I make hot sauce from a simple recipe of hot peppers and vinegar. I am always exploring new flavor combinations of peppers with different types of vinegar. Many times I use the same vinegar because it is readily available and inexpensive but I use different peppers to create a new sauce.
One of the most common types of vinegar for a traditional hot sauce is distilled white vinegar. It is used due to its neutral color but sharp flavor compared to other types of vinegar. Distilled white vinegar is the least expensive vinegar and is more readily available than other exotic vinegars but there are many more available on the market.
What is vinegar?
Vinegar is a liquid solution of acetic acid produced by the fermentation of carbohydrates by acetic acid bacteria. It is used in many hot sauces as a preservative and to enhance the flavors of the hot peppers and spices used.
Do you need vinegar in a hot sauce?
A hot sauce recipe does not “need” vinegar but there are some great benefits to using it or some alternative replacements as well. Many traditional hot sauce recipes use vinegar and it has been a standard ingredient in hot sauces for over 200 years.
The primary ingredient for a hot sauce should always be hot peppers, not vinegar, water or other liquid substances. Many traditional and basic hot sauces use vinegar to enhance the flavors of the peppers but there are other reasons for using it.
What does vinegar do to hot sauce?
The addition of vinegar in your hot sauce will add flavor and allow it to be preserved. It can also increase the quantity of sauce and add a very distinct flavor. Be careful not to add too much vinegar to your sauce because it can dominate the flavor drastically.
Acts as a preservative
Vinegar acts as a preservative when used in hot sauce. It will bring the pH level down to a safe, bacteria free level (between 4.6 and 3.4) due to its acidity. This will extend its shelf life and keep it fresher longer.
Most vinegar will have a common and distinct sour and tangy flavor to them. There are many varieties of vinegars that have an original flavor to them as well. Due to the contents it is made with, an apple cider vinegar will have a much different flavor than a rice wine vinegar.
“Water” it down
The term “water it down” is used to describe the consistency that your hot sauce will have if you add vinegar. Vinegar itself has the consistency of water. Simply blending hot peppers and a few other spices may give your sauce a thicker consistency.
Compared to the actual cost of hot peppers the addition of vinegar will not increase the cost of sauce much but it will increase the quantity by a significant amount depending on the recipe. If you are using the ratio below of 25% vinegar, than that should be your total cost per bottle as well.
Is vinegar healthy?
Vinegar is not unhealthy but drinking it straight can have some negative health effects. People consume apple cider vinegar in foods for the health benefits and many believe it to provide benefits such as helping with weight loss and lowering cholesterol.
Organic vinegar will use all organically grown products (without chemical pesticides or growth hormones) and will use a less refined process of manufacturing. Theses vinegars will often have a cloudy appearance with sediment floating at the bottom.
Most organic products will cost more than others and this is also true with vinegar. If you choose to use organic vinegar you must also choose all organic ingredients as well if you want to claim “all organic” on your label.
How much vinegar is needed?
You can use as much vinegar as you want or whatever your taste buds will allow. As a general rule vinegar is used in 25% of the sauce. If you are using a ratio as I often do with my recipes than it would be 1 : 4. Be careful on the quantity of the sauce that you are using or follow a recipe as a guide because it can significantly change the flavor and pH of the sauce.
TYPES OF VINEGAR
Distilled white vinegar
Distilled white vinegar is one of the more common vinegars that you will find in a hot sauce. This allows for preservation of the sauce without taking over the flavor. Although it may not taste “good” by itself it adds distinct properties to many condiments.
Made from distilled grain alcohol there actually is not any alcoholic content in this type of vinegar. Distilled white vinegar has many household uses aside from being used in hot sauce but it is completely safe to consume it as a food product in condiments.
Of the many varieties of vinegar, distilled white will have a strong pungent flavor but it complements the zest of hot peppers instead of taking away from it. The sour taste from the acetic acid produced during processing also complements the heat from hot peppers and, depending on the quantity used, can reduce the SHU (Scoville Heat Unit) of the pepper as well.
Distilled white vinegar is clear and will not alter the color of your hot sauce. Some vinegars such as a balsamic have a deep dark color and will dominate the appearance of the sauce. Other vinegars that are organic will be cloudy in appearance but the cloudiness may disappear within the other ingredients of the sauce.
Adding any type of vinegar will increase the acidity of a hot sauce. However, there are certain levels of acidity between varieties and even brands of vinegar so always pH test your vinegar before making sauce. Here are some of the more well known sauces that use distilled white vinegar in their recipe.
Purchase Heinz Distilled White Vinegar through this link from Amazon. This is one of the least expensive vinegars with costs around $.11 an ounce.
Sauces made with distilled white vinegar
OTHER COMMON HOT SAUCE VINEGARS
Aside from distilled white vinegar there are also several other common vinegars that you will find in popular and top selling brands of hot sauce. Apple cider vinegar has become a popular additive for health reasons associated with consuming it, its low acidity level and the unique flavor it offers.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is great in a hot sauce and is very common in many hot sauces and other products on the market today. It offers the preservatives of a vinegar and flavor but is the highest pH of all of the different vinegars available.
