I would like to measure the pH value of dough with a pH-Meter, to ensure a pH value of 4.1 (max). Because of the high viscosity I would thin down the dough with demineralized water for two reasons:

  1. I expect more accurate measurements
  2. This reduces pollution of the measurement device.

As far as I understand this will affect the measured value, so I would thin down the dough in a defined ratio of 1:10.


  1. Is it correct that the thinning with demineralized water changes the pH value?

  2. The ratio 1:10 should cause an offset of 1 in ph value, right? In which direction? Do I have to add 1.0 to or subtract 1 from the measurement to estimate the real value?

Edit #1

As it seems to be important: We are talking about weak acids produced by fermentation of rye flour (or wheat flour) using sourdough (lactose bacteria + yeast). Some samplings are taken during the fermentation process to check that the pH value is low enough (value of 4.1 or lower). I'm less interested in the -details- of the theoretical background, more in a practical solution for the issue. The actual real value isn't that important (I need to check, if the pH limit is reached), but it would be interesting how to measure it as there might be future experiments where the value matters...

The use of additional chemicals except (demineralized) water should be avoided for simplicity. Of course the use of tab water would be preferable, but I guess this becomes more complicated because of unknown water hardness and varying ion concentrations.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Measuring pH with 0.1 accuracy in a largely inhomogenious system, with water all over the places interacting with different polymeric compounds like proteins and polycarbohydrates makes no sense. Many of this also can act as a puffer, with changing composition during the fermentation, so it is not the "lets dilute weak acids" homework example. Yes, technically you can read a number a pH meter screen, but it makes not much chemical sense. Also, the pH value of water is not 7, more 5ish, though when mix is with such concentrated mater, it is a good first approximation. $\endgroup$
    – Greg
    Aug 1, 2014 at 4:28

3 Answers 3


In addition to buckminst’s answer, for weak acids, which are not fully ionized, the pH of the solution depends on the ratio of the concentrations of the conjugate base $\ce{A-}$ to the neutral acid $\ce{HA}$, especially in the pH regime close to the $\mathrm{p}K_\text{a}$ of the acid (the buffer region). Diluting the solution will change the concentrations, but in the same way. The ratio will not change. The Henderson-Hasselbalch equation can be derived from the mass action expression for $K_\text{a}$ of a weak acid:

$$\ce{HA <=>H+ + A-}$$ $$K_\text{a}=\dfrac{\ce{[H+][A^{-}]}}{\ce{[HA]}}$$ $$\text{p}K_\text{a}=-\log{K_\text{a}}=-\log \left(\dfrac{\ce{[H+][A^{-}]}}{\ce{[HA]}}\right)=-\log[\ce{H+}]-\log\left(\dfrac{\ce{[A^{-}]}}{\ce{[HA]}}\right)$$ $$\text{p}K_\text{a}=\text{pH}-\log\left(\dfrac{\ce{[A^{-}]}}{\ce{[HA]}}\right)$$ $$\text{pH}=\text{p}K_\text{a}+\log\left(\dfrac{\ce{[A^{-}]}}{\ce{[HA]}}\right)$$

If the volume increases by a factor of 10, then $[\ce{A-}]$ and $[\ce{HA}]$ both decrease by a factor of 10, and $\dfrac{\ce{[A^{-}]}}{\ce{[HA]}}$ remains constant.

Since the acids in dough are likely acetic or lactic from fermentation; carbonic or tartaric from leavening; or citric or ascorbic from preservatives – all of which are weak acids – diluting the dough might not change the pH.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, we are talking about weak acids from fermentation (sourdough; or: lactose bacteria + yeast). I'll add this info to my question. - Practically spoken, should I: 1. just measure the thinned dough and take the value as it is measured? 2. Take a 2 point or 3 point measurement (2 or 3 different thinning factors) and use them to mathematically extrapolate the real value? $\endgroup$
    – SDwarfs
    Jun 18, 2013 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ I must admit, that I found that formula on wikipedia but I'm still unable to fully understand the meaning of HA and A-. I only have guesses. I assume A- means "any" acidic ion, whereas "H(+)" means hydrogen. I further assume that the "[ ]"-operator means something like "amount of" (e.g. number of atoms/ions/mol). When I add water (x mol H2O), I'll add 2*x "H+" and x of "O" ... whereas the "O" isn't important to the formula, right? $\endgroup$
    – SDwarfs
    Jun 18, 2013 at 16:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @StefanK. The [A] means "concentration of A", usually in moles per unit volume, while A refers to a generic acid anion, so HA could be acetic acid $\ce{HC2H3O2}$, for example. The 2 or 3 point measurement (with extrapolation back) is better than a single point measurement any day. Once you have done the procedure a few times, you will have a sense on how the pH of your dough behaves upon dilution. You may decide afterwards that a single point measurement will be sufficient. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Norris
    Jun 19, 2013 at 15:14
  1. Yes, dilution changes pH. pH is defined as the negative log of $\ce{H+}$ concentration, so changing the concentration will change pH.

  2. Not necessarily. For dilute acids and bases, the auto-ionization of water becomes a factor in calculating pH, and will change by less than one pH unit. For more concentrated acids (pH<5 or pH>9 for initial solution), one pH unit is correct. The pH will change toward neutral (pH=7) upon dilution, so it depends on initial pH whether you must subtract or add to make a correction.


If all you want is a practical answer, just try taking a constant mass of dough, dissolve in a constant amount of deionized water, and measure the pH with a standard pH meter. The pH of the measured solution should correlate with the pH of the dough, even if they are not an exact match. The key here is to perform the assay the same way every time, using slightly different amounts of dough or water can change the pH you measure.

You might also consider using a buffered solution of water instead of deionized water. I've seen "pure" water in our lab with pH anywhere between 6 and 7, so a dilute buffer at pH 7 should help get more consistent results. Just keep it dilute so that it doesn't buffer out the pH of the dough.


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