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miss_mudcat

Testing for Brix

18 years ago

As a savvy organic gardener, I understand there is a new wind a'blowing regarding the Brix content of produce. (Not REALLY new since brix testing has been around for a couple hundred years.)

Anyone out there testing for Brix yet? If so, please share your experience.

Thanks!

Comments (15)

  • 18 years ago

    there are easier methods to determine ripeness - why would you test for sugar levels in vegetables? sounds like somebodies hype - brix is a measure of soluble solids, primarily in the form of fermentable sugars, and tell you nothing about the nutritional content of various fruits or vegetables - brix testing has been around since hydrometers and refractometers, and used almost exclusively for the measurement of sucrose in sweet liquids such as the apple juice I make, and especially for fermentation

    Bill

  • 18 years ago

    yes... I thought so too.

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  • 18 years ago

    Okay... SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE.

    My first reaction to Brix testing was similar to yours... knowing only that Brix was a test of the density of maple syrup... SO, then I read a blurb about a particular cherry tomato that claims to have the highest brix. I don't like sweet tomatoes, so that wasn't impressive to me either. But then I read about pests prefering low brix veggies and fruits over their, supposedly healthier, high brix counterparts. And then I read that side by side taste tests reveals that high brix wins -hands down - every time.

    So, again... I'd like to hear from someone who has conducted brix testing on their veggies/fruit to hear if there is any truth to all of these claims.

    I have a brix hygrometer for testing maple syrup and I do plan to put my produce to the test this season just for fun!

    Lisa

  • 18 years ago

    my experience is primarily sensory, and I know that some apples that don't taste sweet have as much fruit sugar as some that taste very sweet - tomatoes also all have similar sugar levels, but differing acid levels, and the acid levels change dramaticly from unripe to overripe, as do sugar levels - the "taste tests" depend entirely on the taster, and the fact that any particular taste test got certain results might mean the lower brix items were under-ripe - I prefer a "reasonable" amount of sweetness to my tomatoes + a strong amount of acid - the variety is what will give that, which is part of the reason there are thousands of varieties, some of which have similar flavors but in bigger or smaller packages, earlier or later in the season

    ripe cherry tomatoes are usually sweeter than regular ones, yellow tomatoes are almost always lower acid then red so "blander" flavored, and I find yellow cherry [or grape or whichever] less sweet as well

    pests prefer "unhealthy" struggling plants, but will attack anything available - have fun w/ the testing, but make sure you're doing fair comparisons on the flavor tests, and don't be suprised when you find that some things have a better flavor w/ hi brix and some better w/ low

    Bill

  • 18 years ago

    The Brix has to be above 12 for insect and desease to not want plants. Sap from sterm and leafs is place to take the brix reading most plants 14 is excellent tomato is 12

  • 18 years ago

    Interesting thread, thanks for starting it Lisa. I also thought there was a correlation between brix and nutrient levels in vegetables.

  • 18 years ago

    I've been testing Brix for five years or so. I use a hand-held refractometer bought from Pike Laboratories (on the web, I believe, several price levels available, none really inexpensive). They come with a chart, originally developped by Dr.Albrecht, Dan Skow, and Charles Walters (if memory serves) which gives you the range of levels for most fruits and vegetables. As you might suspect, the levels for winter squash are much higher than for potatoes.

    I use Brix as an indicator of nutrient density (surely all of us on this site ought to be aiming for nutrient dense food as a principal concern). I do the Vegetable Culture talk in the Master Gardeners' education. Lately I have begun by having students measure the Brix of two onions or potatoes -- one bought from an expensive store, and one pulled from my garden. The difference shows, though not without some preliminary trepidation on my part. This always prompts the question: how does one produce high Brix veggies? And off we go.

    Regards, Peter.

  • 18 years ago

    so it's a good hook to get some into examineing the fact that agribusiness grows veggies that don't taste very good compared to what can be grown at home - or even by a dedicated organic market gardener - does it tell you how to change your gardening practices to make your veggies more "nutrient dense"? [the test, not the class!]

    if I grow one tomato variety that consistently has a heavenly taste and it also tests high in brix, but that variety consistently produces poorly and is more susceptible to some troublesome tomato virus or fungus, does it tell me how to get that variety to be more productive than the other one that has consistently large crops on healthy plants in the same conditions, but tests lower brix?

    does this testing help the weather cooperate? is the object to discard the half of the crop that falls below average? or is the object to enable folks to test the store produce before they buy it? does it tell you which things are higher in phytonutrients, proanthocyanins, flavonoids, or that tomatoes have lycopene? does the brix test 'measure' fats and proteins, or just saccharides? does it matter what area of the fruit or veg you take the sample? are levels influenced by size, and if so [yes], what does that mean? does it tell me red peppers have more vit C than green?

    I still say it's a fad hype - specific gravity is an inheritable characteristic of variety, and what will show on a refractometer will vary depending on the length of storage time and the moisture levels of the product - onions, for one, have had their specific gravity studied since at least the 1950's for breeding purposes in relation to processors use for dehydration - it's one of the measures fruit growers use to determine the earliest possible minute they can harvest for market, but it doesn't help you to create and maintain a biologically healthy soil, which is what will give you highly nutritious food on plants less inviting to insects

    Bill

  • 18 years ago

    Bill,
    You do raise some good questions - some of the same things I have been wondering about too.

    We do know how to raise Brix levels, I think... I mean if it is true what "they" are saying. Organic gardening! Right? I mean, that sweet sweet smell of homemade compost makes sweet sweet fruits and veggies, right? Well, yummier anyway!

