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Shake it, spread it, pour it however you might like to enjoy it, hot sauce can be the perfect complement to a wide variety of foods.

Since the year 2000, the hot sauce market has increased by over 150%. Market estimates that the hot sauce market will reach $3.77B by the end of 2026. Able to add big flavor with minimal calories, hot sauce is estimated to be in 56% of all American households. With its massive popularity, many folks have turned to making their own spicy flavors. Whether hot sauce making is a hobby, a “side hustle”, or a livelihood, it’s critical to keep pH in mind to guarantee a safe and long-lasting product.

Using the Right Ingredients

While each hot sauce tends to have its own unique flavor profile and heat level, typical recipes all stem back to the same 3 key types of ingredients – acids, fruits & vegetables, and seasonings. Recipes as straightforward as peppers, vinegar, and a bit of salt may seem simple, but it’s important to remember that all ingredients need to be handled carefully. A clean and sanitized environment, and washing all non-ready-to-eat products is a must. If fresh produce is being utilized, consider the health of the fruit or vegetable prior to adding them to your batch. Healthy lactic acid bacteria (LAB) occur naturally on produce and are a great way to kickstart fermentation and add flavor to your sauce. Avoid bruised fruits and vegetables or ones that have breaks in their skin. They may have a higher risk to contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella or Listeria. (For more information check out the CDC’S Fruit and Vegetable Safety page)
For first-time sauce makers, don’t go rogue on your recipe. Due to potential food safety concerns, concentrations of ingredients like salt need to be followed. At a minimum, sauce recipes should include 2% salt by weight of fruits & vegetables. This will help to prevent the growth of non-lactic acid bacteria otherwise competing with your LAB and make for a stronger, safer ferment. On the flip side, adding too much salt (excess of 8%) could inhibit lactic acid production. This can be very detrimental – but, more on this later. For individuals unsure of where to find safe ferment recipes, check out resources like The National Center for Home Food Preservation for a list of tried and tested recipes to get you started.

Keeping It Safe

After fermenting for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, your vessel will likely be releasing a strong, sour aroma. This is a sign that your ferment is progressing. The LAB is producing lactic acid, which gives the sauce its inherent sharp and unique flavor. While some recommend tasting the mixture periodically to gauge its readiness, remember to test your pH too! For hot sauce to be safe for consumption, the mixture must have a pH <4.6. Instead of tasting, using a pH meter will give you precise readings through the fermentation stage. Measuring pH from start to finish will allow for a sure and unbiased way of quantifying the progress and readiness of the ferment.
Besides a decline in pH, a key indicator that your mixture's fermentation is evidence of carbon dioxide bubbles. In conjunction with natural fermentation, you can add an acid to drop the pH. Vinegar (acetic acid) or lemon juice (citric acid) are great food-safe acids to help you reach the desired final acidity level. The rule to have a pH <4.6 is not unique to hot sauce, and instead, applies to all varieties of acidified foods. At this pH, the acidified food will be protected from harmful microorganisms like C. perfringens and E. coli. Products lacking adequate acidity could cause severe illness or fatality amongst consumers. The federal government regulates their production under CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Part 114 Acidified Foods. This regulation requires that all producers be able to verify their production process. Verification entails ensuring that the product reaches a pH below 4.6 in every lot produced. The verification occurs by pH testing. The FDA allows for colorimetric pH determination, such as pH test strips, only in foods with a pH below 4.0. But, it is not permissible in determining the pH in foods with a pH of 4.0 or above. For these purposes, as well as for any USDA-regulated food product, an electrochemical method of pH measurement such as a pH meter is required.

High acidity will help in preventing harmful microorganisms, but it will not help to prevent a handful of acid-resistant yeasts, molds, and bacteria. Best food safety practices recommend to thermally treating hot sauce (>180°F). This effectively destroys any potential vegetative cells within the mix such as Salmonella and Listeria. In the event that thermal treatment is not the desired mitigation process for you, further acidifying of your sauce via acetic or citric acid (pH <4.2) and the addition of chemical preservatives such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate may be used.

pH Made Easy with Hanna’s New HALO2


The HALO2 HI9810322 is designed with simplicity and reliability in mind. Don't let the name of cheese tester fool you, this HALO2 is perfect for testing in a variety of food samples (including hot sauce)! Able to measure pH with a +/-0.05 accuracy and equipped with automatic temperature compensation this unit is the perfect tool for easy measurement. With open-source Bluetooth integration, this tester can turn any Apple/Android device into a lab-grade meter capable of logging GLP-compliant data. This unit also utilizes an open junction to reduce the risk of clogging from solid and protein buildup making it ideal for high solid content liquids like that of hot sauce.

Wrapping (or Bottling) It Up

Now that you understand just how hot a topic pH is in hot sauce fermentation, we at Hanna are ready to help equip you with the right tools to kick your sauce up a notch. We hope you enjoyed this post and look forward to answering any of your condiment and quality testing topics.


Interested in more HALO2 products for all of your food testing needs?


Got Questions?

For more information regarding how Hanna Instruments can help you with all of your testing needs, contact us, at sales@hannainst.com or 1-800-426-6287.


Braun, Curtis. “How to Make a Safe Hot Sauce.” Extension.sdstate.edu, 25 Aug. 2021, extension.sdstate.edu/how-make-safe-hot-sauce#:~:text=When%20making%20a%20hot%20sauce. Accessed 8 Apr. 2022.


CDC. “Steps to Safe and Healthy Fruits & Vegetables.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/steps-healthy-fruits-veggies.html.