12 Standard Hot Sauce Preservatives…and How To Use Them

12 Standard Hot Sauce Preservatives

Not all hot sauce is created equal. Many sauces will use vinegar and citric juices as part of the ingredient combination and these ingredients will naturally allow the preservation of the sauce for several months or longer. However, many others may not contain vinegar or citrus juices and will require other additives to preserve them and keep them fresh beyond a few days.

Preservatives are being used more in gourmet hot sauces to keep then tasting fresh longer and increase the shelf life. Common preservatives for hot sauces that do not contain vinegar or citric juice are acetic acid, ascorbic acid, potassium sorbate, citric acid, sodium benzoate, and sorbic acid. These are all recognized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as being safe to consume and will function well in a hot sauce of any heat level. The combination of ingredients needs to be considered when selecting the best preservative for a hot sauce.

Many preservatives are added to many different varieties of foods but not all of them may work well in hot sauces. Aside from the common ingredient of hot peppers, many other flavors are also being explored and these flavor combinations are only increasing. Gourmet, craft, and artisan hot sauce recipes get their uniqueness from the original or homemade approach to creating a new hot sauce. When these recipes become available on the commercial level preservatives may need to be added if the sauce expands beyond a traditional hot pepper and vinegar recipe.

Always pH test your hot sauce before and after adding preservatives

Hot sauces that do not contain vinegar will need other substances that will increase their preservation, or the hot sauce could have a very short shelf life. Refrigeration is an option to lengthen the shelf life of sauces but can get very costly during production, storing, and throughout the sales process. However, it is not uncommon for a hot sauce to be labeled “refrigerate after opening” to slow down any potential bacterial growth.

Many manufacturers want to keep ingredients simple, pure, or natural and avoid what can commonly be thought of as including additives against the principle that it may be an all-natural sauce. There are many common preservatives added to hot sauces but sometimes the name of the additives can be enough of a deterrent for overly concerned consumers to not use the product.

The word “acid” as an ingredient in a hot sauce may sound as if it could cause harm if it is consumed. Although some brand names of hot sauces include heat levels and names that sound as if they DO cause harm the preservatives in this article are proven to be safe for consumption and cause no known harm to the human body.

1) Vinegar

At least 20% to 30% of a hot sauce should be vinegar

Vinegar has been the number one common ingredient used in traditional or classic hot sauce since it was originally introduced to consumers. Cream-based sauces, butter additives, dairy products, or any sauces that contain cheeses will require preservatives to be included with the other ingredients. Many ingredients that will preserve, like vinegar or citrus juice, will also alter the flavoring.

Currently there are thousands of hot sauce manufacturers that use vinegar as one of the main ingredients. This is probably used as one of the ingredients in a recipe and not exclusively for the purpose of preserving. The addition of vinegar lowers the acidity of the hot sauce, and this prohibits the growth of harmful bacteria.

How to use

Vinegar will be an effective preservative in any temperature condition, whether it is cooked with the other ingredients or added afterwards. According to thekitcn.com vinegar has an almost infinite shelf life, almost never “going bad “so it is the amount added that will determine how it preserves a hot sauce.

At least 20% to 30% of a hot sauce should be vinegar if the recipe calls for it. Many sauce recipes like a classic Lousanna style hot sauce may use more but this doesn’t necessarily preserve it for longer durations. The addition of vinegar to a recipe will not only lower the pH and preserve the hot sauce but certain types of vinegar will add other qualities such as flavoring as well.

A common vinegar type for many traditional and easy to make recipes is a Distilled White Vinegar. This has a pungency to it and preserving qualities, but the mild flavor is disguised well in a hot sauce. Read more here on the Best Vinegar for Hot Sauce and Why for almost 20 different vinegar types.

2) Citrus Juice

15% to 20% of hot sauce should be citric juice

Citrus juice is a great substitute for vinegar in a hot sauce recipe because it replaces the use of liquid and provides the preservation that vinegar does. Citrus juices can have a pH between 3 and 4 depending on the fruit used. Lemons and limes are generally the lowest but there are several from each type of citrus fruit. Citrus juice will also have a huge influence on the flavor of a hot sauce but pairs well with hot peppers.

How to use

Citric juice is used as a liquid to thin out a thick hot sauce. Like vinegar it can be heated or used at any temperature. The use of citric juice can produce a very sour flavor as well as acidity to the hot sauce. It is the acid environment of hot sauce that creates the preservation. Citric fruits come in many varities such as lemon, lime, pineapple, orange and grapefruit but lemon or lime are some of the more common ones. Read Why Lemon Juice Works So Well in a Hot Sauce for more information about preserving with flavor.

