Instrumental Color Analysis Ensures Military Textiles Manufacturers Meet Berry Amendment Standards
US Soldiers
U.S. Soldiers celebrating at the Armed Forces Classic game day in South Korea. Image Credit: Flickr User USAG – Humphreys

The U.S. military and uniformed services purchase their textiles based on specifications that have been enshrined in a series of laws1. The Berry Amendment and the Kissell amendment detail exactly what fabrics and colors are suitable, for everything from camouflage and dress uniforms to tarps and vehicle coverings. For U.S. textile manufacturers, this presents an opportunity to lock down steady contracts, whose requirements do not change as often as those of the ever-evolving world of fashion. With approximately 31,000 line items purchased every year, these contracts can provide a significant amount of revenue for textile makers. Companies manufacturing textiles for U.S. allies must meet similar legal requirements and are presented with similar opportunities.

This is a double-edged sword, however, requiring rigorous quality control systems from manufacturers. If a batch of textiles should fail to meet the standards prescribed by law, it will be rejected and manufacturers must eat the cost of materials, labor, and delivery. Even more alarming, repeated failures could cause the Defense Logistics Agency to end the contract. This would have an immediate, chilling effect on a company’s operations. Fortunately for manufacturers, this is a simpler standard to meet than the whims of designers. It’s an open book test; all manufacturers need to do to ensure they meet requirements is look up the specifications and test their products before delivery to make sure they match. The requirements should be included with the contract paperwork, and if not, will be available on request.

Soldiers hiding in brush
Military textiles like camouflage are designed to protect warfighters and help them blend into their surroundings. Image Credit: Flickr User Program Executive Office Soldier

Quality Control Testing Is Essential in Military Textile Production

Testing, instead of simply relying on a company’s process, is necessary because of the difficulties of properly coloring military fabrics. The military uses a wide range of specialty materials, many of which are not found in other industries or for average consumer use. These materials can be flame retardant or can provide protection against chemical and biological attacks. They can be made of synthetic fibers, natural fibers, or a blend. These unique properties of military textiles affect the fastness of colorants. Each different material requires a different coloration process and mix of materials. As new materials are tested and approved, even companies with longer-term contracts with the military must adjust their processes to make sure they are meeting specifications.

 

Military Officers
Military textiles include more than just camouflage. Image credit: Flickr user See-ming Lee

 

Spectrophotometers Objectively Assess Textile Color

The best way for manufacturers to meet color specifications is to test fabric samples with a reflectance spectrophotometer. These instruments objectively assess the color of opaque objects to a high degree of accuracy and repeatability. In a quality control laboratory, a technician simply places the sample, presses a button on the instrument, and notes whether the sample’s color lies within an established tolerance standard. It’s an easy process, made simpler by the precise color standards set forth by the military. Manufacturers know what color their fabrics need to be, and a spectrophotometer can tell them if their fabrics are that color. This mitigates color quality risk entirely.

A few practical issues can arise when measuring fabrics, that should be taken into consideration. First, fabrics aren’t rigid, and may accidentally pillow into the measurement port, throwing off the measurement. Technicians should be sure to secure fabrics so this does not happen. Next, coloration can occur inconsistently over the breadth of a fabric. Technicians should measure multiple areas on a sample to ensure they all fall within tolerance standards. Modern HunterLab spectrophotometers are able to easily average measurements together, aiding this process. Finally, should the material be gauzy or otherwise nearly transparent, a backing will be required. This backing should always be the same color, and the instrument should be calibrated to take this into effect.

To learn more about how spectrophotometers can improve your textile business, or if you have questions about the spectrophotometer you’re currently using, contact our friendly, professional staff today. We’re happy to help.

  1.  “Textiles and our military,” 2016, http://www.ncto.org/facts-figures/textiles-and-our-military/
How Wineries Use Wine Turbidity to Measure Vintage Quality and Save on Expenses
                  Have you ever noticed any sediment in your red wine? Photo Credit: Pexels User Timur Saglambilek

Have you ever uncorked an aged Bordeaux, and found a thick pile of sediment at the bottom of the bottle? Although this gritty sediment looks unappetizing, it’s actually a set of harmless compounds that play a major role in aged wines. The solid sediment in the wine mixes with the fermented juice over time, forming new flavor compounds that make the wine taste better with age. As these compounds expire, they sink to the bottom of the bottle.

