Accuracy and calibration are the two most important factors in testing the pH level of hot sauce. Other methods of testing are the use of inexpensive pH paper to test the pH level of a hot sauce but the digital meter is the most accurate method and is very easy to use. The meter will reduce the chances of human error in your testing as long as you are using it correctly.
How to use a pH meter
A pH meter is used to detect the pH level of a liquid substance to indicate the possibilities of bacterial growth. For a homemade hot sauce the pH level should be 3.4 so this is the reading we are going to use as a gauge for using our pH meter.
A pH meter can be used immediately if it has been calibrated before delivery. Submerge the glass probe about ½ “ into the hot sauce for about 30 seconds and swish it around slightly. Wait another 30 seconds for the meter reading to stabilize.
I use a Poit and was able to use it right out of the box immediately without calibrating it. There are many similar to it available at Amazon.com for under $20.
Obviously, you want the results of your meter reading to be accurate, this is the whole reason for testing the pH level. Thoroughly read the all of processes below to guide you through the proper methods of using your test meter correctly.
Most digital meters will have an accuracy tolerance of + 0.01pH. The accuracy of a pH meter can be between + 0.10 pH and + 0.001 pH. Westlab.com states that a pH meter with + 0.01 pH is good for quality control in a research environment. Anything below an accuracy of + 0.01 will not produce precise results. See more recommended meters with an accuracy of + 0.01.
Calibration for the pH test meter and other related equipment is just as important as accuracy. Make sure the meter you have purchased is pre calibrated. If it has not been calibrated see below on how to calibrate it properly.
Make sure the equipment is clean
The probe of the meter will need to be cleaned and soaked in Deionized Water (purchase here) so that there are not any contaminants that will make the reading inaccurate. This is especially true if you are performing multiple readings or are testing several varieties of sauce. See below on cleaning your equipment.
Submerge probe in sauce
The probe will need to sit in the hot sauce between 30 to 60 seconds to allow for the meter to read and stabilize the reading to produce the most precise results. You may get results sooner so it is OK to remove the meter once a steady reading has appeared.
Swish it around slightly in the substance you are testing and you may see it fluctuate slightly. Continue to do this several times until the number that is displayed stops flashing or fluctuating and has locked into place.
Any small container that the meter can fit into will work. You can also use a larger bowl or container but I usually get rid of the sauce when I am finished so it’s that much more sauce that you will be wasting. It does not take a large amount of sauce for an accurate reading.
I use empty spice containers thoroughly washed out. They are just wide enough to fit my meter and stable enough to let it rest in the jar (although I don’t do that when testing). Disposable plastic dip containers would be ideal if you are testing many different varieties or versions of your sauce at once. These are also great for storing mini samples of a new sauce you have created.
Write down the meters reading of put it into a spread sheet if you have a large operation. This reading is the pH level of your sauce. A reading of 3.4 pH is typical but will be different depending on the ingredients you are using. Experimenting with the pH level is a personal decision and anything added to your sauce will change the way it tastes.
I tested my chipotle sauce that produced a reading of 3.66. I then add a capfull of white vinegar (that’s a lot) to test the meters capabilities of detecting a changing pH level and the pH was reduced to 2.70. However, it tasted like a completely different sauce.
Take more than one reading
Do at least three readings and take the average of the three of them, cleaning it after several readings. They should not be much different and there should only be minimal factors that will affect the reading. Also, make sure you are reading the sauce from the same recipe and batch of sauce that you made. You may want to also read several bottles from the same batch, depending on how determined you are that your sauce has the pH reading that is acceptable to you.
Does the temperature of the hot sauce make a difference?
Temperature will make a difference in the accuracy and level of your reading. Do not freeze or boil your hot sauce and expect it to a precise measurement and don’t test it if it is too hot or cold. Room temperature, between 68 and 72 is ideal for a reading so take out of the refrigeration about 2 hours before testing. Don’t microwave if it is too cold and don’t put it in the refrigerator if it is too hot, let it arrive at a natural temperature.
Cleaning and reusing
Cleaning the pH test meter is important in how it produces results the next time you take a reading. Don’t submerge the meter completely under water or put the meter in the dishwasher. The one that I purchased is not completely waterproof and water could get in and damage the circuit board, like any electronics.
