In a Color Class All Their Own: Measuring Grain Products Using Spectrophotometers

Anyone who’s ever been to the grocery store with children knows the challenges of shopping with the kids, especially when it comes to the many choices in the cereal aisle. Cereal is a staple food item in many households around the world, but my kids know the criteria I use when it comes to breakfast selections: whole grains and low sugar are key. Even when seeking a healthy alternative to the brightly colored sugary options, color still plays and important role in consumer choice. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created a color class measurement system for grain products to aid in classification and production processes.

Cereal Color Class
Cereal is one of the largest grain products on the market and manufacturers rely on color measurement for product quality and color consistency.
Image Source: Flickr user Christian Cable

Grains make up a large portion of the foods we eat. Cereals, breads, pastas, and baking products all come in a variety of grain choices that rely on accurate color class analysis. From processing to final product color measurement, using spectrophotometers helps manufacturers determine color class for grain sorting, shelf color monitoring, and color consistencies.

Color variations in grain product

Many factors can influence grain color, making color class analysis difficult for visual determination. Growing conditions, genetics, and kernel characteristics can all affect grain color and make differentiation difficult for the human eye alone. Segregating grains by color is commonly used in the proper determination for end-use products. Grains, such as wheat, are dependent on color class differentiation for classification purposes, developing consistencies in finished products, and maintaining shelf-life color control.

wheat color class
Wheat color can differ greatly based on many various conditions and color analysis is necessary for differentiating grains for specific purpose and usages.
Image Source: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture

The importance of color differentiation

Visual differentiation to determine color class is still used, but often requires chemicals that can damage the product sample and may be hazardous to human health. Spectrophotometers provide a simple and non-destructive way to measure color class, and provide highly objective and quantifiable results. Color class is also used to differentiate hazardous grain products that may be scab-infested or contaminated with other toxins, such as fungi. Spectrophotometers offer easy to use and portable instrumentation for careful examination and preventative measures.

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Color measurement of grains through spectrophotometric analysis can also be used to quantify protein content, starch, moisture content, in addition to the concentration of possible contaminants. They provide a versatile tool for determining many grain properties, but its most common use is for product quality and consistency in marketable food products. Precise color measurement allows for batch consistencies in raw grain products and quality control in baked and/or processed goods as well.

Instrumental color measurement

Spectrophotometers are hands-down the most versatile tool for color class measurement of grain products. Instrumental color measurement is a much simpler and more straightforward alternative to visual analysis and can provide objective and quantifiable results. Color class analysis is best achieved using a colorimetric spectrophotometer which is designed to measure the entire spectrum of light. Light is then reflected from the sample and measured using human eye technology that gives precise color variation outputs. These outputs are then used to identify differentiations and ensure product color consistency.

grain products color class
Spectrophotometers can be used to measure raw grain materials or processed food products for color variations or to ensure color consistencies.
Image Source: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture

HunterLab specializes in grain color measurement and is a reliable name for color class determination. We offer a variety of instrumentation that can be adapted for both large and small sample sizes, and smooth and coarse surface color measurements. Trusted by many of the world’s leading grain producers, we have led the industry in color measurement standardization and food color evaluation. Contact HunterLab today to see why more companies choose our instruments for their color measurement needs.


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