Low wine turbidity makes the wine appear clearer, but it can also negatively impact its ability to age through the decades if it’s filtered too much. By comparison, wines with higher turbidity can sometimes age longer in a cellar, but they often appear unappetizing to casual drinkers. The winery’s goal is to find the ideal balance between these two factors, and many do so by measuring their wine turbidity in advance.

 

Wine Turbidity Varies by Style

Some winemakers prefer high turbidity in their wines, whereas others prefer there to be hardly any sediment at all. For instance, an organic, or “biodynamic,” winery will try to retain as much hazy turbidity as possible when they bottle their wines because they believe that interfering with the wine’s natural state will negatively impact its flavors. Consumers also expect a biodynamic wine1 to have some haziness and a significant amount of sediment since it’s a sign that the winery didn’t try to filter out the sediment before bottling. In some cases, high turbidity makes the wine appear more appetizing for certain customers, rather than less.

However, most wineries choose to filter out as much sediment as possible. A winery that wants their wines to appeal to mainstream, casual drinkers will want to make their wines appear crystal clear before bottling. An estimated 90 percent2 of all wine is consumed within its first year of purchase. Because these wines aren’t designed to age well over time, there’s no reason to have excess sediment in the bottle — the compounds won’t have enough time to expire and sink to the bottom of the container. This is why the majority of wineries choose to filter, or “fine,” their wines to create a liquid that is virtually clear.

Glasses of white wine
It’s important to ensure that wine clarity is constant. Photo Credit: Flickr User Didriks

Measuring Wine Turbidity Prevents Unexpected Expenses

You can’t tell how much sediment is in a wine just by looking at it. To start, the sediment is usually well mixed with the rest of the liquid, and it can take as long as 10 years3 for this hidden sediment to separate from the rest of the wine. Instead, wineries use a color and haze spectrophotometer to determine how clear the liquid is, according to Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU) measurements. Knowing the wine’s NTU reading in advance allows wineries to estimate how many times the wine will have to go through a filter, and how much this process will cost. For instance, in most mainstream wines designed for immediate consumption, an NTU reading of less than 1.04 is considered relatively clear. However, if that reading were greater than 1.0, the winery would likely have to filter the wine for a second time before bottling.

If a winery uses a third party for filtering, as is often the case, that third party company might charge more for wines that have high turbidity. A thick, hazy wine can quickly block the filters on a machine, causing significant damage to the equipment. Many filtering companies won’t even accept wines that are cloudy. When wineries measure their wine’s turbidity in advance, they can take extra steps to clear out the wine before it reaches a third party filter company. Many wineries “fine” their wines with special agents5, such as volcanic clay, gelatin, and egg whites. These agents can grip onto large pieces of sediment to prepare the wine for further filtering. Knowing this in advance saves wineries hidden filtering fees, and prevents costly equipment damage.

red wine being poured into glass
Spectrophotometers can help ensure brand consistency. Photo credit: Flickr User shreddaily101

Ideal Turbidity Could Mean Higher Quality Vintages

A spectrophotometer like Vista can give advanced warning to wineries who want to avoid unexpected filtering costs, however, it’s also useful for wineries who want to craft the best-tasting wine. The only thing to keep in mind is that this instrument works best for near-transparent liquids, like white wines, rather than thicker, more opaque red wines. Other instruments, like the UltraScan VIS, can handle a wider range of wine styles, allowing wineries to get an accurate read on turbidity.

Critics pay close attention to a wine’s clarity and balance of tannins, both of which are impacted by the wine’s turbidity. A wine with less sediment will taste more pleasant in its youth because it won’t have as many bitter tannins mixed in with the fruit. A wine with more sediment will taste slightly bitter or astringent in its youth, and these flavors will mellow out over time as the sediment naturally separates. How much sediment a winery chooses to leave in the wine will depend on whether they want their wines to impress drinkers early, or whether long term aging is their goal.

