How many times have you purchased a cantaloupe and cut it open, only to discover it’s tasteless and bland? It need not be that way.
Produce quality can be measured, telling us how much nutrition and taste is available; it is easily done with a device called a refractometer. A refractometer is an optical device that refracts (bends) light passing through a liquid. Refractometers will measure Brix (technically, they measure degrees Brix, written °Bx) which is the ratio of sugars (carbohydrates) to water in a liquid. Actually it is more complex than just sucrose being measured, but that basic information works here in an introduction to Brix. We use a digital refractometer. The cantaloupe is cut, the juice is placed in the reader and just push start to begin reading.
Example of using a Brix measurement: Suppose you find a new cantaloupe vendor who will a cut melon for you to take a taste. Squeeze that cut piece, put a drop of the melon juice on the refractometer and begin reading the results. You will get a numerical reading of ºBx on the scale in the refractometer. Published Brix charts have values for many fruits and vegetables; cantaloupes measuring 8ºBx are Poor, 12ºBx are Average, 14ºBx are Good, and 16ºBx and above are Excellent. Chances are the tasteless, bland cantaloupe you bought last week measured far less than 12ºBx, and if this new vendor has some cantaloupes that measure 14ºBx or better, you will be in seventh heaven eating that melon. There is a direct correlation between Brix and taste… you CAN taste Brix! Your taste buds will not be able to tell you the Brix degree, but they will surely tell you whether there is any good taste or not. Nutritional values in foods can be measured, of course, but that requires sophisticated equipment and higher costs, plus time to get test results back. Brix readings are something you can do on the spot, and the literature is full of scientific reports of high-tech testing that correlate higher ºBx to more nutrition in the food. What makes good Brix? First, a great seed! Second, good soil! Soil that is high in the nutritional elements and the microbial activity needed for good plant growth will produce plants that are high in Brix, which in turn produce fruits and veggies high in Brix. You cannot grow plants in poor soil and expect to produce 14Bx fruits and veggies.
Basic hand held refractometers are available for around $50 however, newer refractometers are available with a built-in LED light, which could be quite useful. For testing fresh fruits and vegetables, the refractometer should measure from 0 to 32ºBx. Others are available with different scales for concentrates and thick liquids like molasses. Some refractometers automatically adjust for temperature; some are dust and/or waterproof, and some are digital.
You can begin to test your own garden produce, as well as store-bought. The cantaloupes we cut today from our harvest yesterday registered at 15.5 and the new seed variety we are harvesting now called the Melorange registered at 16.8. We have been testing the fruit throughout our harvest and have seen more than a few cantaloupe register at 20Bx which is one sweet melon.
Next time you are at the grocery store, ask the clerk to test the produce you are about to purchase so you can see how sweet and flavorful it is without even taking a bite! Happy cantaloupe shopping and look for the Legend Label.