Heat without the sour
July 10, 2011 4:48 AM   Subscribe

I love making my own hot pepper sauces but I'm not happy that I have to use vinegar as a preservative as I don't like the sour taste that much. If I use a lot, it ruins the taste, if I use less, the sauce won't stay fresh as long. Does anyone have a recommendation for something I can substitute the vinegar with, maybe even something synthetic (if it's harmless)?
posted by cronholio to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Pepperfool's recipe section lists several vinegar-free hot sauces, including: Habanero Fire Sauce; Salpicon de Chiles Habaneros; and Dan's Summer Sauce. It looks like citrus is your friend when vinegar is not present.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:26 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Alcohol? If you're using the hot sauce in typical amounts, it shouldn't change the flavor too much even if it's rocket-powered.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:33 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The sour taste comes from added acidity, which is what helps preserve the sauce longer. As MonkeyToes said, usually acid in foods like this come either from vinegar or citrus. So in any case, you're going to have some degree of "sourness" but you might be able to find a taste that goes with your hot sauce better. You might try a milder vinegar like white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, or malt vinegar, which you might like the flavor of better than plain white distilled vinegar. Or substitute part or all of the vinegar in a recipe with lime juice, lemon juice, Valencia orange juice, or some other citrus and see what you think of the flavor.

Alternatively, if you don't like any of these options, one thing you might try is dehydrating your hot peppers. They're easy to dry and keep for a long time. Then it's relatively easy to rehydrate them in a little bit of hot water when you need them and just make a small batch of sauce, with less or no vinegar. Since you can just make small batches at a time you can keep them in the fridge for a few days and not worry about the preservative qualities imparted by the vinegar.
posted by jonathanweber at 5:40 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

For a milder acid (and slightly sweet) medium that's also a natural preservative, you could try tamarind.
posted by Ahab at 7:55 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bottled Mexican hot sauces are basically chile and water with little to no vinegar. Not sure how they stay preserved, but it can't be complicated.
posted by Nelson at 8:09 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been meaning to try this homemade sriracha recipe for a while now. It uses a small amount of vinegar to control fermentation rather than a lot of it to pickle the peppers like tabasco does. I've successfully fermented other foods (pickled vegetables, pineapple vinegar, sourdough) and it has resulted in a mellower tang and really developed flavor that I love.

It's not completely shelf-stable but the small amount of vinegar in the recipe and the fermentation process itself should bring the ph down to where changes would be very gradual. You can buy ph testing strips at brewing stores if you want to test it, if the ph gets below 4.6 you could also can it in a boiling water bath to keep it shelf-stable.
posted by cali at 8:49 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Traditional Mexican/Central American hot sauce is fermented, not pickled with vinegar. Try this!
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 10:40 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The right way to do this is to make fermented pepper sauce. This is how Tabasco starts out, and then water and vinegar are added to make it more liquidy.

You're basically making sauerkraut out of your peppers when you do this.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 11:10 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

wait, sorry. I mis-read the question.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 11:11 AM on July 10, 2011

Add carrot juice, it is sweet and helps cancel out the too-sour vinegar.
posted by driley at 11:22 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another alternative is to preserve your peppers in alcohol. When I had my salsa-garden going full steam and had far too many peppers, I would stuff a quart mason jar full of peppers (with the ends cut off) then top off the jar with vodka. Fish out the peppers for cooking, and then use the vodka for Bloody Marys as the level dropped.

I also used sherry to preserve peppers, though it was harder to find uses for peppered sherry than vodka. Did make a pretty mean pepper-steak, though.
posted by DaveP at 12:00 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

How preserved do they need to be? Are you canning your sauces to make them shelf-stable, or storing them in the refrigerator for use within a month or so?

If the former, the pH level is really important for safety. In fact, most canning recipes will call for either vinegar or bottled lemon juice, since the acidity of fresh lemons can vary. But if you're just making sauces for shorter-term use, eh, use your preferred acid to taste, they'll keep fine for a few weeks.
posted by desuetude at 2:15 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not a canning expert, but canning friends have recommended citric acid as a less in your face way to acidify canning recipes. Maybe it would work for peppers as well?
posted by instamatic at 6:59 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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