The Refractometer: A Sweet Instrument in the Confectionery Game

Looking for a laboratory instrument to fall in love with this Valentine’s Day? How about a refractometer? We absolutely love how powerful these lab tools can be due to the flexibility of their analyses. Refractometers are useful in precisely measuring the concentration and purity of food, sugar, beverages, chemicals, petrochemicals, flavors, fragrances and much more. Due to today’s theme of Valentine’s Day and all that’s sweet, let’s take a quick look at how refractometers play an important role within the confectionary industry.

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Let’s begin this topic with some fun facts about chocolate and candy:

  • The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects $1.7 billion in Valentine’s Day candy sales this year.
  • Valentine’s Day is the third largest holiday for the chocolate candy industry, accounting for 24% of all sales in the U.S. chocolate candy market (U.S. Food Market Outlook 2018).
  • Mars Wrigley Confectionery, division of Mars Inc. (USA), is the leading global confectionery company, reporting $18 million in net sales in 2017 (International Cocoa Organization).

A piece of chocolate candy can be unwrapped and consumed in no time, especially when those chocolate cravings hit (typically around 3-4 PM when you just need a little something to sweeten the end of your workday). Most people don’t think of chocolate as a science, but a lot of careful analysis goes into the production phase to ensure a quality product. Laboratory instrumentation companies like Bellingham + Stanley have been providing refractometry solutions for more than a century to help the confectionery industry deliver a consistent and delicious product.

RFM700_Left_Web_Small.jpgRefractometers such as the RFM700 Refractometer are most commonly used to control the concentration of sugar blends used as fillings for chocolates, boiled sweets and other confectionery products. In most cases, repeatability is more important than accuracy as product specifications tend to be wide (i.e. 76 to 78 °Brix). A rapid reading is often required in order to stop the cooking process at the correct stage.

Hand-held refractometers can also be used in this process as long as they meet heat specifications of the cooking temperature. Selecting a higher instrument temperature is sometimes necessary in order to keep high-concentration products in a liquid state, as well as to provide faster results. RFM300 refractometers provide a temperature measurement range up to 70 °C / 158 °F via Peltier technology.   

RFM900T-Lab-with-handhelds_Web_Small.jpgMeasuring the fat content of raw chocolate is also an important quality control parameter that must be achieved. For accurate analysis, sample preparation is required to force the undissolved solids (fat) into a solution. This is done by adding the chemical ‘monobromonapthalene.’ The resulting solution, somewhere in the region of 1.60 RI, can then be measured on a digital instrument such as the RFM970T Refractometer.

No matter the application, the sweetest thing about today’s laboratory refractometers like Bellingham + Stanley’s selection is that they are fully automated, simplifying analysis. These robust refractometers include a modern design with a color display, alphanumeric touchscreen or keypad, easy-clean prism and many more features to make analysis via refractometry an easy and enjoyable task.

Looking for a way to treat your laboratory this Valentine’s Day? Try a refractometer. Your analysis will thank you for years to come!