Surprisingly Delicious: Fermented Tomato Salsa

Following my post on thick salsa made from baked sliced tomatoes, a reader asked about making fermented salsa. I grimaced as I considered how easily tomatoes rot. Cutting them up and leaving them to ferment would be asking for trouble, I figured. But I do sometimes brine tomatoes whole, in the Russian tradition. So I suggested fermenting whole tomatoes with other vegetables and then grinding them all together afterward.

In early October, Mother Nature had spared us the usual late-summer to early-fall rains but hit us with early frosts instead. So my entry hall was filled with boxes of tomatoes, all still beautifully free of disease. I had so many tomatoes and peppers both that if a crockful rotted I’d never miss them. In particular, I had plenty of Hard Rock tomatoes, one of my favorite paste varieties. So I came up with this recipe for—

Fermented Tomato Salsa

3 pounds flawless, firm, meaty tomatoes, ripe or semiripe, washed but left whole
1 pound green jalapeño peppers, tops sliced off
1 ½-pound onion, peeled and quartered
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
¼ cup lime juice
5 tablespoons pickling salt
2 quarts water

Mix the tomatoes, peppers, onion pieces, garlic, and cumin together in a gallon crock or jar. Add the lime juice. In another container, dissolve the salt in the water. Pour the brine over the vegetables, and weight them. Cover the crock or jar, and keep it at room temperature for at least a few days, after which you can move it to a cooler place if you prefer. Check the crock or jar for yeast and mold and skim off any that appears.

After three weeks, cut a pepper vertically to be sure it has completely changed color, from bright green to olive. If it has, gently remove all the vegetables to a bowl, taking care not to burst the tomatoes, which will have swelled. Coarsely grind the vegetables in batches in a food processor or blender. You should have about 7 cups salsa.

My fermented salsa had a good, thick consistency, a pleasantly dark red color, a mild tartness, and a complex fermented taste that grew on Robert and me so fast that we ate a whole pint at a sitting. The only thing that could have improved the experience is fresh cilantro.

I tested the pH of the salsa as 4.3—low enough for safe boiling-water processing, but high enough that I’d advise testing each batch or adding more lime juice before canning. I brought the salsa we hadn’t eaten slowly to a boil and then processed the jars for 15 minutes.

If you want those fermentative bacteria to work in your gut, of course, you will store the salsa in the refrigerator instead. If you do, please let me know how long it keeps.

7 thoughts on “Surprisingly Delicious: Fermented Tomato Salsa”

  1. I’ve been making lacto-fermented tomato salsa for 4 years, my longest lasting batch lasted for two years (fermented for a couple of days at room temperature, then stored in the fridge), getting better in taste as time went by! I’ve been using the recipe from Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions”, which adds whey drained off of yogurt and gives the good bacteria a better chance of colonizing. If you’re interested, I’ve some pix of this past season’s batch here (bottom of post) — the recipe includes cilantro and, if the batch isn’t hot enough, I add additional hot peppers when opening the jar for use:

  2. Thanks–I’ll have to try that recipe. Another way some people say they prevent spoilage in fermenting chopped or ground tomatoes is by frequent stirring; maybe you do that, too?
    By the way, your photos are beautiful!

    1. Thanks, it’s an honor to have you visit, your books take pride of place in my preserving collection! I’m curious about the idea of frequent stirring when fermenting — the “good” lacto bacteria are anaerobic, generally you’d want to create an environment that suppresses the “bad” aerobic bacteria. I never stir until the jar is opened to eat, I just make sure things are packed tightly and that everything is submerged. Even after 2 years, the salsa was still fresh tasting!

  3. I’m curious about the stirring, too. Apparently it controls mold growth. I’d rather try your method, if mold isn’t usually a problem with it. But this experiment will have to wait until next summer.

  4. Whey is not a necessity. Simply salt and lime juice (and garlic, etc) have been enough to ever prevent any issues in fermentation, and I ferment chopped tomato salsa. My one caution is not to let them ferment too long or they lose their “freshness”. Two days on the counter seems to be my sweet spot and they’ll stay good in the fridge for at least a year (in case a jar goes missing in the back). We enjoy garlic-chipotle and cilantro-cumin flavors alot.

  5. I made this and it’s definitely better than fermented salsa made with chopped tomatoes. As a side benefit, it makes a perfect guacamole starter: simply pull from this jar one tomato, one jalapeño, one or two chunks of onion and one or two garlic cloves and blend together with a ripe avocado. Perfect guacamole, and no lime juice needed.

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