Fact #1: Water as a main ingredient
Next time you pick up a bottle of hot sauce, check the first or second ingredient on the back label. Is it water? When water is listed as one of the first ingredients, it’s an indication that the producer has cut corners and used powdered ingredients. The water is needed to rehydrate (or reconstitute) these ingredients.
A common example of this is Cholula Hot Sauce - Listed first - water… second listed ingredient - “peppers” (most probably dehydrated/powdered).
A little known fact is that water makes a chilli burn feel hotter.
You know how drinking water when you’ve eaten too much chilli makes it worse? Well the same thing happens when producers add water to their chilli sauces, it makes the burn feel hotter when they have in fact watered down the sauce, saving them money, making the product go further.
Water is free - it comes out of the tap so why should you pay for it in your hot sauce? What a rip off! And who knows what the quality of the water is like in the areas / countries where the products are being produced.
Fact #2: Using powdered ingredients
The real problem with all the water isn’t the lack of taste, it’s the dead, over-processed powdered ingredients being rehydrated.
Most other hot sauces use powdered vegetables...
Like this ‘carrot’.
Or this 'onion'.
Mass produced sauces use powdered ingredients because they are are:
- Much cheaper to buy,
- Easier to transport,
- Easier to handle on the day of production (just shovel it in), and
- Easier to store without going off.
Powdered ingredients are a poor choice to use in hot sauces because they have less flavour and texture than in their natural state and there is a big loss of nutritional benefit.
One study showed that dehydration of vegetables led to the loss of vitamins - including a drop of up to 94% of beta carotene, and 84% less vitamin c.
On top of that, in order to get the water to stick to the powdered ingredients gums and emulsifiers need to be used - like Xanthan and other gums. This is just more flavourless crud (that is often genetically modified and can cause allergies) taking up valuable space in your hot sauce.
Producers don’t have to declare the use of powdered ingredients, but now you know how to spot it. Keep an eye out for water and Xanthan (or other) gums and emulsifiers on the label.
Fact #3: Chemical free Hot fill in Glass vs Cold filling in plastic with added Preservatives
Sauce manufacturers can either ‘hot fill’ or ‘cold fill’ when they bottle their sauce.
Hot-filling means that the sauce is bottled and vacuum sealed at a high enough temperature (at least 180F or 82C) to kill any freeloading bacteria which may have snuck their way in.
Cold-filled sauces are bottled at room temperature, bacteria can get into the bottle but preservatives are added to stop it from growing.
Hot filling is our preferred technique as it allows us to avoid the use of chemicals and preservatives in our sauces.
However cold fill is an easier, cheaper method for producers because they don’t have to work with high (dangerous) temperatures, and fragile glass, plus there’s no need to cool the bottles down. That’s why many producers cold fill their sauce then load them full of preservatives to keep the sauce shelf stable (so it doesn’t go off).
To work out if your sauce is hot or cold filled firstly is it in a see-through plastic bottle? That’s usually a pretty good indicator. But check out the ingredients list. If there’s a preservative there then they are typically cold filling.
The only kind of plastic that can be hot filled into is either completely or very opaque. It’s not particularly appetising for use in the hot sauce industry.
The curious can read more on hot filling here.
Fact #4: Preservatives - Sriracha’s Dirty Ingredients
Check the label of many mass produced hot sauces and you’ll find some strange chemicals. Ever been curious what these are? Check out the list below.
Studies have found Potassium Sorbate to become genotoxic (damages the DNA) to some white blood cells in vitro, causing chromosomal aberrations. In addition, anyone who over consumes potassium sorbate may become allergic to the substance. Reactions can include nutritional deficiencies, asthma, eczema and upset stomachs.
Sodium Bisulfate is it an additive in cosmetics, used in wastewater treatment and in many chemical processes. It is also added to large piping systems to prevent oxidative corrosion. Sriracha uses Sodium Bisulfite to prevent oxidation and kill microbes. On July 8, 1986, sodium bisulfite was banned from use by the FDA on fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States following the deaths of 13 people and many illnesses, mainly among asthmatics.
Huy Fong's Sriracha uses Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Bisulfate
Not everyone gets horrible side effects from Potassium Sorbate or Sodium Bisulfate. However anyone with working taste-buds can tell they’re in there as they leave a distinct aftertaste.
Fact #5: Mislabelled Foods - The Legal Loopholes
Just reading the label is sometimes not enough. Two-thirds of people in a US Survey said they believe the term “natural” means that a processed food has no artificial ingredients, GMOs or pesticides.
The confusion is expected, because there are no FDA labelling laws to prevent this. The laws require that there are no artificial flavours or colours, but many other additives make it through into your ‘natural’ food. For instance MSG is a ‘natural’ additive as it comes from ‘natural’ sources.
What are hot sauce manufacturers hiding in the ingredient listed as ‘spices’ anyway? Beware of labels that have just written ‘spices’ and haven’t actually listed exactly what they are using. ‘Natural Spices’ is a labelling loophole.
Fact #6: Food dye and colouring?
Look at the color of this popular hot sauce:
Check out the green sauce - that sauce isn’t green because they use a special fluorescent green fresh chilli in their sauce. The green comes from a combination of food colours listed in their ingredients: ‘FD&C yellow 5’ and ‘FD&C blue 1’.
Feingold list the following possible health effects of these colours:
- FD&C Blue 1 : Eosinophilotactic response and Chromosomal damage.
- FD&C Yellow 5 : Allergies, Thyroid tumors, Lymphocytic lymphomas, Chromosomal Damage, Trigger for asthma, Urticaria (hives), Hyperactivity
Mmm yum yum, chromosomal damage.
Perhaps I won’t eat that at every meal.
Fact #7: Cheap and Nasty Plastics
The hot sauce industry loves plastic because it is lighter, so it costs less to transport and there are rarely any broken bottles, which cost us money.
Plastic is so so so easy for producers. I was pressured many times to put my sauce into plastic rather than glass for cost reasons. But I always refused because of the health impacts of continued exposure to plastic.
One study found that leaching from PET increased on average 90% in bottle water stored over 6 months. Chili/chilli is acidic and will also dissolve plastic, into hot sauce - many of which have a 2 year shelf life.
Although a plastic like BPA has been deemed ‘safe’ for the general population, a Harvard study found that baby girls exposed before birth may exhibit behavioural problems by age 3. The girls whose mothers had higher levels of BPA in their urine were more likely to be aggressive, anxious and hyperactive.
I thought why take any risk with my health, my baby’s health or my customers? It is in everyone’s best interests to use glass bottles that’s why we do. I have recently eschewed as much plastic from my kitchen as possible because of the endocrine system disruption risks to my growing child.
It’s not just scientific evidence on health risks that rule our decision to use glass it’s also in the best interest of the planet. When glass breaks down it becomes sand again. Many plastics never break down. Even our metal lids can be easily melted down and recycled. Say no to plastic!
Bunsters : Hot filled, fruit and vegetable based and in a glass bottle. With no added water at all. For a full list of our ingredients click here if you are in Australia/NZ or here if you are anywhere else.