The hot sauce question everyone has.
When you own a business that sells specialty and gourmet foods such as hot sauce, you tend to use many of the products yourself in everyday cooking. You also tend to keep a lot of opened, unfinished product in your fridge. You also tend to have an angry partner complaining about the shelf space taken to store said sauces (whoops). This dilemma has posed the following question in my household: should I refrigerate hot sauce? This question also has been asked by friends and customers alike many times so I thought I’d take a look at my inventory and do some research. As a result, I’ve identified important considerations in each section to help answer the question! Here’s what I came up with!
Use this guide as a reference only. I am not a food safety expert or the FDA. I’m just a guy who owns a store that sells hot sauces that he loves!
Most important: Does it say to refrigerate it on the label?
I checked the labels of most of the hot sauce brands I carry. For example, one of my personal favorites, Pickapeppa Hot Red Pepper Sauce, specifically says to store at room temperature. I didn’t see any other labels that specifically said to not refrigerate in my inventory. My logic here is, who knows their products better than the actual manufacturer’s themselves? I would always use checking the label as the first consideration as the end-all decision whether or not you should refrigerate hot sauce.
Speaking of the labels, while you’re looking, make sure to review the “Best if Used By” date. Now, before you chuck your hot sauce bottle in the trash for being one day over, per Kevin Smith, Senior Advisor for Food Safety in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the “Best if Used By” labels you see on packaged foods relate to the quality of the product, but that predicting when a food will no longer be of adequate quality for consumption is not an exact science. Also, their How to Cut Food Waste and Maintain Food Safety focuses on perishable foods like dairy and meat products, leaving no love for our spicy bottles of joy.
Important: What are the ingredients in the hot sauce?
Not all hot sauces are created the same. We truly live in the height of the hot sauce explosion and it’s only getting bigger every day and every year. Any chile-head can certainly get any type of flavor that they would seek. The uses of fruit in hot sauces have increasingly become popular and they present different storage challenges vs. your typical pepper/vinegar mix. I looked at my product line and an ever-growing amount of manufacturer’s have at least one fruit-based hot sauce in their lineup.
Three Hot Sauce All-Star Companies
I can’t mention hot sauce without going right to one of the very best brands anywhere that happens to be local right here to our company’s hometown of Rochester, NY…Karma Sauce! Karma Sauce uses butternut squash as its base, which contains 4g of sugar for a 205g cooked cube. One of my favorite all-time sauces is their Smokey Karma (pictured below). While there is no added sugar, the squash, sweet potato and honey make it a candidate for the refrigerator. Oh yea, the labels says to refrigerate as well.
Out of White River Junction, Vermont, Angry Goat Pepper Co. uses fruits in most of their sauces that we carry. For example, their Hippy Dipppy Green Hot Sauce (pictured below) is “Avacado and Kiwi combined with jalapeno peppers, serrano peppers and tomatillos to make a unique twist on your standard verde-style hot sauce.” The label clearly says refrigerate after opening as does their other sauces, such as their Dark Swizzle (contains pineapple).
Pepplish Provisions, out of Queens, NY, uses a fruit as their anchor ingredient in their fantastic lineup which feature fair-trade ingredients. Apple Cilantro Lime, Blueberry Basil Shallot, Peach Agave Garlic and Mango Garlic Hickory (pictured below) are just a sample and it is to no surprise, their labels state to refrigerate after opening (if you can contain yourself and not use the entire bottle in one sitting!)
Important: How long the bottle has been open*?
*With no label designation
If you plan to use the hot sauce within a small period of time, you are probably fine not refrigerating it. If it’s a case where it won’t be fully consumed in a week or two, you should consider refrigeration to keep the hot sauce fresher and better for longer.
But what about the big, national brands!? Restaurants leave there’s out, why can’t I?
Restaurants go through their hot sauces fairly quickly due to frequency and volume used, so they don’t have to worry about shelf life like the average person or household. Typically, when you think of hot sauce, the big national brands come to mind. Cholula®, Frank’s RedHot®, Tapatio® and Tabasco® are what I’m talking about. For those stumbling across this blog/website for the first time, Flower City Flavor Company doesn’t carry these brands. Instead, we focus on small and medium size brands, ones you (mostly) can’t find in your local grocery store). For the casual condiment consumer, these are what are most recognizable and popular. I checked the respective websites’ for their original hot sauces.
Clear space in your cabinet because Cholula Hot Sauce does not need to be kept cool. Cholula Hot Sauce is based used within the first six months after opening.
Ingredients: Water, Peppers (Arbol and Piquin), Salt, Vinegar, Spices and Xantham Gum
Frank’s RedHot® says:
We recommend that Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili and Frank’s RedHot Slammin’ Sriracha Chili Sauce be refrigerated after opening; All other sauces do not have to be, but, doing so will keep the product fresher for a longer period of time.
Ingredients: Aged Cayenne Red Peppers, Distilled Vinegar, Water, Salt And Garlic Powder.
No, but nothing will happen to it if your choose to do so.
Ingredients: Water, Red Peppers, Salt, Spices, Garlic, Acetic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Benozate as a preservative.
(No specific info on their website that talks about refrigeration).
Ingredients: Peppers, Vinegar, Salt
So, what are the big brands saying?
The big brands are in agreement with my findings. Looking at Frank’s RedHot® hot sauce, they have specific variances of sauces they recommend refrigeration for. Their ingredients:
Frank’s Red Hot Sweet Chili
Water, Sugar, Red Chili Peppers, Salt, Garlic, Modified Food Starch and Acetic Acid.
Frank’s Red Hot Slammin’ Sriracha Chili
Distilled Vinegar, Aged Cayenne Red Peppers, Sugar, Salt, Jalapeno Pepper Puree (Red Jalapeno Peppers, Salt and Citric Acid), Water, Carrot Fiber, Garlic Powder, Natural Flavor (Soy), Xanthan Gum, Spice and Smoked Paprika.
The common denominator? Sugar. What else has sugar in it? Fruit. Coincidence?
You’ve made it this far, you’re at the home stretch!
If you skipped all the way to the bottom for an easy answer, c’mon man! I spent a long time researching and writing this! If you already forgot what I wrote…
1. Label Guidelines. Does it or does it not say to specifically refrigerate on the label? Also consider the “Best If Used By” date if there is one, but that is not a make-or-break.
2. Ingredients (Fruit-based and hot sauces with sugar should go in the fridge). Not specified earlier, anything “creamy” is most likely a candidate too, as well as tomato-based like a BBQ sauce is.
3. How long it will be open for. If it’s a long time, stick in the fridge. Ultimately, if you put hot sauce on every meal, keep it out.
So, does hot sauce need to be refrigerated? In short, use your best judgment. Based on my findings, if you want it to be fresher for longer, it doesn’t hurt to. If you don’t like “cold” sauce, take it out of the fridge and let it get to room temperature before use. Above all, check those labels and if it has a fruit or tomato base, keep it cold. Oh, by the way to all you amateur hot sauce makers out there, unless you are an expert in keeping safe pH levels, always refrigerate!