If you’re a spicy food fan, you likely have a cupboard full of hot sauces and might be concerned about their shelf life. Some are your staples, some may be gifts, and others may be random buys.
It’s those last two where the question “Does hot sauce go bad?” really comes into play. It’s for those opened yet barely used hot sauces or those Taco Bell packets stuck in the back of a shelf “for future use.”
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The Ingredients Matter to A Hot Sauce’s Shelf Life.
Chili peppers and vinegar, the main ingredients of most hot sauces, are well-known as preserving agents. The high acid in vinegar and the capsaicin in chili peppers 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 is something in it that can turn. If you have a hot sauce using apricot, pear, or other fruits or vegetables, then it needs to be refrigerated after opening as a precaution.
The same is valid for hot sauces featuring mixes of mustard or other condiments. The more diluted the hot sauce becomes (beyond peppers and vinegar), the more you need to be careful and follow storage best practices.
Of course, chili powders have a long shelf life. So if you’re looking to add heat to a dish, opting for them over hot sauces is an excellent option—this set pairs medium-heat jalapeño, extra-hot habanero, and super-hot ghost pepper powders.
What’s The Shelf Life Of an Opened Bottle Of Hot Sauce?
As long as you follow storage directions on your bottle of hot sauce, an opened bottle should keep easily for three years. Unopened bottles can be longer. But the taste will be different from when you first opened it.
Over time, the flavours will change as ingredients lose their flavour potency. Shaking the bottle up may help bring some of the flavours 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 Colour. 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 Doubt 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 flavour changes mentioned above.
Also, read the bottle. Most hot sauces don’t contain “Use by” expiration dates, but if they need to be refrigerated, they’ll be mentioned. If you have 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 a chance that the hot sauce is still okay to eat.
Those expiration dates typically have to do with the lessening of the overall flavour, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.