If you follow me over on Instagram, you know all about my obsession with making and eating homemade salsa. But this isn’t just any homemade salsa; it’s fermented salsa.
Salsa meets gut-loving probiotics and the most amazing flavor!
A few months ago, Sarah from St. Pete Ferments joined me on the podcast to talk about ferments. In the podcast episode, Sarah shares why consuming fermented food is important, particularly ferments that are made in your local area. You can listen to the episode below.
Since talking with Sarah, I have a renewed interest in making homemade ferments in my own kitchen. I’ve made sourdough on and off over the years (mainly off now because I have a wonderful local source) and just recently started making my own sauerkraut.
Since having Sarah on the podcast, I’ve also started following Hilary Boynton, Live Yum Yum on Instagram. Hilary is reforming the way schools cook and serve lunch. And she’s on a mission to get back to real, traditional food. A month or so ago, Hilary made fermented salsa on her Instagram Stories. She made it look so easy. Naturally, I had to try making this fermented version of salsa.
And that I did.
I documented the initial process on Instagram. And then again on Instagram because the first attempt was such a success. And then again. Each time, friends on Instagram sent me messages requesting the recipe.
What is Fermented Salsa?
Fermented salsa is simply salsa (tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, pepper, onion, and salt) that’s been left at room temperature to allow the good bacteria to populate the salsa.
In more technical terms, fermentation is the breakdown of sugars, by the enzymes of microorganisms, that turn into natural yeast and bacterial growth when oxygen isn’t present. Veggies are naturally covered in lactic-acid bacteria, so when the veggies are submerged in a salted brine, the good bacteria naturally begins to ferment the food. This is the case with tomatoes and other veggies used to make fermented salsa.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Wait, but won’t the bad bacteria take over and produce awful, rotten salsa?” Let’s talk about that…
Salt is added to the initial fermentation of the salsa to prevent the bad bacteria from growing before the good guys get to work on populating the salsa mixture. So there’s no need to worry. Fermentation is a very natural and beautiful process. I know it sounds scary, but it’s not.
Why Ferment Salsa?
So why not just make salsa? Why take the time to ferment the salsa? There are a few reasons…
1. Fermented salsa tastes amazing.
Fermentation adds a deliciously tangy flavor to foods. That’s all thanks to the bacteria and natural yeasts at work. Fermentation takes cabbage, in the case of sauerkraut, and turns it into a slightly sweet and tangy food. It takes tea and sugar, in the case of kombucha, and makes a bubbly, slightly sour (in the very best way) tea. In the case of salsa, fermentation lends a slightly tangy flavor that’s hard to resist.
2. There’s also the probiotic benefit.
When you ferment fresh salsa, you end up with a bacteria-rich food. And do you know what thrives on good bacteria? Your gut (and immune system).
Having a gut that’s healthy and thriving is incredibly important. This is why people take probiotic pills today. And while I certainly think supplements have their time and place, I believe food should always be our #1 source when possible. Instead of instantly turning to a pill, we need to get back to consuming fermented foods, just like our ancestors did for thousands of years. An easy, natural, and budget-friendly way to populate your gut with good bacteria is to simply consume more fermented foods in your daily diet. This could include fermented cheese (real cheese, not a cheese product), yogurt, sauerkraut, salsa, kimchi, and kefir.
3. Fermentation preserves the salsa.
For thousands of years, people have fermented foods. Before refrigeration, fermentation played a major role in preserving a bountiful harvest (from the garden) or a large amount of milk (which would be turned into cheese). Fermentation encourages the growth of good bacteria so the bad bacteria doesn’t take over (causing food to spoil and rot). If you make regular salsa, it will likely go bad within a few days. When you ferment salsa, you extend the life of the salsa for up to a couple of months.
How to Ferment Salsa
Making fermented salsa is a super easy process. If you can chop some tomatoes and onions, and mince some garlic, you can ferment salsa. You don’t need any special fermentation tools, a culture or whey, or prior fermentation experience.
To begin, cut the tomatoes into small pieces, chop the onion and spicy pepper, mince the garlic, and chop the cilantro. Then add these ingredients to a large bowl, along with lime juice and salt. Mix the ingredients together and then add everything to an air-tight, glass storage container.
Now, here’s the key. Once you get all the salsa in the jar, add the juice/brine found at the bottom of the bowl to the jar, and then push the salsa down with your hand (fist) to ensure the veggies are fully covered in the juice/brine. This takes some faith at first, because it doesn’t seem like there’s very much juice/brine compared to veggies. But, trust me, there’s enough juice/brine to cover the veggies.
Once the veggies are fully submerged in the brine, add a weight on top. You can use half of a bell pepper, a clean rock, a cabbage leaf–anything that will keep the veggies underneath the juice/brine.
Your Family Will Love Fermented Salsa
Okay, that’s a bold statement to make. I can’t guarantee that your family will love fermented salsa, but I can say from experience that my family remains very apprehensive about fermented veggies but loves fermented salsa.
Cheese? They’re down with.
