In our house, we love hot sauce. From the spicy condiment sprinkled on top (chili), to the sauce on the side (okra), to the ingredient in soup and other dishes, we use hot sauce on, with, or in our food. For years I’ve kept it all refrigerated.
Then one day my beloved got obsessed by the burning question – do we really need to refrigerate all this hot sauce?
As he points out, go to any barbecue joint and you’ll see hot sauces on the tables, unrefrigerated.
Why do I refrigerate hot sauce? The answer lies in two parts of my life that I’m betting many can relate to: my upbringing and force of habit.
My mom was a biochemist. Her interest in microorganisms didn’t end when she left the lab. Without using the phrase “food safety”, she routinely followed a rather strict regime for refrigerating foods and disposing of leftovers that had laid around too long.
She always refrigerated condiments after opening. And so, without giving it a second thought, I always refrigerate hot sauce after opening the bottle or jar.
Although my mom would be glad to hear how her training has stuck with me, she also believes in research. I figure that means she would also want me to find out for myself whether it is really necessary to refrigerate hot sauce. So I did my homework. I checked with hot sauce manufacturers, sources such as The Kitchn, and read the tiny print on hot sauce bottles.
The answer is [drumroll!!!!] – it depends.
If the hot sauce contains fruit, vegetables, or eggs, such as sriracha mayonnaise or homemade sriracha dipping sauce with mayonnaise, then it should be refrigerated.
On the other hand, if it contains only chilis in any form, vinegar, garlic, salt, xanthan gum (a thickening and stabilizing agent) and preservatives such as potassium sorbate and sodium bisulfite, such as “regular” sriracha or tabasco, then you can leave it unrefrigerated, in a cool, dry place.
Note that if you leave any hot sauces unrefrigerated, their color may darken over time. The Kitchn lists unrefrigerated hot sauces as having a 3-year shelf life, but that is just an estimate. One source claimed that refrigerating vinegar-based hot sauces (that do not contain fruits, vegetables or eggs) weakens their flavor.
Manufacturers’ advice about whether to refrigerate hot sauce:
- Frank’s RedHot manufactures 9 different hot sauces. It recommends refrigerating two of them, Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili® and Frank’s RedHot® Slammin’ Sriracha® Chili Sauce, after opening. Frank’s says that refrigerating its other sauces keeps them fresher, but is not required.
- On its website, Cholula says you need not refrigerate its hot sauces. However, Cholula does not put that advice on individual bottles. Also, its site recommends using hot sauce within 6 months after opening. Again, Cholula does not include that advice on the bottles themselves.
- Texas Pete recommends refrigeration for only one of its hot sauces, CHA! , a sriracha hot chili sauce. That means even its garlic hot sauce is shelf stable enough to be kept unrefrigerated. Texas Pete does, however, state that refrigeration will keep its products fresher for longer, contradicting the source that said refrigerating vinegar-based hot sauces was not a good idea.
- Huy Fong Foods makes Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce and Vietnamese Style Chili Garlic Sauce among others. On its site, Huey Fong says that you do not need to refrigerate its products. Instead, you should store them in a cool place. However, the company does not put that information on all of its products.
I’m going to continue to refrigerate my entire hot sauce collection. I don’t want to have to differentiate between those that require it and those I could leave in a cool, dry place. How about you?
Where do you keep your hot sauces? And will any of this information change what you’ve done up to now with regard to where you keep them?
PS – On a related note, several sources pointed out that it is important to clean the tops of hot sauce bottles. The reason is that crust on the cap provides a fertile area for growth of bacteria.
Mom – I’m going to check all my hot sauce caps right now!