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 beyond a few days.
Preservatives are being used more in processed foods to keep then tasting fresh longer. 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.
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.
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 manufactures want to keep ingredients simple, pure, or natural and avoid what can commonly be thought of as including additives against these statements. There are many common preservatives added to hot sauces but sometimes the name of the additives can be enough of a deterrent to not use it.
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.
Vinegar has been the number one common ingredient used in hot sauce since it was originally introduced to consumers. Cream-based sauces, butter additives, 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.
2) Citrus 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 are generally the lowest. Citrus juice will also have a huge influence on the flavor of a hot sauce but pairs well with hot peppers.
3) Acetic Acid
Acetic 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.
4) Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
Ascorbic acid is also derived from citrus and will provide vitamin C into a hot sauce. This is more commonly used in a hot sauce than citric acid. Ascorbic acid is recognized by the FDA as being safe to use and is another variation of a citrus-based preservative that works well in a hot sauce recipe.
5) 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 potassium sorbate. Unlike vinegar, citrus juice, or other preservatives acetic acid will not affect the color or scent of the hot sauce.
6) Citric Acid
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.
7) Sodium benzoate
Sodium benzoate is a very common preservative used in hot sauce recipes as much as citric acid. It can however, also alter the flavor by adjusting the salty, sour, or bitter flavors of a hot sauce. Sodium benzoate can be used and often is used with other preservatives within a hot sauce recipe.
8) Tartaric acid
Tartaric acid 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..
9) Soy lecithin
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. If used as a preservative it is often also combined with vinegar and sodium benzoate.
10) Lactic acid
Lactic acid is often used with other preservatives in a hot sauce recipe. 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.
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.
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.