But sauerkraut, kimchi, or the fermented carrots that I purchase at market? Nope, they’re skeptics.
Salsa, on the other hand, has been the key to introducing fermented veggies into their diet. Even Dustin, the greatest fermented foods skeptic of all, loves this salsa and asks for second and third helpings.
What Else Can You Ferment?
Once you make fermented salsa, and realize just how easy it is to make your own probiotic-rich, fermented foods, you may want to branch out and try making other ferments. I’m still in the branching out phase. I’m slowly learning how to do more, and with each success my fermentation confidence grows. Here are a few ideas for what else you can ferment…
- Fermented Carrots: Next on my list to make. I love the fermented carrots found at the market (from St. Pete Ferments), now it’s time to make my own.
- Fermented Salsa Verde: Branch out from red salsa with this green salsa made with tomatillos.
- Ginger Bug: This is another ferment on my list to try.
- Kefir: One of the easiest ferments you can make. Use kefir to make smoothies (as all or just some of the liquid), yogurt sticks, or Ranch.
- Sauerkraut: A classic and so easy to make.
- Fermented Vegetables Cookbook: An incredible cookbook/guide for making fermented veggies at home.
- 2 lbs cherry or grape tomatoes chopped
- 6 garlic cloves minced, or to taste
- 1 jalapeño pepper chopped, or a serrano pepper
- 2 cilantro bunches chopped, just the leaves not the stems, depending on taste preference. I like a lot of cilantro. You could also skip the cilantro if desired.
- 1 medium red onion chopped (about 1-2 cups once chopped, depending on taste preference)
- 2 limes juiced
- 1 TB salt I use a fine salt (meaning the grind is fine, not coarse). Use a mineral-rich salt, like Redmond's Real Salt.
- large bowl
- 2 liter glass jar with an air-tight lid
- weight such as: half a bell pepper, cabbage leaf, half an onion, a clean stone, or fermentation weight
- To a large bowl, add the chopped tomatoes, minced garlic cloves, jalapeño pepper, cilantro, red onion, lime juice, and salt. Toss to thoroughly combine.
- Taste the salsa. It should be salty, but not overpowering. If you can't taste the salt at all, add a few more pinches. You don't want a super salty salsa, but you should taste the salt. The salt is key in aiding the fermentation process and keeping the "bad bacteria" from populating. I usually add a bit more salt, after the initial 1 tablespoon. Use your sense of taste as your guide.
- Add the salsa to an air-tight glass jar. I use a 2 liter jar from Fido (pictured in this post). Ball Jars also work well. You may also divide the mixture between two jars, if needed.
- Once all the salsa is added to the jar, add the brine/juice left at the bottom of the bowl to the jar.
- Press the salsa down in the jar so the veggies are fully submerged in the juice/brine. Then add your weight of choice. I've been using half a bell pepper as a weight. This is used to keep the veggies fully submerged in the juice/brine. The weight, if perishable, will be tossed at the end of the fermentation process (unless you're using a stone).
- Tightly seal the jar and place in a spot that's away from direct sunlight. Ferment the salsa at room temperature for 2 day (48 hours). You should notice, after about 24 hours, that bubbles begin to form in the salsa. This is part of the fermentation process as it comes "alive." The bubbles won't be super fizzy or aggressive, but should be apparent.
- After 2 days, your salsa is ready to enjoy. At this point, you can immeadiately open the jar and eat the salsa or store the salsa in the fridge (it will keep for a couple of months). Either way, open the jar and remove the weight. If you choose to store the salsa in the fridge, the fermentation process slows down, but the flavor will continue to develop so keep this in mind.
- Use this salsa just like any fresh salsa: topped on quesadillas or enchiladas, in tacos, with chips (Jacksons Honest's or Siete are our favorite brands), etc.
I decided to make this to give as Christmas presents. I’m not really a salsa eater (although it feels more like a pico de gallo than a salsa but that’s just semantics), but thought I would just give most of it to others. After fermenting I gave it a taste test and was instantly addicted. Only one person (my mom) got any. I hoarded the rest for myself. If someone had gifted it to me, without tasting it, I would have regifted to someone else. It is delicious and lasts. If you’re on the fence, jump off and try it!
I roast my tomatoes and chilis on a roasting pan then blend everything up. Will i be able to ferment also after i have cooked them. I also boil my tomatillos and chilis for the green verde sauce will this work for that also?
Hey Ash, For fermented salsa, you’ll need raw ingredients as you need that for the good bacteria.
Thanks so much for the recipe! I have only just made it tonight and I had alot of trouble getting all the chopped cilantro underneath the brine, is it ok that the cilantro is surrounding the weight and along the edge? Is this ok, they are so fine they just keep escaping the weight. Im brand new to fermentation so I’m not sure if I need to be concerned with this or not? I thought everything needed to be submerged?
Any tips would be helpful!
Hey Tara, Everything should be submerged. Is most of the cilantro mixed with the salsa? You may just need to squish everything down a bit with your hand to submerge it all. I You could just remove the top layer (the extra cilantro not submerged) after fermentation.
