Many people make batches of freshly made hot sauce after a season of newly grown hot peppers has been harvested. Making hot sauce is easy, fun, and a creative way to “spice” up a bland meal. The last thing you might be thinking about is the pH level or preserving qualities of the hot sauce, but it is important to understand, especially if you are making large batches.
The pH level of a homemade hot sauce is important to know for storage and consumption purposes. A lower pH creates an edible safe hot sauce over an extended period. This is why many homemade hot sauces can last in the refrigerator or pantry for extended periods and remain edible without the need for special additives or bottling requirements.
Making a homemade hot sauce can include numerous variations of processes using many different types of ingredients. One common ingredient is the use of hot peppers, and this can cause some concerns for preservation. Hot peppers are a vegetable and therefore on their own are subject to bacterial growth at some point, unless methods of preservation are taken. Adding other ingredients in liquid forms such as vinegar or citrus juice can preserve a homemade hot sauce recipe but there should be some concern with the pH level as well.
Homemade hot sauce recipe
The pH refers to the amount of potential water in a substance and will determine if a hot sauce is acidic and will preserve itself or alkaline and requires additional preservation methods. There are many recipes available for making homemade hot sauce. Many simple recipes use only hot peppers, vinegar, and a few other spices. It is the use of vinegar in a hot sauce recipe that reduces the pH level or creates an acidic environment, but some recipes may not include vinegar. Homemade recipes are almost always modified but adding any amount of vinegar will change how the recipe tastes. This will also change the pH level, especially if the amount of vinegar is reduced.
Is pH important for homemade hot sauce?
The pH level of hot sauce doesn’t matter too much for the consumption of the sauce even if one is on the acidic side of the pH scale and the other is more alkaline. Read more here on Understanding Hot Sauce pH. The pH level of hot sauce doesn’t affect health too much and the human body will not change no matter how high or how low the pH level of anything you consume is, especially hot sauce. However, the pH will tell you how much acidity or alkaline a sauce has and this will determine how well it will be preserved or if anything needs to be done further to provide preservation. A hot sauce with a pH below 7 on the scale is considered acidic whereas anything over 7 is on the alkaline side of the scale. Ideally a homemade hot sauce should be between 3.5 and 4.5 for preservation purposes.
How to determine pH
The acidity of a homemade hot sauce can be determined by home testing the sauce with a simple pH meter. These meters are accurate and easy to use and can be purchased here through our Best Meters page. See our recommendations here or read How To Test Hot Sauce pH here. Commercial manufacturers send their sauces to laboratories for multiple testing to include pH, SHU (Scoville Heat Units), and nutritional content. This can get expensive and may not be necessary for a homemade hot sauce unless there is an old family recipe that you are trying to manufacture for sale.
Controlling the pH of homemade hot sauce
Altering or changing the pH level of a homemade hot sauce can prove to be very difficult without changing the recipe completely. The only need for changing or controlling the pH level may be to increase the shelf life and allow it to be edible for long periods.
Controlling the pH of a fermented hot sauce is very difficult because the process cannot be disrupted without destroying the procedure. The process itself produces low acidic levels and this creates a form of preservation for the hot peppers.
High acidic level
High acidic levels of a hot sauce or low pH reading means that it probably has a lot of vinegar, citrus juice, tomatoes, or other ingredients with a lot of acids. The negative of high acidic levels is that they can irritate the esophagus and stomach lining and other areas of the body. This may only have a harmful effect if you consume large quantities of hot sauce. The positives of a low pH hot sauce are that it is well preserved and has a long shelf life. This means that you can store it for long periods even after it is opened and it will remain fresh for consumption.
Low acidic levels
Low acid levels are usually in hot sauces with a high fruit and vegetable content. These types of ingredients will have a high alkaline level and will have a much lower acid level. A high alkaline hot sauce is considered by many to be a healthier hot sauce condiment. While this may be true the effects are only evident if you are consuming very large quantities of sauce. The overall pH level of the human body cannot be changed by consuming high alkaline hot sauce. The positive effects are from the nutrients in the fruit and vegetable consumption in a high alkaline hot sauce. This type of sauce will either need refrigeration or methods of preservation such as canning.
Storing homemade hot sauce
Being able to store a homemade hot sauce for long periods while it remains edible is probably the most important aspect of its pH level. Making a large batch of hot sauce only to have it become inedible after a few weeks will make all of your efforts wasted.
Storing hot sauce either in the refrigerator or pantry will be dependent on the pH level of the sauce. A hot sauce with a pH below 3.4, or a high acidic level, will store for a very long time and remain fresh. If you are not testing the sauce for pH the freshness can be evident by the appearance and odor of the sauce. A hot sauce that has begun to go bad because of poor storing conditions is very obvious.
Testing the pH of a homemade hot sauce can be done with a simple pH meter but this is not a common kitchen utensil. If you make hot sauce regularly this should become a common instrument in your kitchen to verify a proper and consistent pH level. It can also be used for testing all sauces to ensure they are stored properly with consideration to the ability to consume them over long periods.