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I am planning on putting this year's crop of hot peppers to use by trying my hand at making my own hot sauces.

I've never tried this before, but I've found a number of recipes on the Internet. However, I'm concerned about shelf life, and the variations in preparation methods that I'm seeing in the recipes are a bit confusing.

Some of the recipes simply call for mixing the peppers, some other vegetables (typically carrots, onions or bell peppers), seasoning (such as sugar or garlic) and vinegar. The mixture is then blended in a food processor, and is "ready to eat" with no cooking.

Others call for simmering the ingredients in vinegar prior to putting them in the food processor.

Yet others actually detail month-long fermentation processes.

Some of the recipes say the resulting sauce will last at least for a year. Others say a month or two.

Since the sauces will be too hot for anyone in the house but myself to use, I would prefer to extend the shelf life as long as possible. If it goes bad in a month, I'll wind up throwing away a ton.

What is the basic method I should use to maximize the shelf life of a combination of hot peppers (bhut jolokia or ghost peppers, if that matters), carrots, garlic, and possibly bell peppers, apples, or grapes (all alternative ingredients I am interested in experimenting with)?

What is the best way to store the results?

What is a reasonable expectation for a safe shelf life for the resulting hot sauce?

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I suspect the blended ones would keep for quite a while (years) if frozen. But I confess, I've never tried freezing hot sauce. –  derobert Aug 21 '12 at 15:49
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For what it's worth, I have made hot sauces via all the various ways (just blended, blended + simmered, and long-ferment) and they all seem to keep just fine when frozen in batches. –  franko Jul 5 '13 at 20:53
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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Vinegar and sugar make good preservatives. Provided you use sterilised containers - place them in boiling water for twenty minutes, add the sauce, seal, then boil again for ten minutes - you should be fine. Store the bottles/jars in a cool place out of direct sunlight.

Avoid using oil during preparation, as you run the risk of introducing Botulinium into the mix. This would probably be neutralised by the vinegar, but it really isn't worth the risk.

As always, if the sauce smells or looks suspect when you come to use it, throw it out. Again, it's not worth the risk of food poisoning.

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Botulism lives in the soil, so I'm not sure why only oil would introduce it? Especially if your hot sauce contains garlic, which is known to often contain spores. But most vinegary hot sauces easily are low enough pH to not worry. –  derobert Aug 21 '12 at 15:46
    
Botulism also doesn't change the look or smell. –  thursdaysgeek Aug 21 '12 at 20:40
    
Botulism isn't the only reason a foodstuff can go bad... –  ElendilTheTall Aug 21 '12 at 20:50
    
I think you have to be careful about this - if you're not lowering the pH enough with the vinegar, it'd require pressure canning. –  Jefromi Aug 21 '12 at 21:38
    
As a point of clarity: Sterilization of containers in a home setting is likely impossible as "sterilize" means "to eliminate (remove) or kill all forms of microbial life". The correct term for what you are describing is either disinfected or sanitized. –  Didgeridrew Aug 22 '12 at 15:51
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The more basic the recipe the greater the shelf life. I create and sell hot sauces here in Chicago for VK Urban Farms. We have a pure Ghost Pepper sauce that is literally Ghost peppers sautéed in vegetable oil and then processed with equal part vinegar. The 50/50 ratio ensures that nothing will ever compromise the integrity of this sauce. (within reason) I've noticed that the safety of hot sauces as with all sauces is directly relative to the variety and composition of the sauce. More fruits and sugars the greater the risk of spoilage without refrigeration. There is a chance of separation in some of the simpler sauces but this rarely affects the actual flavor and safety of the sauce. Give the bottle a good shake and enjoy.

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If I wanted preserved hot sauce, I would buy Sri Racha from the supermart.

However, I prefer fresh chili mix. The taste and texture is totally different. And you don't have to flood it with vinegar to destroy the freshness of the taste. As long as you refrigerate (not warmer than 38F and not near the door) as well as consume within 2 weeks.