    Regarding tomatoes also all have similar sugar levels, but differing acid levels, I believe that the opposite is true...well, regarding canning tomatoes - they are a high acid fruit, but recently the USDA insisted upon adding Lemon Juice to increase the acidity, which they claimed had diminished in modern-day tomatoes. HOWEVER, recently they recanted and said that all along the tomato acidity remains constant, and it is the sugar levels that vary.

    Lisa

  • 18 years ago

    yes, I get the same govt confusion with apples - apples used to be considered high acid [malic], until a few years ago when the e-coli problems started, the govt decided they weren't really - in actuality it's "modern" varities that are lower acid, especially the very few types grown most commercially, and those are the varieties the govt is concerned with - there is one old variety that's not only higher in malic acid than any of the newer ones, but is also higher in ascorbates [vit C] than any other, and higher in vit C than normal oranges - Calville Blanc, but you'll never find it in a store or a govt test

    I'm convinced [without confirming testing] that tomatoes are the same in that the "tangy" ones have the same sugar levels as the sweeter ones, but the higher acid content masks the sweetness, and that is a varietal thing - just the same as apples, and with apples the thing that decreases in storage is the acid levels, including the beneficial acids like vit C, the sugar levels stay about the same while everything else oxidizes

    I'd suspect that the tomato thing is that the hybrid strains most used for commercial canning are lower acid, and maybe they've also been bred for higher sugar levels like everything else grown and processed commercially

    the fruit I use and veggies I grow are heritage open pollinated as much as possible, the tomatoes I grow are a strain I've been developing from a volunteer I found about 12 years ago - never tested of course, but I'd bet higher in everything than any commercial hybrid, especially field or hothouse grown, and acid enough to please me while still being sweet!

    and yes, compost is the key, a healthy soil grows healthy plants which bear healthy fruit, and picking that food at the peak of ripeness is how to get nutrition, as well as high brix - the problem is simply commercial chemical farming and picking everything under-ripe for ease of handling and long shelf life

    Bill

  • 18 years ago

    It seems right now the growing trend is to choose organic over non-organic, at the grocery store or at farmer's market. (With wealth comes the ability to choose true quality over appearance by purchasing organic.) HOWEVER, with organic standards changing (ahem... decreasing) there needs to be a real measure of quality. What will that be? I think if high Brix readings are found to equal nutrient density, which seems to be the newest consensus (or is it fad-hype as Bill suggests), then the growing trend for the future will be high Brix produce carrying the higher price tag.

    I personally hope there ends up being an easy/inexpensive method for anyone to determine the nutrient value of produce. It would encourage the farmer to work harder to produce higher quality produce and arms the public with a method of determining the real value of food. Don't you think?

    Lisa

  • 18 years ago

    I can't believe that Brix is a fad. After all it has been used by vintners since the mid-19th century to determine whether grapes are ripe enough to pick (Brix was one of those 19th century fellows [German in his case]like Pasteur who well into wine making).

    More apropos though is the question of whether Brix is a good tool for organic gardeners. Brix measures solids-in-sap. Now while the solids is mostly complex sugars, it also include minerals, amino acids, and some carbon compounds with long fancy names. In a word -- nutrients. So that high Brix equals high nutrients. I satisfied my audience on this point on Monday evening when they measured the Brix of a white shop potato (5 1/2) and one I dug up that afternoon (8) and tasted them as well. The higher Brix potato was distinctly more flavorful; neither could be described as sweet.

    High Brix is acheived with balanced soil minerals, high organic matter, a good decay system, and avoiding herbicidess; in a word -- organic. You would not be surprised to learn that high Brix produce has longer shelf life (consider honey), resists frost better, and resists disease and insects better. (By the way, I have never been able to grow vegetables with 12 Brix leaves, my potatoes' leaves are 7 or 8 for example, so I can't assure you that 12 Brix plants will indeed repel insects.)

    And I must observe that, on this topic like many others at this venue, people who have never tried something new are often quite ready to dismiss it. Not a good way of discovering things. Regards, Peter.

  • 18 years ago

    well other than your last bit about discoveries, I'll mostly agree - brix has become a standard for determining fermentable ripeness in grapes, strictly because it's a measure of [fermentable] sugar levels - in addition Titrateable Acidity is an equally important tool, so shall we test for that in our garden produce as well?

    as I mentioned above, the variable most affecting commercial produce today is varietial variability and the types being grown for their non-nutritional qualities, such as resistance to handling abuse

    the usefullness of brix testing has given us copyrighted melon strains that have more 'consumer appeal', and helped to design GM tomatoes, as well as telling growers what techniques may be best to achieve acceptibility with certain products

    but it still simply comes back to the things you cite for achieving production of quality food, regardless of the label in the store, ie: proper soil management ..... so how about we concentrate on the health of our soils and the quality of the produce will follow - including it's pH, TA, TSS and water content [the lack of which is why honey keeps well]

    Bill

  • 18 years ago

    it still simply comes back to the things you cite for achieving production of quality food, regardless of the label in the store, ie: proper soil management ..... so how about we concentrate on the health of our soils and the quality of the produce will follow

    I'm glad this is the thing we all seem to agree on!

    Lisa

  • 17 years ago

    hello Squeeze... aka Bill
    I found your response because I was looking for malic acid content in apples...
    so you talk about calville blanc having a lot of malic acid...do you know how much malic acid exaclty is in a calville Blanc apple?
    Also I may have gallstones... Not yet diagnosed and many people with gallstones take malic acid supplements because they supposedly soften gallstones. I take it and I was trying to find out how much malic acid is actually in different varieties of apples because I prefer food sources for my nutrients instead of supplements.
    I'm also interested in growing organic "pure bred" fruits but I'm more concerned about malic acid content in apples for now.
    Please respond!
    Denise