Many people that consume a lot of hot sauce claim the acidity from the sauce causes indigestion, acid reflux or other things to the body that may be uncomfortable. While this may be true where does the acidity come from?
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The pH level or acidity of peppers typically ranges from 4.0 to 5.0, which is considered to be slightly acidic on the pH scale. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being the most alkaline. The acidity in peppers comes from their natural chemical composition.
Generally speaking, most peppers, no matter what their heat level is, have a pH range between 4.65 and 5.93 (clemson.edu). According facty.com to cayenne peppers and bell peppers are some of the most alkaline heavy peppers available. Which means the will still fall below a neutral 7 on the pH scale.
All peppers contain citric acid, which is what gives them their slightly acidic taste (chemicalsafetyfacts.org). Ripe peppers tend to be higher in acidity than unripe peppers. Despite their slightly acidic nature, peppers can still be a healthy addition to your diet and add a lot of nutritional value to hot sauce. They provide vitamins, antioxidants, and potassium. While peppers are slightly acidic, they should not be a concern for a balanced diet and these same qualities can be incorporated into a hot sauce recipe.
The acidity in peppers comes from organic acids like citric acid and malic acid. These acids help give peppers their distinctive flavor and pungency.
Unripe green peppers tend to have higher acidity than ripe red peppers. The capsaicin and capsaicinoids that make hot peppers spicy are lipid-soluble compounds, not acids. So the spiciness of peppers is separate from their acidity.
Mild bell peppers can still be acidic, and hot chili peppers can have a similar pH range. The main health benefits of peppers come from their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients like carotenoids, flavonoids, and vitamin C. These compounds help combat free radical damage and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases. In terms of nutrition, peppers are low in calories but high in vitamins and minerals. The acidity of a hot sauce may not be caused by the peppers…read more here!
They provide a good amount of vitamin C and vitamin A (from beta-carotene), as well as B vitamins and potassium. Fiber content also varies from 2 to 5 grams per pepper. So in summary, while peppers are slightly acidic due to organic acids, their spiciness and health benefits come from other compounds. The overall nutritional profile of peppers makes them a good addition to a balanced diet. The acidity is not at a level that would be a concern for most people.
Acidity of some common peppers used in hot sauce
Do peppers contribute to the overall pH of a hot sauce?
Any ingredient in a hot sauce can influence the pH level. Generally speaking, the hot peppers should be about 65% of the overall volume of a hot sauce recipe. Learn more about the Hot Sauce Recipe Ratio in Guide To Making Hot Sauce available for purchase on Amazon. Ingredients that are more dominant by volume or acidity will influence a recipe either above or below a neutral 7 on the pH scale.
Hot peppers naturally contain organic acids that give them their sour and acidic taste. The main organic acids in hot peppers are citric acid, malic acid and ascorbic acid.
When the peppers are blended or cooked down to make hot sauce, these organic acids are released and contribute to the sauce’s acidity or are at least partially responsible.
Increasing acidity of a hot sauce
Increasing the acidity of a hot sauce may seem absurd but it can be done through fermentation or the addition of acidic ingredients like vinegar or citric juice. The reasons are usually based on preserving the hot sauce because the low acidity increases the shelf life.
Fermenting hot peppers, as is often done to make hot sauces, produces lactic acid as a byproduct. Lactic acid bacteria feed on the sugars in the peppers during fermentation, releasing lactic acid which further increases the acidity of the resulting hot sauce. Read the complete guide to a fermented hot sauce HERE!
Vinegar is often added to hot sauces as a main ingredient. Vinegar is a diluted acid, usually either acetic acid from fermented ethanol, or citric acid from citrus fruits. The vinegar boosts the sauce’s acidity level and acts as a preservative. Distilled white vinegar is one of the most common vinegars used in hot sauce but read here for 19 of the Best Vinegar for Hot Sauce.
The organic acids naturally present in hot peppers, the lactic acid produced during fermentation and any added vinegar all work together to give hot sauces their sour, acidic kick and help preserve the sauce by inhibiting bacterial growth. The hotter the peppers and the more vinegar that is added, the higher the resulting acidity of the hot sauce tends to be.
Are hotter peppers more acidic?
Since hot peppers are typically harvested at a younger, greener stage for maximum heat, they often retain more of their initial acidity compared to fully ripe, red bell peppers
Hot peppers contain higher amounts of capsaicinoids, the compounds that make them spicy. Capsaicinoids are fatty acid derivatives, so they contribute to the peppers’ acidity. Milder peppers have lower capsaicinoid content and are therefore less acidic.
