Lacto-fermentation of hot peppers.

Joined Oct 23, 2016
I am lacto-fermenting some habanero peppers for an eventual hot sauce experiment. As of this point, the peppers (and some garlic) and in the brine. They have been there for about 48 hours now, at room temperature, in a sealed jar. Well, I took a whiff today, and it smelled just like human body odor: imagine sweaty underarms, and I mean exactly like it. Does this mean that my ferment has gone bad, or is it supposed to smell like that? Thanks!
Joined Oct 31, 2012
The short answer is that it is supposed to smell like that. 

Fermentation will produce slightly different smells depending on what is being fermented but all will have a similar aroma. when you first open the container, the smell will be intensely strong. After a minute or so, the smell should dissipate. You will still smell a body odor type smell but it won't be unpleasant. If it smells bad, like sewage or something really gross, it's spoiling. But that  will depend on whether or not your brine strength is correct. 

You said sealed jar. I would suggest you get an air lock, the kind used in beer and wine making. Or get a fermenting crock that has the 

water lock lid design. 

In either case, you want the fermentation to be able to release gas but avoid letting oxygen into the ferment. The air lock is also a great way to measure the fermenting time. The ferment will bubble very, very slowly. When it stops bubbling, the fermenting is done. This can take several weeks.   

Make sure you are keeping the habaneros below the surface of the brine. A large sealable plastic freezer bag filled with brine is a good method. 

Keep the brine 2-3 inches above the peppers. You may get some mold growth on the surface. Skim it off. A white mold will also be present. skim that off as well. 


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Fermentation crocks and airlocks and such are great, but you can do ferments without them.  You just need a way to keep your product submerged underneath the brine, preferably by a couple of inches but even by an inch is fine.  You can do this by bags filled with water or weighted plates that fit just within your jars or crocks.  As long as the food is submerged you don't really even need a lid, let alone one that is sealed, which you really don't want or you could end up with exploding jars.  Until I got my fermentation crock I would just throw a towel over my crocks to keep dust and other things from falling into my ferments.  You will end up with some surface mold in these situations but it is harmless and can easily be skimmed off the surface.

As far as the smell goes, you are probably okay.  It was probably just really concentrated as  you had let it build up.  If you are using jars with lids, put them on and give them only about 1/8 - 1/4 of a turn, just so that they barely stay on.  This should give them plenty of give to allow gas to escape so that you don't get gas build up and repeat that experience or worse yet have your jars explode, which can be extremely dangerous if someone is near it when it happens.
Joined Nov 5, 2007
I cold smoked some habaneros from my garden, then fermented them for about 30 days. The end result was a REALLY good hot sauce.  Hope to do another batch this summer.


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