Experimenting on Salsa

“Wow that’s good” was my immediate reaction after tasting my homemade concoction of Fermented Salsa. I traditionally think of Salsa as something that is made and eaten fresh. It was to my surprise that I found a recipe that encouraged fermenting salsa. From that moment my journey began to turn fresh tomatoes into delicious salsa.

Lacto-Fermentation or picking is the method used to ferment Salsa. The method itself only requires salt, vegetables and water. The fermentation takes place over two phrases. In the first phase the ingredient is submerged in a brine salty enough to kill of harmful bacteria. In the second phase the good bacteria help convert lactose and other sugars into lactic acid. The lactic acid creates an acidic environment that safely preserves the vegetables. The lactic acid is what gives this preservation method its tangy flavour. 1 The term Lacto-Fermentation comes from the bacteria Lactobacillus. It is a bacteria that normally live in our digestive system without causing disease. It is also used to help treat many illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, colon inflammation, fever blisters, and even acne. 2 Thus, it is considered one of the good bacteria.

1. Meredith, L. (n.d.). Lacto-fermentation – How It Works. Retrieved from http://foodpreservation.about.com/od/Fermenting/a/Lacto-Fermentation-How-It-Works.htm

2.Meredith, L. (n.d.). Lacto-fermentation – How It Works. Retrieved from http://foodpreservation.about.com/od/Fermenting/a/Lacto-Fermentation-How-It-Works.htm

The Recipe

There are surprisingly many recipes available on-line for making Lacto-Fermented Salsa. However, the main ingredients always included Tomatoes, Onions, Jalapeno Pepper, Garlic, Liquid Whey and Sea Salt. Variation usually included the spice (Cumin or Cayenne), Whey or no Whey, and Water or no water. The recipe I decided to follow was posted on a Blog called Garden Betty3 and featured a recipe using Cumin, no Whey and no water. The recipe also called for the use of olive oil as a seal, which I found very interesting.

3. Summer Means Salsa (Spicy Fermented Salsa, That Is). (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://www.gardenbetty.com/2013/09/summer-means-salsa-spicy-fermented-salsa-that-is/

Lacto-Fermented Salsa
Yield: 1 Litre
Quantity Ingredients Procedure
680g Tomatoes, Macedoine 1.       In a mixing bowl, mix all ingredients together including juices from the tomatoes. (Everything Except Olive Oil)
½ ea Red Onion, Macedoine
½-1ea Jalapeno Pepper
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
½ cup Fresh Cilantro, Chopped 2.       Pour Salsa into a 1 Litre Jay and press with spoon to remove all trapped air bubbles
½ Teaspoon Grounded Cumin
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt 3.       Add about 1/2 inch of olive oil on top.
1 ea Lime Juice
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Ingredients before processing
Ingredients are chopped, Macedoine size
Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl except for olive oil
Toss all ingredients until even mix
Add ingredients to fermenting jar and press ingredients down to ensure it is below the brine
Add a top layer of olive oil, approximately 1/2 inch
Store open with wet towel in a warm location

Before Fermentation: 5 mins after mixing

The Salsa had a salty and sour taste. It had a strong smell of onions, lime, and tomatoes. In my opinion the seasoning was at a point where you could immediately enjoy the salsa. A few things that stood out was the crunchiness of the onions and jalapeno peppers. Overall, all the ingredients had a fresh firm texture. I noticed that the spicy kick from the onion was much more overwhelming than the spiciness from the jalapeno peppers. Each ingredient was very juicy but did not blend with the other flavours. The onions had the pungent kick as a fresh onion should, the jalapeno pepper had the mellow spice, and the tomatoes had a fresh sour taste. Even with a well-mixed spoonful, each ingredient’s taste stood out on its own. That said, all ingredients where coated with a mild taste of salty and sour.

During Fermentation: 25 hours after jarring

Firstly, the overall appearance of the salsa has not changed. The colour is similar to the before the salsa was fermented. Opening the lid there is a stronger fragrance from the onions. Based on the first few bites the tomatoes has soften and lost some of its fresh flavours. The onions are still noticeably crunchy but the pungent kick has mellowed out. The spiciness from the jalapenos and Thai chilli are now the boldest flavour. Overall, all the ingredients still taste relatively fresh. There is a slight hint of tanginess but still underwhelming compared to the freshness of the ingredients.

Salsa after 25 hours of fermenting

During Fermentation: 54 hours after jarring

I left the jar outside in a warm location for just over 2 days. Party through the second day the brine started to overflow out of the jar and leaked onto my countertop. It left an unpleasant sour citrus scent.  In total, about half a cup of brine leaked out of the jar. The reason for the leaking is because salt took moisture out of the vegetables causing the brine to rise in volume.4 This was a good sign that the fermentation was working. After cleaning the spill, I tried the salsa again. Aside from the smell of brine that leaked, the salsa itself was not very pungent. There was still hints of some freshness within the salsa. The texture of the vegetables has changed drastically. Tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno peppers had all become much softer. The ingredient did not become mushy as there was still some firmness to them. The main difference in the salsa on the second day is the salsa now had a much nicer blend of flavours. In contrast to fresh salsa, where each individual ingredient stood out on their own and you could pick out each ingredient, the fermented salsa was well blended and flavours shot out at you. In addition to the more power taste of saltiness and sourness, the spicy flavour was also emphasized. There was also the development of a tangy flavour. I decided that the flavours and textures of the salsa had reached my desired doneness. As such, I also decided it was time to slow the fermentation by putting the salsa in the refrigerator.

Salsa after extra brine was cleaned up. Ingredients are pressed down again below the brine to ensure continued fermentation

4. Wasserman, M., & Jeanroy, A. (n.d.). 10 Tips for Troubleshooting the Fermented Food You Make. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/10-tips-for-troubleshooting-the-fermented-food-you.html

I believe that what makes lacto-fermented salsa and other lacto-fermented recipes special is not only does it enhance the flavours of the ingredients and preserves it, but you are also able to control the texture of the ingredient. The combination of flavour and texture makes lacto-fermented salsa unique compared to jarred salsa and fresh salsa.

If I were to ferment salsa again, I would try a few different things. Firstly, I would use a food processor to ensure an even blend of the ingredients. Secondly, I would choose more rip tomatoes to bring more sweetness to the salsa. Finally, knowing the possibility of overflowing brine, I would ensure the jar is placed over a sauce pan or baking tray. This was my first fermenting experiment and I found it quite exciting. I expected the fermentation to be much slower but I was surprised of the changed that occurred at each check up.