Hot peppers tend to have higher levels of organic acids like citric acid and malic acid. These organic acids give peppers their distinctive flavor and also contribute to their acidity. Milder peppers generally have lower levels of these organic acids.
As peppers ripen and mature, their acidity levels tend to decrease. Since hot peppers are typically harvested at a younger, greener stage for maximum heat, they often retain more of their initial acidity compared to fully ripe, red bell peppers.
Genetics also plays a role in the acidity of a hot pepper. Hot pepper varieties have been selectively bred over time to produce higher capsaicinoid and organic acid levels, resulting in spicier, more acidic fruits. Milder pepper varieties have been bred for lower acidity and less heat.
Hot peppers do tend to have higher acidity levels than milder pepper varieties due to a combination of genetic, biochemical and harvest factors. The capsaicinoids, organic acids and unripeness of hot peppers all contribute to making them a more acidic fruit compared to mild bell peppers. Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.
Here are some additional details regarding acidity in hot peppers:
- The capsaicinoid content in hot peppers ranges from 0.3 to 1.5% by dry weight, compared to 0.05% or less in mild peppers. Capsaicinoids are fatty acid amides that contribute to the peppers’ acidity.
- Organic acids like citric acid and malic acid make up 1-2% of the dry weight of hot peppers, compared to 0.5-1% for mild peppers. These organic acids give peppers their distinctive flavor and sourness.
- Hot peppers are typically harvested at the green stage for maximum heat. This means they retain more of their initial acidity from organic acids, which decreases as peppers ripen and mature. Mild peppers are often allowed to fully ripen to red.
- Hot pepper varieties have been selectively bred over centuries to produce higher capsaicinoid and organic acid levels, resulting in spicier, more acidic fruits. Mild pepper varieties have been bred for lower acidity and less heat.
- The pH of hot peppers typically ranges from 3.5 to 4.5, compared to 4.5 to 5.5 for mild peppers. Lower pH indicates higher acidity.
- Hot peppers contain higher amounts of vitamin C than mild peppers, which is an acidic compound that contributes to the overall acidity of the fruit.
A combination of genetic, biochemical and harvest factors all contribute to hot peppers having significantly higher acidity compared to mild peppers. The higher levels of capsaicinoids, organic acids, and vitamin C, as well as the unripe stage at harvest, all push hot peppers to the more acidic end of the pH scale.
Are fresh peppers more acidic than cooked peppers?
Fresh peppers will be more acidic than cooked peppers according to the National Library of Medicine
- Cooking breaks down the cell walls of the peppers, releasing some of the organic acids that give them their tangy flavor. These organic acids then mix with the cooking liquid and evaporate.
- Heat also causes some of the organic acids in the peppers to break down and convert into less acidic compounds. This lowers the overall acidity.
- Cooking peppers in liquid, like water or broth, allows some of the organic acids to leach out into the cooking liquid, further lowering the acidity of the cooked peppers.
Fresh peppers tend to have a higher acidity due to their intact cell walls that contain more organic acids. When you cook peppers, some of those organic acids are released, broken down, or absorbed by the cooking liquid, resulting in lower acidity in the cooked peppers.
The effect is most noticeable for green bell peppers, which have the highest acidity of common pepper varieties. Red and orange bell peppers, which are riper and sweeter, have lower acidity to begin with, so the difference between fresh and cooked is less significant.
Testing the acidity of peppers
Only a specific type of pH meter with a probe will provide an accurate reading
Hot peppers can be tested for their acidic levels by using a pH meter. Hot Sauce Hell recommends testing peppers as opposed to relying on other information because there are very few resources available. Only a specific type of pH meter with a probe will provide an accurate reading.
Peppers can also be tested by blending them. This will produce a pure, thick textured substance that can then be tested with a meter or test strips. This is possible because peppers contain a lot of water and blending them into a puree will allow testing without adding a liquid substance.
Check out ALL of our meter recommendations on our Best pH Meters page to get the specifications on meters for all pH testing applications. Consider the reasons for testing and how you are going to use the results before you invest in commercial grade meters. The investment in a specific type of meter should be dependent on the use and how accurate you need the meter to be.
Overall Top Pick! Aspera Instruments SX811-SS
Recommended meter for the highest quality professional reading. The SX 811 is very easy to use and portable enough for many applications.
Get the most current pricing here from Amazon.
Multi-use! Milwaukie MW 102
Recommended meter for everyday pH testing. The conical probe end allows for penetration into the pepper wall for accurate reading.
Get the most current pricing here from Amazon.
Least Expensive! YINMIK Digital
Recommended meter on a budget. This inexpensive and easy to use meter will perform accuracy without the expense of some bench top meters.
Get the most current pricing here from Amazon.