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Brix and Growing for Flavor

Gardeners can measure the brix in their vegetables for an indication of the success of their crop.  Brix is a measurement of flavor and sweetness.

Brix is not new.  It was Professor A.F.W. Brix, a German chemist who discovered in 1870 that the sweetness of grape juice could be measured before the juice was made into wine.    The measurement process was then named after him.

Brix is measured with a refractometer, which is a handheld instrument.  It is an optical device that takes advantage of the fact that light passing through a liquid bends, or refracts.  More dense liquids refract more.  With the refractometer, one places a drop of juice on the prism and flattens it with an attached cover plate. The device then displays the measurement.

The average strawberry has a Brix of 10 whereas a strawberry variety known for its flavor (like Tri Star) might be 16.   Vegetables actually can have higher Brix than fruits.  Sweet corn can go as high as 24, carrots as high as 18.

Brix improves when organic matter is added to soil and mulches are applied.  When you have a mulch on the ground, soil holds moisture better and plants more easily take up soil’s nutrients.

Foliar feeding can also increase Brix.  Plants can accept the nurtients in this type of fertilizing more easily.  Gardeners who have tested Brix before and after foliar feeding find that the Brix levels increase.

Many growers believe that plants with a Brix above 12 become resistant to pests.  They also contend that they withstand lower temperatures and can survive frosts.

Here is a link to a website that has much more information about Brix.  From the introduction: “It’s so simple: when the brix is low, the taste is poor, and the insects come. When the brix is high, the taste is superb and the insects seem to busy themselves elsewhere. The farmer’s job is simply to remineralize and fertilize in such a way that the plants, properly fed, can develop higher brix.”  

Scroll down at the website for charts that show the specific brix readings for several vegetables.  With these charts and a refractometer, you can see how your vegetables rate.

The author at the website continues to advocate for using a refractometer by saying:

“You will start using a refractometer timidly. You will think that identifying HIGH QUALITY food could not be so simple. Then, as you become experienced, you will learn that it really is so simple. For instance…

  • You will put back the watery, tasteless, low brix tomato.
  • You will smile at the vendor’s “pretty” string beans and ask when he expects to get good tasting beans.
  • You will insist on a small sample of melon or pineapple…or forgo buying, because you are tired of taking low quality melons and pineapples home.
  • You may sometimes buy marked-down items, or some of the ‘canning’ peaches because your test proved them HIGHER QUALITY than the ‘picture pretty’ produce. You will begin to expect HIGH QUALITY produce and you will start getting HIGH QUALITY produce.
  • You will get HIGH QUALITY produce because you will be able to identify HIGH QUALITY.

With practice you will casually get the test-drop and only quickly glance in the viewfinder. You will rarely be fooled. Some buyers actually have the vendor give them a drop of juice to test. You will teach your children—and their children—how to select proper food.

You will share, and help your children re-discover, the yummy taste of the HIGH QUALITY fruits & vegetables humans deserve.

No one will have to convince you that you are providing you and your children superior nutrition.”

Excerpted from "Using a refractometer to test the quaility of fruits and vegetables" 
Copyright 1994, 1998 by Rex Harrill

Here is a link to refractometer on Amazon that works well for measuring brix.