Natural pH regulatory mechanisms can be overruled during several pathologies such as cancer, inflammation and ischaemia, leading to local pH changes in the human body. Here we demonstrate that (13)C-labelled zymonic acid (ZA) can be used as hyperpolarized magnetic resonance pH imaging sensor. ZA is synthesized from [1-(13)C]pyruvic acid and its (13)C resonance frequencies shift up to 3.0 p.p.m. per pH unit in the physiological pH range. The long lifetime of the hyperpolarized signal enhancement enables monitoring of pH, independent of concentration, temperature, ionic strength and protein concentration. We show in vivo pH maps within rat kidneys and subcutaneously inoculated tumours derived from a mammary adenocarcinoma cell line and characterize ZA as non-toxic compound predominantly present in the extracellular space. We suggest that ZA represents a reliable and non-invasive extracellular imaging sensor to localize and quantify pH, with the potential to improve understanding, diagnosis and therapy of diseases characterized by aberrant acid-base balance.