While vinegar is commonly used in many hot sauce recipes (both homemade and commercial), you may be looking for options that don’t contain vinegar.
Considering that there are multiple alternatives to vinegar in hot sauce and there is a lot of demand, it’s shocking how few vinegar-free hot sauces there really are. I had to scour the internet from Amazon to iBurn, to Reddit, and still only found a few commercially available hot sauces that don’t have any vinegar. Luckily they are from brands I have tried and trust that are readily available online and in stores.
Read on to learn about a few of my favorite hot sauces that don’t contain any vinegar (for those with dietary restrictions and allergies, and a few that contain vinegar as an ingredient but don’t taste like it.
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Why does hot sauce almost always have vinegar?
Vinegar serves several purposes in hot sauce recipes. For starters, it acts as a preservative, which helps keep your hot sauce fresh for longer. When it comes to food safety, hot sauce needs to have a pH level of <4.6, which is relatively acidic, and the acidity of vinegar helps lower the pH.
Vinegar also gives hot sauce that tangy kick — and many people think it pairs well with the heat of the peppers and other spices used in the sauce.
Because vinegar serves the purpose of reducing the pH and preserving the sauce, it is most often replaced with other acidifiers like lemon or lime juice, or citric acid.
Acetic acid is also sometimes listed instead of vinegar. Note that acetic acid is the acidic component found in vinegar, but they are not exactly the same thing. Vinegar is usually a solution of about 5-15% acetic acid and 85-95% water. So if you are trying to avoid vinegar, you may also want to avoid acetic acid, but that is at your discretion, depending on your reason for avoiding the ingredient.
However, if you are making a hot sauce recipe with the intent of canning or preserving it, it’s important to follow the recipe precisely to avoid food safety issues. Instead of replacing vinegar on your own, look for recipes without vinegar that are tried and tested.
Note: most hot sauces will taste at least a little bit sour even if they use other acidic ingredients aside from vinegar. If it’s the sourness of vinegar you dislike, a “creamy” hot sauce or one with higher sugar content may taste more balanced to you.
Hot sauces with no vinegar
El Yucateco has multiple flavors of hot sauce that use acetic acid rather than vinegar. Their green habanero hot sauce is my personal favorite, and their chile habanero is also good. El Yucateco is known for sauces that are bold and flavorful, and they tend to be medium-spicy since they use habaneros.
Fresco Sauce was originally created by Sam Dashti for his new restaurant, Rosemary Grill, but it was so popular with customers that it became available to the general public in 2018. These sauces are vinegar-free, using citrus juices including lime, orange, and lemon instead. They are also vegan and lower in sodium than many commercially available hot sauces. Their Fire Roasted Pepper Blend hot sauce comes highly recommended to me by a trusted friend.
Dave’s Scorpion Pepper Hot Sauce
Most Dave’s Gourmet flavors have vinegar, but their Scorpion Pepper hot sauce is an exception. In my experience, Dave’s is a very solid brand with good flavors, so I have high hopes for this sauce. Since this is a scorpion pepper sauce, you can expect a very high heat level.
Mexico Lindo hot sauces are quite similar to El Yucateco and also use acetic acid rather than vinegar. This brand came highly recommended to me by a friend whom I’ve shared a lot of hot sauce moments with. They have a habanero verde and a red habanero hot sauce that does not contain vinegar.
Swamp Dragon Bourbon Hot Sauce
Swamp Dragon is not a brand that I have ever tried, but they have an entire range of vinegar-free hot sauces. This is a really fascinating and unique one because it uses alcohol rather than any strong acid source. Options include Bourbon, Rum, Tequila, and Vodka-based sauces.
Hot sauces that contain vinegar but don’t taste strongly vinegar-y
As I mentioned previously, creaminess and sweetness can help counterbalance the vinegary flavor if you don’t like hot sauces that are pungent.
Tabañero Hot Sauce Picante
A few years ago, I met an executive of Tabañero, of all places, in a diner on vacation. He later sent me a 12-bottle pack including three of their flavors: original, agave, and extra hot. Tabañero promises low-vinegar ingredients for a more balanced and less sour hot sauce. You can shop their different sauces here.
Sriracha is sweet and garlicky, which helps counterbalance the vinegar.
Dave’s Gourmet creamy
Dave’s Gourmet has a couple of different “creamy” hot sauces, and the fat really cuts out the vinegar flavor. Their creamy red pepper sauce is one of my favorites, and they also have a creamy roasted jalapeño flavor that I have not tried yet.
This list is by no means exhaustive, so please share your favorite no-vinegar hot sauces in the comments!