Fermented salsa atop glyphosate-free sprouted wheat flat bread. Photo by Shannon Stonger.

by Shannon Stonger
Health Impact News

Salsa is widely loved for its ability to spice up – or simply add flavor to – any dish, Mexican-themed or not. Unfortunately, it is hard to find good salsa in regular markets. With the high pesticide content of peppers, tomatoes, and onions along with the genetic modification of tomatoes, what was once a healthful addition to the meal has now become a big question mark on the table.

To really get the most bang for your buck, making homemade salsa from ingredients you know and trust is always your best bet. While ingredients can be combined into a spicy concoction and then canned to preserve them, many are coming around to fermentation as a means of making delicious, organic salsa.

Fermenting vs. Canning Salsa

While canning pasteurizes the raw components of salsa, ridding them of their enzymes and most beneficial qualities, fermentation actually enhances these benefits, adding lactic acid bacteria to the mix. It is this lactic acid bacteria – widely loved for its probiotic potential – that preserves the salsa. The acidification keeps harmful bacteria at bay and allows the salsa to be preserved for weeks or even months in cold storage, if the process is done properly.

Furthermore, there is no right or wrong way to put together a salsa that will be fermented. Whereas it is recommended that you follow a specific recipe in order for the canning process to ensure preservation, fermenting salsa lends itself well to personalizing ingredients and flavors. Ingredients can be blended for a smoother salsa. More or less spice, onion, or herbs can be used. Peppers and other vegetables can be thrown into the base to add variety and nutrition. Whatever it is that you grow or pick up at the farmers market can then become your favorite condiment or chip dip.


Lacto-Fermented salsa is naturally live, bubbly, and teeming with beneficial microorganisms. Photo by Shannon Stonger.

Troubleshooting Fermented Condiments

When it comes to fermenting condiments, one of the biggest challenges is keeping brine atop the mixture you are fermenting. It is helpful to decide up front if you need to preserve the food for longer or if you want smaller batches which will be consumed quickly.

When making larger batches of a food you’d like to preserve for months, keeping the vegetable mixture chunky rather than smooth helps a great deal. When making salsa, much of the water from the tomatoes separates into the brine and the veggies float to the top. Since the vegetables exist in a pico de gallo form rather than a blended salsa form, the vegetables can be kept beneath the brine using cabbage leaves, root vegetable slices, or a fermentation weight. This will better ensure fermentation and preservation.

When making fermented ketchup, on the other hand, the mixture is made in small quantities and contains a fair amount of both acid and sugar – preserving agents. Besides the initial fermentation, the acid and sugar help to keep the batch preserved. But since it is made in such small quantities, the ketchup is usually consumed before it has a chance to go off.


Due to the high-water content of tomatoes, the vegetables often float while the brine sits at the bottom. Photo by Shannon Stonger.


Basic Fermented Salsa Recipe

Notes: This basic recipe makes one quart. This recipe can be adjusted for quantity and ingredient preference, but always keep the salsa submerged beneath the brine for best results. Most salsa recipes call for acidity in the form of citrus or vinegar. The lactic acid produced during fermentation produce plenty of tang, however, and no competing acids are necessary.


  • 3.5 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Himalayan salt
  • ½ small red onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ bunch of cilantro
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or ½ seeded jalapeno, diced


  1. Combine the tomatoes and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Allow this to sit for five minutes while the other ingredients are chopped. Add the remaining ingredients to the tomatoes and mix well to combine.
  2. Transfer salsa to a quart-sized jar which should be approximately 80% full. Push the salsa down using a clean hand or utensil so that the brine tops up the vegetables. Place an outer cabbage leaf into the jar and then weight this down with a thick slice of root vegetable or a fermentation weight. Move these from side-to-side and then push down to ensure that the brine comes above the cabbage leaf and salsa.
  3. Seal the jar tightly and place at cool room temperature – 65-85 degrees – to ferment. During the fermentation process, carbon dioxide will be produced and should be released from the jar twice daily. “Burp” the jars by quickly opening and closing them, allowing any gas pressure to escape. After 24 hours, bubbles will begin to form and the liquid from the tomatoes will begin to combine with the brine while the vegetables are pushed upward. If necessary, the fermentation weights can be pushed downward when the jar is opened for “burping.” This will ensure that the vegetables stay below the level of the brine.
  4. Allow to ferment for 3-10 days, depending on the temperature of your home. Taste after the first few days to determine if it is tangy, bubbly, and sufficiently fermented to your taste. If you are fermenting in a hot space, just a few days is sufficient and too long can result in a mushy, overly-acidic salsa.
  5. Once fermentation is complete, transfer the salsa to cold storage in the form of a refrigerator, cellar, or basement. The salsa should keep for several months. If larger batches are being prepared, check the surface of the salsa periodically while in cold storage. Generally speaking, any yeast atop the surface of the fermented salsa are considered harmless. However, it is a good idea to remove the yeast – which may look like mold – in order to stop it from spreading throughout the salsa.
  6. If a smooth salsa is desired, simply throw the fermented salsa into the blender, process as desired, and then serve.

About the Author

Shannon Stonger grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota. She studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married her husband one month later. They were then blessed with two baby boys within the first four years of marriage. Having babies gave their family a desire to return to the old paths – to nourish their family with traditional, homegrown foods; rid their home of toxic chemicals and petroleum products; and give their boys a chance to know a simple, sustainable way of life. They are currently building a homestead from scratch on two little acres in central Texas. There’s a lot to be done to become somewhat self-sufficient, but they are debt-free and get to spend their days living this simple, good life together with their four young children.