Growing up, my parents always kept hot sauce in the refrigerator. I never once questioned their choices, even though I never liked putting chilled hot sauce on my warm food. So imagine my shock when I recently learned that my parents were doing hot sauce storage wrong for all of these years.
It turns out that you do not need to refrigerate some brands of hot sauces after opening the bottle. That's right. You can safely store bottles of store-bought hot sauces in your pantry at room temperature for quite a long time. However, this isn't a blanket rule that applies to all hot sauces. Here's what you need to know.
Why Certain Hot Sauces Don't Need Refrigeration
Hot sauces are shelf-stable due to their high vinegar content, which prevents bacteria from growing. Curtis Braun, a food safety specialist from South Dakota State University, says, "an acid, such as vinegar or lime juice, that can be used to prevent the sauce from oxidizing and also decreasing the pH." This is key because harmful pathogens cannot grow if the pH is under a specific bar.
Also, chili peppers, a key ingredient in making hot sauces, were found to have antimicrobial properties, meaning that they can inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms.
There's a catch! Hot sauces with fruit—pineapple, mango, and tomatoes (yes, it's technically a fruit!)—need to be refrigerated because they may not be acidic enough.
Refrigeration Maintains Flavor and Color
There are good reasons to refrigerate your hot sauce. Some hot sauces change color over time if they're not refrigerated, like Tabasco. According to the makers of Tabasco, McIlhenny Company, refrigerating the hot sauce is the best way to prevent its color from changing. A darkened hue doesn't mean it is spoiled, but if the color is important to you, pop that bottle in the fridge.
The other reason to refrigerate your hot sauce is to preserve the long-term quality. The USDA's FoodKeeper App states that an open bottle of hot sauce will last in the pantry for up to six months, but longer if stored in the fridge.
Many manufacturers, including popular hot sauce brand, Frank's RedHot, give a "best by" date instead of an expiration date. "The date stamped on the shoulder or the bottom of the bottle is the date we recommend that you use the product by to assure the product's optimum flavor, freshness, and consistent quality," Frank's RedHot explains. They add that the hot sauce will maintain good flavor for a few weeks after the date if refrigerated—cold storage extends the life of the hot sauce.
How Long Is Your Hot Sauce Good For?
The original Tabasco has a shelf life of five years after opening the bottle and both Tapatío and Frank's RedHot say two years. Some hot sauces have a shorter shelf life—Cholula recommends consuming the hot sauce within six months. Texas Pete does not recommend consuming the hot sauce past the expiration date regardless of when the bottle was opened.
Though all brands state that the hot sauce does not have to be refrigerated, they claim that refrigerated hot sauce lasts for longer.
Check the bottle for the maker's recommendation on how to store the hot sauce. Unsure whether your hot sauce is safe to eat? Start by checking the "best by" date on the bottle. Then take a look at the hot sauce. Discoloration doesn't mean it's spoiled, but mold does—there shouldn't be any mold. Does it smell off? It no longer tastes like it's supposed to? If in doubt, throw it out!
A version of this article originally appeared on MyRecipes.com.