Gift recommendation: A Gift for almost anyone.
Brix refractometer

From now until December I’m going to be giving you the odd piece of unsolicited advice on what I’d like for Christmas.  Today I’m telling you about the first thing I’d like.  So go ahead and add me to your Christmas buying list now.

Just kidding.

You can do it later.

Just kidding.

I really want you to do it now.

Just kidding.  I don’t want to be added to your list at all because I don’t want to give you my home address to ship things to.

The real reason I’m telling you what I’d like for Christmas is because if they’re gifts that I would like then presumably they might be gifts you  would like. Since we’re essentially the same person and all.

Also, if you only read this blog because you’re fascinated by me (the same way you might be fascinated by a side show performer), these gift tips will still come in handy if you happen to actually know anyone like me. Got it?  If we could all, breathe, and take a moment I’d like to tell you that I have lied to you.

The lie took place in the very first sentence as a matter of fact.  You see,  I already own the thing I’m saying I’d like for Christmas. I bought it for myself this summer, but if someone had bought it for me for Christmas I’d have loved them like a dog loves a car window.

It’s a Brix Refractometer.

 

refractometer

Yes.  It is SO a thing.

It’s a gadget. And, I like gadgets. You know how some people don’t care about gadgets and are perfectly happy to go through life owning just a spoon and a pair of shoes? That’s not me. I like all things technical, gadgety and new. It’s not that I always have to have the latest and greatest of everything, it’s that I’m curious. I like to know how things work and test new methods and try new stuff.

Brix Refractometers have a HUGE range of uses and would be a great gift for wine makers, beer makers, beekeepers, vegetable growers and believe it or not, diabetics.  I’ll talk about all these uses more at the end of this post but for now I’m going to walk you through how I use my Brix Refractometer … for testing the vegetables I grow.

If you shop at Whole Foods you may have noticed that beside the various fruits and vegetables they have a sign with that particular food’s Brix level.  I do not shop at Whole Foods, but I’ve been told they have these signs.  So.  What is a Brix level you ask?   Basically it’s a reading of sugar levels.  I say basically because it’s much more complicated than that but for the regular food consumer  it’s O.K. to think of Brix at its most basic level: a measurement of the quality of a fruit or vegetable based on sugar content.

When I discovered that a Brix refractometer was really inexpensive at only $30, I had to have one so I could test all my vegetables. If you have good soil the Brix level of your vegetables will actually be higher. And the higher the Brix level the more resistant the plants are to pests. Plants with a Brix level of 12 or more found in their leaves are virtually insect proof.   Levels of different varieties of the same vegetable will also differ.

To use the refractometer all you have to do is place a couple of drops of the juice from the vegetable onto the lens of the instrument. Then you close the lid and hold it to the light, looking through the lens the same way you’d look through a kaleidoscope.

 

refractometer-2

 

Right inside you’ll see a line that marks the Brix level of whatever you’re testing. Ignore my horrible shot of this, but it’s really difficult to take a photo through the lens of a Brix refractometer.

 

brix-levels

 

All vegetables have levels that they range between. A Brix level of 4 for a tomato is poor and a level of 12 is excellent. Remember, this is measuring not just the sugar, but the nutritional value of the fruit. A higher Brix level also usually means more complexity of taste.

Let me tell you about my beet experiment.

 

beets-1

 

At the beginning of the planting season, I, like many of you, looked up new varieties of plants to grow. I decided I wanted to research what the sweetest beet variety is. You know, the one that will taste the least like dirt. After some research I honed in on the Kestrel beet and bought the seeds. I planted it along with my tried and true varieties like Bulls Blood, Chioggia (Candy Stripe) and Cylindra beets.

kestrel-beet

They were all grown in the same soil under the same conditions so the only thing to make their Brix levels any different would be the variety of beet.

This fall I compared the Brix levels of all the beets with my Brix refractometer.  I decided to compare the Chioggia beets and the Kestrels.

Beets are expected to test somewhere between 6 and 12 on the Brix scale. 6 is a poor rating, 8 is average, 10 is good and 12 is excellent.

The Chioggia beet, which always taste good to me registered a Brix level of 10. So that’s a “good” rating for the beet.

The Kestrel registered a whopping 12 on the Brix scale, which is the highest a beet can be expected to get. It’s excellent.

I’ve tested my tomatoes, some strawberries, and am kicking myself for not testing my sweet potatoes before and after curing.  Sweet potatoes aren’t sweet when you dig them out of the ground, they have to be cured for a month and a half to develop their sweet taste.