To accomplish this, a winery can test samples for turbidity throughout the winemaking process. Sphere instruments such as the UltraScan VIS can detect the exact NTU reading for wine samples, giving wineries the opportunity to tweak these measurements before bottling. This instrument, in particular, is capable of measuring liquids that run from crystal clear to opaque, making it the perfect solution for any wine style. Wineries can use it to measure turbidity in their clear white wines, and also use it to measure thicker, opaque wines like Syrah. Having the freedom to switch between different wine styles and ideal turbidity readings using one piece of equipment is essential for wineries, especially those that bottle tens of thousands of gallons of wine every year.

  1. Getting into Biodynamic wine,” 2014, http://winefolly.com/review/biodynamic-wine-guide/
  2. “Six things you probably don’t know about wine,” https://www.winecurmudgeon.com/six-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-wine/
  3. “Ask Dr. Vinny,” http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/42951
  4. “The filterability of wine,” 2013, http://www.wineland.co.za/the-filterability-of-wine/
  5. “A clearer understanding of fining agents,” 2007, https://winemakermag.com/26-a-clearer-understanding-of-fining-agents
Vista Spectrophotometer Improves Color Quality Control for Vodka Distilleries

I was at a bar with a Russian friend the other day. He ordered us some premium vodka, and it was so smooth that I almost forgot how alcoholic it was! This got me thinking about how the vodka I drank in college wasn’t good vodka. My friends and I (and much of the student body) would buy one of many different brands of what was all essentially the same rotgut. For about ten dollars, we could purchase 1.75 liters of this clear, syrupy liquid in a plastic bottle. I know it was distilled, at least a few times. However, when you drank it, although you couldn’t see them, you could feel on your tongue little bits of—something—floating around in there. Maybe that’s why it tasted so bad.

Popov vodka
You know it’s the right stuff when it comes in a plastic handle. Image credit: Flickr User Kim+5 (CC BY 2.0)

 

Brand Consistency for Vodka Distilleries

 

Not all vodka comes in plastic handles, and even if it does, quality control is an essential element of the production process. After repeated distillation, manufacturers subject their batches to a battery of QC tests designed to ensure color clarity, transparency, and the flavor is consistent with their brand. Only after passing this regimen is the vodka bottled and shipped to distributors.

 

The reason for this is obvious: brand consistency. A major selling point for middle and top-shelf vodka companies is their comparative quality and distinctive flavor, or lack thereof. Should they ship out batches of off-color vodka, customers are likely to choose a different option off the shelf. These customers will also remember the decision and will be more likely to choose another brand in the future. That holds true even if the batch in front of them is the color it’s supposed to be.

 

Customers won’t notice haze or strange flavors until after they’ve bought the bottle, or received a drink at the bar. However, they’ll remember the experience and will be more likely to choose a different brand the next time they’re looking for a drink. Quality control then is not only important for the immediate batch, but to safeguard the reputation of every other future batch as well.

Vodka being sold
Makers of high-quality vodka rely on instrumental color quality control to differentiate their products. Image Credit: Flickr User James Hubley (CC BY 2.0)

 

Instrumental Color and Haze Measurement Ensures Vodka Quality Control

 

With their brand’s reputation at stake, vodka producers rely on transmission spectrophotometers and haze measurement instruments to ensure that their liquor is the right color and completely transparent. These instruments measure color and haze, respectively, using similar methods. They pass a controlled beam of light through a transparent liquid and record any changes in the light as it hits a detector on the other side. Quality control technicians place the sample into the instrument, take the measurement, and observe the result displayed on the instrument’s screen. It is a straightforward method for determining if the sample color (or lack thereof) is within acceptable tolerances.

vodka with city backdrop
Quality and luxury are top selling points of high-quality vodkas. Image Credit: Flickr User AnestesiA Vodka (CC BY 2.0)

 

Benefits and Drawbacks of Color and Haze Measurement Instruments

 

Due to their improved reliability and precision over human observers, color and haze measurement instruments have become the industry standard for quality control of transparent liquids. However, that’s not to say these instruments don’t have drawbacks.

 

For one, their large size crowds up benchtop space in small laboratories, which is especially onerous for small to mid-size craft distilleries. Also, they often require a connection to a nearby PC to store saved color standards, display results or transfer data to a company server. Other aspects are outdated as well, such as the need to calibrate the instrument daily with a set of colored disks.

