I have been casually wondering about the quality of fruits and vegetables that my family and I eat. The FDA informs us that five servings a day of fruits and veggies are required in maintaining our health, due to the produce’s numerous vitamins, minerals and soluble/insoluble fiber. What has begun to make me wonder (worry?) is that we also hear this: much of the produce bought in grocery stores have lost a significant portion of their nutrients, as they have traveled a long distance or have been sitting for a while on the shelf.
Many of the canned veggies are also deficient in nutrients, while frozen veggies have retained most of their nutrients. The fresh veggies, therefore, are kind of a toss up as to their nutritional content on a particular day, in a particular store.
On a recent shopping trip to Whole Foods, the produce manager told my husband and I how to pick a good quality pineapple (has a sweet smell, and the middle leaf spear can very easily be pulled out).
Then, on the same shopping trip, I saw a sign on the cantaloupe that said, “Brix sweetness: 15.5”, on a scale of 8-16. Have you ever heard of this?
I had never heard of “Brix”, and decided to do some research. I wanted to share with you what I learned about Brix, how you can test your own produce (if you’re brave!), and know when you are buying the best quality of fruits and vegetables.
Brix is a system of measurement, given in degrees, of the amount of sugar present in fruit, vegetables (some online sources mentioned wine and beer as using the Brix scale also).
Brix is simple: each one (1) degree equals one percent (1%) of sugar. So, in my cantaloupe example, the 15.5 (degrees) on the Brix is equivalent to the cantaloupe containing 15.5% sugar. The range of 8-16 for cantaloupe, as I later found out, means that cantaloupe is considered “poor” if receives an “8” and is “excellent” if receives a “16” Brix score. Since Brix is on a percent scale, the actual range is 0%-100%. Each vegetable and fruit is given a different range of what is considered “poor” to “excellent”, as they naturally are different in their sweetness (think of comparing an onion to a watermelon!)
The purpose of the Brix, at least in the grocery store, is to tell customers about the quality, and taste, of the food. The Brix can also tell us about the quality of nutrients in the food!
According to Living Foods:
“…when the brix is low, the taste is poor…When the brix is high, the taste is superb...”
Fruit examples from Brix scale:
Peaches, papayas, apples, oranges and grapes should have a rating of 18-20 (degrees, on Brix scale) to be “excellent”; in contrast to lemons, limes, tomatoes and avocados that are rated at 10-12 to be “excellent”. (Again, the difference in “top score” for each item is due to their top potential for sweetness).
Vegetable examples from Brix scale:
Vegetables do not register as much sugar on the Brix scale (and our taste buds would agree)! Potatoes, many types of lettuce, asparagus and onions are rated 8-10 to be considered “excellent”; sweet corn is in the 20-24 range, carrots are 18 and sweet potatoes are 14. Contrast this with broccoli and peas at 12.
I am intrigued! How can I tell if my fruit and vegetables taste better, contain more nutrients and are better overall quality?
There is a simple process where you can test quality at the point of sale. The downside: it is invasive to the produce, time-consuming and you would receive some very funny looks from other consumers. Prior approval from the produce manager would need to be received, if testing the produce at the “point of sale” in the store.
How to test Brix:
The FDA uses a hydrometer or a refractor to take Brix measurements.
These instruments can be found online (amazon.com or other store) for around $100, and are primarily purchased by home brewers and small-yield crop farmers. There is actually a product called “Brix portable refractometer”…who knew?!
I wonder if anyone is brave enough to talk with a produce manager, to inquire about the Brix measurements of their produce, and if a customer would be permitted to bring in their "portable Brix refractor" (small hand held instrument) to test the produce before purchasing?
Side note about Brix:
In fact, Brix is such an important measurement, it is also used to evaluate feeding tolerances in critically ill patients who are being tube feed. According to Clinical Nutrition Journal, Brix value measurement can be used to monitor “stomach dietary formula concentration” in patients.
With this information, I began wondering why more grocery stores do not provide the Brix measurement for consumers. (Probably due to time and cost), and it would be a general statement, as obviously measuring each individual piece of fruit would be impossible. Does this information “empowHer” you to take your own measurements of produce, or will you continue using your own methods for testing quality produce (much like my pineapple example: by smell and a simple pulling of a leaf or a squeeze/tap of a melon).
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