I regularly make a few different condiments with hot peppers:

  • Pico de Gallo (tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime, salt)
  • Pepper Sauce consisting of habanero, garlic, lime, culantro, salt
  • Variation on above using dry roasted chile de arbol in stead of the habanero

In every case I've noticed a significant decline in heat after the first day, then a slow and steady decline as time goes on The taste immediately after preparation can border on unbearably hot, while on the proceeding days it can become almost what I would call mild.

Why does this happen and can anything be done about it? I'm wondering if it's possible that any of the ingredients I use are having a chemical reaction with the capsaicin causing the loss in heat. Or is it storage related? Or is this simply something that cannot be avoided once you cut and grind the peppers?


For the record I think this is fairly reproducible:

  1. Get the hottest peppers you can imagine.
  2. Grind them up with some water, salt and lime juice.
  3. Taste and experience the hopefully insane level of heat.
  4. Refrigerate & taste again in a few days. Notice how it's not as hot as before?
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    Commercial hot sauces are very vinegar heavy. This is an observation, not an answer, but I'd wager that acidity is important. – user3190797 Dec 2 '18 at 23:09
  • How are you storing your condiments? Refrigeration? Countertop? – elbrant Dec 3 '18 at 2:34
  • @elbrant — yes, in fridge. – billynoah Dec 3 '18 at 2:49
  • I know Pico de Gallo is served raw. But... are you cooking or heating your Pepper Sauce? – elbrant Dec 3 '18 at 3:05
  • no cooking - the only exception being the dry roasting of the chile de arbol. – billynoah Dec 3 '18 at 3:20

The heat of your condiments isn't actually being lost. The condiments are marrying, meaning the heat becomes more homogenously distributed through the condiment. This means you don't have bits and pieces that have as high a spike in heat than the rest of the salsa, and therefore the condiment is more evenly hot (thought apparently cooler to the taster) throughout.

Pepper or chile sauces use vinegar and oil to retain and even accent their perceived heat. Neither actually increases it though. Vinegar helps clean the palate like strawberries for champagne, or ginger for sushi. It cleans the tongue so the heat can get to it better. Oil helps hold the heat to the tonque and other mouth parts making it seem hotter because it doesn't wash away as easily.

Keep in mind though that pico de gallo is really meant to be made and served fresh. You don't want to give it time to macerate and marry. You want to bite into and taste the individual components of this condiment. Leaving Pico to sit overnight in my opinion really turns it more into a chuncky but watery Salsa.

  • very interesting. I'm not 100% convinced though. Recently a relative gave me some homemade pepper made from scorpion peppers. It was absurdly hot so that so much as 1/2 tsp would set your mouth on fire. A few days afterward I was l was adding spoonfuls at a time. It's still hot but not even close and it's really hard to imagine that the difference in perceived heat is simply due to distribution. Also, bear in mind, the bottom two sauces I mentioned are pureed in a high speed blender so they are very much homogenized even on the first taste. – billynoah Dec 4 '18 at 17:34
  • Also, while I agree about the Pico btw and ideally always eat it fresh; like salad, sometimes there's some left over and although inferior it's still worth eating. – billynoah Dec 4 '18 at 17:34
  • @billynoah perhaps your mouth hadn't fully recovered from the fresh scorpian pepper exposure and your receptors hadn't fully recovered? Lets use alcohol on a wound as an analogy. Wiping alcohol on a wound REALLY stings, but after a few applications it stops stinging so much. That's because the nerve endings have been nuetralized to some extent. Capacin is a nuerotoxin, it's not just hot but it damages nerves when in great enough concentration. I believe your nerves (nerve endings) simply hadn't recovered yet. – Escoce Dec 4 '18 at 17:57
  • Keep in mind, I am well versed in eating capsacin laced food. Without this being bravado, just a point of fact and a little cred for the immediate answer I have given. I have eaten so much very spicy food that I can no longer detect heat at levels that normal people find a bit too hot to enjoy. If I can even just detect the heat from say cayenne, then I know I already screwed up and I can't serve the dish, especially my wife. My wife needs to taste it to be sure I don't over spice it. So I think I do have some experience with capsacin hot food. – Escoce Dec 4 '18 at 18:01
  • I'm right there with you — I eat a lot of very hot, peppery food and have my whole life, which is partially the reason I came here for answers. I actually couldn't believe how hot that sauce was since I'm normally somewhat immune to pepper sauce and was really enjoying the intensity. Then a day or so later it was like a normal level of heat. I can say with confidence that it has nothing to do with pepper heat recovery lag. – billynoah Dec 4 '18 at 18:58

My suggestion is: try simmering the sauce for a short while before storing it in the fridge.

My answer is based on the sauce I use for my Fajitas (onion, assorted peppers, ground cumin and cayenne, cilantro, garlic, and lime juice with honey and butter for a touch of sweetness). It is heated through and coats pulled chicken. This sauce is rather spicy at first and the heat intensifies every day.

Our ingredients are similar with the biggest differnce being cooked vs. not cooked... so, cooking your Pepper Sauce could make all the difference. If you try simmering your sauce, please share the results.

  • thanks for the suggestion. I may try it out of curiosity but pico needs to be raw, as do the other sauces. I wonder if cooking your sauce knocks the heat down to the lowest level so that whatever you taste initially is less susceptible to change. I've never once experienced heat from cooked peppery food getting hotter over time so that's interesting – billynoah Dec 4 '18 at 3:22
  • I'm not certain which element provides the intensity. It could be from the (jalapeno, red hot, habenaro) peppers, the cumin, or the cooking process. We've only ever cooked the sauce and it's hot. From a family that considers spicy as a challenge: Hot, Hot. – elbrant Dec 4 '18 at 5:21
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    wouldn't it be nice if you could post actual food on the internet and people reading your post could taste it :-) – billynoah Dec 4 '18 at 5:56

Although this question is a few years old I'll mention that recently I've been getting in to making pepper mash and doing a countertop brine fermentation with my habeñeros. This has resulted in very little loss of heat. I have a batch going right now that's been fermenting for just about one week and surprisingly, it's tasting hotter than when I started it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Hot sauce definitely loses its heat after a while.. though it seems to last longer when there's a layer of olive oil on top, which makes me think that oxidation is playing a role in breaking down the capsaicin, or whatever it is that makes it hot.

I usually do my hot sauce in a very simple way: simply chop the raw peppers (I use Peri-peri), drown them out in plenty of whisky, and pour some olive oil so that there's a layer on top, about a finger thick, when it separates.

This lasts me for a few months (until the next harvest from my Peri-Peri bush), but it definitely loses some of it's punch after a few weeks.

  • Thanks for the input. To be honest, oil and whiskey sounds a little gross to me but hey, to each their own. Maybe it's not as bad as it sounds... – billynoah Sep 25 '20 at 13:15
  • Whiskey is simply the medium, you can use whatever other liquid you want, the objective is that it transfers the heat from the peppers so you have something to pour over the food (can be used as a condiment or as seasoning). The olive oil separates from the whiskey, and is simply there to create a seal so that it doesn't oxidize as fast, the sauce doesn't taste of olive oil at all (although it would be fine if it did, olive oil is awesome!). – Brinca Sep 26 '20 at 15:24

Oil gives the sauce a better flavor but knocks out the heat immediately; I recently discovered this after about five years of tinkering around with sauces. Cooking does not seem to matter. I am still trying to figure out how to keep the heat, and currently trying drying and chopping finely with a coffee grinder.

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