Hey Hoff & Pepper! Why Not Ferment?

We take pride in the fact that our sauces do not undergo fermentation, a process commonly employed by most hot sauce makers to craft their recipes. In this two-part series, we will delve into the rich history of fermentation and explore the development of fermented condiments in ancient cultures. We will shed light on how these sauces have evolved into the condiments we recognize today. Finally, we will address why we don’t ferment our sauces!

For over 12,000 years, humans have been harnessing the power of fermentation, and it's no wonder why. Beyond its ability to safely preserve food for extended periods, fermentation also gives rise to entirely new flavors, textures, and consistencies. Imagine a world without fermentation, where our bread would be unleavened, resembling matzo crackers or flatbreads of old. Thankfully, today we have the pleasure of indulging in the delightful variety of modern breads, rolls, and pastries crafted from fermented dough. And let's not forget about the countless pleasures of wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, our culinary landscape would lack pickled vegetables, cheese, charcuterie, and preserved condiments—hot sauce included!

The story behind fermented condiments is equally captivating. Fish sauce, hailed as one of the earliest condiments known to humanity, has a venerable history. Ancient Greece embarked on the production of fish sauce between the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. Subsequently, during the Zhou Dynasty in China, a fermented fish sauce was created, enriched with soy. This marked the inception of soy sauce and foreshadowed the birth of ketchup (but more on that later).

Around the 1st century, the Romans fashioned their own fermented condiment, known as Garum. This sauce entailed combining fish entrails with salt and fresh herbs, which were then left to ferment for three months before being strained into a sauce. Admittedly, the recipe may not sound alluring, but Garum is said to bear resemblance in flavor to Asian fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce. It rapidly gained popularity in Rome and remained an essential ingredient in Roman cuisine for centuries.

Despite the existence of soy sauce variants in China for centuries prior, it was in Japan in 1254 A.D. that soy sauce, as we recognize it today, truly took root. According to legend, a Zen monk happened to taste the liquid from a barrel of fermenting miso paste, thus giving birth to Japanese soy sauce.

As for ketchup, it originated from the fermented fish sauces of the Zhou Dynasty in China. Known as "ge-thcup" or "koe-cheup," this sauce captivated British traders, who developed a fondness for its salty flavor by the 1700s. Although the British adapted ketchup using locally available ingredients, it bore little resemblance to the condiment we savor today. In Europe at the time, tomatoes were predominantly cultivated for ornamental purposes and were seldom consumed. British ketchups comprised ingredients such as oysters, mussels, mushrooms, walnuts, lemons, celery, and even fruits like plums. The introduction of tomato-based ketchup to America occurred in the early 1800s, but it was H.J. Heinz who famously revolutionized ketchup in 1872, refining it into the familiar form we enjoy today.

In Part 2, we will delve into the enthralling history of fermented Louisiana-style hot sauce, exploring its transformation into a pantry staple in American households. Furthermore, we will uncover why Hoff & Pepper dared to deviate from convention in pursuit of bolder flavors. Stay tuned!

Written by Aaron Hoffman