Hot sauce is a condiment that is known for having an extended shelf life even after it has been opened. Hot sauce recipes that combine hot peppers with vinegar and other spices will become preserved because of the vinegar. Other recipes that do not use vinegar will need other methods of preservation similar to the way many other condiments do.
A hot sauce can be preserved with the use of vinegar in the recipe. Other methods of increasing the shelf life include adding preservatives to the recipe, pasteurization, or canning. Each of these methods will have different steps but they all involve sanitizing the bottles properly.
The preservation of hot sauce can depend a lot on the ingredients inside. A more common vinegar-based sauce will preserve well whereas cream-based sauces or sauces that do not use vinegar will need additives or common preservation methods. The ingredients of a hot sauce should not be changed simply to increase the shelf life, but some additives can be used that will not alter the flavor, consistency, or appearance of the sauce.
What is hot sauce made with?
Many traditionally made hot sauces consist of hot peppers, vinegar, and spices, and this type of sauce gets preserved well. For example, a bottle of Tabasco ® sauce, which contains a vast amount of vinegar, can last for up to a year under the proper conditions…even after it is opened. Gourmet sauces use many other types of ingredients and may not always include vinegar and will therefore need other additives for preservation such as citric acid, ascorbic acid, or pectin. There are Common Preservatives Used in Hot Sauce but that does not mean that every homemade hot sauce recipe should include them.
A hot sauce recipe shouldn’t be altered simply to extend the shelf life and make it last longer. However, many recipes are for homemade hot sauces and may not provide methods of preservation. Do not add vinegar to a hot sauce recipe simply to extend the shelf life. Although vinegar is commonly used to make hot sauce, adding it to a recipe that does not call for it will drastically alter the outcome.
What works against preservation? Hot peppers are a vegetable
One of the main ingredients in any hot sauce recipe is hot peppers. Because hot peppers are a vegetable they will eventually begin to decay as bacteria grows and develops. This process will not change if they are used in hot sauce unless a method of preservation is used. There are some ingredients such as salts that can provide some preservation, but they would need to be used in large quantities and that would destroy the flavor of the sauce.
If peppers are dried or you are using a pepper powder these will not create bacteria over time unless they are mixed with other ingredients that will. However, if you are mixing the pepper powder with water instead of vinegar it is the water that will allow the bacteria to fester. Most types of water have a neutral pH of around 7 and some are even higher. It is the high alkaline levels of water that work against the preservation of a hot sauce. If hot sauces are water-based or have a heavy concentration of peppers, fruits, or vegetables then they will need preservatives added.
Cooking a is another method of preserving the sauce. Hot sauce will need to be heated to a boiling temperature to kill harmful pathogens. The sauce should then be bottled at a temperature close to the boiling point in sanitized glass containers.
Using preservatives in a hot sauce
There is nothing wrong with using additives that will preserve a hot sauce and increase the shelf life. Many are all natural or are derived and extracted from natural products. Many commercial manufacturers of sauce use ingredients such as citric acid, potassium sorbate, and others to keep a hot sauce fresh once it is opened. Read more on the 12 Standard Hot Sauce Preservatives.
Using vinegar as a preservative
Vinegar is a natural preservative due to its low acid level. It will provide these same preserving qualities to all of the ingredients inside of a hot sauce. This is why traditionally vinegar was used along with hot peppers in a hot sauce. If your hot sauce recipe is 25% vinegar then it should provide a pH low enough to preserve a hot sauce. A good homemade classic hot sauce recipe will often have a ratio of about %65 hot peppers, 25% vinegar, and about 10% spices. These quantities fluctuate significantly with different recipes and different types of hot sauce.
How much vinegar to use in a hot sauce
The amount of vinegar to use in a hot sauce recipe should be determined by the recipe you are following or by a certain flavor of hot sauce you are trying to produce. Distilled white vinegar will be the most acidic and others like apple cider vinegar will have higher pH levels but altering a recipe that calls for a specific amount will also alter the flavor.
Unlike other ingredients adding preservatives to a hot sauce may be a difficult thing to measure or it could become a science experiment researching what works best over 6 months or more. Measuring the pH will determine the acidic level of a hot sauce but a pH meter may not be a common tool in the kitchen. The acidic levels of your homemade hot sauce should be a concern so if you don’t have a meter purchase one. They are super cheap, super easy to use and a valuable tool for making sauce. See our Top Pick HERE! Read more about the Best Meters to test the pH of a hot sauce.
Freezing hot sauce is an acceptable way to preserve hot sauce but the containers need to be hermetically sealed so no air will enter and create freezer burn. This will also negatively affect the flavor of the sauce. Some foods can cut off the freezer burn and the remaining will be edible but hot sauce may be difficult to do this. Freezing is considered a temporary form of preservation and will only allow a sauce to stay fresh for under 6 months.
Refrigeration is another form of preservation but will only keep a sauce for even less time than freezing. It will however slow down the growth of bacteria in any type of hot sauce but it is rare to see a commercially available hot sauce in the refrigerated section of a grocery store. This can become costly for production, storage, distribution, and sales. Read more in Here’s Your Answers To A Refrigerated Hot Sauce.
Hot and hold
Some processes will also stabilize the ingredients. Cooking food is a method of preserving it but the temperature will need to be brought up to boiling temperature or 210 degrees. The sauce is then bottled while it is still at very high temperatures and turned upside down after it is capped. This will destroy any bacteria that may be on or around the bottles, caps, or seals.
Storing hot sauce in mason-style jars and boiling them in a canner with the proper lid is another way to preserve hot sauce. This method of preservation is used for many different types of sauces, jellies, fruits, pickles, or other food products. Read more on How to Can Hot Sauce.