 

Recognizing the need for improvement, at HunterLab, we’ve designed Vista, a single instrument capable of measuring both transmission color and haze simultaneously. Not only does it replace two instruments with one, it’s also significantly smaller than either earlier machine. Despite its small size, its modern processor is capable of storing saved standards and transmitting data without the need for a PC. Also, its large touchscreen display makes reading measurement data fast and simple. It doesn’t need colored disks, either—it can calibrate automatically at the touch of a button.

 

To read more about how Vista can improve your distillery’s quality control processes, contact us today to speak with one of our friendly, knowledgeable sales professionals.

Why Measuring the Color of Vanilla Ice Cream Matters Now More Than Ever
ice cream cone
As the ice cream market becomes more competitive and specialized than ever before, spectrophotometric color measurement is becoming increasingly critical to monitor appearance and quality. Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

 

Summer is a time for lazy days at the beach, backyard barbecue parties, and chasing fireflies into the evening. It’s also the time for ice cream. Whether lured by the familiar sound of the neighborhood ice cream truck or drawn in by a new wave of socially conscious ice cream shops, we flock toward these frozen treats in massive numbers1. According to Fortune, Americans spent over $13 billion on ice cream in 2013, “not including restaurant sales,” and the average consumer will eat ice cream almost 22 pounds of ice cream each year2. Despite the explosion of the frozen yogurt market, ice cream sales still outnumber frozen yogurt sales by a factor of 24 to 1. What’s more, ice cream sales have shot up in recent years in countries like Turkey, Brazil, and China, adding to what is currently a $78 billion global business.

 

However, the ice cream market is changing. As the public has become both more health conscious and more interested in food sourcing and quality, ice cream manufacturers have had to re-evaluate their production and marketing strategies. For some, this has meant moving toward more natural ingredients, devoid of the artificial colors and flavors many major ice cream producers have relied on for years. For others, it has opened the door to ice cream manufacturing for the first time, giving creameries the opportunity to enter the burgeoning premium ice cream market. In cities like Los Angeles and New York, people are lining up around the block to sample novel flavors like sticky rice and mango or labneh with pistachio and candied orange offered by artisanal shops3.

 

But despite the introduction of virtually limitless new and novel flavors, the most popular ice cream variety remains vanilla. According to the International Ice Cream Association, vanilla ice cream is preferred by 29% of consumers, with chocolate coming in second place at a mere 8.9%4. With the transformations occurring within the world of ice cream, however, vanilla can no longer simply be, well, vanilla. Rising consumer demand for high quality products is forcing both long-time players and newcomers to raise the bar and perfect their vanilla ice creams. With the stakes higher than ever, spectrophotometric color measurement is now becoming an increasingly critical part of the manufacturing process.

 

vanilla
The color of vanilla ice cream is affected by a range of process variables, including whether real vanilla or synthetic vanillin is used in the manufacturing process. Image Source: Flickr user Joy

 

Why the Color of Vanilla Ice Cream Matters

 

Color is a vital aspect of any food; research has confirmed again and again that what we see deeply affects how we experience foods and can make or break a particular food product. This may be particularly true of food “basics”, like vanilla ice cream. Consumers have specific expectations of what vanilla ice cream looks like and while there may be a range of acceptable colors, a product that falls outside of that range can turn off customers simply due to appearance.

 

Part of this is logical; the color of vanilla ice cream reflects its ingredients and we may reasonably expect a yellowish creamy variety to taste different than a pale white vanilla ice cream. The color of ice cream flavored using natural vanilla is typically different than that flavored using vanillin, for example. The other part, however, is sentimental. “Ice cream is about sense memory,” says Michael Palmer, owner of McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, a Santa Monica-based creamery with a number of popular Los Angeles-area outposts5. “Everybody has a story, a memory about ice cream.” Part of that sense memory is aesthetic; you want vanilla ice cream to look a certain way because you remember it looking that way in the past, regardless of whether appearance is directly correlated to the flavor. Because, ultimately, it is not just the taste, but the experience of ice cream consumers are seeking. And that experience begins with sight.

