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7 Tips for Storing Hot Sauce So It Stays Fresher, Longer
Spoiler alert: Improper storage reduces the shelf life of every food, including your favorite hot sauce. The practice of food storage has been around for a way, way long time, so by now you probably know what stores cold and what doesn’t, which is why you know to put your chips in the pantry and milk in the fridge. So why is hot sauce such a confusing condiment to store? Restaurants leave it out, your mom puts it in the fridge, and your buddy Vick keeps his on top of the stove—who is correct? Frankly, it depends. “Proper” food storage for your favorite hot sauce includes any action that protects it from the top spoilage factors: light, oxygen, heat, humidity, and bacteria. Read on for our seven tips for hot sauce storage so it stays fresher, longer.
Should You Refrigerate Hot Sauce?
Unopened hot sauce is A-OK stored in a pantry, just keep it away from bright light and high temperatures. Once it’s open, though, refrigeration is typically optional, though it will help provide the longest possible shelf life. Hot sauce is packed with vinegar, sugar, peppers, and other natural preservatives so it’ll last a decent amount of time without refrigeration (assuming you’re storing it in a cool, dry place—more on that later). However, if you want reassurance that your taco’s BFF will be ready when you are, refrigeration helps it last a long time (aka: years). If you bought a tongue-searing hot sauce that you’re only brave enough to try once-in-a-while, fridge storage is also key. No room for preserving food and overstock storage? You may need to prioritize your love of pepper sauce to negotiate a small spot for your bottle (who needs that other red sauce, anyway?). But if you use your hot sauce at a true chilihead’s pace, you can just keep that bad boy on the counter.
Eliminate Oxygen With Airtight Sauce Storage
Exposure to oxygen decreases the shelf life of hot sauce and can reduce a once-deadly, spicy punch to a tap on the shoulder. Properly capping your bottle after use is the easiest way to keep oxygen out and slow it from spoiling. Ensure a good, tight seal by cleaning the outer rim of the hot sauce bottle after every use (no crust here). This quick cleaning also prevents any sauce drips inside or around the lid from growing mold, getting old, or flaking back into the bottle. If you lose your hot sauce cap, pour the whole bottle into another airtight container—never skip the lid or use a lid that doesn’t fit the bottle perfectly. This is the easiest step to ensure your medium-heat sauce keeps its kick as long as possible.
Store Out of Direct Sunlight
Even though vibrant, colorful hot sauces look great on a shelf near the window, sunlight can ruin your sauce. With enough exposure to bright light, the sauce in your bottle will discolor, causing the spit-fire red or bright orange to degrade to a less-appetizing shade of brown. Unless it smells or seems to have actually spoiled, it is still ok to consume, but it is definitely less enticing sprinkled on a heaping plate of nachos. While all hot sauces will eventually change color if they hang around long enough, keeping it stored in the fridge or in a dark, cool cupboard will help stall the reaction.
Stay Ingredient-Aware for Proper Storage
Predict what ingredients might be susceptible to premature spoiling and take proper precautions for any specialty or fusion hot sauces. While mix-ins bring a new flavor profile and exciting twist, they can also bring a penchant for perishing. Scan the ingredients for anything that isn’t a pepper or vinegar—if you see a fruit, vegetable, or non-acidic liquid, chances are you’re better off refrigerating the sauce. Perishable foods, especially fruit, contain enzymes which continue to ripen (aka spoil) as time goes on. Shelf stable vinegar and peppers will help combat this, but you’ll want to keep any non-traditional ingredients in mind when developing your hot sauce storage plan.
Humidity & Heat Are Hot Sauce Enemies
Humidity and heat are not your friends for food storage, including hot sauce. The fridge is the all-star of blocking out heat and humidity, but if you can’t (or won’t) store it there, keep your hot sauce in any cool, dry place. Above room-temperature heat and damp conditions can cause condensation to form in the hot sauce bottle, which dilutes the sauce and can give it an “off” flavoring. It can also alter the consistency of the sauce. Heat—with or without added humidity—also speeds up the rate at which any unstable ingredients spoil, decreasing the life of your hot sauce. If you’re in a climate that’s susceptible to extreme temps and your AC is on the fritz, it’s time to play favorites for your pantry items and get your hot sauce in the fridge, stat!
Practice Proper Hot Sauce Bottle Hygiene
Proper bottle hygiene keeps your hot sauce clean and fresh for the long haul. Pour your sauce straight onto your pizza or cheese bread, and avoid direct bottle-to-food contact. Never drag food along the opening of the bottle or dunk a wing into your hot sauce container, and if you pour some out for dipping, don’t pour it back into the bottle when the snack’s gone. All of these actions introduce perishable food bits (via tiny chip crumbs and chicken breading) or bacteria (from your fingers and face) into your otherwise “clean” sauce. Always practice some discipline when you dash: Don’t shake your hot sauce so close that it accidentally makes contact with your food, avoid sampling from the bottle with food or your fingers, and in the event of lost willpower, clean the bottle top to help keep it fresh.
Follow Storage Instructions on the Bottle
This tip is pretty simple, but worth mentioning: If your hot sauce bottle label says to “refrigerate after opening,” do so. If the label is void of any storage instructions, defer to your current household hot sauce storage method. Also refer to any “best by” or “use by” date to determine when it’s time to cut your sauce-losses and toss the bottle.