If hot sauce is supposed to be hot, then why do some people find it in the refrigerator?
Let’s face it. No one likes drizzling cold hot sauce all over their steaming hot dishes. Unfortunately, a lot of people store their condiments in the refrigerator so don’t have any other choice. Or do we?
Do you need to refrigerate hot sauce?
Short and Sweet Answer:
You’ll need to consider a few factors to answer this question, and you can explore what these considerations are below.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
Does Hot Sauce Need To Be Refrigerated?
Yes and no. In short, it depends.
Whether you should refrigerate hot sauce or not depends on a wide range of factors including the type of ingredients, shelf-life, and your amount of consumption.
You see, most hot sauces contain natural preservatives and highly acidic ingredients which make them shelf-stable, and thus, they don’t need to be refrigerated.
Unfortunately, not all hot sauces are created equal. Some are made using different ingredients and various manufacturing techniques which make them less shelf-stable than regular hot sauces.
But if you want to make sure, we’ll share with you all the details you need to know in the next few sections.
Why Do You Need To Refrigerate Hot Sauce?
First things first, let’s first explore the benefits of refrigerating hot sauce and discover why some hot sauces are best stored that way. Here are some of them:
Preserves Long-term Quality
While it’s true that hot sauces have a long shelf life, the condiment’s quality will still deteriorate over time and may result in changes in texture, color, and overall flavor. The cold temperature and dark environment inside the refrigerator can help prevent and delay this process.
Prevents Color Change
Hot sauces are known for their bright and vibrant orange-to-red shade. However, some types (like Tabasco) may take on a darker hue when the sauce is exposed to heat and light.
Refrigeration protects the sauce from such exposure and helps retain the sauce’s color.
This color change is only a result of the oxidation of chili peppers, so hot sauces that become darker are still safe for consumption. But if maintaining the condiment’s vibrant color is important for you, then we highly recommend that you store it in the refrigerator.
Prolongs Fresh Flavor
Aside from the sauce’s color, exposure to air, light, and heat can also alter its flavor. The most common flavor change you’ll encounter is decreased heat or fiery potency.
Again, refrigerators provide optimal conditions that can prevent all these changes from taking place.
When You Don’t Need to Refrigerate Hot Sauce?
You don’t need to refrigerate hot sauce if it meets the following ideal conditions:
When The Hot Sauce Has High Amounts Of Capsaicin.
Chili peppers contain capsaicin which is a substance that gives the sauce its spicy kick. Well, this substance also happens to have excellent antibacterial properties which can prevent bacterial growth and contamination.
With that said, the higher the chili pepper content, the more shelf-stable the sauce is.
When The Condiment Contains Natural Preservatives.
Most hot sauces contain natural preservatives which prevent it from spoiling and getting contaminated.
The most common natural preservative added is vinegar because it doesn’t just deliver potent antibacterial properties; its flavor also works well with the sauce’s heat.
In addition to vinegar, other natural preservatives you should look for are salt and other types of acid like citrus fruits.
When The Sauce Is Highly Acidic.
Bacteria are less likely to thrive in a highly acidic environment. (*)
That said, condiments with a pH level of 3.5 or lower are considered shelf-stable and will not require refrigeration.
When It Hasn’t Been Opened Yet.
The quality of the sauce will only start to deteriorate when it’s exposed to heat, light, and air. The good news is the sauce’s packaging protects it from all these elements. Not only that, the bottles are also made shelf-stable during the canning process.
Because of this, you don’t need to refrigerate it if it hasn’t been opened or the bottle’s integrity hasn’t been compromised.
When You’ll Consume It Quickly.
If the storage instructions don’t require refrigeration and you know you’ll be able to finish the bottle before the stated expiration date, then you don’t need to refrigerate the condiment.
When to Refrigerate Hot Sauce?
On the other hand, you need to store the condiment inside the refrigerator:
When The Storage Instructions Tell You To.
The first step to take when it comes to determining the right storage conditions for the condiment is to check the storage instructions.
If the instructions say it requires refrigeration, then go ahead and store it in the refrigerator.
When The Sauce Doesn’t Contain Preservatives.
Aside from checking out the storage instructions, another step that you should take is to examine the ingredients list.
If the sauce doesn’t contain vinegar, any other types of acids or citrus fruits, and chemical preservatives, you should refrigerate it. If you won’t, it might go bad within a few days.
Pro Tip: Stay on the safe side and refrigerate hot sauces that don’t have vinegar at the top of its list of ingredients.
When It Contains Ingredients That Will Go Bad Easily
While the term “all-natural” may indicate that the sauce is healthier, it also tells us that the sauce will have a short shelf-life. That’s because most natural ingredients go bad easily and will cause the condiment to go bad faster.
These ingredients include fresh fruits and vegetables and oils.
Learn more: Does Hot Sauce Go Bad?
When It Won’t Be Consumed Quickly
If you think you won’t finish the entire bottle within a few weeks, then it’s best that you store the sauce inside the refrigerator. This is the best way to slow down the sauce’s oxidation process.
Pro Tip: This applies even to products that contain preservatives, so you can preserve their color and flavor.
When The Bottle Is Already Opened.
Once the bottle is opened, you’re already exposing its contents to harsh elements that can hasten the oxidation process.
If you want to be on the safe side, it’s best that you store the sauce inside the refrigerator after opening it.
Which Hot Sauces Need to Be Refrigerated?
To help you easily spot which sauces need refrigeration, we’ve enumerated some of the best options below:
Fruits like mangoes, pineapple, and tomatoes are often added to hot sauces to give them a fruity twist that balances off their spicy kick.
Unfortunately, these ingredients are not acidic enough, so they spoil quickly. The good news is you can delay this process when you refrigerate them.
Fermented hot sauces don’t go bad easily. The issue is it will continue to ferment when left at room temperature.
The best way to slow down the fermentation process is to refrigerate them, especially if they contain live bacteria and probiotics.
Disclaimer: If the fermented hot sauce has been pasteurized or made stable with the addition of citric acid and vinegar, you can skip the refrigeration. Process.
Oil-based Hot Sauces
Most hot sauces that don’t contain high amounts of vinegar use oil as their base. While this makes the condiment rich and flavorful, it also shortens its shelf-life.
This is because oil is at risk of rancidity, especially when exposed to high temperatures. (*)
With that said, make sure to refrigerate your oil-based hot sauces right away.
Homemade Hot Sauces
If you like making your own hot sauces, way to go! However, you should focus not just on its taste but its safety and storage as well.
Homemade hot sauces are considered to be healthier, but they are usually less shelf-stable than store-bought ones because most home cooks don’t use artificial preservatives—just the usual vinegar.
And since your homemade condiment did not undergo the same rigorous testing procedures as the commercially available ones, it could be more susceptible to mold growth and spoilage.
The Bottom Line
So do you need to refrigerate hot sauce? Yes and no.
There’s no need for you to refrigerate hot sauces that:
- Are unopened,
- has high amounts of vinegar, preservatives, and other acids,
- are highly acidic,
- you’ll finish fast.
On the other hand, you should refrigerate hot sauce if:
- it’s oil-based and homemade,
- contains fruits and vegetables,
- when the bottle is already opened,
- or when you can’t finish it right away.
But don’t just take our word for it. We highly recommend that you check out the storage instructions in the bottle to determine what’s the best way to store it.
You may also want to check the manufacturer’s website to get your much-needed storage information.