Altering the pH of a hot sauce will change flavor and appearance

Measuring and altering the pH of a hot sauce is nearly a scientific experiment. The pH level of a hot sauce is important for shelf life stability and acidic levels desired for certain diets. Altering the pH is simple but it will most certainly change the recipe, and this could affect the overall flavor as well as other intricacies of the hot sauce.

Lowering the pH of a hot sauce or making it more acidic can be done by adding vinegar, lemon and lime juice or other citrus fruits to your hot sauce recipe. Using distilled white vinegar will lower the pH of a hot sauce more than apple cider vinegar. Using ingredients from inconsistent sources could affect the pH of hot sauce and an inconsistency in pH testing.

Raising the pH will cause concerns for your hot sauce

Because hot peppers are considered a low acid food raising the pH can be done with removing or not adding the vinegar and lemon / limes juices or other acidic ingredients in the sauce. This will cause your hot sauce to lose its shelf life stability and other means of preservatives will be needed.

A hot sauce without vinegars or acidic liquid substances are considered to be closer to the alkaline side of a pH scale. This is OK and can help in aiding those who are on a high alkaline diet of fruits and vegetables. Certain fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, mangos and pineapples can mix well with combinations of hot peppers and will raise the pH.

A hot sauce that has a higher pH than 4.6 is not unusual because many condiments that do not contain vinegar or other non-acidic ingredients can be preserved in many ways. Condiments on the alkaline side of the pH scale can be preserved by pressure canning or pasteurization.

Raising the pH level of a hot sauce is not an easy task and nearly impossible to get a hot sauce to the level of 7 pH. You will find that adding a substance that has a pH of 6 will not change the hot sauce to a level pH level of 6. It will raise it, however slightly, but I have found it difficult to get it near 7 pH.

What will changing the pH do to my hot sauce?

If you have absolutely perfected a hot sauce recipe and the pH is over 4.6 than I would find a means of preservation other than trying to lower the pH. If you are concocting a new recipe and are concerned with the acid level than try these simple experiments in the Table No. 1 below.

Lowering pH Raising pH
Add vinegar Add water (pH water will increase the most)
Add lemon/lime juice Remove vinegar as an additive
Include tomatoes Add other vegetables with a high pH
Increase the amount of sugar Increase the amount of hot peppers
Less hot peppers Cook or process the hot peppers
Table No. 1

Further testing can be done by blending each of the ingredient and testing them individually for either a low acid level or high alkaline content. I have not found any fruits or vegetables to be over 7 on the pH scale even though I have seen it stated in some cases.

Changing the pH will alter texture and color of foods

Adding ingredients to a hot sauce because you want to alter the pH level will change its texture, appearance, color, scent and flavor. The pH has an Important effect on the color pigment in fruits and vegetables and while color may not directly affect flavor, the appearance of foods certainly does.

According to an article published in Link Springer lowering or raising the pH can cause the color pigments of some foods to be altered and this can be related to the consumers sensory perception of how food tastes. The culinary arts teaches the importance of presentation when preparing foods for consumption.

However, this may have little effect on the direct appearance of a hot sauce as there can be colors ranging from greens, browns, purples and the popular bright red. There may not be a concern with texture either in a hot sauce if you are blending or emulsifying your sauce to near liquid form.

The process of cooking will change the pH of a hot sauce

In a post from it is stated that the process of cooking foods will change the pH by causing chemical reaction when cooked over 118 degrees. The process of boiling, roasting or smoking hot peppers causes a breakdown to reduce the pH as well as reducing some of the nutrients. Steaming is a process that will keep the most of these elements in any of the fruits or vegetables you are using.

Cooked hot peppers will have a raised pH

I have hot sauce recipes that that call for the peppers to be cooked to reduce the heat because it breaks down the capcaisin. Even though heat is not related to pH this breakdown will also make the peppers less acidic and therefore raise the pH.

What is the main ingredient affecting hot sauce pH?

If you are making a hot sauce you are obviously using hot peppers as the main ingredient, or at least I hope you are! The source of the peppers can make a difference in the pH of the pepper itself and also the hot sauce that it is used in.

