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pH pH is a log scale - are we using too much vinegar?


Extreme Member
Yes, I'm an engineer and like to calculate. Most sauce recipes I've seen for shelf stable sauces use at least 30% vinegar by weight and up to 65% vinegar in a tabasco style sauce. I never have a problem hitting a pH below 4.0 when making a sauce, more often it ends up 3.6 to 3.8.

Given that typical store vinegars are pH 2.5 and pH is a log scale, to get to a pH of 3.5 you would have to dilute that vinegar 9 times (assuming a neutral diluent 9x the vinegar volume or 10% vinegar). And to get to pH of 4.5 it would be 99x or 1% vinegar. If 1% vinegar gives us a shelf stable pH, why are we adding 30%?

This confuses me... time for an experiment...

Cheapest vinegar I found in the pantry = pH 2.5


My tap water is slightly alkaline so I added one droplet of vinegar to get a pH 7 solution:

10g of vinegar in the cup; tare and add 90g of pH 7 water


OK so my experiment confirms my calculation. For my next sauce batch, I'm gonna be measuring the pH before adding vinegar and then adding just enough to get to pH 4.0.

I appreciate that adding vinegar is more than just pH and it impacts the flavour profile (in a good way) but I want to see how little I can get away with and still have a shelf stable sauce.

What do you think?
Also some people use it to manage consistency... "Oh it's too thick, needs more vinegar because I never add water to my sauce and I don't want to add another flavor!" TOTALLY disregarding the fact that vinegar IS 95% water, so what they actually need is water which is just making a lesser strength vinegar in the pot, and to measure the pH. Because by adding more vinegar they are changing the flavor profile (intensifying), counterproductive to their actual intent. Taste for the right amount and measure pH. As you are basically saying.
Great experiment!

What kind of ingredients are/would be in the sauce?
My thoughts are...if there are ANY ingredients that have natural acidity, you should make the sauce sans vinegar, reefer 24 hours, THEN do pH prior to adding vinegar. Reason being, it takes up to 24 hours for Finished Equilibrium.

If there is acidity in the sauce, it takes a while for that acidity to permeate other ingredients so all the ingredients have the same pH. If the sauce contains a citrus juice and onions and peppers, if the pH is taken right after mixing, the test will mostly be reading the citrus juice and not considering peppers or onions which have no acidity. After 24 hours the pH might be 20-50% higher.

The pH reading after 24 hours is standard process for authorized sauces. Using the 24 hour reading will give you the accurate pH of the sauce so you can correctky calculate the minimum vinegar needed.

Also, this wasnt discussed, but if viscosity is a concern, there are higher pH vinegars available so you can get twice the pH in half the liquid.

Have fun and keep us posted.
Thanks SL - that's great input. I'll definitely do the 24h wait before adding vinegar. I'll test pH before and after to see. Usually I blend, cook and then sieve my sauces (sometimes re-blend, sieve and reheat if it's still chunky) and then hot bottle.

An anecdotal experience is that when I made my first sauce with potato (as a thickener) I had to add a lot of vinegar to get the pH down below 4 in the pot but it ended up way sharper than my usual sauces. I don't have any left but it would be interesting to see what the pH ended up as after 24hrs.

I think a little vinegar goes a long way - for example, when I made the pH 7.0 water, to get from my starting 7.5 I literally added 2 or 3 drops of pH 2.5 vinegar to a cup of water. Also with the 10x dilution, it initially read 3.6 but after a 30 seconds of stirring it settled at 3.5.

And THP, I have lactic, malic and acetic acid powder in the pantry (lactic for vegan cheese, malic and acetic for super juice). I never thought about using them in sauces!
Ascorbic Acid = Vit C. (powdered version) and can be listed as such on the label.
That's mostly used for retaining color (antioxidant).
I was wandering around Fiesta yesterday getting a stash of Rocotos when I paused at the El Yucateco aisle and looked at the ingredients in a few bottles. The acetic acid is sometimes labelled as acidity regulator or pH control agent and the citric as antioxidant.

Hmm... I feel like this is another rabbit hole to fall down. I have some yellow pepper mash that is turning brown - perhaps some citric acid would help stop that? I have no idea how much to add...
Ascorbic is basically flavorless (and a more powerful antioxidant) and citric has a lemon/lime flavor so be sure you want to add to the flavor profile when adding citric. Both come from the same source (citrus) but citric will add that sourness of the fruit which sometimes is by design, like adding a light lemon flavor etc.
Think of citric like rubbing a lemon on your sliced apple half or squeezing into your iced tea. Benefit + flavor.
I seem to forget what I have in the pantry - I don't have acetic acid powder, it's malic acid. If you haven't tried it before, superjuice has become an essential for getting adequate quantities of lime juice for parties. The recipe requires lime peel, citric and malic acid.
A few years ago we were having a really bad fruit fly summer. I must have been SipNClicking, but I bought a fruit fly trap that came with a bottle of acetic acid. I think you could buy refill bottles of acetic acid. It was a bottle of apple cider vinegar. :lol:
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