I put the probe end into lukewarm water and stir it around a little bit. A degreasing dish soap such as Dawn dish detergent may be needed to break up any oils left of the probe from your hot sauce. If you are using soap make sure the final rinse is with warm water only. Labmanager.com states to use Deionized Water for the final clean (manufacturers recommendation) and let the meter air dry. I also use a soft bristle tooth brush to gently clean the glass probe so that there is not any residue left that may cause an inaccurate reading.
I have found that a pipe cleaner works best at getting up in the crevasses but a twisted paper towel or cloth will work just as well. Letting it drip dry and wiping the excess is sufficient. Make sure it is completely dry and there isn’t any lint left from the paper towel before doing another reading.
Calibrating the meter
Most meters will already be calibrated. This means that there are set parameters that the meter uses to give it’s reading. Calibrating is important and should be done if you have not used your meter in a few months. This is standard for many scientific tools and medical devises so don’t think there is something faulty with your meter.
Some meters come with three packets of pH solution, pH buffer solution or buffer powder specifically for calibration. The pH solutions will be color coded red (about 4 pH), green or yellow (about 7 pH) and blue (about 10 pH). Get a 15 pack here!
Use any of the solutions to calibrate but start with mid-range of about 7. Dissolve the powder in an 8 oz. glass of bottled water and measure like you would read hot sauce. Swish the meter around slightly and wait for the meter to read the exact pH that is on the packet. Press the “CAL” button and the meter will automatically detect the pH.
How do I know if my meter is giving and accurate reading?
Calibrate and test your meter using bottled water if you are unsure of the accuracy. Bottled water should have a pH of 7. Don’t feel as though your meter is inaccurate if you have a reading slightly lower or higher. Bottled water can be between 6.5 and 7.5. There is probably nothing that will consistently be the same pH.
Take these readings multiple times just like you would de reading your hot sauce. Again, you will find that there will not be much difference between three readings. If there is you have a problem. Read the problem-solving tips below or purchase a new meter.
Test liquids to be known acid of alkaline based to see the difference in what the meter will indicate. Bottled water is a good method of having reliable substance to produce and accurate reading.
What can make readings inaccurate?
If you have residue from under sauce that has not been clean properly than that will give false readings. Clean after each reading and clean it properly before storing it. Any soap or other residue left on the meter will give a false reading as well.
Change out the batteries if your meter is giving extreme readings or if they are very inconsistent between each read. If the meter has been unused for any length of time it is best to replace the batteries.
It is possible that the meter itself has a faulty circuit board, water has penetrated or it has been dropped. Check the warranty and replace the meter. Think about purchasing the next, more advanced meter as well.
Reading each ingredient
Reading each ingredient of your hot sauce can be an interesting activity but may not have much to do with the end pH levels of your hot sauce. The vinegar and pepper mash can be read with the meter I use but anything similar to garlic will need to be probed to get a reading.
What is more accurate meters or pH paper?
A digital meter is going to be much easier and much more accurate than using litmus paper. It is interesting to see the color of the paper change with the differences in the pH level but you will be relying on the naked you to compare colors.
What doesn’t work
I recently purchased some pH strips at a department store used to check the pH level of aquarium water. Either they did not work or I did not use them correctly. I tested water, vinegar and hot sauce and saw no difference in the pH level on the strips.
Homemade litmus paper
Homemade litmus paper is another interesting experiment to test the pH level of your hot sauce but this will also not be as accurate as a test meter.
Are more expensive meters more accurate?
A more expensive meter may offer other accessories that make it cost more money. If you plan on making and experimenting with many different types of sauces than purchase a durable meter that will last.
The manual of your meter will give you the tolerance of it’s performance but they are all relatively the same. Some other factor when purchasing a more expensive meter are durability, style, power source, probing device, applicable testing methods.
The pH level of a hot sauce is important in determining the capabilities of bacterial growth or the hinderance of bacteria in your sauce. If you make your own hot sauce and plan to produce, bottle and sell your sauce then testing the pH level is essential.