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Refrigerator or Cupboard? - How to Store Chinese Sauce and Seasonings

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Soy Sauce Rhonda Parkinson
Question: Refrigerator or Cupboard? - How to Store Chinese Sauce and Seasonings
What should you do with that bottle of soy sauce or hoisin sauce that you just brought home from the store? Is it okay 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:
Answer: Chinese Sauces and Seasonings - Storage Instructions

Must Be Refrigerated after Opening
Black Bean Sauce
Chile Paste, Chile Sauce
Hoisin Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Plum Sauce
Sweet and Sour Sauce

Can Be Stored in the Cupboard
Hot Chili Oil
Rice Vinegar
Rice Wine
Dry Sherry (a common substitute for rice wine)
Sesame Oil (also called sesame seed oil)
Soy Sauce, Light
Soy Sauce, Dark
Fish Sauce (Southeast Asian)

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when storing Chinese sauces and seasonings:
  • Always keep the container tightly sealed (this is especially important for sauce that needs to be refrigerated)
  • Store non-refrigerated sauce 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. It’s just that refrigeration is not required.
  • What about canned sauce? If you shop at Asian markets, you may find certain types of sauce, such as sweet and sour sauce, sold in cans as well as bottles. For canned sauce, place in a sealed container after opening and refrigerate.


What is the shelf life of different types of Chinese sauce? It varies, depending on the type of sauce and even the specific brand. Properly stored, all sauces should have a shelf life of at least three months.

What are the main signs that a sauce is starting to go bad?

In general, a change in flavor and/or color is the first indication that a sauce is beginning to lose its freshness. For more specific tips, I turned to the experts. Sandra Gin of Asian Family Products offers the following advice on refrigerated sauce: “I suggest that 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 3-6 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.”

When it comes to soy sauce, I received the following advice from the Consumer Department at Kikkoman. While the comments refer specifically to Kikkoman soy sauce, in general they should be applicable to other soy sauce brands:
"For the freshest tasting sauce, we recommend using Kikkoman 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, we also recommend refrigerating the soy sauce after opening. Refrigeration helps the flavor and quality characteristics remain at their peak for a longer period. In addition, our soy sauce will not spoil if it is not refrigerated but its quality will decline faster.

A fresh bottle of Kikkoman 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. We believe the flavor of our soy sauce is at its peak when the bottle is first opened."

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