Quick challenge. How many bottles of hot sauce are there in your kitchen?
If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to accurately answer that question.
No one wants to run out of hot sauce. I mean, what’s the point of eggs without hot sauce? And so we end up pretty over stocked.
Add to that the fact that regional hot sauces are great souvenirs, either brought home to remember a trip or given (and therefore often received) as gifts, and all our excessive condiment stores make a lot of sense.
As we usually have multiple bottles of hot sauce, and often multiple open bottles, at any given time it makes sense to ask how long hot sauce lasts and if it can go bad.
Firstly, though, let’s talk about what exactly I mean when I say ‘hot sauce’.
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Types of Hot Sauce
Hot sauce is actually a really broad term, and it means different (though often similar) things all over the world.
In the USA, hot sauce is normally a thin, often lightly fermented, vinegar-based liquid with chiles and salt as the other main ingredients. This is, technically, Louisiana style hot sauce. Green sauces made with less mature, fresher green chiles is included in the bracket.
Across the world, other hot sauces are hugely popular and they’re increasingly available in the USA and UK. Chile oil is very popular in China amongst other places, and is simply oil heavily infused with chilies.
Sriracha has become really popular recently. It’s a thicker, sweeter chile sauce. The most well-known version in the USA, also known as rooster sauce, is actually made in California but exported worldwide.
Portugal’s peri peri sauce is based on North African chile sauces that made it to Europe through Portugal’s empire building past. It’s popular in the UK and increasingly the USA as well as Portugal. Peri peri is vinegar-based like Louisiana hot sauces, but as well as serrano chiles it contains onion, lemon and garlic.
Jamaican pepper sauces are simply a fresher and often hotter version of Louisiana hot sauces. Fresh chiles are fermented with vinegar and salt. They’re often made with scotch bonnet peppers, so are powerfully hot. Don’t be surprised if they contain chunks of pepper!
Artisan hot sauce is also gaining popularity in the USA and elsewhere. It’s a take on the home brewing and fermenting that has become such a national hobby in recent years!
When I talk generically about hot sauce I’m referring to Louisiana style. My estimates for how long hot sauce will keep refer to Louisiana style too unless I say otherwise. You can apply tips on freezing and how to tell if hot sauce has gone bad to all types of hot sauce, but as ever use your initiative.
Freshly fermented hot sauces go bad quicker and are unpredictable, so do bear that in mind!
Does Hot Sauce Go Bad?
No matter what sort of hot sauce you have in stock, if it has been open for a while you will be wondering “can hot sauce go bad?” or “How do I tell if this hot sauce is bad?”
Fair questions! With such a strongly flavored food it can be hard to tell.
Hot sauce doesn’t generally go bad quickly because both the capsaicin in chile peppers and the acidity of vinegar make it really tough for bacteria to grow.
Some hot sauces contain other fruits or vegetables, and these go bad quicker than just a straight-up mixture of chile with vinegar and salt.
Hot sauce can go bad, but more often it just degrades in quality or the flavor changes.
That being said, you have to store hot sauce properly if you want it to stay good for as long as possible!
How to Store Hot Sauce
The storage advice for hot sauce varies. Look at the bottle to make sure, and if there are no clear instructions then keep your hot sauce in the fridge once it’s open.
Even for hot sauces that doesn’t have to be kept in the fridge, it might last longer that way. If you keep your hot sauce in the pantry make sure it’s still somewhere cool, dry and if possible dark.
For the longest possible shelf life, make sure your hot sauce is sealed tight. You don’t want air to get to it as this allows bacteria to grow.
You have to be particularly careful about the cap of hot sauce bottles. Hot sauce tends to come in a glass bottle with a plastic top and a really thin spout. Because you take hot sauce out the refrigerator and use a little of it so often, the cap can get pretty gummed up with dry sauce. This is a great breeding ground for bacteria and it can also stop the cap sealing properly. Clean the cap with a damp cloth regularly to deal with the issue and your hot sauce should last much longer than it would with the build up left.
How Long Does Hot Sauce Last?
Hot sauce often has a best before, best-by or eat-by date printed on the bottle. This tends to be a best-quality guide more than anything else. After the given date its color or flavor might change slightly without the hot sauce actually being bad.
In the pantry, hot sauce usually lasts at least a year beyond the printed date as long as it’s unopened.
These kinds of dates are very different than a use-by date. A use-by is far more about food safety, so be more careful with foods that have a use-by.
Open hot sauce stored properly (including keeping the lid clean!) in the pantry will last up to 6 months. In the fridge, though, it should last a couple of years at least. Just make sure you put it back in there every time you use it!
Can You Freeze Hot Sauce?
So, you can sort of freeze hot sauce.
The thing is, why would you need to when it lasts so long?
The freezing point of many hot sauces is low because of the salt in them. This means they might not freeze unless you turn the temperature of your freezer way down. Freezing hot sauce may also impair its flavor somewhat.
Homemade hot sauce might freeze better as it’s unlikely to contain as much salt as commercial brands.
If you do decide to freeze your hot sauce make sure to decant it into tupperware, a larger glass jar or freezer bags. The glass bottle most hot sauces are usually in could smash in the freezer.
When hot sauce thaws it can separate, but this doesn’t actually damage the flavor or make it unsafe to eat.
How to Tell if Hot Sauce Has Gone Bad
It’s pretty hard to tell sometimes whether or not hot sauce has gone bad.
Hot sauce naturally darkens in color and even changes somewhat in flavor over time. Hot sauce is unlikely to go bad in ways that will actually harm you, so the first sign of it being ‘bad’ might just be a lessening of its heat. And as it’s hot sauce, its heat is pretty important!
Obviously, hot sauce can go rancid or grow mold in some circumstances. If it smells unusually ripe or rancid, it’s best to chuck the bottle out. Likewise if there’s any visible mold.
Basically, hot sauce is a food with which you need to use your initiative. If it seems fine it probably is — hot sauce has a long shelf life, but as with most ingredients it can lose its flavor or simply change over time.