Hot sauce is different from other condiments when it comes to how long it will last or how long it will stay fresh once it is opened. Not all hot sauce is created equal in flavor and the length of time that a hot sauce stays fresh can vary as well.
Generally speaking, hot sauce can last for several years if it is unopened and up to 6 months if it is opened. Refrigerating a hot sauce will slow down the growth of bacteria and allow it to remain fresh much longer. Any hot sauce that contains preservatives like vinegar or citrus juice will allow it to extend its expiration date much longer than sauces that don’t contain these ingredients.
The right ingredients make a difference
Ingredients make a difference in how a hot sauce gets preserved or how long it will remain fresh and safe to consume. Most hot sauce recipes are made for their flavor and not specifically to extend the shelf life.
Adding preservatives like citric acid are used specifically to eliminate destructive bacteria growth that can ruin the hot sauce and cause harm to the human body. There are many additives in the form of natural and man-made products that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that are used by many brands of hot sauce.
Some of these additives, such as vinegar, are used in large percentages against other ingredients and are listed first or second on the ingredient label. Vinegar was most likely originally used in a hot sauce as a preservative but has become one of the staple flavors and is as common as the hot peppers themselves.
Vinegar is a natural preservative
Adding vinegar to a hot sauce will allow it to remain fresh and safe for consumption much longer than if it was not included. It is used as one of the main ingredients and not so much as an afterthought but is available in many varieties. Each of these varieties can add significant flavor changes, color differences, and preserving qualities to the hot sauce.
Vinegar is one of the most common liquid ingredients in a hot sauce and has been since it was formed as a condiment but not all hot sauces use it. In recent years manufactures have included other ingredients that may provide the same preserving quality but alter the flavor.
Without vinegar, citrus juice other preservatives hot sauce will not last more than a week in refrigeration and will last only a day or two if it is left out at room temperature. Hot peppers and other fruits and vegetables used in hot sauce recipes will react to air exposure and allow harmful bacteria to grow.
Hot peppers are not on the acidic side of the pH scale with means they could have a pH reading closer to 7pH, which is neutral on the scale. If water is used in a hot sauce recipe, which it often is, then this will bring it even closer to a neutral pH reading and this is where the freshness of the sauce will fail.
Citrus will preserve and offer flavor
Citrus is the juice or extract from citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit. This is another ingredient that should not be considered an afterthought and added to a recipe once it is finished. Citrus will create a strong sour and almost tart flavoring to a hot sauce.
Lemons and limes will have a much more distinct sour flavor to them than oranges, pineapple, or grapefruit but will also add more acidity. It is the acidic level from lemons and limes that will lower the pH level of the hot sauce and allow it to last longer once it is opened.
Storing hot sauce correctly makes a difference
Storage will also plan an important role in how long a hot sauce can last. How a hot sauce is packaged can be as important as what the contents are. Containers designed for long-term storage should be airtight. Allow air to enter will shorten the life of a hot sauce. Air will instigate the growth of bacteria which is why some sauces may show signs of this on the surface, around the top, or under the cap. This does not mean that the entire bottle of hot sauce has gone bad or is not edible.
After a hot sauce has been bottled it will need to be stored in room temperature conditions or refrigerated at temperatures at about 40 degrees. Refrigeration will increase the longevity of the sauce but can be difficult to do if you are making large quantities of sauce. It can also increase costs if the sauce needs consistent refrigeration or refrigeration during shipping.
Extending the shelf life of a hot sauce
The right combination of ingredients, proper storage, and the treatment of the sauce once it is opened will all contribute to how long a hot sauce can last. These principles should all be adhered to as a new sauce creation is made and throughout consumption as well.
How do you know when a hot sauce has gone bad?
Although many hot sauces can have a distinct scent or aroma to them it shouldn’t be too difficult to determine if it has gone bad from the foul odor it will give off. A hot sauce having liquids separate from solids does not mean that it has gone bad. This can happen to all-natural sauces or sauces made without binding agents such as xanthan gum, guar gum, or wheat flour.
Hot sauce can show signs that it is inedible from black or brown spots that will show up on the surface or near the top of the bottle. Some hot sauce recipes can have a speckled appearance from the ingredients. Black pepper, especially peppercorns ground during the process, can create distinct black speckling in a hot sauce but this is not the same indication of bacterial growth. Often when hot peppers are roasted the charring will also create the same speckled appearance.
Although hot sauce has been considered one of the longest-lasting condiments recipes shouldn’t be altered or created specifically with the expiration date in mind. There are means and methods that many condiments use without adding vinegar, citrus, or preservatives.