There are many hot sauces that use apple cider vinegar as it has become increasing popular due to its higher pH level. I have noticed a significant difference in the pH between different brands of apple cider vinegar as well. Here is one of the top selling brands of apple cider vinegar at Amazon.
Apple cider vinegar hot sauces
Balsamic vinegar can be one of the more expensive vinegars and is not used in hot sauces as often as other varieties. Made with grape must (freshly crushed juice), some balsamic vinegar is aged 12 to 15 years. Balsamic Hot Sauce makes a Desert Heat using white balsamic vinegar.
It is not very often that you see a hot sauce with only balsamic vinegar. Often they will be mixed with other types of vinegar to cut the richness of the balsamic or other gourmet ingredients such as mushrooms or exotic fruits. Not all balsamic vinegars are super expensive. Get Premium here for about $.41 an ounce from Amazon.
Here are some sauces made with balsamic vinegar
White wine vinegar
Bacteria will eat up most of the alcohol but there may be a trace amount left in some brands of white wine vinegar. This type of vinegar will not be as sour as a distilled and some brands can taste on the sweet side. White is used more commonly in a hot sauce than red wine vinegar. Again, a gourmet vinegar like this will be more expensive than distilled white . Purchase Colavita Aged White Wine Vinegar here from Amazon
Gourmet sauces using white wine vinegar!
Red wine vinegar
Although not as commonly found in hot sauce as white wine vinegar there are still plenty of sauce brands that have included red wine vinegar in their sauce. Having a district, bold and fruity flavor it can be used as a straight up replacement of other vinegars or mixed. A little more expensive than balsamic. Here is the link for a 25 oz bottle by Progresso from Amazon.
Red wine vinegar hot sauces
Rice wine vinegar
Rice wine vinegar will have a milder acidic content than many other vinegars and can add sweetness. Rice wine vinegar is made from…yup…you guessed it…rice. By fermenting the starches the sugars are turned to alcohol and then into acetic acid.
Rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar often gets confused with rice wine and does not have any alcohol in it. It is less acidic than distilled white vinegar and has a bit of a sweetness to it. The most expensive vinegar on this list at almost $.70 an ounce. Get it here!
Check out these sauces using rice vinegar
Malt vinegar is made directly from ale like wine vinegars are made directly from wine. Commonly used in the UK on French fries and other fried foods but rarely used in a hot sauce recipe. It will add levels of flavor to your hot sauce to include sweetness that other types of vinegar do not.
Here are some hot sauces using malt vinegar!
Cane vinegar or sugar cane vinegar is made from sugar cane. Used in the Philippines and made from nipa palm sap or coconut palm sap. Cane vinegar is not as sweet as you think it would be but it has less sharpness than distilled white vinegar. Check out cane vinegar here made by Silver Swan and get it from Amazon. This is in the middle range for cost when compared to many vinegar varieties at about $.30 an ounce.
Check out some popular hot sauces that use cane vinegar!
Buko’s Fiery Hot Sauce made with coconut vinegar. Coconut vinegar is made from fermented coconut sap from the flowers of the coconut tree and has a slight milky appearance. Used in South Asian and Indian cuisine, it has a bit of a sweetness to it.
Less common hot sauce vinegar
Less sweeter than balsamic vinegar. Because of the aging process sherry vinegar can have a rich complex flavor to it. This can be swapped for balsamic vinegar but because of the depth of its flavor you may want to use it with other vinegars.
This is made in a similar manner to wine, beer and sherry vinegar and is made from champagne which is made from pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes. This is only rarely used in gourmet sauces and has a light flavor although also sharp.
I searched to find a hot sauce that uses beer vinegar but could not find one. Closely related to malt vinegar but made directly from beer.
Rare hot sauce vinegar
Sometimes an alternate to balsamic vinegar is raisin vinegar. More common in Middle Eastern cuisine. Although raisins are sometimes used in hot sauces a hot sauce vinegar would be a rarity.
Wild grape vinegar
Often made from Mustang grapes, wild grape vinegar can be much more tart than other grape vinegars. Wild grape vinegar is made from the pressed juice of wild grapes and left to sit until it ferments.
Yes it is made from dandelions, those pesky colorful weeds that show up in your lawn in early spring. Dandelion vinegar is made similarly to raspberry vinegar in that white distilled or apple cider vinegar is added.
Honey vinegar is made similarly to other vinegars by mixing with water, covering with a cheese cloth and letting it sit for (ferment) in a warm and dark place for a couple of months.
Raspberry vinegar is made by adding white vinegar or white wine vinegar to raspberries. You can do this with many fruits by mixing them and letting them sit for a few days.
Pineapple works well in hot sauces especially if you are using habanero peppers. This can be made by mixing water, sugar and pineapples and letting it ferment.
This vinegar is made from Japanese ume plums and has a consistency and flavor similar to a soy sauce. Used in Japanese cooking as a seasoning ingredient.
Vinegar has been a staple in foods, condiments and hot sauces for many many years. It comes in many varieties and provides a preserving method as well as a distinct flavor to hot sauces. If you have decided to use vinegar in your hot sauce choose one that will compliment your other ingredients.