 

Spectrophotometers are ideally suited to measure the color of vanilla ice cream to ensure the highest level of quality in every batch. Image Source: Pexels user Madeline Tallmann

 

Measuring the Color of Ice Cream

 

The ideal color of vanilla ice cream is subjective and will vary according to each manufacturer’s process and preferences. Creating and reproducing that color, however, requires objective analytical tools. This is particularly true when working with pale shades that can be particularly susceptible to the impact of ambient light and other environmental interferences. Additionally, the nature of ice cream itself presents unique challenges for accurately assessing color. As Rachael Stothard writes:

 

The physical characteristics of ice cream do make it hard to measure consistently; it would be detrimental to alter the production process to attempt to attain a sample of the frozen finished product and most measurements would be taken in a warm laboratory meaning the sample would be changing consistency as it melts. Therefore, when talking of measuring the color of ice cream, it is not the frozen matter being measured but rather the liquid substance that gives ice cream its desired color.6

 

Spectrophotometers are ideally suited to measure the color of ice cream via sophisticated optical geometries that allow you to accurately capture reflectance values over the visible spectrum.

 

Ice cream samples should preferably be poured or pipetted in circular, glass cups that fit flush against the sample area and allows the liquid “to be distributed evenly for measurements. Plastic cups may be used in environments with a high risk of breakage, although plastic’s susceptibility to scratching could compromise measurement accuracy. To enhance the reliability of results, each sample should either be covered by an opaque cover or backed by a white backing tile depending on your preference. One sample from a batch, however, is not enough. Rather, multiple measurements should be taken of each sample and multiple samples should be analyzed from each batch. Sample averaging will allow you to achieve the greatest insight into the color behavior of each batch, optimizing accuracy.

 

The Benefits of Color Measurement

 

Measuring the color of vanilla ice cream has multiple benefits that enhance overall quality and ensure that your product is the best it can be. First, it gives you the data you need to determine the exact shade of white needed for your ice cream. During the product development process, spectrophotometric analysis allows you to determine the impact of each variable on color and gives you the opportunity to tailor your manufacturing process to create your standard and tolerance range. Once in production, spectrophotometers allow you to monitor your ice creams by automatically alerting you when a batch falls outside of your desired tolerance. When this happens, you have the opportunity to halt production to determine the cause of the variation, minimizing product waste and making it possible to quarantine faulty product.

 

In today’s competitive environment, the ability to tailor the appearance of your vanilla ice cream to your exact specifications and consistently reproduce that color in each batch can be imperative to attracting discerning consumers. At the same time, the ability to prevent the release of a faulty product while minimizing material and labor waste has real economic benefits. As such, investment in a spectrophotometric instrument can pay for itself many times over during the course of its life.

 

HunterLab Quality

 

HunterLab has been on the cutting edge of color measurement technology for over 60 years. Today, we offer the most advanced spectrophotometers and accessories available to suit the needs of both large and small ice cream producers. With versatile, user-friendly designs, our instruments are easily integrated into any manufacturing environment to give you the highest level of quality control at any stage of your process. Contact us to learn more about our renowned range of products and let us help you select the right instrument for your needs.

  1. “Ice Cream With A Side of Social Justice Has Arrived in Times Square”, May 24, 2017, http://gothamist.com/2017/05/24/ice_and_vice_times_square.php#photo-1
  2. “Do We Still Scream for Ice Cream?” July 24, 2014, http://fortune.com/2014/07/24/ice-cream-sales/
  3. “You Scream, I Scream … At the Price of Ice Cream”, August 3, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/dining/04icecream.html
  4. “The Top 15 Most Popular Ice Cream Flavors”, July 30, 2008, http://www.foodchannel.com/articles/article/the-top-15-most-popular-ice-cream-flavors/
  5. “Artisanal Ice Cream Is Taking Over L.A.”, http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/new-ice-cream-shops-create-freezing-frenzy-in-la
  6. “How to Measure the Color of Ice Cream”, January 16, 2015, http://mail.colourmeasure.com/knowledge-base/2015-01-16-how-to-measure-the-colour-of-ice-cream
Instrumental Color Quality Control Smooths Out Raw Materials Variation in Whipped Cream Production