If you indeed have a garden full of chilies you needed to process - use as much vinegar as suits your taste not the preservation - I think deep freezing them in sterile containers should last them at least 3 months. I don't think you should freeze them longer than 6 months.

It should also depends on whether you cook your chili mix after blending. I prefer mine fresh and uncooked - that's why I trust the freezing to last only two months. Therefore, I have no idea how long further it would last frozen if it had been cooked first.

If you are making fresh chilly sauce, you would have a combination of ginger, spices and garlic or even celery bits or chopped up cilantro mixed in after blending. The vinegar flood would destroy that delectable fresh mix scent and taste of the hot salad dressing.

Have that fresh chili dressing mix sandwiched between two slices of bread melted with cheddar. Yummmy. Or have you tried tortilla with fresh chili sauce? Vinegar flooding will destroy all that.

What you should do is, process the chilies, ginger, garlic and spices and freeze them. And even vacuum bottle them before freezing. When you need a bottle, after defrosting, then only mix in fresh chopped {celery/cilantro+sweet peppers+onions}, which would refresh the scent and taste of a forgotten frozen bottle of "fresh made" chili sauce/dressing.

If you don't mind oregano or sesame oil, you should mix them in before freezing. I have anecdotal feeling that oregano contributes somewhat to the preservation of the chilies. However, be warned, my experience is - ginger may acquire staleness of taste after long periods of freezing. But then, if you had flooded it with vinegar, you would not notice the difference.

I don't know why sesame oil ... let me check wikipedia: A-ha! wikipedia says

This is because it contains two naturally occurring preservatives, sesamol and sesamin.

My test of quality of fresh chili sauce is having it on poached salmon - too much vinegar, sesame or oregano and the ruined taste of the salmon would let you know. Too watery, it would mush up the salmon steak. To test the staleness, I think, but it may not work with everyone, that placing chili sauce (or any spoiled fluid) into the yolk cavity of a cooled hard-boiled egg seems to amplify any staleness of scent of the chili sauce to me. May be it's because I'm sensitive to changes in smell of egg whites.

Disclaimer is, I have never tried vacuum bottling so I do not know its effectiveness.

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BTW, I have a bottle of toasted onions+garlic dunked in sesame oil, sitting in a cabinet at room temp behind me in my office for the last three months. It still tastes fresh every time I scoop a table spoon into my pasta. –  Blessed Geek Aug 22 '12 at 3:10
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Deterioration in the freezer is a matter of loss of flavor and texture, not food safety. The degradation can be greatly reduced if you freeze things airtight with as little extra air (room for frost) as possible, with the ideal case being vacuum packing as you mention. I'd be surprised if you couldn't make things last at least up until the next harvest season (almost a year), with a little care. –  Jefromi Aug 22 '12 at 3:36
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You may want to add some citations to your claims and save the dissuading until later in the post. Your answer is difficult to read because it doesn't seem to maintain focus on the question as it was posed. –  mfg Aug 22 '12 at 3:46
    
I can't cite/find any academic studies on why I personally find vinegar ruinous to the flavour of my chilies. Or, why I love the scent of fresh chopped vegs that should be added at time of consumption. Or, why spoiled fluid added to egg white bother my smelling sense. I guess I am not too interesting a person to have someone study my culinary preferences so that I could quote that study here. –  Blessed Geek Aug 23 '12 at 1:25
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Salt... Salt has been used for thousands of years to preserve vegetables and cure meat. Vinegar does add further benefit to adding shelf life. As a matter of fact you'll find that these are two major ingredients in any big name hot sauce. Beyond this one could even employ canning methods to further the shelf life.

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Raise the acidity and reduce the water.

Garlic is antifungal. Rosemary and other herbs are preservatives.

Some microorganisms are friendly: research kim chee, miso, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread.

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besides this being hard to read, I don't think that herbs are preservatives at all. –  rumtscho Jul 4 '13 at 16:55
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