Lacto-Fermented Salsa

Regular readers may have gleaned (gleaned – ha! harvesting pun!) that Homebrew Husband and I enjoy fermenting stuff.

Right at this exact moment, the following is being (deliberately) fermented in our home:
  • 5 gallons blackberry wine
  • 10 gallons of beer (a carboy of pale ale and another of porter)
  • 2 loaves bread dough
  • homemade yogurt
  • 3 or 4 gallons of crock pickles
  • 2 or 3 gallons assorted other vegetable ferments: turnips, beans, carrots, mixed pickles, etc.
  • 3+ gallons lacto-fermented salsa (actually, we’re down several jars already but that was the original quantity).
Sadly, I tossed about 2 gallons of fruit-fly infested malt vinegar two days ago or I’d get to put that on the list, too.
Of all my ferments the Lacto-Fermented Salsa is my current favorite. It’s blowing my mind. It’s based on the Nourishing Traditions recipe that’s kicking around the web, but scaled up and with a few seasoning adjustments.
I made it for the first time this weekend as part of my “I bought 100 pounds of roma tomatoes – now what?!” adventure. Everything I’ve read about this salsa, and my own experience with lacto-ferments, tells me that the preservative nature of the bacteria should keep this salsa good for months in a cool/refrigerated environment.
Since this is my first run with this salsa I can’t vouch for its life span but I can tell you we’ve eaten over 12 cups of it in the 54 hours since I made it. It’s that good, and it just keeps getting better as it ferments.
Before I give you the recipe, a word about food safety: you cannot, cannot, cannot just water bath can this salsa. First, water bath canning a lacto-fermented product kills off all the beneficial bacteria you’ve worked so hard to encourage. But more importantly, I have absolutely no proof that this salsa is acidic enough to be safely canned in a water bath canner. So don’t do it.
On the plus side, since you are not dancing with the botulism devil in the pale, anaerobic moonlight of canning, you can play around with the recipe. Add more peppers, add more cilantro, add more garlic or lime juice. All those adjustments you can’t do with a canned salsa recipe you can do with this one. Have fun. Just keep the salt and the whey constant and you should be fine.
To prepare, I chopped everything separately in my food processor and combined in a huge stainless bowl. I highly recommend not hand chopping all this. Also, feel free to halve, quarter or otherwise divide this recipe. This makes a huge amount of salsa…I think we ended up with 18 pint jars plus a half-gallon jar plus and about a quart that went straight into me as soon as it was done and never even saw a jar.
Large Batch Lacto-Fermented Salsa
2 gallons peeled, seeded and chopped tomato. I drained off as much extra liquid as I could before measuring so the salsa wouldn’t be too runny
1 gallon chopped red onion
4 cups chopped cilantro
2 cups chopped garlic
1-2 cup chopped jalapeno, to taste
2 cups fresh lime juice (be careful of using bottled lime juice here; in addition to the weird taste, if it has preservatives in it, it may hinder the fermentation)
In addition, for each cup of prepared salsa you will need:
1 tablespoon whey (drained from yogurt is good)
1 teaspoon sea salt
To make this full batch of salsa, you will need 3.5 – 4 cups of whey and about 1.25 cups of salt.
Mix all ingredients except salt and whey until well combined.
Put salsa in spotlessly clean jars with well fitting lids. The volume of the jars does not matter – you can put your salsa into pint jars or quart jars or old pepperoncini jars. I used old glass canned peach jars with lids given to me by a friend – they were perfect for this application.
Fill jars 1 cup at a time, keeping track of how many cups of salsa you put into a jar. Leave at least 1-inch of headspace in the jar (more headspace for larger amounts of salsa).
Now here’s the important part, the part that makes this lacto-fermented salsa instead moldy-in-three-days salsa:
For each cup of salsa, add the following to your jar: 1 tablespoon strained whey and 1 teaspoon kosher salt (if using sea salt, just go slightly easy on the teaspoon)
Lid your jar and give it a good shake to incorporate the whey and the salt. If necessary, open up the jar and smash the vegetables down under the juice. Best not to have anything floating up above the level of the liquid.
Leave the covered jars at room temperature for 1-4 days, depending on your room’s temperature and how much fermentation you like. Use a clean spoon and taste the salsa every day. When it’s fantastic, it’s done. Put it in the fridge and enjoy it for months. (At least, that’s the theory.) If it goes for awhile it’ll get that fizzy fermented flavor. That won’t hurt you, but not everyone likes it. I love a good fizzy pickle, personally, but I’m erring on the side of more lightly fermenting this salsa.
On a non-fermentation note, my little boy is one today!
Happy birthday, sweetie! I love what a sweet, active, determined, happy little boy you are. Thanks for the moral support as I peeled all those tomatoes.
You’ve made our family even more complete and joyful, and we all laugh more because you are a part of our lives. I love you very much.
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  1. says

    Happy birthday to the little fella!

