The Challenges of Preserving Hot Sauce and Controlling the pH

The addition or subtraction of certain ingredients in your hot sauce for the purpose of preservation will change the pH level. Hot peppers, by themselves are very acidic. To change the acidic level of your hot sauce or increase the alkaline measurement you will have to add ingredients that are either neutral or closer to being alkaline and this could affect preservation.

Some methods of preservation, either naturally or man-made, can alter the pH of a hot sauce. If you plan on making a hot sauce on the alkaline side of the pH scale it will need additives for purposes of preservation to increase the shelf life of the sauce. Some of these preservatives could make the hot sauce more acidic.

How are sauces preserved?

There are about 16 ways to preserve foods but not all of them would apply directly to a bottled hot sauce. The modern methods of preserving food products are pickling, salting, smoking, canning, bottling, pasteurization, refrigeration, sterilization, dehydration, chemical additives, natural additives, radiation (or cold sterilization), lyophilization (freeze drying), curing, freezing and fermentation.

These methods of food preservation cannot be used on all food or food related products and there are only a few that apply to hot sauce. Some hot sauces available for sale use a combination of several different preserving processes.

How do you preserve hot sauce?

Of these methods, due to its acidic content, hot sauce would use a combination of methods used in bottling, refrigeration, pickling, salting, sterilization and fermentation as the preserving methods. Pasteurization and chemical additives are also methods used to increase the shelf life of hot sauce if the pH level is higher than 4.6. Once opened the amount of time that the sauce stays fresh would be greatly diminished.

Does hot sauce preserve naturally?

The process of preservation is to stop oxidation and bacterial growth. For a hot sauce that is fermented or has a pH lower than 4.6, preservation happens naturally or with natural additives like vinegar, salt and lemon juice. Some hot sauces that lean towards a higher alkaline level need the accumulation of other additives, not necessarily ingredients, into your hot sauce. These additives then get absorbed into our system.

A simple combination of pepper and vinegar will make an acidic sauce and will allow for preservation. The exact amount of vinegar added would be based on the simple recipe you follow but as a general rule hot sauce needs about 25% vinegar content to help with preservation. It is the vinegar that acts as a natural preservative for the other ingredients in your sauce. A hot sauce without vinegar will need other methods of preservation by adding either natural or chemical preservatives.

Does preserving a hot sauce change the pH?

The process of fermentation or the addition of vinegar with change the pH of a hot sauce. Also, a sauce higher on the pH scale will need additives, either natural of chemical to increase the shelf life. Some of these additives will decrease the alkaline measurement.

What changes the pH of a hot sauce?

Contents such as apple cider vinegar, pH water and other ingredients that are higher in pH compared to similar products will change the amount of acid in your sauce, but not by much. Vinegar is used in a hot sauce as a preservative and fermentation will create very acidic contents as well.

I like hot peppers for the flavor and not so much the heat, so I use peppers high on the Scoville scale (SHU) but mix them with other fruits and vegetables that are more alkaline. This type of sauce will need additives such as sodium sorbate or sodium benzoate (see below) to increase the shelf life.

Why does the pH matter?

For food products a lower pH does not allow for harmful bacteria to grow in the sauce. It is common practice for commercial manufactures to test their sauce throughout production. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) acceptable pH level for a hot sauce is 4.6 but a lower pH of about 3.4 will ensure any inaccuracies in readings due to equipment or temperature differences in the sauce will be covered.

Some theorists believe that our diet should reflect the high alkaline range of our body, which is about 7.36 to 7.44. Excessive acidity in the body can cause fatigue, headaches, frequent colds or joint pain. Some also believe a high acid body is a magnet for sickness and disease and that pH effects the bodies health or cleanliness. Acidic pH in the body tissue has warning signs such as headaches, allergies, sinus problems and a common cold.

Health results related to a high alkaline diet

Medical News Today states that an alkaline diet tends to be lower in calories and helps promote weight loss. Foods typically consumed on an alkaline diet like fruits and vegetable, as well as others, have fewer calories than acidic foods. Hot sauce is one of these foods that is low in calories!