The pH level of hot peppers can be affected by the soil they are grown in and the ripeness at which they are harvested. These aspects may not be similar if you are purchasing peppers from different sources or if you are growing them in different locations.

Two factors that have an effect on the pH of the peppers


The pH of the soils in which hot peppers are grown make a difference in the level of heat the pepper will have. Different varieties of hot peppers grow better in soils with a certain pH level and this can affect the heat level as well!


The ripeness of hot peppers or the length of time they are held on a plant before harvest makes a difference in the pH level of the pepper. An example of this would be a red jalapeno pepper which is a jalapeno that has been left on the plant longer. This will have a change in flavor and heat but also the pH level of the pepper will be raised.

Liquid is commonly a second ingredient source

However, other additives will alter the pH as well. Commonly, the second or third ingredient in a hot sauce is a liquid substance and it is these ingredients that will have a strong affect on the pH level of a hot sauce.

Depending on what you choose to add to a hot sauce to liquefy it (maybe nothing) will determine what side of the pH scale your hot sauce will end up on. Most types of vinegar will lower the pH so the hot sauce becomes more acidic and adding water will raise the pH so it becomes more alkaline.

Is the pH different between varieties of peppers?

Hot peppers will have a range of their acidic level and will be above a pH that produces bacteria, which is why they will deteriorate and rot like all produce. Some fruits and vegetables can have very high or low pH levels when compared to others.

Refer to Table No. 2 below that shows the pH levels of many popular hot peppers used in hot sauce. Notice there is a range because many hot peppers will have aspects that control what this range may be. This is not a large range because there are many factors such as growing conditions and processing that can have an effect on the pH level.

In general hot peppers will have a pH range of about 4.65 to 5.93 and the level of acidity does not affect the level of heat. They will also have a similar pH to many other vegetables more than they do fruits. This is due to the natural sugars that many varieties of fruits contain and sugar is very acidic.

*This table is not intended to display every variety of hot pepper

Jalapeno4.9 – 6.0
Serrano5.2 – 5.9
Thai Chili6.0
Bell Peppers4.8 – 5.2
Tabasco4.6 – 5.4
Table No. 2

There can be a huge difference in the pH of the hot peppers you are using and the other ingredients. Even though the peppers should be the primary ingredients the other additives will also change the pH as well. See Table No. 3 below.

pH of common hot sauce ingredients

ProductpH Level
Water7.0 – 9.0
Hot Peppers4.65 – 5.93
Lime Juice2 – 3
Lemon Juice2
Table No. 3

Safe pH for hot sauce

According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) a safe pH level for a shelf stable hot sauce should be 4.6. This number can fluctuate due to the testing methods, type of equipment being used for testing, temperature of the hot sauce. A pH of 3.4 is optimal to avoid any of these conflicts. There are many factors that could contribute to the use of the meter to include battery failure or the glass electrode is contaminated.

Three factors that can affect pH testing

Some of these factors will directly affect the pH of a hot sauce and others are a result of the outcome of the reading and give you false information. A sure way to control the pH of the additives and ingredients is to use from the same source such as was mentioned with purchasing or growing hot peppers.

Dissolved minerals in water

Tap water or well water are good examples of minerals in water that will affect the testing of pH in hot sauce. The level of each of these types of water can vary greatly against a controlled environment of bottled water. Be consistent with the source of water as you are with the hot peppers.

Air borne contaminants

Fine organic compounds can be found in air particles. Some particles that cannot be seen with the naked eye can contribute to the accuracy of a reading on a pH meter. These are considered microscopic and will have a minimal affect on the pH testing of a hoy sauce but performing these tests in a clean air environment will produce more accurate results.


The temperature at which you are testing the sauce can cause you to get in accurate readings in your hot sauce. Ideally a room temperature between 68 and 72 will give the most accurate results for testing a hot sauce. There are some reasons you will want to change the pH of a hot sauce whether it is lowering it or raising it and there are other times outside factors will effect the pH testing results. Be consistent with your source of ingredients or additives and also be consistent and particular about your testing methods

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