Summer Means Salsa (Spicy Fermented Salsa, That Is)

Spicy lacto-fermented tomato salsa

This spicy salsa is what I like to call the Harvest Special. If you planned it right this summer — and started those first sets of seeds last fall, however early that may seem — everything that goes into this salsa can come straight from your garden right now, from the garlic to the tomatoes!

Spicy fermented salsa

But why fermented salsa? Why not normal salsa like you’ve always made?

I’ve used this same recipe for non-fermented salsa and it’s fine. Great, actually. But fermentation pushes it over the line to fantastic. The same bacteria and yeasts that give kraut and kimchi their distinctive flavor also give this salsa a bright and tangy note. It’s lively on the tastebuds without being too sour or too salty.

Fermented salsa undergoes the same process of lacto-fermentation as sauerkraut. Simply by letting your salsa sit out for a few days, you’ll encourage all kinds of beneficial bacteria in the mix, creating a powerful probiotic that you can’t nearly get enough of (the jar I made was gone in two days!). And while many recipes for fermented salsa call for the addition of whey or starter culture, this one lets the existing bacteria (already found in all your vegetables) do the work. It may take a day or two longer to ferment, but the ease is worth the wait.

Spicy Fermented Salsa
Makes 1 quart


1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2  to 1 jalapeño pepper, minced (since some jalapeños are hotter than others, I recommend a taste test before putting the whole thing in there)
1/2 serrano pepper, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon pickling salt or sea salt
Juice from 1 lime
Extra-virgin olive oil


Every ingredient in this salsa can come straight from your garden if you plan it right

In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together (including the juices from your tomatoes), but do not add the olive oil yet.

Add all ingredients except for the olive oil

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl

Pour the salsa into a quart-sized jar and run a chopstick around the jar to release any trapped air bubbles.

Add a half-inch layer of olive oil on top. The olive oil serves two purposes here: one, it prevents the vegetables from rising above the water and growing mold on the surface, and two, it adds a richness to the salsa once you mix it in.

Add a half-inch layer of olive oil on top

Fermented salsa with an olive oil layer

Loosely seal the jar with a lid and leave it out of direct sunlight for a few days. The warmer your room temperature is, the faster your salsa will ferment. You’ll start to see fizzies as the lactic acid bacteria flourish.

In my very warm kitchen this summer, it took four days to develop a bold, tangy flavor. You could leave it for up to a week for the tang to intensify; the longer you let it ferment, the longer the salsa will keep (not that it would ever last that long in this household!).

Let the salsa ferment for up to a week

Once the salsa’s to your liking, refrigerate the jar. The olive oil will congeal in the cold temp, but is perfectly safe to eat. Just mix it in with a spoon before you use the salsa, or let the jar rest at room temp before serving.

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September 19 2013      53 comments     Linda Ly
En La Cocina   Verduras

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  • Eve

    I read this recipe when you first posted it, but haven’t gotten around to making it until a few days ago. Now I have a question: when around day 3, my salsa has risen and broken through the olive oil barrier, is it then necessary to push everything back down and also swirl through it around the edge of the jar to release the newly formed bubbles?

    • You can taste it to see if the flavor’s to your liking, and if it needs to ferment a little longer, just push all the vegetables back down and add a little more oil on top.

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  • Mona Mayer

    Me again, is a week the longest amount of time to let it ferment and also how long does it last in the fridge if one has fermented it a week? thanks again Betty oh and congrats on your wedding!

    • You can ferment it however long you like, as the flavor just becomes more intense. However, since there is not a lot of salt used in this recipe, I probably wouldn’t keep it out longer than two weeks. The salsa will continue to ferment in the fridge, but just a lot more slowly. Theoretically it should last indefinitely because it just keeps producing lactic acid bacteria (which preserves it), but optimal flavor is probably within the first few months.

  • Mona Mayer

    Hi there, You have a wonderful site! I have all of the ingredients to make this and I was wondering (before I bought the sea salt) if I can use Himalyan Rock Salt instead of the pickling salt or sea salt? Also, when one uses the canning lids to close the jars how is that loosely sealed? I guess that is just not pressing down on the top and not screwing the ring on tight? thank you for your response. Also, sorry to hear about you losing your girl.

    • Yes, you can use Himalayan salt (I love that stuff too!) as long as yours is on the finer side, and not super coarse. (With super coarse salt, you’d have to increase the amount you use.)

      When sealing the jars with canning lids, I just place the lid on top, and make a turn or two with the band so it stays secure but still loose.

      Thank you for thinking about Gisele. 🙂

  • Quite attractive. If you can be sure that I will try.

  • Amanda

    Awesome recipe! Can you create a salsa recipe (or other raw pickle) using pumpkins or winter squashes?

    • Pumpkin salsa is delicious, but it’s always cooked in some way to get that sweet tenderness. I’ve made quick-pickled thin-sliced zucchini using the pickling recipes on this blog, but haven’t tried it with winter squash yet. I imagine the process would be the same.