“I think it’s gone bad,” says Ken. “Is that possible? I didn’t think that was possible. Maybe I shouldn’t eat this.” He looks down at the slice of cake in front of him, topped in a greenish-grey approximation of whipped cream. “But I made it special for your birthday!” says Jen. “You mean you don’t like it?” Her eyes widen, and she starts to get up from the table, reaching to clear Ken’s plate. “No, I like it,” he says. “Really, I like it. It looks great! I know you put a lot of work into it. Just maybe the cream in the can get a little old. The cake looks awesome. Here, I’ll just scrape the cream away.” Jen smiles and sits back down as Ken scrapes the cream off the cake. It still looks a little gross where the cream used to be, but Ken puts on a smile and swallows a bite. “Delicious,” he says, and as he looks across the table at Jen, it really is. “That’s weird,” she says. “That it’s so old. I just got it yesterday.” Ken looks back at the puddle of melting cream on the edge of his plate. It looks grosser than before. He turns back to Jen and says: “Maybe try a different brand next year?”

 

whipped cream on pancakes
Good whipped cream can make a good meal better. Image Credit: Flickr User Hideya HAMANO (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

Raw Materials Variation Can Create Brand Inconsistency

 

Customers expect their whipped cream to be a particular shade of white. Not just any white, but the exact same white that it’s been every time they’ve pressed down the nozzle and covered their strawberry shortcake in foamy cream. For manufacturers, this means that special care must be taken to ensure that customers get the cream they expect. Any color deviations can raise concerns in customers. If the color of the cream is different, they will wonder if other properties may be different as well and if it is safe to eat. These concerns can lead them to think twice before purchasing a bottle of the same brand the next time they shop. This can potentially cost a company a lifetime’s worth of sales.

 

However, maintaining a standard color in whipped cream products can be easier said than done. The principal ingredient1 of whipped cream is milk, which can exhibit a spectrum of different colors depending on factors including the health, diet, and age of the cows it comes from. Both the overall amount of fat in the cream, and its liquid or crystalline properties, can vary as well. Process variations, such as temperature fluctuation during pasteurization, can affect the final product color as well.

 

whipped cream on brownie
Manufacturers use spectrophotometers to ensure each batch of whipped cream is the same shade of white. Image Credit: Flickr User jeffreyw (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

Spectrophotometers Ensure Whipped Cream Meets Color Standards

 

In order to catch any color deviation resulting from differences in raw materials or production processes, whipped cream manufacturers rely on instrumental color quality control. Instruments known as spectrophotometers can objectively assess the color of opaque objects such as whipped cream with a very high degree of repeatability. These instruments measure the color of objects using reflectance spectrophotometry.

 

Unlike human observers, spectrophotometers can translate color into a numerical value. To obtain an objective color value, a quality control technician simply places the sample in the instrument, presses a button, and notes whether the numerical output falls within established tolerance standards. No matter who the technician is or in which facility they’re located, the measurement will be the same.

 

With over six decades of experience designing spectrophotometers for the food industry, HunterLab has become a trusted name in instrumental color quality control. If you’re interested in learning more about which spectrophotometer can best improve your production process, contact our friendly, professional representatives today.

 

Food Processors Rely on Spectrophotometers to Ensure Color Consistency Despite Variations in Natural Ingredients

Every parent of a college student will understand that the student’s diet is probably heavy on pizza, ramen noodles, and macaroni & cheese. Parents who are concerned about this diet might take some comfort from Kraft’s recent decision to phase out artificial preservatives and synthetic colors from its ubiquitous mac & cheese products1. Yet any food processor’s decision to move toward natural ingredients will pose challenges that, if not handled properly, can affect the appearance, taste, and overall quality of food products.

 

                                                    

Kraft dinner
The familiar orange-yellow elbow macaroni and cheese is a welcome site to many college students. And it’s always the same color. Image Source: Flickr User Aidan Morgan (CC BY 2.0)

 

To maintain consistent product color, a food processing company transitioning to natural food dyes and ingredients must adjust processing conditions in real time. Consider this challenge in the context of butter. Milk from dairy cows that are raised on artificial feed generates butter that is pale or white. Butter that starts out as milk from natural grass-fed cows is bright yellow2. So, a food processor that uses grass-fed butter is adding higher levels of yellow pigmentation to its food products. More importantly, that level varies with natural changes in the cow’s diet. The same is true for cheeses and other products that start out as milk. The challenge is compounded as other natural ingredients are utilized.

