Whether or not you should refrigerate hot sauce is a controversial topic. There are two main camps. There are those who believe that hot sauces are just like any other bottled sauce and should be stored in the refrigerator. And there are others who believe that hot sauces are universally shelf-stable. Neither is exactly right, but they aren’t necessarily wrong either. Should hot sauce be refrigerated? We will answer that question and many more below as we break down the fact and fiction.
Do you need to refrigerate hot sauce?
You do not need to refrigerate most commercial hot sauces, at least not if you plan to use it up within a few months. Most mass-produced hot sauces are made with vinegar as one of the main ingredients and salt as another. The acidity of the vinegar and the relatively high salt content creates an environment that Clostridium botulinum and other bacteria cannot tolerate. The acidity can keep it from spoiling and from making you sick. Plus capsaicin – the compound that gives hot peppers their heat – keeps bacteria at bay. It’s a triple threat of ingredients that help keep hot sauce safe.
As well, many commercially made hot sauces contain preservatives. They ensure that they remain safe to eat when stored at room temperature. As many restaurant owners know, you can keep bottles of hot sauce out on tables for months without them spoiling.
How long will refrigerated hot sauce last vs. room temperature hot sauce?
An opened bottle of hot sauce should last two years in the refrigerator. Toss it after about six months at room temperature. This is a general rule, so sauces might last for a little longer or shorter depending on their ingredients.
Should some hot sauces be refrigerated?
Not all hot sauces have vinegar as one of the top ingredients. For example, oil-based hot sauces should always be refrigerated as the risk of botulism is high if raw garlic was used to make them. Salsas and chutneys may not be very acidic nor will hot sauces that have mango, pineapple, or some other fruit as one of the main ingredients. If in doubt, refrigerate.
The benefits of refrigerating hot sauce
While most hot sauces won’t make you sick if you leave them out of the fridge, there are some benefits to keeping this condiment cold:
Refrigerating preserves its appearance
Your hot sauce might not go bad at room temperature, but it can become visually unappealing after a while because of oxidation. A fire engine red hot sauce can turn to a drab brick red; an orange hot sauce can turn to an unattractive ochre; a yellow hot sauce can become grayish. Storing your hot sauce in the refrigerator ensures that it retains the color it had when you first opened the bottle.
It keeps it tasting fresher
An old hot sauce that has been stored at room temperature may not spoil, but it can taste old. The heat and any other flavor notes will fade over time leaving you with a dull, thick vinegary sludge. Storing it in the refrigerator keeps it flavorful.
It alleviates risk for slow hot sauce eaters
If you are not a big fan of spicy foods you may rarely ever need that bottle of hot sauce. It runs the risk of being lost or forgotten. Stick it in the fridge for safekeeping and to keep it fresh for occasional use or when spice-loving guests come over.
Does refrigerating hot sauce change its flavor?
Refrigeration doesn’t change the flavor of a hot sauce, it just keeps that flavor from degrading over time. So, to keep your hot sauce tasting like it did when it was first opened for months on end, you’ll want to refrigerate.