Since buying my $30 Brix Refractometer I’ve discovered a bigger and better refractometer.  The digital refractometer.

high-end-refractometer

It costs 4 times as much as my version of the refractometer but this one is DIGITAL.  And it’s more accurate than the other one. Plus it has a much larger range than mine making it useful for both produce and honey.

So remember up near the top of this post where I said I didn’t really want you to buy me anything for Christmas and I was just kidding about it?

It appears that yet again, I was lying.

There are a TON of different Brix Refractometers on Amazon, and they aren’t all the same so I’ve chosen the appropriate ones for the appropriate uses for you so you don’t get confused.  Different Brix Refractometers measure different things and different ranges of Brix.  So one that’s made for honey for instance, will take measurements from 58-80% Brix.  Very high levels of sugar.  While a vegetable Brix Refractometer will read a lower range of Brix.  From 0-40% for instance.  Wine refractometers will measure brix and alcohol content.  Beer making ones will measure brix and some other weird beer making measurement that I have no idea about.

Here’s your Brix Refractometer guide and links.

The Brix Refractometer.  

Put it on your list for

  1.  Anyone who is really into vegetable gardening or produce (just get a regular Brix Refractometer).
  2. Anyone who makes homemade wine (but be sure to get a Wine Refractometer)
  3. A Beekeeper (but be sure to get a Honey Refractometer)
  4. Anyone who home brews beer (but be sure to get a Beer Refractometer)
  5. Anyone who makes their own maple syrup would like the Honey Refractometer which also works for testing the thickness of maple syrup.
  6. Or most interestingly a diabetic.  Refractometers just like the one I’ve linked to can be used to test sugar levels in urine which some think is a better reading than blood sugars for hypoglycemia.
  7. The fancy digital Brix Refractometer can be used for vegetables, honey, diabetes and syrup.

 

 

 

59 Comments

  1. Paula says:

    Wonderful tool! I bought one earlier this year when I made maple syrup.

  2. melody says:

    I’ll be asking for one of these! We have a huge grape arbor and I am never sure when my grapes are ready for harvest—I usually take a cue from the birds that land en masse eating every little grape they can get their grubby little talons on! I will be sufficiently armed come next fall……

  3. TucsonPatty says:

    It sounded like a completely made up thing and I wouldn’t put it past you, the lying liar you are! ; ) It sounds like an awesome tool/playtoy for a lot of scenarios, none of which I can think of for me! Darn.
    Next recommendation…I’m buying for myself, now, as I know best what I’d like.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I learned something new today! Never knew a Brix Refractometer even existed let alone what one would be used for… thank you!
    Have an awesome day, Karen.

  5. Stephanie Hobson says:

    Wow, the things you never knew you didn’t know! Very informative! But now one more thing I need to know – which beet in the photo is the Kestrel?

  6. nancy says:

    Be sure to get pipettes for the urine specimens!

    I can’t stand beets, I don’t care how excellent they are.

  7. Kim C says:

    This sounded like something from “Back to the Future”! Way cool. I want one now so I can play with my food. I love that I can learn so much here in such a fun way!

    • Ev Wilcox says:

      Yeah, Karen’s like that cool teacher you had in high school-the one that made learning fun and exciting, and treated you like humans, not peons, and made you actually WANT to learn!

  8. Deirdre says:

    Well,… I could give you my address and you could gift me your old brix. Just kidding (no I’m not). That is a handy tool I could use since I only eat natural sugar found in food. thanks Karen

  9. Rose says:

    Thanks for the info. Didn’t know there was such a thing. Do you know of something to test the vitamin content of butter? I love beets-eat them raw in my salad along with the beet tops.

  10. Sideroad 40 says:

    Thanks Karen…another gadget to further up the ‘perfectionism’ of my husbands hobby maple syrup production. He will LOVE it!

  11. What! You didn’t recommend the Lee Valley one?

    • Karen says:

      I didn’t Linda to keep things easy. Lee Valley only carries one type of Brix Refractometer. The kind that will do vegetable with a brix reading that goes up to 30 or 40. Amazon carries every single Brix Refractometer known to mankind, lol! However, the one from Lee Valley is very good if your only intention is to measure things with low brix levels. ~ karen!

  12. Danni says:

    You had me at “insect proof”…. Next to groundhogs, insects are next on my garden hit list, and I refuse to use chemicals. So I ask…. Have you discovered a way to amend soil to raise the levels to insect proof?
    I will grovel at your feet and sacrifice the next groundhog to you if you know.

  13. Erin says:

    It’s great tool. We used a refractometer in a class to test garlic grown in a variety of different gardens and from the grocery store. It was really interesting to see the different readings – the highest came from a garden at a local school. The hardest part is making the “juice” that you read. We use vice grips, which seems cumbersome. Any tips?