    And YUM! I love fresh salsa, I have been wanting to do more lacto-fermenting, and cannot wait to have homegrown produce to make it with this Summer. Thank you!

    I have Wild Fermentation, now must look for Nourishing Traditions too…

  2. says

    yum, sounds great, my husband bought salsa the other day and I thought "surely we can make that"… but I just needed the right recipe and to have a go to show him that we can make it.

    Anyway, I am very new to lactic fermentation and have had a go at sauerkraut and pickles so far, which have turned out very nice, just using old glass jars. I note that some people use special crocks and pickl-it jars etc, are these just a gimmick or do they make better/safer pickles? This is interesting because I recently justified to you my use of a yoghurt maker, but now I'm wondering if I really need the next gadget! I would be interested in your opinion as I think you have way more pickling experience than me!

    Cheers, Liz

    • says

      Hi Farmer_Liz, I use big old glass jars because crocks tend to be really expensive. The idea behind the specialty jars is they come with a fermentation lock to keep air away from your ferment. You still have to weight the ferment down so it’s under the brine though. I haven’t used them, but I’d be up for trying. Maybe I’ll do a post about this next fall. But you should know that you can BUY the same fermentation locks used on those pickle jars from any homebrew supply place for about a buck. So I’d definitely DIY a fermentation jar before spending $20 on a premade one.

  3. maggysfarm says

    nice post, and particular appreciation for the wonderful imagery conjured by your ‘dancing with the Botulism devil’ sentence. Very Tim Burton!!

  4. says

    I’ve been googling fermentation and canning recipes lately and keeping falling upon your blog and am so excited about it! I’ll be making the salsa this week while kefir ferments on my counter to the sweet smell of kimchi in a crock, bubbling pickles in a jar and fermenting tomato seeds (those are for saving, not for eating, haha) :) Great blog!!

  5. says

    You’re a fermenting fool! I think salsa would be one of the easiest sells to my non-fermented fan of a husband. He’s still weirded out by kombucha and sauerkraut, but something he can put in a taco? Sold!

  6. eric says

    Excellent! I wanted something that has that fresh salsa taste, but that will last some time. I am not one that likes a cooked salsa. One question though; do I HAVE to peel and deseed the tomatoes, or is that just a preference thing? I never do that when I make my fresh salsa and there is never any left at the end of the day. Also, I like to press my garlic, not only because of the ease of it, but because I like the much stronger garlic taste that is provides, but I’m not sure if that would mess with the fermentation process as this will be my first go of it.

    Thanks for the great write up. Going to do some fermenting this weekend!

  7. Tami says

    I just made a bunch of fresh salsa. I was thinking about lacto fermenting it. Can I use the whey that separates from sour cream naturally instead of draining yogurt? Thoughts?

  8. Nidya Enfield says

    Hi I just love the Salsa being born in Mexico & raised eating hot spicy food I always keep fresh salsa in my fridge….I was wondering if instead of using whey can I used probiotics??? My brother owns a organic produce company and has lot’s of tomatoes, so I will making lot’s of salsa yummy!! BTW I love your’e news letter they remind me of home!!!

  9. Mark Zumkeller says

    This sounds delicious, but I wish it were scaled for a smaller batch! I couldn’t possibly use this much!

  10. Kate says

    I followed your link and made the small batch a week ago without whey and it was just insanely, inedibly salty. I know your recipe uses whey, but I can’t. Do you know if I really have to use twice as much salt to make it without whey? thanks

  11. says

    I am giving this a shot. I made a few modifications, so we will see if it works. I only had about a tablespoon of whey so I put that in with 6 cups and then I added about 3 tablespoons of juice from my fermented pickles. I also instead of peeling and seeding my tomatoes I just through them whole into the blender. I used mostly roma/cherry size tomatoes. I will post my complete recipe if it goes well. The fresh product is awesome. Thanks for talking about this on tsp.


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