Hot sauces on the market currently offer a plethora of ingredients with many containing fruits and vegetables all with high alkaline content. The addition of water, especially pH water can alter the pH level of the sauce as well.

What does alkaline water do to hot sauce?

Besides watering down a really delicious sauce, pH water will increase the pH level of the sauce. Many consumers of hot sauce frown upon the use of water in a sauce but it is not uncommon. Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water is a common condiment where pH water could be used and still give a delicious flavoring to a condiment.

Benefits of alkaline water

Alkaline water and alkaline forming foods allow the body to dispose of waste from the liver, kidney, large intestines and other organs in the body. In other words…its good for you. Alkaline ionized water has very strong (negative) Oxidation Reduction Potential as well.

In another article from Medical News Today the authors states several benefits to consuming alkaline water. Studies have shown that the consumption of alkaline water over a 3 to 6-month period decreased blood sugar levels, reduced high blood sugar had lowered blood lipids.

Is it possible to make an alkaline hot sauce?

Alkaline forming vegetables such as kale, green peas and parsnips will all have a high pH level to them but don’t alter the pH level of a sauce very easily. Even though some foods are considered, and tested, as being high alkaline those figures do not transfer to the overall pH level of a sauce very well.

Some hot sauces contain sugar and sweeteners and some, such as stevia will have a high pH. Also, refined sugars cause your body to produce acids. Although used as a preservative, sugar will also change the flavor and caloric content of a sauce too.

Making a hot sauce that has a high alkaline level is very difficult but there are ingredients that will put the sauce closer to an alkaline level. Read more on the Difficulties of Making a High Alkaline Sauce for more information on this. To ensure that the sauce is safe for bottling a pasteurization method may be needed to be used or other methods of adding preservatives (see below). This process won’t alter the pH of a sauce but it requires a mild heating that could change your sauce in other ways if your recipe was not intended to be heated up.

What is pasteurization?

Pasteurization is a process in which mild heat is applied to food and food products that are both packaged and non-packaged that gets rid of pathogens. Hot sauce can be pasteurized but this would cause the product to be heated and this process could affect the sauce. This process of extending the self-life of food products or preserving its contents longer requires the hot sauce to be heated up and packaged while it is hot.

Why do we have to preserve a high pH hot sauce?

Food spoilers and food poisoners live between a pH level of 4 to 8. Without some type of preservation process to your hot sauce bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum can thrive. Bacteria such as this can cause illness and infections leading to death.

Most simple, traditional hot sauces are made with hot peppers and vinegar. It is the acids in the vinegar that help with the preservation. If you want sauce on the alkaline side than it may not contain vinegar and will have to find another means of preservation, without changing the pH.

How to preserve a hot sauce without lowering the pH

There are many methods of preserving hot sauce that was mentioned earlier in this article. Some methods may or may not alter the pH of your sauce, but they could change the flavor or cause you to add chemical ingredients that will not make the “all natural” ingredient list.

Chemical preservatives need to be added to foods that have a pH higher than 4.6. Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate are some of the more widely used preservatives in many condiments. Other chemical inhibitors such as nitrites, sulfites, parabens, sorbic acid, sulfur dioxide are used in the food industry, but you don’t commonly see them in a hot sauce. I am not sure I want to put these in a sauce that I consider to be all natural, but they are safe and used regularly in many condiments.

Chemical preservatives

There are about 20 chemical preservatives that are approved by the FDA and are “recognized as being safe when used in accordance with good manufacturing practices” (FDA). Some may have limitations listed and also have an effect on the taste or consistency of the sauce. Below is a brief description of the more common ones that are used in hot sauces.

Ascorbic acid

There are many brands of hot sauce that use ascorbic acid as a preservative. Commonly known as vitamin C excessive heating or boiling of your hot sauce will destroy the vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is used to stop the browning of fresh cut produce and is available in tablet and powder form.

Erythorbic acid

Sometimes found in hot sauces Erythorbic acid is made from reaction between other acids. Used in meats and frozen vegetables its use as a preservative have increased.