  14. magali says:

    To add to the list:
    A Salinity Refractometer for anyone who owns a saltwater aquarium 🙂

  15. Leisa says:

    A little off topic, but since u love to figure out how things work, you might want to add The Martian to your reading list. I really enjoyed it and although I didn’t understand all the science it was a real page turner!

    • Karen says:

      I think I did actually add it to my list Leisa! Although I find good books more easily than I do good movies so I was actually considering watching the movie instead. ~ karen!

      • Jan in Waterdown says:

        The movie is really good and worth watching on the theatre big screen, as opposed to waiting for it to come out on dvd. At some of the Silver City’s in the Hamilton area, you can reserve your seats on-line when you buy the tickets. They do cost more but it is so worth it . . . no waiting in line, no wondering if you’ll be able to even sit together, just breeze in like you own the place!

  16. Karen says:

    When taking measurements in a vineyard be sure to take berries from several vines throughout the vineyard (like 10 to 15 different vines at least) Place them in a plastic baggie, squish them all together and use the dropper that comes with the unit to suck up a juice sample to measure. Hold the unit up to the sun for easier readings.

  17. Mary from Barrie says:

    What a fantastic gadget! I wonder if my maple-syrup making friend, wine maker, and brewer already have one and I am the only one out of the loop. I may be no farther ahead on what to get them but now I want one. Actually they will all be getting books that you recommended earlier 🙂

  18. Karen says:

    Good morning! I actually work in Food Science and use a Brix Refractometer all the time (OK, not as much as I used to at this job but every day at my last one). They’re great! Interestingly enough I’ve never had any luck with the hand held ones like yours. I do much better with the digital ones or the larger, bench top models. Anyway, I’m so glad that your beets are top notch and that you can finally prove it with science! I never knew that about the leaves of plants. I’ll have to bring some in to work next year and see what the results are. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Teddee Grace says:

    So, if you are a diabetic or watching your calories you’d want a beet that wasn’t so insect proof?

  20. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Again with the lies…will it ever end?..sigh…Anyhow that is really a cool gadget Karen..but I’d hate to spend $30.00 for something I have to pee on to get the results..Your beets look gorgeous and yummy..

  21. Karin says:

    huh, who would’ve thunk. i feel smarter now. so thanks for that.

  22. j says:

    Nice ring,,,is there a back story?

  23. Jossephine says:

    Karen have you tried yellow beets? My neighbour mentioned them to me so I tried them the next year and its been 3 years now. They taste sweeter and as my hubby says they don’t smell like dirt when you cook them (He refuses to let me cook the red beets in the house). lol Also they don’t leave red stains all over your stove, counter etc. when you cook them. Would love to know what the refractometer count would be. Hmm Christmas.

  24. Mary W says:

    WOW You are my brother ‘s keeper. Genius of the astronomically inquisitive kind. I now know what to get him for Christmas and the Pickle Prize. Even better than taking the Pledge for being prepared is ordering the perfect present in time to receive it. Wrapping a small box with a printout picture of the “actual present” is just so expected – so will be very happy to surprise him with an actual, feel-able, gift!

  25. Aspasia says:

    As a diabetic, I can tell you that urine testing for glucose isn’t that useful. Blood testing tells you what your levels are right now. Urine tests tell you what they were a while ago. Since when you test, you generally need to know where you’re at currently, it makes a lot more sense to test your blood. I haven’t bothered with a pee test in years, except for ketones, which is a whole other thing. But if you do want to test your urine, there are ways already designed for diabetics to do that (so maybe don’t rush out to buy refractometers for the diabetics on your Christmas list) 🙂 Interesting idea, though…

    • Karen says:

      HI Aspasia! If you click on the link I provided you’ll see it’s been researched as a superior way for testing hypoglycaemia. They talk about all the sciencey stuff. I’m just reiterating. That’s why I included the link. ~ karen!

      • Aspasia says:

        I’m sorry, Karen, but that link does not seem like a reliable source of information at all. “Sciencey” is about right. When an article criticizes “mainstream” information, it’s a red flag for me (among other things in that particular article). When the CDA and my endocrinologist recommend a refractometer as a better way to test my hypos, I’ll listen to them. But diabetes is an incredibly complex illness and people need to be careful about the information sources they trust. I think refractometers are awesome gadgets for so many other purposes–just not for diabetes care.

  26. Elizabeth says:

    We sold our orchards in the eighties, but back then, they were Brixing our apples at the juice plant ( now closed, long sad story about North American agriculture, mega companies and Chinese imports) and paying us on the Brix score.