 

Food Processors Make Real-Time Adjustments for Color Consistency

 

The final color of any food product is a function of the product’s ingredients, the chemical environment (e.g. acidity) at various stages of the processing cycle, and the processing conditions themselves (e.g. temperature)3. Food processors already implement controls over environment and conditions but also need to implement controls to respond to the greater variability of natural ingredients. Extra adjustments are needed to smooth out color variations that result from natural ingredient variations.

 

With macaroni and cheese, for example, a processor might adopt a natural annatto extract in place of synthetic yellow dyes. Annatto is a natural yellow colorant that is derived from the seeds of bush. Its yellow to orange color results from a blend of naturally-occurring compounds, including carotenoids, bixin, and norbixin4. By altering the amount of annatto added in the process, the processor can alter the final color of their mac & cheese. To make these changes, however, the processor needs a simple and economical tool to measure the product’s color during the processing cycle.

 

Annato seeds
Annato seeds in their natural form. Image credit: Flickr User Jonathan Stonehouse (CC BY 2.0)

 

Spectrophotometers Measure Food Color Against Objective Standards

 

Food processors test ingredients before using them in actual processing conditions. Natural ingredients can be within specifications yet still exhibit significant variability that will affect downstream color. Line operators and technicians can use portable spectrophotometers to assess color differences at multiple processing stages. These instruments provide objective color analysis quickly and reliably by measuring light reflected from opaque objects. Based on this analysis, any necessary adjustments to color can be implemented.

 

HunterLab has long been an industry leader in providing spectrophotometers that are uniquely adaptable to food processing industry challenges. The company produces a range of both benchtop and portable devices that have different measurement modalities for every specific phase of a food processing cycle. Our product specialists can show you how to use our instruments to maintain a perfect end product color regardless of ingredient specification variability. Please contact us for more information about our color measurement and food industry expertise.

Spectrophotometric Evaluation of Honey Color Helps Boost Appeal
The color of honey can have a significant impact on consumer perception. | Image Source: Unsplash user Sonja Langford

It’s not often that the intrigue and specter of criminal activity enter the honey world. However, when it comes to manuka honey, it’s a different story. Manuka honey, derived from the manuka tree, is one of the rarest and valuable kinds of honey in the world. Renowned for its touted medicinal properties and rich, complex flavor, manuka honey fetches significantly higher prices than standard honey, spurring the emergence of a global counterfeiting industry.

 

Approximately 1,700 tons of manuka honey are produced annually in New Zealand, “representing almost all the world’s production.” Yet 10,000 tons of honey product labeled as manuka is being sold each year around the world, with 1,800 of those tons sold in the UK alone.1 The problem has become so widespread that specialized testing methodologies have now been developed to differentiate between true manuka honey and counterfeit or adulterated versions.2 These authentication methods have the potential to save the honey industry (and consumers) millions of dollars each year. But until global implementation of such testing is realized, large-scale counterfeiting is likely to continue.

 

The primary way manuka consumers seek to identify manuka honey is by color. The product is known for its creamy to dark brown hues, hinting at its strong, distinctive flavor. As such, replicating this color is imperative to passing off counterfeits as the real deal. This may be done using a variety of methods, including adding syrups or other colorants to lighter kinds of honey to approximate the distinctive appearance of manuka. It is perhaps the strongest example of how valuable honey color can be and why color standards matter.

 

 

A Matter of Color

 

Manuka honey is not the only honey customers primarily evaluate based on color. In fact, honey color is perhaps the most important variable in guiding consumer choices, as it ostensibly hints at the flavor one can expect from the product. As Aubert and Gonnet wrote as early as 1986, “A very dark-colored honey is suggestively associated with a very flavored product, while a light-colored honey suggests more subtle and refined fragrances.”3 However, these assumptions are not always consistent. Indeed, “The link between the color and flavor of honey is often accidental.”

 

Despite the accidental nature of this link, consumers tend to have strong preferences when it comes to honey color. These are the result of both individual and cultural tastes. For example, American consumers tend to prefer lighter colored honeys while German, Swiss, and Austrians often prefer darker varieties.4 This, however, may be changing with the emergence of artisanal honeys and increased interest in rare and novel food products.5 Additionally, while color is not a perfect predictor of flavor, it can be an important indictor of quality. Color that deviates from expectations may indicate the intentional or unintentional addition of additives, processing errors, or contamination.

