Hot sauce is easily made by mixing hot peppers with vinegar…I write that in almost every blog post because I want people to understand how simple making hot sauce is. When hot sauce is first made it is typically a homemade recipe and probably has fresh, pure, and all-natural ingredients. All natural ingredients without any additives can often cause a hot sauce to separate and needs an emulsifier to keep the water or liquids from pulling away from the other ingredients.
Xanthan gum, lecithin, and corn starch are some of the most common additives to use in a hot sauce that will keep water from separating from other ingredients. The cost can vary significantly but neither of them should affect the flavor negatively, reduce the heat or alter the recipe very much. Oil-based ingredients will not combine well with water-based ingredients and will typically separate no matter what type of emulsifier is used.
Making hot sauce
Making a new hot sauce recipe for the first time probably will not include any additives like thickeners or emulsifiers. Usually, the first focus on a new hot sauce recipe is flavor or heat, and other nuances like consistency, appearance, and texture may be altered later. Making a hot sauce where the water separates from the other ingredients is not unusual and does not mean that you have not made a great-tasting sauce but it can often be an indication of the quality of the sauce.
How a hot sauce appears can be equally as important as how it tastes. According to research from the University of Oxford Jenn Harris in an article published in the Los Angeles Times “the prettier food looks, the better it tastes”. Runny hot sauce is just not very appealing and many may have only this introduction to your sauce. It could even deter from people consuming it.
However, flavor and heat will still supersede a watery appearance. For example, Tabasco® brand hot sauce is one of the best-selling hot sauces but still has a very thin consistency compared to thicker gourmet sauces made today.
Many ingredients used to make hot sauce will contain water and some recipes even call for water to be added. Once fruits and vegetables are processed the water can be extracted from the solids. The water and other ingredients then become different molecules with different properties, causing the separation.
Peppers, the main ingredient in hot sauce, can contain as much as 60% water. Other fruits and vegetables processed within a hot sauce may contain even more water. This is a good thing because water can be healthy but once they are processed to become sauce is when the water or juice begins to become evident.
Straining a hot sauce after it has been blended can remove the excess water but this liquid can be a form of flavor, nutrients, color, and other attributes worth keeping within the sauce. The best option when a hot sauce recipe has water separating from the other ingredients is to add an emulsifier or binding agent to the recipe. Read more here in 7 Ways To Keep Hot Sauce From Separating.
Using binding agents, thickeners or emulsifiers is common in making homemade hot sauce when you want the recipe to be produced on a commercial level. The most common additives are not unusual, expensive, and can be obtained from almost anywhere. However, they may not typically be included in a hot sauce recipe so may need to be added after the flavor profile has been determined.
Cooking or other processes that involve heat will remove the excess water but the sauce will become much thicker. Also, this can be an extra step or process for making hot sauce. Making large batches of hot sauce or making it on a commercial level will add time and costs to the production and this is why additives that don’t need many additional processes or steps are used.
Xanthan gum is one of the most commonly used additives to keep water from separating from other ingredients in hot sauce. It is easy to use, inexpensive, and does not alter the flavor or heat. Adding Xanthan gum to a hot sauce recipe should be done in increments of about ¼ teaspoon per cup of hot sauce. Some resources may suggest larger amounts but start small because you don’t want to have to add water if it becomes too thick.
Xanthan gum and other additives to keep hot sauce from separating are also thickeners. Adding too much can create think and gooey sauces that will be undesirable to consume. Xanthan gum can be used at any stage of processing but until you have experimented with an exact amount it should probably be used during blending. This is one of the more common binding agents for hot sauce…read here on How To use Xanthan Gum in a Hot Sauce.
Lecithin is found in many hot sauces to keep ingredients together. This can come in many forms but the most natural source is egg yokes. Lecithin is used for its ability to bind ingredients together but also because of its natural occurrence in other substances like soy, sunflowers, and avocados. Lecithin will not add flavor to a hot sauce unless it is used in quantities, and it is not. Most hot sauce recipes that use lecithin will only make up about 1% or less of the total recipe quantity.
Soy lecithin is another commonly used emulsifier to keep water from separating from other ingredients. It acts similarly to lecithin. Soy lecithin is more commonly used. Soy lecithin is used in some popular hot sauces and barbecue sauces. Soy lecithin can be used in a hot sauce at any temperature.
Corn starch is also used in hot sauce recipes to keep liquids and solids from separating. Unlike other binding agents, corn starch works best if it is cooked into the hot sauce but not all recipes require heat. Adding too much corn starch can turn a sauce into a pasty gooey and lumpy mess very quickly. Cornstarch is used more in a hot sauce recipe than lecithin or soy lecithin and it is much less expensive. This may be why it is used more often in a hot sauce recipe.
Some hot sauce recipes may or may not require binding agents, thickeners, or emulsifiers. There may be a need if liquids are separating from solids that cause the sauce to become unappealing. The consistency of a sauce is important but it does not mean that a thin or watery sauce does not taste good. If you choose an additive for your hot sauce recipe experiment with what may be best based on the recipe, flavor, consistency, and cost.