How to Store Chinese Sauces and Seasonings

Sweet chilli sauce
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What should you do with that bottle of soy sauce or hoisin sauce that you just brought home from the store? It's always a dilemma.

Is it OK to store the sauce in the cupboard, or does it need to be refrigerated? What are the telltale signs that a Chinese sauce is starting to turn bad?

Here are storage instructions for the main types of Chinese sauces and seasonings:

Sauces That Must Be Refrigerated After Opening

  • Black Bean Sauce

Sauces That Can Be Stored in the Cupboard After Opening

Tips When Storing Chinese Sauces and Seasonings

  • Always keep the container tightly sealed (this is especially important for sauces that need to be refrigerated).

  • Store non-refrigerated sauces away from direct heat and light.

  • There is nothing wrong with storing a sauce like soy sauce in the refrigerator instead of the cupboard. In fact, the sauce may keep its flavor longer, but refrigeration is not required.

  • What about canned sauces? If you shop at Asian markets, you might find certain types of sauce, such as sweet-and-sour sauce, sold in cans as well as bottles. For canned sauces, remove from the can and place in a sealed container after opening and refrigerate.

    Shelf Life

    The shelf life of different types of Chinese sauces depends on the type of sauce and even the specific brand. Properly stored, all sauces should have a shelf life of at least three months.

    Signs That a Sauce Is Going Bad

    In general, a change in flavor and/or color is the first indication that a sauce is beginning to lose its freshness.

    Sandra Gin of Asian Family Products offers the following advice on refrigerated sauces:

    • Once the sauce lid is opened, you should always refrigerate the sauce instead of leaving the sauce out on the kitchen counter top where warm conditions can easily form bacteria.
    • If the sauce is refrigerated, the oyster sauce or hoisin sauce can be kept for up to three to six months. Obviously, the sooner you can consume the sauce, the better it is and the less likely bacteria will build inside the sauce.
    • Some signs you can look for sauces going bad include the formation of bacteria (white or green fuzzy ball), water separated from the thickening agents binding the sauce, and a bad sauce odor.

    Tips About Soy Sauce

    When it comes to soy sauce, the Consumer Department at Kikkoman has the following to say:

    • For the freshest tasting sauce, use soy sauce within three to six months after opening. The sauce is still safe to use beyond this time but the quality may not be at its best. Once opened, the freshness and flavor of the sauce will slowly deteriorate.
    • Therefore, Kikkoman recommends refrigerating soy sauce after opening it. Refrigeration helps the flavor and quality characteristics remain at their peak for a longer period. In addition, most soy sauces will not spoil if it is not refrigerated but its quality will decline faster.
    • A fresh bottle of soy sauce should have a piquant flavor and reddish-brown color. When opened and exposed to air, naturally brewed soy sauce will darken and become stronger in flavor and aroma over time. This is the result of oxidation. Although this is not harmful in any way, it will cause the quality to decline. With an older bottle, the sauce may appear darker in color and have a strong, heavier taste.