  27. Lauren says:

    OMG I NEED THIS! I am a diabetic vegetable gardening soon to be bee-keeping human! I AM ALL THE THINGS YOU TALKED ABOUT IN THIS POST. I never knew such an amazing thing existed. Adding the fancy one to my amazon wish list right meow.

    Thank for sharing this Karen!

  28. Elaine says:

    Shoot! I knew I shouldn’t have clicked on this tonight! Let’s put the gadget and your interesting info aside for a minute …. I love your ring, Karen! Clicked on that website ….. boy, he has some lovely stuff. Just when I paid my Visa bill, another temptation presents itself.

  29. Evalyn says:

    So what I want to know is do you really wear a white shirt into the garden to harvest beets? I would think high sugar beets would stain worse than low sugar beets.

  30. Kathy Salley says:

    What we really need is a refractometer that will test the sweetness of human beings. That could be very handy for dating purposes (a guy asks you out…you poke ’em and get his brix reading..anything above an 8 is a possibility!)

  31. Liz says:

    You’re like Penny, from Inspector Gadget 🙂 with her magic tablet, that was not yet invented or even named tablet.

  32. Mindy says:

    Ack, your site!!!!! I hate change. But I’ll get over it.
    When our son was first diagnosed with epilepsy this January, I immediately emailed my naturopathic buddy and begged for advice on diet changes. Fast forward to EKG’s, MRI’s, and good old-fashioned brain doctors, and I completely blew off his advice for an immediate quick fix, aka, drugs. I’m cringing as I type that. Anyway, he told me to buy one of these and he’d walk me through how to use it. I did not, (see prescription drug sentence above), but I’m super curious as to how we would have proceeded, had I listened to his advice.

    • Karen says:

      Yes I know. I anticipated that. I hate change too. But since I’ve lived with this design for the past 6 months or so while getting it all ready I’m not quite as freaked out as you all will be. I wonder what he would have used the Brix for in terms of epilepsy? ~ karen!

  33. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Just thought I would mention that there was a Brix related question on Jeopardy this past week and I was able to smugly yell “what is sweetness” at the TV. Love love love doing that!

  34. Marti says:

    Ahha! Nevermind.

    • Karen says:

      I keep forgetting that you asked for one of my chickens. I cannot have one of my chickens. They’re social creatures. You’d have to take two. ~ karen!

  35. Marti says:

    That might be nice. I like big crowds for dinner. 😉
    Going to need a couple of these lovely things and those remote on/off things, too.
    Really excellent job on spotting gifts this year.

  36. Marti says:

    Ok, I bought three of these (YES, using your portal, I hope?) and gave them for Christmas. I think they are being opened. In fact, I think at least one *has* been opened.
    When do the compliments on thoughtful and great gifts start arriving?

    • Karen says:

      How have they been opened already?? Does your family have some strict “open all Christmas presents by December 21st rule? ~ karen!

      • Marti says:

        Family? No, these were given to favorite friends. This is a GREAT gift idea, remember??

        One friend said “I don’t get many gifts. So I’m going sticking it under the tree to wait for Christmas Day.” So… nothing doing there.

        One friend got hers last night. Didn’t seem concerned about opening it, one way or the other. Darnit. (What is wrong with my friends? Have they no spirit of IMMEDIATE gratification? Who are these people?)

        The third friend probably got it in the mail on Saturday and hasn’t even opened the box from Amazon, because she just thinks “I’ll wait and stick it under the tree.” I may have to nudge her because I’m tired of all this patience. Very boring. Don’t they realize they are supposed to like the gift and thereby give me some solid gratification???

        • Karen says:

          Hmm. Yeah, that’s really the point of it all. I got a present from a friend yesterday and I opened it immediately obviously. Do you want me to call them for you? ~ karen!

          • Marti says:

            Definitely a good thought.

            Do you regularly offer such great service or am Ispecial or are you just bored, with a little extra time on your hands between holiday parties and public experiences up there in the Great White North?

            • Marti says:

              By the by… I sent the “frozen yogurt tampon” link to a friend and her Medical Resident husband about a month back. They’re still talking about it.

              That’s the “Gift that Keeps On Giving,” my friend!
              I am so darned thoughtful!

  37. Mary W says:

    Didn’t notice this little gem of wisdom first time so when I reread this blog today and found this link at the bottom, had to let you know. I learned something valuable and so glad I’m a follower of yours.
    I learned that sweet potatoes gain sweetness upon curing – Explains why that big one I received from Blue Apron was not sweet – probably very freshly dug. I also love their food and recipes! Thanks for that also. Have been taste testing Martha Stewart’s Marly brand also and hers are very similar. I’ve eaten some amazing food lately. I so miss my garden.

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