 

Honey can range from the palest white to rich amber. | Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

The Honey Color Scale

 

In order to evaluate honey color in a standardized way, the USDA has developed a specialized classification system consisting of seven categories, ranging from water white to dark amber.6 This color scale is used across the industry to help producers determine whether their honey is meeting aesthetic expectations as well as allowing for meaningful comparisons between product appearances. While honey color does not factor into USDA quality grading, it is an important tool for honey producers as they seek to create aesthetically desirable products that meet the demands of today’s consumers.

 

Traditionally, the color of honey has been evaluated using a Pfund color grader, a glass wedge whose color ranges from light to dark. “The honey is placed in a wedge-shaped container and compared to the scale, and the place where the color matches is measured from one end of the wedge.”7 Today, a number of companies offer their own color grading apparatuses that also rely on visual comparison of honey to color samples. These methods are inherently subjective, as factors such as ambient light, perceptual differences between observers, and even slight color variations in color grading equipment can interfere with an accurate assessment.

honey in jars
Customers in different geographic locations have different honey preferences. Image Credit: Flickr User Jason Reidy

 

Toward Objective Honey Color Analysis

 

In order to overcome the challenges posed by visual inspection, an increasing number of honey producers are turning to spectrophotometric analysis. These high-tech instruments allow you to capture objective color information to accurately determine a product’s place on the honey color scale. Additionally, this precise data may be used to ensure batch-to-batch consistency, guaranteeing that each product is of similar quality.

 

The versatile optical geometries of spectrophotometers mean that they are capable of analyzing the appearance of both liquid and solid kinds of honey. Additionally, the ability to capture both transmitted and reflected color means that spectrophotometric instrumentation makes it possible to analyze a full product range at every step of manufacturing with the same instrument. As Rachel Stothard writes, “Having a machine that can accommodate both measurements means quality analysis can be as versatile as the product.”[“How to Measure the Color of Honey”, July 16, 2015, http://www.colourmeasure.com/knowledge-base/2015-07-16-how-to-measure-the-colour-of-honey]

 

But spectrophotometers also allow you to go beyond color measurement. In addition to hue, the clarity of honey is one of the primary determinants of both visual appeal and product quality. In fact, clarity accounts for 10% of the USDA’s quality rating of filtered honey. The current classification system is based on “the apparent transparency or clearness of honey to the eye and to the degree of freedom from air bubbles, pollen grains, or other fine particles of any materials suspected in the product.” By integrating haze measurement in honey quality assessment, producers can easily determine product clarity. This information can be invaluable in identifying problematic process variables as well as evaluating new process variables as you seek to improve clarity. Today’s sophisticated spectrophotometers allow you to capture both haze and color measurement with a single instrument and even with a single measurement.

 

HunterLab Quality

 

HunterLab has been a pioneer in the field of color measurement for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive range of fine spectrophotometric instruments designed to help our customers obtain the critical data they need to evaluate the quality of their products and optimize consumer appeal. Our analytical tools provide simple and accurate methods for determining honey color and haze in a variety of user-friendly formats. Contact us to learn more about our innovative spectrophotometers, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services and let us help you select the perfect instrument for you.

 

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  2. “New Tests Confirm New Zealand Manuka Honey is For Real”, May 16, 2017, http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/92636284/new-tests-confirm-new-zealand-manuka-honey-is-for-real
  3. “Color Grading of Honey”, 1986, http://www.fiitea.org/foundation/files/1986/S.%20AUBERT,%20M.%20GONNET.pdf
  4. “Honey Color Facts: Plus Our Favorite Honey”, December 2, 2013, http://besthoneysite.com/honey-color/
  5. “Marketers Wax Enthusiastic Over Bees and Honey”, October 15, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/16/business/media/marketers-wax-enthusiastic-over-bees-and-honey.html
  6. “United States Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey”, May 23, 1985, http://www.honey.com/images/downloads/exhoney.pdf
  7. “The Color of Honey”, June 22, 2010, https://honeybeesuite.com/the-color-of-honey/