Creating hot sauce can be a science but you do not need to be a scientist to understand the importance of certain pH levels and what needs to be done to maintain them for the duration of its shelf life. Hot sauce recipes need to be tested frequently so that the pH level is known and determined if it needs to be adjusted or not.
The pH level of a hot sauce determines how long a sauce will remain fresh before and after it is opened. It is necessary to know this to understand the expiration date of a hot sauce as it applies to consumption. The pH of a hot should be below 4.6 so the potential growth of bacteria is prohibited.
What is ph?
The pH is the Potential Hydrogen that a substance has or the possibility of hydrogen ions greater than water. Depending on the level of pH in a hot sauce, it can determine the need for some adjustments to the recipe before or after it is bottled to kill harmful bacteria.
What should the pH of hot sauce be?
To be safe from harmful bacteria and to also avoid any complications associated with testing, a hot sauce should have a pH at or around 3.4. Many factors can affect the accuracy of reading to include the source of the ingredients, the quality of the reading device, and the temperature of the sauce. Read Why The pH Level Of Hot Sauce Is Important for more information on the right level for your sauce.
There is no reason to discard a hot sauce or keep from producing it if the pH is above a bacteria growth reading above 4.6. There are methods of bottling and packaging such as pasteurization that can lengthen the expiration date of a hot sauce. Pasteurization is where the hot sauce is brought up to a temperature of 180 degrees for 10 minutes and then immediately bottled.
Most traditional or classic hot sauce recipes will be on the acidic side of the pH scale due to vinegar or citrus juices. The other side of the pH scale, above the neutrality of 7, is considered alkaline. An alkaline hot sauce can be difficult to make if you are trying to get it above 7 and can only be achieved if you leave out ingredients like vinegar and citrus. The Shocking Truth About An Alkaline Hot Sauce is that even without vinegar they will barely reach 7 on the scale.
What affects the pH?
The level of heat or spiciness that a hot sauce has does not affect the pH. A hot pepper with more spiciness to it does not mean that it has more acidity or a lower lever on the pH scale. Hot peppers are on the alkaline side of the scale and this can fluctuate depending on the soil where the peppers are grown as well as the variety or species of the peppers. The amount of hot pepper contents in a hot sauce can also affect the pH but it is only because it allows more ingredients by volume that will alter the pH level.
Acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon, lemon juice, citrus, tomatoes will lower the pH of a hot sauce, making it more acidic. Other ingredients considered to be alkaline, mostly fruits and vegetables, will raise the pH of a hot sauce. These and The 50 Most Common Hot Sauce Ingredients will all affect the pH level.
Why should I test hot sauce?
Anyone manufacturing hot sauce for consumption needs to know whether or not their sauce has the possibility of bacterial growth which can cause harm to anyone eating the sauce. The consumer also has the liability if they consume sauce beyond the recommended expiration date. A homemade hot sauce, no matter what the ingredients can last for days or weeks if refrigerated without harm. Once sauces are manufactured and produced on a mass level for commercial sales they need careful attention to the correct pH level through testing.
How often should a hot sauce be pH tested?
The pH level of a hot sauce can fluctuate for many reasons even after it has been bottled. Always test every new hot sauce creation and every batch that is made even if it is the same recipe. Some variables can alter the pH of a hot sauce recipe that may not be noticeable with color, appearance, or flavor.
Testing should be done after a hot sauce has been both opened and unopened for any length of time after it has been bottled. Test a sauce after it has been opened at different intervals of 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months. This will give a clear indication of how effective the preservation methods are. These results will be different if the hot sauce is refrigerated or not. Refrigeration slows down the ability of bacteria growth but most hot sauce brands are not found in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores.
How to lower the pH
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that the should be below 4.6 to kill potentially harmful bacteria. Some hot sauces that do not have many acidic ingredients can fall on this threshold or even higher. This means that harmful bacteria can grow in this environment and other means of lowering the pH will be needed.
Lowering the pH without affecting flavor
One of the main ingredients of many hot sauces is vinegar. This is a very acidic ingredient that lowers the pH significantly. This is also an ingredient that has a huge influence on the flavor of the hot sauce. This is not an ingredient that should be added in an attempt to lower the pH after a hot sauce has been created. Some natural and synthetic preservatives like sorbic acid can be added to create a safe pH level without altering the flavor of a hot sauce.
How do I test pH?
Testing the pH level of a hot sauce can be done with a simple pH meter like our recommendation through this link to Amazon. Testing the pH of a hot sauce can also be done in a laboratory setting and probably should be conducted by these means with every new batch of hot sauce. Laboratory testing may also need to be done if a hot sauce recipe is close to an acceptable pH of 4.6 because there may be some fluctuation of this number, allowing bacterial growth.
Read more on How To Use a pH Meter Properly to Test Hot Sauce. These meters are meters are very inexpensive but can provide a baseline pH so there is no need to guess. Other meters like the Aspera AI311 will provide more accuracy. Read more here on The Best pH Meters we recommend.
Do not guess at the pH level of a hot sauce and do not dismiss it as not being important. This will determine how long a hot sauce will last in the refrigerator once it is opened as well as how long it can be stored unopened on store shelves. Knowing the expiration date of a hot sauce and providing that on a bottle of hot sauce is valuable information to both the seller and the consumer.
Home meters or hand-held meters are perfect for testing every new batch of hot sauce that is created to determine the initial pH of a sauce. Some factors affect the accuracy of pH but having a well-functioning high end meter can prevent some of these problems.