobacillus bacteria increase vitamin C levels during fermentation
- Introduces probiotics into the mix, which support the immune system and gut health
- Many strains of lactobacillus make vitamin K, which increases the nutrient profile when present (5)
Do I need special fermenting equipment?
When I started culturing vegetables I used mason jars and lids, but sometimes my batches molded instead of fermenting properly. That’s because most fermented foods do best in an anaerobic (low oxygen) environment. Fortunately, even though you do need an airtight jar and something to hold the veggies down with, there are a few simple options that will work.
Option #1: Mason Jar With Silicone Lid
When fermentation is going well, the saltwater brine will start to bubble as the good bacteria consumes carbohydrates and creates carbon dioxide. This process is what makes drinks like homemade ginger ale bubbly. In other words, it’s a sign of a healthy ferment. (It’s also a good sign if the brine becomes slightly cloudy.)
However, if your jar doesn’t have a way to release some of the carbon dioxide it can build up too much and cause the jar to burst. For that reason, I LOVE these soft silicone lids that allow excess carbon dioxide to escape without letting oxygen in. They fit on regular mason jars and are the most low-maintenance airlocks I’ve ever used. (You use the metal rings that come with mason jars to secure them in place.)
Option #2: Mason Jar With Airlock
This is a special airlock lid that fits on any wide-mouth mason jar and uses water as a seal. I’ve put together a step-by-step guide for using them in this tutorial for making beet kvass.
Option #3: Medium Fido Jar
A fido jar is a glass jar with a thick rubber gasket that held in place by the lid. The rubber helps create an anaerobic environment for the good bacteria to grow in. As the fermentation process progresses little gas bubbles will start to form in the liquid.
Since they don’t have a way to escape in an airtight environment, you’ll want to “burp” the jar (aka open it for a sec) every couple of days to release the pressure. Here’s where to find a fido jar.
You’ll Also Need:
- Fermentation weight (If you don’t have a fermentation weight, you can use a thin, smooth stone that has been boiled for 5-10 minutes and allowed to cool fully)
- Washable chalkboard pen (Optional – See tips below for how to use)
- Use non-chlorinated water, because chlorine kills the good bacteria you want to culture.
- To take the heat of the jalapeños down a notch, remove most of the seeds before you place them in the jar
- Make sure to use clean jars and equipment. You want them to be free of microbes that might interfere with the good guys we are trying to culture. To get everything ready you can run it through the dishwasher with hot water (preferably using the “sanitize” setting) OR you can pour boiling water into the jars/vessels you are planning on using and use hot, soapy water to clean everything else. I keep my extra clean jars in a particular spot in my kitchen so that I can grab them when needed.
- Use a washable chalkboard pen to write the “ready on” date directly on your jars so they’re easy to keep track of.
Also, this is not a tip, but I do want to mention that as the jalapeños ferment they’ll change from bright green or red to a more olive green or soft red. The end result should look similar to pickled jalapeños sold in stores.
Lacto-Fermented Jalapeños Recipe
- Two 16 ounce mason jars with fermenting lids (Or a 16-17 ounce fido jar)
- Fermentation weight*
- 10-12 ounces whole green or red jalapeños (by weight, or roughly enough sliced jalapeno jars to fill two 16 ounce mason jars 75% full)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp teaspoons finely ground sea salt**
- 2 cups filtered water
- Wash the jalapeños and trim the tops off. Slice them into rounds.
- Place one clove of garlic into your first jar, then add jalapeños rounds until the jar is 3/4 full. Repeat the process with the second jar.
- Place fermentation weights over the jalapeños.
- Make your brine by stirring together the salt and filtered water. Divide the brine between the two jars – you'll want enough to fully cover the jalapeños, plus a little more above the fermentation weight.
- Secure the lid and set up the airlock if you're using one. (Here's a step-by-step photo tutorial that shows how to set up and airlock.)
- Allow the jar to ferment at room temperature for 3-5 days. Keep it out of direct sunlight – I keep mine in one of my kitchen cabinets. If you're using a fido jar, you'll need to "burp" it (open it up) every couple of days to release the gases that build up, and if you're using an airlock you'll want to check on it periodically to make sure that the water which forms the seal hasn't evaporated. The color may change to a more caramel tint throughout the process – that's normal.
- Taste it throughout the fermentation process, and when it reaches a flavor that you like transfer it to the fridge. If you're using a lid with an airlock, replace it with a regular mason jar lid before storing it. I have a batch from a large harvest over a year ago that is still good!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between fermenting and pickling?
Pickling involves soaking foods in an acidic liquid like vinegar to create a sour flavor, while fermenting achieves a sour flavor via the probiotic conversion of carbohydrates to lactic acid. Fermented foods are probiotic-rich, while pickled foods do not contain probiotics.
How long these keep for?
I’ve had batches last for over a year. However, because veggies continue to ferment very slowly in the fridge they can eventually become more sour or softer than you might like. I would shoot for using up a batch within 6-12 months. I have never had a batch go bad in the fridge but it is possible, so if it seems off it’s best to toss it.
1. DePhillipo, Nicholas et. al. (2018) Efficacy of Vitamin C Supplementation on Collagen Synthesis and Oxidative Stress After Musculoskeletal Injuries: A Systematic Review
2. Pullar, Juliet et. al. (2017) The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health
3. Carr, Anitra and Maggini, Sylvia (2017) Vitamin C and Immune Function
4. Zimmer, Aline et. al. (2012) Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of Capsicum baccatum: From traditional use to scientific approach