A carpenter has his saw and hammer, a doctor has wooden sticks and stethoscopes and a food scientist has refractometers, water activity units, pH meters, bostwick, brookfield and salt analyzers. The more tools we have, the better we are at ensuring consistency and accuracy in both the creation and manufacturing of food products. What are these tools and how can they help you, the food maker, make consistent quality products that will never disappoint your clients.
Water Activity: These units measure the amount of “available” water in your energy bars, gummy bears and rice crispy treats. Your goal is to have a Aw reading below 0.65 to ensure no yeast and mold growth. These units typically cost around $2,000 dollars and can be used for quality control, product consistency and will help ensure that each batch will consistently last as long as the last batch.
Refractometer: In the wine world, refractometers are used to measure the amount of sugar in grapes- or the “brix”-so the wine makers know when the grapes are ready to be picked. In the food world, a refractometer is used to measure sugar and other “soluble solids” in an edible product. If you are making beverages this will ensure that the person who made the batch added the right amount of sugar, salt, caffeine and anything else that dissolved in your water or liquid base. When you buy a refractometer make sure that you purchase one with a brix “range” that fits your product. If you are making candy, you want a refractometer that can measure a range of 50 to 100, if you are making a beverage, you may only need a 0 to 50% range.
pH Meters: Acidity is important in food, not only for safety but also for flavor and quality. There are lots of pH meters on the market and you can buy a good one for under $300. Make sure you also purchase calibration fluids and calibrate your pH meter before you use it every time.
Bostwick: The Bostick, also known as a “consistometer” is a tool used in the sauce and condiment industry. It is a simple metal trough that is about 14 inches long. The Trough has a spring-loaded gate at one end, into which you load your sauce product. When you release the gate, the condiment slowly (or quickly) travels down the slightly angled trough and the distance that the trough travels in 30 seconds is your final reading. The thicker the condiment, the less distance it will travel.
Brookfield: A Brookfield unit is used to measure the viscosity of fluids. It consists of a metal spindle that pushes its way through a liquid or syrup—measuring the force or internal friction of that fluid. It is used to ensure that the mouth feel and texture of food products like yogurt or syrups are the same from batch to batch.
Salt Analyzers: A salt analyzer is just that—you take a drop of your solution mixture, place it on the readable unit, press a button and in less than a minute you will know the percent salt of your solution. Typical salt solutions will read between 0 and 5% or 0 and 10%.
These simple tools are available online or you can go directly to the manufacturer websites and order directly from them. I have complied a list of amazon available tools on my website RESOURCES page.