Photo: Kevin Pang
Burning QuestionsBurning Questions is The Takeout's Q&A feature that satiates your food and drink curiosities  

This is the current state of a hot sauce sitting at my desk. I forgot about it for a few months and only came across while clearing away some books. The color of this hot sauce is... concerning. It used to be a fairly bright red, like any cayenne-based hot sauce. This type of hot sauce is vinegar-based, and so should theoretically keep, right? But now it’s turned pale from oxidation and I’m not sure if it’s worth using.

Later this week you’ll read my story about chilaquiles with Chicago chef Rick Bayless. But I did pose this hot sauce question to Bayless during our conversation, and he told me it’s basically fine to consume.

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“I always say color equals flavor. When things get old, they tend to get paler and that indicates they’ll be less flavorful,” Bayless told The Takeout.

Caveat: Is there mold growing on the hot sauce? Not on mine. But if it were a white mold, you can get rid of that top layer and continue using the hot sauce.

“But anything that’s dark is dangerous. The cheese people will tell you that,” he said. “If there’s black mold, get rid of it.”

So what of the “expiration date” listed on some hot sauces? As we’ve learned, those dates aren’t always a food safety issue as it is about quality. Those dates are likely a “best before” date, meaning it’s when the manufacturer believes the product will begin deteriorating in flavor.

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“You can keep a bottle of Tabasco for 100 years and it’ll still be fine,” Bayless said. “It just won’t taste any good.”

So what did I do with this pale bottle of hot sauce? I threw it away. A fresh bottle is definitely worth the $5.

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