I have begun bottling my own hot sauce and have discovered there are several methods of putting it into containers for the possibility of selling it. I will not be using any chemical preservatives and I don’t want to refrigerate it after I bottle it. Therefore, I will have to be concerned with the pH level.
Why is the pH of hot sauce important?
The pH level of a hot sauce is important if you plan on bottling your sauce for sale and do not want to refrigerate it during distribution or store it in coolers. A good pH level for the sauce should be around 3.4 and can be tested accurately with a pH meter.
All hot sauces contain hot peppers and are often combined with other acidic ingredients such as vinegar and garlic (read Easy Hot Sauce Recipe for more on the ingredients of hot sauce). The vinegar or presence of other acids will protect against oxidation, help with preservation and keep bacterial growth from happening. Sometimes it’s the acid containing ingredients that give hot sauce its signature tang, bite or zip.
PH (Potential Hydrogen) does not have flavoring but there can be a “taste” to some acids typically found in tomatoes. PH testing will measure the levels of these acids in your hot sauce to determine if your sauce is acidic or alkaline. (Read The Shocking Truth of Alkaline Hot Sauce if you are making a sauce with a high alkaline level) Similar testing is commonly done in water and soils as well to determine the acid / alkaline levels for a variety of reasons.
The ingredients hot sauce will need to be combined with a suitable pH level to lengthen the shelf life of your home-made sauce, which would otherwise need to be refrigerated. If you are making and storing your hot sauce to be distributed, pH testing may be they best way for someone new to the hot sauce business or you can follow other methods of preserving as well, which could be costlier and more time consuming. Read Bottle and Sell Hot Sauce From Your Home, just skip the section on pH testing
*Do you make your own hot sauce? Check out…
Regulations for refrigerator shelf life has been inconsistent over the past few years and would require you to keep your sauce refrigerated, shipped in refrigerated trucks and stored in coolers for sale. This is not the most common approach for hot sauces produced for sales. Although according to the FDA, refrigeration is one of the best ways to keep foods from the slow growth of E. coli, botulinum and Salmonella it requires strict attention to temperature, keeping doors shut and power on. However, The growth of microorganisms can be controlled by the acidity (level of pH), level of water activity, chemical preservatives or through packaging.
Clostridium Botulinum will thrive at a pH level above 4.6 and these toxins have proven to be deadly even in cooked foods. Keeping the pH level below this is crucial but it will not kill any preformed toxins states the WHO. The World Health Organization not the 60’s British rock group.
What does pH level mean?
PH is the level of acidity in a liquid substance and is measured on a scale from 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral. Anything measuring from 0 to 6 would be acidic and anything measuring from 7 to 14 would be considered alkaline.
If you are bottling your hot sauce at home you will most likely not be adding a chemical preservative. If you are making a sauce that contains vinegar your pH level should be OK but if you are not follow the guidelines of the GMP (Good Manufacturing Process).
What is the pH level of hot sauce?
The pH level of a hot sauce determines how much acid it contains verses how much alkaline it will have. The lower the pH number the more acids there are and it is the acid that is needed to kill the bacteria. As mentioned previously a neutral pH is 7. To give an idea of other pH levels lemon juice will have a pH level between 2.0 and 2.6 and lime juice will be between 2.0 and 2.35. Vinegar will be between 2.4 and 3.4. Garlic and peppers will be higher in pH.
Hot sauce should have a pH level of about 3.4 to prevent the growth of bacteria. This can generally be achieved with recipes that are about 20% vinegar. This will usually produce an acceptable pH level but there are ways to change this.
How can I lower the PH level of hot sauce?
Add citric juices or vinegar to lowering the pH of a hot sauce to make it more acidic. Certain types of vinegar could have different levels of acidity but generally they will produce enough acid to bring the pH down to about 3.4.
The pH level of a hot sauce is caused by the mixture and the type of ingredients you are using. If you have a great hot sauce recipe you have worked on for months and have a pH level that is too high, it can be adjusted. Adding lime juice or vinegar to reduce the pH level could change how your recipe tastes.
A good thing to do is to test your sauce through out your recipe process for the pH level with a pH meter. You can also do this with the ingredients you are using such as vinegar and lemon/lime juice. You can certainly test any water you are using but depending on where it comes from will be neutral, or about 7.
Testing the individual ingredients may not be necessary but you would need a conical tip electrode on you pH meter to probe the fruits, vegetables and spices.
Is hot sauce acidic?
Hot sauce is considered acidic if it has a pH level between 0 and 7 or ideally 3.4. A fermented hot sauce will have about the same pH level of a vinegar based hot sauce. The fermentation process of a hot sauce will give it more acid than the peppers themselves, but this sauce will also have to be refrigerated.
How do I test hot sauce for pH levels?
If you are concerned with the pH level of your hot sauce the two most common ways of testing a hot sauce are pH paper, litmus paper and a pH test meter. The most accurate of these methods is the pH meter and they can have a cost range between $50 – $300. See the Recommended Meters page for the top picks!
The Pinpoint pH Meter Kit from Amazon is portable and has a clear digital display. Comes with a separate probe on a 10′ cable. Some of these meters can get very expensive but litmus paper is a much less expensive way of measuring pH as well. I also like the size, accuracy and portability of the hand held meters and they are super easy to use as well. Read here on how to properly use a pH meter.
Litmus paper will give a rough estimate of the pH level. These test strips are available from Walmart.com below (super cheap), this link to Amazon (super, super cheap) or at pet stores where aquarium supplies are sold. Any hardware stores where they supply pool test kits will have a department dedicated to pool maintenance where pH test strips are available.
The test strips will only change color from blue to red, or vise versa, if the hot sauce is acidic but will not change color if it is neutral or does not contain any acid. This is a limiting function of the testing and meters will provide more accuracy.
A pH meter will give a more accurate pH reading for your hot sauce. If you are producing sauce for sale than it would be worth the investment of a pH meter. These meters are very easy to use, are reusable and give a much more accurate reading for the pH level of your hot sauce. Read the recommended meters on the product review page.
The meters may need to be calibrated so follow the manufactures instructions upon purchase. Temperatures of the sauce could also give false pH readings so measure your sauce at room temperature also.
The flavor and heat of your hot sauce are important but if you plan on bottling your sauce for sale you will want the pH level to be about 3.4 to eliminate the growth of any bacteria. There are many ways to package your hot sauce and if you are simply making a batch for home or another gathering than the pH may not be as important.
Making your own hot sauce?
I have experimented with many combinations of hot pepper, spices and vinegar and many times have failed to make a tasty sauce. It is always good to have a little guidance of some basic recipes that you can use as a base and make adjustments to call the recipe your own. Here is a basic hot sauce recipe from my blog post Easy Hot Sauce Recipe.
Selling Your Own Hot Sauce?
Check out and download the FREE profit calculator that I have made and used to help guide and project the cost of making, bottling and selling my own hot sauce. IT WORKS! Plug in the cost of labor and materials and the profit calculator will:
- Provide the profit per bottle, case and pallet
- Project profit for the year
- Graph profit month by month