Preserving Homemade Hot Sauce


Hot sauce is an easy condiment to make at home and can be made with many different ingredients. Many people who grow their peppers may have an overabundance of crops and make hot sauce with either the surplus or the main crop. The most efficient practices are to make large batches at one time but who can eat gallons of sauce in one sitting? This is why many homemade hot sauces will need to go through preservation methods to be canned, bottled, and stored for later use.

Preserving homemade hot sauce can be done easily if vinegar is one of the ingredients. Other short-term methods of preserving include refrigeration and freezing but this can take a lot of storage space if you make a lot of sauce. Adding preservatives can extend the shelf life of a homemade hot sauce but most sauces will need to be processed through a cannery if they are made with fresh ingredients.

The easiest way of preserving a homemade hot sauce for long periods may often be based on the ingredients it is made with or the recipe it follows. However, there are other methods for preserving a hot sauce that will work no matter what the ingredients are. Don’t add ingredients like citrus juice or vinegar to a hot sauce recipe specifically to preserve it because this can drastically change how it tastes or appears. Most recipes have been handed down or made available because they are great-tasting sauces.

Ingredients of homemade hot sauce

For hot sauce recipes, some ingredients are for flavor, some are for spiciness and others may be added to preserve the sauce or provide a specific consistency. The first thoughts when making a homemade hot sauce are not usually how long it will last or what needs to be added to preserve it. Many times a recipe needs to be altered or expanded upon. Here is a breakdown of ingredients by their use but it is by no means a complete list of every type of ingredient used.

INGREDIENTS BY
PURPOSE
FlavorSpicinessPreservingConsistencyOther
GarlicFresh peppersVinegarXanthan gumSalt
Lemon / LimePepper powderCitric acidCorn starchOil
SpicesDried Hot peppersAscorbic acidFlourSoy sauce
OnionsPure capsaicinCitrus juiceGuar gumPepper

One of the most common ingredients in a hot sauce recipe is the use of vinegar. Vinegar has been used in traditional hot sauces for centuries and is what can give hot sauce its classic flavor. Gourmet, artisan, or craft hot sauces may or may not use vinegar for flavoring or preserving because manufacturers of these types of sauces are venturing into using new, exotic, and unusual ingredients…even for preservation.  

Vinegar is a preservative

The use of vinegar in a hot sauce was at one time used as a preservative for the hot peppers but sauces now use it for flavoring to give it a classic flavor. It has become a standard ingredient for hundreds of varieties of hot sauce and has also become the classic flavor of hot sauce. Although distilled white vinegar is commonly used other types of vinegar such as apple cider, white wine, and rice vinegar are also becoming as regularly used ingredients. This type of vinegar will usually be less acidic but will still provide preserving qualities to a hot sauce.  

Less than half of the ingredient contents, by volume,  in a hot sauce recipe should be vinegar. As little as 25% of the recipe can be vinegar and will still provide preserving qualities but using too much can give a hot sauce an overly sour or sharp flavor. Some forms of vinegar such as distilled white vinegar may dominate a hot sauce flavor if they are overused. To many hot sauce connoisseurs, this is a cheap and inexpensive way of producing hot sauce and is not considered gourmet. However, the use of vinegar is not the only method of preserving a hot sauce.

Other methods of preserving

Not all hot sauce recipes use vinegar and adding vinegar to a recipe will change it completely so it just shouldn’t be done unless the recipe calls for it. Some ingredients such as potassium sorbate, citric acid, or acetic acid as well as many others can be added to a hot sauce without changing the flavor, appearance, or consistency of the hot sauce. Here are the 12 Standard Hot Sauce Preservatives Used in Hot Sauce. Some of these preservatives should follow a recipe when they are being used or will need to go through long periods of testing specifically to check the preserving qualities.

The use of vinegar in a hot sauce recipe can preserve it for six months or more without any refrigeration, even after it has been opened. This can all depend on the pH level of the sauce but it is the use of vinegar that will reduce it to a level that is safe for preservation. A pH level of 4.6 or below will prevent any bacterial growth in a hot sauce and this measurement shouldn’t change over time unless the sauce goes through extreme conditions. A homemade hot sauce with a pH below 4.6 can be refrigerated but does not need to be. The refrigeration with slow down any potential bacterial growth around the cap or top.

Refrigeration

Refrigeration is a form of preserving hot sauce for short periods because the conditions slow the potential growth of bacteria. Harmful bacteria grow at a much slower rate in a refrigerated environment of around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigeration is an easy solution for short-term storage of a hot sauce but it can get expensive if your sauce needs refrigeration over long periods.

Make sure the sauce is stored in air-tight containers. The entrance of air allows the sauce to get infected with bacteria if the sauce has a pH over 4.6. This only means putting a top on a container and doesn’t require any special vacuum sealing. Other methods of packaging commercial sauces will require induction sealing or a hot and hold method of storing. Some methods such as freezing can preserve sauces for longer periods than refrigeration.

Freezing

Another method for preserving a hot sauce that also uses a controlled temperature and a sealed container is freezing. Freezing is a much harsher environment than a refrigerator therefore containers and packages will need to be sealed tighter and properly. A hot sauce can stay fresh in the freezer if it is sealed properly for up to 6 months. Anything exposed to air will get freezer burn and this will alter the flavor significantly making it inedible. If you are making an abundance of homemade hot sauce that is not acidic then other options of preservation aside from refrigeration should be considered.  

Canning

Canning is a process of packaging up fresh foods stored in jars and then boiled in water until the tops are sealed up. It is typically done with fresh fruits, vegetables, soups, dips, or toppings in glass containers or Mason jars of various sizes. Although the tops of the jars have changed quite a bit the glass base has remained the same for hundreds of years. Read more here on Canning Homemade Hot Sauce.

Sanitizing

Sanitizing containers before storing hot sauce in them will not solely preserve a hot sauce but it will work against allowing harmful bacteria to grow. No matter what preservation method you are using the containers must be sanitized properly. Sterilizing glass bottles can be done by washing them with soap and water, rinsing off the water, and boiling them in water at a temperature of 212 degrees for 5 minutes. Handle bottles with tongs and let them air cool. Refrain from handling the bottles too much with your bare hands.

Proper storage conditions

A temporary storage container made of plastic will preserve hot sauce if it is stored in the right atmospheric conditions.  Glass jars or bottles with a hermetically sealed top work best for storing hot sauce.

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