Who knew how easy it is to make flavorful homemade salsa that’s full of gut-healthy probiotics? No special skills or equipment are needed, and unlike other fermented foods, salsa takes only a few days to ferment.🍅
Does the idea of fermenting food sound daunting? Did you ever think to ferment salsa? (And why would you want to?)
Well, in this case it isn’t. I didn’t until recently…and because it tastes great and is a source of gut-healthy probiotics!
I will mention that this recipe is heavenly served fresh, so though the fermentation step (basically just letting the jar sit on the counter) takes just two days, you may absolutely dig in right away.
Or double the batch and enjoy one jar now and one later.
For years I’ve made the fresh version. My family loves to dig into a bowlful with French bread rounds (that I brush with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt and bake until crisp) for something I call Bruschetta Dip that’s so fresh and flavorful. (Traditional tortilla chips make good dippers, too.)When I recently read about the idea of fermenting salsa, however, I was intrigued.
Why not add something beneficial to an already healthy recipe? But would it work? And would it actually taste good?
Loving a good science experiment as I do, I made my first batch the very next day.
The results were decidedly delicious. My fellow snackers agreed and my husband said he could drink the residual liquid by the spoonful. (We both did!)
So what exactly does it mean to ferment food?
When we think of fermented food, we typically think of foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and miso. The process involves leaving the item at room temperature to allow the good bacteria to populate.
In technical terms, fermentation breaks down the natural sugars, which turn into natural yeast and bacteria. Vegetables are naturally covered in lactic-acid bacteria, so when submerged in a salted brine, the good bacteria naturally begins to ferment the food. Salt is added to prevent bad bacteria from forming before the good stuff gets established.
What are the benefits?
The end result of this is the formation of probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, which support our gastro-intestinal tract, aiding digestion and the “gut microbiota.” The microbiota is increasingly being considered as an organ in its own right, and a complex one at that. Recent studies have shown that a healthy microbiota can fend off various digestive issues, allergies, mental health problems and obesity as well as Rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and heart disease.
In the words of Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, the gut microbiota is “most important to the health of our gastrointestinal system, but may have even more far-reaching effects on our well-being.”
The process of fermenting salsa may be the easiest of all ferments:
I chopped my first batch by hand ⇧⇧, which is the only mildly tedious part of this process. For the second batch, I used my food processor. ⇩⇩ Although I was careful not to over-process, I initially thought I would prefer the chunkier, hand cut (and initially somewhat prettier) version better.
For a true comparison, however, I ran a side-by-side comparison.⇩⇩ After the ferment, we judged the food processor batch to be slightly superior (for its more uniform texture).
In the photo below, the jar in the front center is the hand-cut salsa, while the jar to the back right is the food processor batch. (The pickles to the back left are a batch of Refrigerator Dill Pickles, which I was making as well. If you’re a fan, I recommend that easy recipe. It comes with a tip for extra crisp pickles!)
My ultimate recommendation would be to hand cut for fresh salsa (where we enjoy the chunkier texture and more vibrant color that results) and use a food processor for the fermented variation, with the caveat that it not be over-processed. That said, I think you’ll be pleased either way, so not to worry if you don’t have a food processor.
Note that the fermented salsa is juicier than many jarred salsas, as the liquid is critical to the fermenting process. I could seriously drink the juice (and have taken a few sips – good for gut health!), but you could partially drain depending on desired use.
Along those lines, do read the recipe notes when making fresh salsa. In this case, I prefer to drain the excess liquid from the tomatoes. Also, feel free to use the fermented salsa just like you would any other salsa. And don’t forget the suggestion for a crowd-pleasing “Bruschetta Dip”－no specific recipe needed.
Truth be told, it’s hard to go wrong with this when starting with really good seasonal tomatoes. For years I made the fresh salsa without a real recipe. Just start with tomatoes and add the remaining ingredients to taste. It’s summer in a bowl!
Salsa details at a glimpse:
- This salsa is delicious fresh but the short fermentation process adds healthy probiotics and a hint of tang.
- When fermenting, make sure to use a tight-fitting lid.
- Small bubbles will develop, but there shouldn’t be fizzing or visible mold.
- I’ve noticed the flavor becoming more complex on the second full day of fermentation.
- If desired, you may allow the fermentation process to continue for an extra day or so. Just keep tasting and refrigerate when satisfied.
- Refrigeration nearly stops the fermentation process, although the flavor will continue to develop.
- The fermented salsa will keep in the fridge for a couple of months.
- The ingredients may be hand-cut or chopped in a food processor. (Note the stated tips and variations.)
- Recipe doubles easily.
- In my last batch, I used half lime juice and half apple cider vinegar (ACV). If you find yourself without a lime, you could try using all ACV.