Love this recipe for fermented salsa! I’ve made quite a few jars now. Wondering if you have just as good of a recipe for canning salsa? We have so many tomatoes!
Hey Terry, So glad you love the fermented salsa. I don’t personally have a good canning salsa recipe. But this recipe from Wyse Guy is great: https://www.wyseguide.com/homemade-salsa/
I add to add another pound of tomatoes and two bell pepper to fill my two liter bottle.
How long do you leave this to ferment? I made mine a few days ago. can it be eaten any time does it ever need to be refrigerated? I’m not used to ferments…….
Hey Sylvia, How long depends on the temperature in your home. If your home is warmer, within a day or two on the counter it will be ready. If it’s cold, maybe 3 days. When you see little bubbles in the ferment, it’s good to go. You can eat it immeadiately, but if you want to store it, place in the fridge after the fermentation on the counter.
Thank you for this recipe. I only made half a recipe to try it out. I’m very sorry I did. I ate the entire jar by myself within a couple of days and now have to make more. I will definitely be bookmarking this page
That’s awesome, Jenny! So happy to hear you liked the salsa :).
Hi! I have a question—I have been reading up on fermentation and it seems that many other recipes instruct to keep the lid loose or even just cover with cheese cloth in order to let gasses escape. Can you comment on air-tight lid vs loose? Thanks!
Hey Becca, The loose lid idea comes from the need for the gas the builds up to escape. For a longer ferment, I like using a cheesecloth or a specific sealed top for fermenting, but for this recipe, it’s quick and a secure lid works great. It depends on the ferment. This particular recipe also needs an oxygen-free environment, so that’s the other reason for the sealed jar.
Hi! Just made this recipe just now and am happily waiting for the fermentation to begin. It looks lovely, and an initial taste was wonderful. However…30 minutes prep time for this recipe is WAAAAY too little time. I took well over an hour to chop, slice, and dice my way to getting the salsa ready to be put in jars. I don’t think I’m that slow…or maybe I am?
Hey Scott, Thank you for sharing. If you have a food processor, this will speed up the prep time significantly next time.
Excellent idea. I’ll try that next time. Thank you!
Hello and thank you so much for this recipe. Regarding something to push down the salsa into the brine – searched for a suitable rock and couldn’t find. I’ve used a thick slice of zucchini from the garden which seems about the right size – you said you used a pepper and that worked. Here’s hoping. Using a silicone top with a kind of ‘nipple’ thing that burps when gases form.
I added some ‘Huacatay’ – a kind of marigold that is used in Peruvian food – in addition to the cilantro plus some Shishito peppers from the garden. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
That sounds amazing, Sharon!
Can you use a fermentation lid on the mason jar, or should you keep it air tight?
Hey Janelle, You can use a fermentation lid for the fermented salsa.
Thanks. Gave me some ideas. I’ve fermented some things…(like mulberry “yoghurt” for… plants).
I just wanna mention this one thing to you. Coz it’s a trojan plant. Not in the horse way. Society garlic. Imagine if grass were very thin leaks that tasted like a mix of garlic and onion but it makes pink flowers. It’s probably my favourite alium. I pick like a handful of leaves (potentially up to roots for that slight “leakiness”) and that’s enough flavouring for like…a soupkitchen supply. Bake them first? Yay. Now it has some nice earthiness to it. If I want garlic and onion flavour, without the hassle or something, but also because it’s super convenient here…that’s my go to.
Oh and it grows everywhere here. Because they look pretty and stink a lot. Gotta keep vampires away so, if garlic works…surely society garlic works better.
Sugar is potentially a nice addition too.
I made your recipe for salsa. In the food processor, I chopped 1/3 fine, 1/3 medium chop, and the last 1/3 coarse. The tomatoes broke down and made too much water and the weight tried to sink to the bottom. I just opened my jar and it is way too salty for us. I did not add any extra salt. The flavor is excellent. I poured some of the liquid off before refrigerating to make it more dippable! I know I can get this right!!
I am headed out to buy some cilantro and make another batch. I live in Texas and 2 bunches of cilantro is A LOT of cilantro. We use a lot of cilantro here and it is very cheap, sometimes 20 cents a bunch. I may downsize the two bunches to one bunch. I’ll be back to tell you about jar #2!!!
Thanks for sharing, Carol.
I make and sell salsa for school fund raisers. I have already made 48 gallons this year! To get the perfect dipping consistency, I puree 1/3 of the produce, small to medium chop on 1/3 and a coarser chop on the last 1/3. I am concerned about pureeing 1/3 or will it break down too much and just become watery. Thank you for your input. CAROL
Hey Carol, I’m not sure, I haven’t made that much before. Let me know if you try it!
Hi Carol – We have made this recipe every season since it was published and it’s fabulous. There is a ton of juice – you need the liquid to submerse the veggies for fermentation – so I think pureeing 1/3 would make it hard to strain some of the juice out (without also straining your puree). The veggies themselves don’t break down too much however, they just get softer, so could always try it on a half batch first so you don’t waste too many ingredients if it doesn’t turn out well. 🙂