Changing in the direction of light when it enters a liquid is called refraction. A Refractometer is a device that uses this principle and measures concentrations of solutions. This device is widely being used in the beverage industry. How does it look? Well, a handheld meter is a simple device, and it costs just a few dollars. Anyway, complicated ones are there that can cost thousands of dollars. Higher the concentration of the liquid, more the refraction angle. Sugar content is a fact that increases or decreases concentrations of beverages. So, a Refractometer can be used for measuring the sugar content of a beverage.
How does this device work?
Take a look at this picture (https://www.pacificsensortech.com.au/image/cache/data/Pictures/Milwaukee/MA881-570×740.jpg.) It is a standard handheld Refractometer, and operating this meter is a piece of cake. A few drops from the sample on the glass is enough for determining its concentration. You should compare the reading you obtained with your meter with the refractive index or Brix Scale. Wine, beer, honey, and fruit beverages are widely being measured with this handheld, versatile device.
Let’s talk about winemaking in detail here. Sugar content in wine plays a crucial role. Percentage Brix is what winemakers call for sugar content. The amount of sugar in grapes or other fruit makes it possible or impossible to use for winemaking. Using a Refractometer, you can get an idea of the ripeness of the fruits. Winemakers know the ideal ripeness of fruits for winemaking.
Refractometer in detail
This relatively inexpensive device is the best friend of winemakers and vineyard managers. The reason why we call this device “inexpensive” — you can buy a one for winemaking for $50. Anyway, the price may vary depending on the robustness of the device. Meters used in the pharmaceutical industry can cost up to $4000. Such meters are not handheld devices; bench-top ones. A polished optical glass is the main component of the meter. A single scratch on the glass can lead to inaccurate readings. So, rubber or plastic is used to protect the polished glass. The light that passes through the polished glass goes through a series of prisms. Placing the sample on the polished glass and holding the Refractometer to natural light is all you have to do here. Make sure you don’t overuse the sample; a few drops is more than enough for accurate readings. Handheld devices have a scale, which you can see when holding the device to natural light.
The Brix or the sugar weight in the sample is compared to that of distilled water. Monitoring Brix regularly lets the vineyard manager determine when to harvest the fruits. So, every vineyard manager has Refractometer in his/her pocket. Do you remember the test that you did as a child where you pass a light beam through a prism? The prisms inside the meter do the same job.
Calibrating your Refractometer
Regular calibration is essential for getting accurate readings. Most meters can be calibrated with distilled water. Anyway, some manufacturers recommend using special calibration liquids for calibrating their meters. If the manufacturer says to use a special liquid; you should not ignore that recommendation. Using distilled water can damage the meter. Let’s discuss calibration of handheld meters! Place a few drops of distilled water or special calibrating liquid on the polished glass. Some meters come with a daylight plate to lift and close. This is the plate that protects the polished glass. Closing the daylight plate will evenly distribute the liquid across the surface. Bubbles and dry spots can lead to inaccurate readings, hence make sure no bubbles or dry spots on the surface. Wait for about 30 seconds until the sample reaches ambient temperature (temperature of the meter.) Now, your Refractometer is ready for calibration. Just hold the meter to natural light. Most meters come with a calibration screw to turn until the right scale is achieved. Anyway, calibration of complicated meters can get complicated too. Wrong calibrations of such meters can damage the device or lead to inaccurate readings.
How would you maintain your meter?
As mentioned, the polished glass is prone to scratches, and it is very brittle too. A mild blow can shatter the glass structure. Dropping the meter also can damage it permanently. Leaving the meter outside when not in use is a common mistake made by Refractometer owners. Dust accumulation on the glass is the downside of leaving your meter outside for longer time periods. Wiping off the dust also would damage the surface. To avoid this, every manufacturer of this versatile meter send their products to the market in a safe packaging. You better keep the original box until you make use of the device. Keep the meter in the original box and keep it in a clean and dry place. A bench-top meter should be securely placed on where you keep it. Heavier the meter, the more it will get damaged if dropped on the floor. Dropping a bench-top meter on the floor could be the end of it. A damp working condition is a top enemy of this device.
Failing to clean the glass surface after every us will lead up to buildups. Measuring abrasive liquids can also cause permanent damaged to the device. Well, not only a Refractometer; every optical device should be handled and stored carefully to avoid unnecessary damages.
Buying your meter
Most users will benefit from buying a handheld meter. These handheld meters are cheap to buy but accurate to a greater extent. Anyway, more robust meters are available in the market for commercial and industrial uses. Anyway, buying a complicated meter will confuse you. Some cheap meters are also very difficult to use. So, buy your Refractometer from a reputed manufacturer or a distributor in your city. A meter that can be calibrated with distilled water will save your time and money in the long run. Read the instruction manual from the first page to the last before start using the meter. These instructions are crucial for accurate measurements and the safety of the meter.
Some final words
OK, let’s summarize the uses of this versatile device!
1) Measuring percentage Brix of fruits.
2) Measuring the ripening process (sugar content of fruits varies with ripening.)
3) To make sure when to harvest the fruits. Well, you don’t need to perform the test on each fruit. A few from a bigger sample is more than enough.
Contact us today if you have more questions on the Refractometer. We distribute a wide range of products in Australia.