- Fermented salsa is juicier than many jarred salsas, as the liquid is critical to the fermenting process. You could partially drain depending on desired use. If making fresh salsa or Bruschetta Dip, heed the draining step mentioned in the Recipe Notes section.
- 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, cut into a small dice (reserve juices*)
- ½ bell pepper, diced small (color of choice－I often use yellow or orange; could omit and add an extra ½ cup or so of tomatoes)
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped (may substitute basil, parsley or a mix)
- ¼ cup minced red onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ a jalapeño or Serrano pepper, minced (seed if a less spicy salsa is preferred)
- ½ tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 level teaspoon fine sea salt (may substitute other salt as long as it is free of iodine or any other ingredients, which may impede fermentation)
- 1 (quart-size) glass jar with an airtight lid (or 2 pint-size jars)
- Weight: such as half a bell pepper, a cabbage leaf, half a peeled onion, a clean stone or fermentation weight
Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, herbs, red onion, garlic, jalapeño or Serrano pepper, lime juice and salt to a mixing bowl, and toss to thoroughly combine.(I use a quart-size Pyrex measure for easy transfer to the jar later.
At this point, taste the salsa. It should be well seasoned with the salt and lime juice, but not overpowering. Salt aids the fermentation process and helps keep the “bad bacteria” from populating. I like a hint of tang from the lime but enjoy the sweetness of the tomatoes, too. Fermenting will also add an extra layer of tang, and you can always add an extra squeeze of lime later.
Fresh option: If you’d like to enjoy the salsa now, you may skip the fermentation step and dig in with tortilla chips or toasted French bread rounds for a lovely “bruschetta dip.” Or use as you would any fresh salsa. Hint: For a chunkier salsa,
To ferment: Transfer the salsa to a glass jar with an airtight lid, making sure to add all the juice from the bottom of the mixing bowl. I use quart-size Mason or Ball jar, which allows for some room at the top. Alternatively, you could divide the mixture between two pint-size jars.
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 the remaining bell pepper half.)
Tightly seal the jar and place in a spot away from direct sunlight. Ferment the salsa at room temperature for 2 day (48 hours). After 24 hours or so, you will likely notice that small bubbles are beginning to form. This is the part of the fermentation process where the good bacteria are developing.
After 2 full days, your salsa will be ready to enjoy. At this point, you may eat the salsa or store it in the refrigerator. You can also remove the weight now. If you prefer a tangier salsa, you could let the salsa ferment for an additional day or so. Simply taste once or twice a day (I give it a stir, too) and refrigerate when it is to your liking. The salsa will keep for several months in the fridge, where the fermentation process is mostly halted, although the flavor will continue to develop.
Food processor option: Halve the tomatoes; set aside. Roughly chop the bell pepper, herbs and onion. I like to still mince the garlic and hot pepper to make sure there aren’t any big chunks in the finished salsa. Add the bell pepper, herbs, onion, garlic and hot pepper to the work bowl and pulse 5-6 times. Scrape down the bowl, and add the tomatoes. Pulse about 10 times, scraping the sides of the bowl down after 6 or 7 pulses. You want the mixture to be evenly chopped and somewhat chunky, not pureed. At this point, I transfer the mixture to a bowl with a spout (it’s easier than transferring the contents from the work bowl to the jar), where I add the lime juice and salt, and taste for seasoning. Then transfer to the glass jar, making sure the vegetables are submerged in the juices, and top with your weight. Place the lid on the jar and follow the fermenting step, above.
*Tip for fresh method: When following the fresh salsa method, I like to drain the cut tomatoes in a colander for 15-20 minutes, give or take, to allow the excess juices to drain before adding the remaining ingredients. (The juices are necessary in the fermentation process, so don’t drain when following that method.) The fresh method also works well with plum or good vine-ripened tomatoes. Sometimes I skip the bell pepper and/or hot pepper in this version. When serving as the aforementioned “bruschetta dip” with toasted French bread rounds (that I brush with olive oil, season with garlic, salt and bake until crisp), I opt for fresh basil instead of cilantro and often drizzle the mixture with a little olive oil and use balsamic vinegar instead of lime juice. Either way, feel free to add more acid to taste and generally mix things up as you prefer.
A few more things:
•As mentioned, when fermenting, the tomatoes should not be drained as the juices are necessary for the process to work. As a result, this salsa is naturally more liquid-y. Some of the liquid may be drained off after the ferment – although it tastes wonderful and does contain gut-healthy probiotics.
•I’ve only used cherry and grape tomatoes for the fermented salsa as they contain enough liquid for fermentation but less than regular vine-ripened tomatoes. If I were to experiment with larger tomatoes, I would partially seed them and reserve some of the juices, which could be added before closing the jar if needed. There should be enough liquid to just submerge the salsa ingredients when weighted.
•Ripe, seasonal tomatoes are the foundation of this salsa and critical to its wonderful fresh flavor as well as a successful fermentation.