Abstract The microstructure and elastic shear modulus of cold-set gels formed from high-sugar aqueous mixtures of gelatin (7 wt%) + oxidized starch (0–6 wt%) were investigated as a function of pH. Samples prepared at 90 °C, with citric acid added to adjust the pH, were rapidly quenched to ∼1 °C, subjected to a standard thermal treatment (40 °C for 10 min), and then investigated by confocal microscopy and small-deformation rheology at 24 °C. Under ‘natural’ conditions of pH ≈ 5.2 (no citric acid addition), the samples exhibited phase separation with a characteristic spinodal-type morphology. The spatial extent of the structural heterogeneity, expressed by a single length-scale parameter, was found to increase with starch concentration. Gradual acidification led to a reduction in this length-scale parameter, leading to complete inhibition of phase separation below a certain characteristic pH value in the range 4.5–4.9 (depending on starch content). Over the investigated pH range, the effect of starch addition was to reduce the storage modulus of the resulting gel. This reduction was more pronounced for the phase-separated samples. The pH of maximum rigidity was found to decrease from pH max ≈ 4.6 for 0 wt% starch to pH max ≈ 4.2 for 6 wt% starch. Taken all together, these observations can be understood in terms of the effects of pH on the cross-linking behaviour of the gelatin and the nature of the gelatin–starch electrostatic interactions. The microscopy results are consistent with a transition in behaviour from thermodynamic incompatibility (segregative interactions) at high pH to soluble complexation (associative interactions) at low pH.