Sorbic acids

Natural organic compound derived from the unripe berries of the mountain ash tree. Not a suitable preservative in foods with high microbial counts. The most sorbic acid permitted by the FDA is 0.1% to 0.3% and according to science direct it is effective at a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Some other preservatives may lose their effectiveness at 4.5 to 5.5.

Sorbic acid has a neutral taste and odor but there are other preservatives that do have a flavoring to them. Many preservatives are either a solid or a liquid. A preservative will need to be soluble or dissolved to be active against microorganisms. Sorbic acid has a low solubility point which is why its salt is preferred.

Sodium benzoate

Safe to consume as long as it is within the limits of the FDA which states a maximum level of 0.1 percent. Sharp and bitter flavor that creates a high acid level. Also it can enhance some hot sauces more that other preservatives. Sodium benzoate is commonly used in sauces that cannot tolerate being heated.

Potassium sorbate

Potassium sorbate is commonly used in sauces that cannot tolerate being heated, such as mayonnaise. Some popular hot sauces such as Sriracha use it as well as Sodium Bisulfite which can have a sulfuric order to it. Produced from Sorbic Acid and does not affect color or flavor of the sauce.  Shows activity up to 6% it is most active around 4.5%.

Calcium sorbate

Calcium sorbate is calcium salt from Sorbic Acid. Recognized as being safe if used in accordance with the good manufacturing practices.

Natural preservatives

Although chemical preservatives are widely used and accepted on food products more and more manufactures of sauce are using natural ingredients. Many of these contents will help with preserving your hot sauce but could also change the flavor and pH.

Salt is a natural preservative for fish and meat and is used to ferment peppers before making hot sauce. It also has abilities to reduce water activity and this inhibits the growth of microbial bacteria. Salts are rarely used as the sole preservative in foods today although it is used in a brine solution before fermenting peppers.

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is often a common ingredient in many hot sauces but will give a pH reading of about 2.4. The natural acidity of lemons with help with the preservation of your hot sauce and is commonly found in many sauces. The addition of lemon will alter the flavor of your sauce, but some use it as an alternative to vinegar.

Grapefruit seed extract

Grapefruit seed extract comes from the seed and pulp of the grapefruit. GSE can have health benefits fighting infections although there is little human research to validate this.

Rosemary extract

Rosemary extract is often found in products that contain fats or oils and can be found in salad dressings as well. The rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid delay oxidation and the growth of microorganisms that cause foods to spoil.


Sugar is a common ingredient in many hot sauces. However, if you are making a high alkaline sauce sugar will work against you. This process must be carefully controlled. Sugar curing is typically done with fruit preserves, jams and jellies and it is the presence of sugar that prevents the growth of Clostridium Botulinum.

Does sugar change the pH?

Sweeteners such as stevia will have a high pH. It is not unusual for hot sauce to contain sugar. Sriracha, Truff and Ardvark all contain sugar, as well as many others. Refined sugars cause your body to produce acids.

Citric acid

Citric acid is an orderless and colorless substance that was originally produced from lemons. Many other fruits also contain citric acids but they are smaller amounts. Citric acid is manufactured and not what is found in naturally in citric fruits. Citric acid can be made from lemons and a couple other chemicals and will have a pH between 3 and 6.   

Clean Label

Manufacturers strive to have fewer ingredients or ingredients consumers are familiar with on their product labels. Labeling a product with “no preservatives” is an excellent way to market the product. Natural preservatives would fall under the category of not having preservatives listed on the label.

Most of the ones on this list will have an acidic content and could drastically alter the pH of your sauce. I have not seen a high alkaline sauce on the market, but I have seen some recipes that boast their hot sauce is alkaline even with the difficulties of making one.

How to preserve a high alkaline sauce

Foods without acids have the potential for microorganisms which could cause foodborne illness. Foods that have a pH reading of 4.6 or above are low acid foods and will require either the addition of acidic ingredients or chemical preservatives.

Many different foods use different methods of preservation to give them a longer shelf life and to keep them fresher after they have been opened. Hot sauce may have natural preservatives in them but could be very acidic. If you have a sauce that is a high alkaline sauce use the method of preservation that best suits your diet.

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