If you’re a chilihead, it’s likely you’ve got a cupboard full of hot sauces. Some are your staples, some may be gifts, and others may have been chance buys to test the flavor. It’s those last two where the question “Does hot sauce go bad?” comes into play. It’s for those hot sauces that may have been sitting around for a while, or those mild and hot Taco Bell packets that were stuck in the back of a shelf for future use. Oh yes, we all horde.
So does hot sauce go bad? Depends on your definition of “bad” really.
It’s all about the ingredients.
Chili peppers and vinegar, the main ingredients of most hot sauces, are both well-known as preserving agents. The high acid in vinegar and the capsaicin in chili peppers both keep bacteria at bay. So you’re likely not going to get sick from a few drops from an older opened bottle of hot sauce.
But let’s talk about added ingredients. The fancier your hot sauce gets, the more chance there’s something that can potentially turn. If you’ve got a hot sauce with hints of apricot, pear, or other fruits or vegetables, then it needs to be refrigerated after opening as a precaution. The same is true for hot sauces featuring mixes of mustards or other condiments. The more diluted the hot sauce becomes, the more you need to be careful.
How long are we talking for an opened bottle?
As long as you follow storage directions on your bottle of hot sauce, an opened bottle should keep easily for 3 years. Unopened bottles can be longer. But that’s not to say the taste will be the same as it was when you first opened it. Over time, the flavors will change as ingredients lose their flavor potency. Shaking the bottle up may help bring some of the flavors back to life, but overall expect a different taste. It may even be hotter than before as the chili peppers in the hot sauce age.
One aspect of the bottle to be careful of is the cap. The crusting that happens around the cap can build bacteria over time. So it’s best to clean caps thoroughly if you expect to hold onto a bottle for more than a few months.
My hot sauce changed color. Is it bad?
Not necessarily. Again, this comes down to the ingredients in the bottle. Chili peppers themselves darken over time, and that’s some of what you may see. Other ingredients, too, darken over time, like mustards. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. Again, you may find the taste to be different from how you remember it, likely hotter.
What should I do if I’m in doubt about whether a hot sauce has turned?
Most hot sauce bottles are just a few bucks, so when in doubt – pitch it! Simple as that. It may be better in the long run anyway because of the flavor changes mentioned above.
Also read the bottle. Most hot sauces don’t contain “Use by” expiration dates, but if they need to be refrigerated, it’ll be mentioned. If you’ve had an opened bottle in the cupboard for years that should have been refrigerated, it’s time to chuck it.
If your bottle contains an expiration date and you’re beyond it, it’s best to pitch it as well. There’s definitely a chance that the hot sauce is still fine to eat. Those expiration dates typically have to do with the lessening of the overall flavor, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.