3) Acetic Acid

Use 3 ounces of acetic acid per 1 gallon of water

Acetic acid also known asethanoic acid, ethylic acid, vinegar acid, and methane carboxylic acid is another colorless liquid preservative, like many others, that is used in many brands and varieties of hot sauces. Also referred to as an acid regulator acetic acid is used in a hot sauce as a replacement when vinegar or citrus juices are not used. There are over 40 differnt hot sauce brands that use acetic acid and many do so along with vinegar. However it can be used without vineger. Some hot sauces such as Ass In Space, Tapatio use acetic acid instead of vineger.

How to use

Think of acetic acid as concentrated vinegar or pure vinegar. Acetic acid should be diluted before it is used in a hot sauce. Use 3 ounces of acetic acid per 1 gallon of water. It is used as a food additive much like vinegar is but the concentrated form makes it much more powerful and with a much stronger odor. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) before using or contact the manufacturer directly.

4) Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)

8% to 10% by volume

Ascorbic acid is derived from citrus fruit like citrus juice is and will also provide vitamin C into a hot sauce. This is more commonly used in a hot sauce than citric acid and is currently used by over 60 different commercial hot sauce recipes. Ascorbic acid is recognized by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as being safe to use and is another variation of a citrus-based preservative that works well in a hot sauce recipe.

Cholula Sweet Habanero Hot Sauce and use ascorbic acid along with citric acid and acetic acid totaling about 13% of the recipe. Other name brand hot sauces also include preservatives along with ascorbic acid. DaBomb Green Habanero Salsa Verde uses ascorbic acid along with lime juice.

How to use

Ascorbic acid is a white or slightly yellowish powder with a sour taste and is soluble in water. Once diluted in the water or other liquid substances ascorbic acid will be about 8% to 10% of the volume of the hot sauce. It is recommended to dilute it in water before adding it to a hot sauce recipe so account for this added water in the hot sauce.

5) Potassium sorbate

0.025% to 0.1% potassium sorbate

Potassium sorbate is a salt of sorbic acid and is used in over 30 commercially manufactured hot sauces. Hot sauce recipes will often use about 0.025 % to 0.1 % of the total recipe percentage will be potassium sorbate. Unlike vinegar, citrus juice, or other preservatives potassium sorbate will not affect the color or scent of the hot sauce.

Flying Goose Yellow Chili Sriracha uses potassium sorbate as a preserving agent without the use of vinegar or other preservatives. There are over 30 commercial manufactured hot sauces including Huy Fong Sriracha that use potassium sorbate, but it is commonly used with other preservatives as well.

How to use

Dissolve the potassium sorbate in water or a liquid solution before blending the hot sauce. It is this combination that will release the sorbic acid that controls the growth of microorganisms. Potassium sorbate can be used at any temperature and according to articles published in Science Direct there shouldn’t be a loss of its properties at any temperature.

6) Citric Acid

¼ tsp of powdered citric acid is equivalent to 1 tbsp of lemon juice

Citric acid is derived from citrus fruits like lemons and limes. There are over 100 hot sauces that use citric acid as a preservative due to its availability, ease of use, and acceptance as a preservative in the food industry. These are usually sauces without a heavy concentration of vinegar or other citric juices and may be creations outside of traditional hot sauces.

Citric acid can preserve in small doses, but it is recommended to pH your hot sauce recipe. Once the pH level reaches 4.6 or below there has been sufficient amount of citric acid added.

How to use

Before adding the citric acid, pH test the hot sauce. Add a minimal amount of less than a ¼ teaspoon and blend completely. Let the hot sauce sit overnight in the refrigerator and test again. Continue to add minimal amounts of controlled measurements until a pH of 4.6 or under is achieved.

7) Sodium benzoate

Use less then 0.1% of the total contents

Sodium benzoate is a very common preservative used in hot sauce recipes as much as citric acid is. It can however, also alter the flavor by adjusting the salty, sour, or bitter flavors of a hot sauce. Many hot peppers such as serrano have a bitter flavor to them so sodium benzoate can pair well. Because of the slight bitter flavor, it often is used with other preservatives within a hot sauce recipe.

How to use

According to the FDA sodium benzoate is recognized as being safe as long as it is less then 0.1% of the total contents. Like other preservatives sodium benzoate is dissolvable in a liquid form hot sauce.

8) Tartaric acid

1% of the total substance

Tartaric acid, also known as a weaker form called cream of tartar, is a lesser-known preservative used in hot sauce recipes due to the sour taste it can produce. It is found naturally in fruits and plants and is also a by-product of wine making. Tartaric acid is derived from succinic acid and will lower the pH enough to kill harmful bacteria.

Tartaric acid is not as common as many other preservatives and is typically used where wine-based vinegars are also used. Tartaric acid is great for enhancing the flavors of fruit-based sauces. Because it does not dissolve very easily at low temperatures it is probably not the best preservative to use in a recipe that does not involve cooking or some heating.

Lousanna Gold Horseradish Pepper Sauce lists tartaric acid last on the ingredient on the nutritional label which means by volume it is the least amount of an ingredient type.

How to use

Tartaric acid also acts as an emulsifier as well as a preservative. Tartaric acid is dissolvable in cold or warm liquid but should be liquified before its blended into a hot sauce. The dissolved tartaric acid should be 1% of the total substance according to Technical Evaluation Report conducted by the USDA or it would be 0.05 ounces of a 5-ounce bottle of hot sauce.

9) Soy lecithin

½ oz for every 24 oz of hot sauce

Soy lecithin is only a mild preservative and is typically included in a hot sauce to keep liquids from separating from other ingredients or used as an anti-caking agent and thickener. If used as a preservative, it is often also combined with vinegar and other products such as sodium benzoate.

Soy Lecithin is a great product to use if a hot sauce combines two oil or vinegar-based ingredients that don’t mix well. Recognized as being safe by the FDA soy lecithin is only a mild preservative but will provide the stabilization needed for certain ingredient combinations. Checking the pH level of a hot sauce before and after any additives is good practice to ensure any preservatives added are doing what they are supposed to do.

How to use

Soy lecithin works best if it is dissolved in a liquid before it is added a hot sauce but the liquid needs to be part of the ingredient base. However, it can be used at any temperature and it begins to do what it is supposed to do immediately states puritan.com. The soy lecithin granules should dissolve OK but may take some mixing or blending and depending on the amount used could affect the flavor of a sauce. Large amounts can have a nutty flavor but this may or may not be evident among some of the other stronger flavors within a hot sauce.

A minimal amount of soy lecithin is needed and it works best at preserving if there are fats and oils used in the sauce. Begin with ½ oz for every 24 oz of hot sauce.

10) Lactic acid

0.8% to 1.5% (¼ teaspoon)

Lactic acid is often used with other preservatives in a hot sauce recipe and will be present in organic form if the sauce is fermented. It is made from the sugars of fruits or vegetables and like many other forms of preservative, lactic acid is often used with other preservatives such as sodium benzoate and sodium metabisulfite. Lactic acid can also help boost the immune system by killing and suppressing bacteria and it is the bacteria that will cause a hot sauce to perform against preservation.

Lactic acid may also be used in a hot sauce recipe because it can prevent decolorization and often this can happen if a sauce uses natural ingredients without the use of other preservatives like vinegar. Like other preservatives lactic acid will also act as a gelling agent and stabilizer which will thicken and help combine ingredients within a hot sauce.

How to use

Lactic acid as a liquid form can be combined with other ingredients at any stage during the production of hot sauce. Brewers Circle recommends using 0.8% to 1.5% of lactic acid. That means in a 5 oz bottle of hot sauce only 0.04 ounces or a ¼ teaspoon is needed.

While not as common as other preservatives, lactic acid is often used in preserving olives. It can have a mild flavoring and color to it but that can get masked by other stronger flavors within a hot sauce.

11) Potassium benzoate

Potassium benzoate is the salt of benzoic acid. It inhibits the growth of mold and some bacteria but works best in pH below 4.5. Like many preservatives, potassium benzoate is a white odorless powder but can have a tangy flavor in certain foods. Potassium benzoate is often used to replace sodium benzoate. Check out Ass Kickin Sriracha Hot Sauce that contains potassium benzoate along with vinegar.

How to use

Potassium benzoate in powder form should be diluted in a liquid before it is added directly to a hot sauce although it will not have any harm if it isn’t. Cranberries contain a detectable amount of benzoate acid therefore a hot sauce that uses them will nave trace amounts.

12) Sulfites

According to ehso.com many sulfites are used in the form of sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, or potassium metabisulfite. There are only a few hot sauce brands that use sulfites because they are typically used for preserving dried fruits. It is not uncommon to see sulfite in a sweet-based hot sauce or a sauce that has a heavy concentration of vegetables.

Cholula Green Pepper Hot sauce contains sulfite along with acetic acid, sodium benzoate, and sodium metabisulfite.

How to use

Sulfites can occur naturally from a fermentation process, or they can be added to sauces. This compound comes in many forms known as sulfiting agents.


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