Brix Readings, and What They Tell Us and Why They Matter When Making Jelly!
A Brix reading measures the sugar, mineral and protein content of the fruit. So letting it ripen is really important for both flavor and health!
Brix – A unit of measure used in the refractometer. When the Brix reading is divided by 2 it will be equal to the percent of crude sucrose in the plant tissue.
Refractometer – A device used to measure the refractive index of plant juices in order to determine the mineral/sugar ratio of the plant cell protoplasm.
Refractive Index of Crop Juices are calibrated in percentage of sucrose or degree of Brix.
During the growing season it is possible to check a plant for percent sucrose. A refractometer is easy to use. You will need something like a garlic squeezer for juicing the plant sample. To make a reading, place 2 to 3 drops of the liquid sample on the prism surface, close the cover and point toward any light source. Focus the eyepiece by turning the ring to the right or left. Locate the point on the graduated scale where the light and dark field meet. Read the percent sucrose (solid content on the scale).
The refractometer measures in units called Brix. The Brix equals to the percent of crude carbohydrate per 100 pounds of juice. The higher the carbohydrate in the plant juice the higher the mineral content of the plant, the oil content of the plant, and the protein quality of the plant.
For example, if you were to have 100 pounds of alfalfa that has a Brix reading of 15 it would mean that there would be 15 pounds of crude carbohydrates if the alfalfa was juiced and dried to 0 percent moisture. By dividing 15 by 2 it tells us that the actual amount of simple sugar would be equal to 7.5 pounds.
Crops with higher refractive index will have a higher sugar content, higher protein content, higher mineral content and a greater specific gravity or density. This adds up to a sweeter tasting, more mineral nutritious feed with lower nitrates and water content and better storage attributes.
Crops with higher Brix will produce more alcohol from fermented sugars and be more resistant to insects, thus resulting in decreased insecticide usage. For insect resistance, maintain a Brix of 12 or higher in the juice of the leaves of most plants. Crops with a higher solids content will have a lower freezing point and therefore be less prone to frost damage.
Brix readings can also indicate soil fertility needs. If soil nutrients are in the best balance and are made available (by microbes) upon demand by plants, readings will be higher.
You will find that when the phosphate levels in the soil are not up to what they should be, the sugar in the plants will vary from the bottom of the plant to the top. In other words, the Brix reading at the bottom of the plant will be higher than the top of the plant. The better the phosphate levels in ratio to potassium the more even the Brix reading will be all over the plant. Also the better the phosphate levels in ratio to potassium the less fluctuation there will be in the brix reading in any given 24 hour period.
You will also note that when you are looking into a refractometer you will sometimes be able to see a very sharp line which is very easy to read, while at other times it may be a very hazy line and not well demarcated and so difficult to read. The very sharp and dark and easy to read line means the crop is lower in calcium and higher in acid. A very diffuse and hard to read line tells one that the calcium is higher and the acid is lower in the plant. This is why a lower Brix reading on a plant will actually taste sweeter when there is high calcium than one that may have a little higher Brix reading and a low calcium. The available soluble sugar is what gives taste and sweetness to food. The more calcium in the crop along with the sugar, the sweeter the taste even though the Brix reading will be the same on two samples.
Source: Frontier Labs, Inc; Biologic Ionization as Applied to Farming and Soil Management, Beddoe.
More Jelly 101:
Guess what the FDA determines if you can call your product jelly or jam!
The Food and Drug Administration has “Standards of Identity” which have been in place since 1940 for what constitutes a jam or a jelly.
Interestingly enough, the current standards are based on the housewife’s formula that even pioneer women used when making their own jams and jellies — approximately half fruit and half sugar.
Following are definitions of the terms:
Legally in the USA – jelly is a clear, bright mixture made from fruit juice, sugar and often pectin or acid. No less than 45 pounds of fruit must be used for each 55 lb. of sugar. Must contain at least 65% Brix in the finished product.
High-fructose corn sweeteners are used interchangeably with sucrose due to the benefits each brings to different product formulations. Originally, cane sugar was used exclusively. Its use can be traced back to the 16th century when the Spanish came to the West Indies where they preserved fruit.
And jam is a thick mixture of fruit and sugar (and often pectin) that is cooked until the pieces of fruit are very soft and almost formless — the texture of a thick purée. It is also made with 45 lb. of fruit solids combined with 55 lb. of sugar. Must contain at least 65% Brix in the finished product.
A preserve is almost identical to a jam but preserves can contain large chunks of fruit or whole fruit. It is made with 47 lb. of fruit solids combined with 55 lb. of sugar. Must contain at least 65% Brix.
A conserve is much like a preserve but usually contains more than one kind of fruit and often nuts. No “Standard of Identity” exists.
A marmalade, on the other hand, is also like a preserve but contains some amount of fruit rind, usually from a citrus fruit. No “Standard of Identity” exists.
Fruit spreads such as those that have surfaced over the last 15 years, do not fall under the jelly or jam “Standards of Identity”, hence the generic name “fruit spreads.” These products are usually made with fruit juice concentrates or low-calorie sweeteners replacing all or part of the sugar. No standard of identity exists, and they are less than 65% Brix and legally cannot be called jelly, jam or preserves.
A fruit butter is a spread that is made by cooking fresh fruit with spices until it becomes thick and smooth. Fruit butter has a FDA “Standard of Identity”, and must be five parts by weight of fruit to two parts by weight of sweetener (72% fruit, 28% sweetener). Must contain at least 43% Brix.
The Rules of Jelly
1. There shall always be jelly in the fridge. ALWAYS
2. There is no food that is not made tastier by the addition of jelly. Jelly make great BBQ, salad dressing, icing, pizza – the list goes on and on – ask me for recipes!
3. There are two kinds of people in the world:
Those who like jelly.
Those who will be used as fodder in the case of a zombie apocalypse.
4. There shall be no jelly discrimination – savory, sweet, tangy or tart all can be life altering.
5. Jelly has zero health risk – zero fat and only make things easier – where do you think the saying “I am on a jelly roll” came from…
6. Meals with out jelly are rarely worth eating
7. Thou shall always consume jelly on the Sabbath, the Mondath, and the Tuesdath and ….
8. Since it is found in very country on the planet and everyone has a favorite flavor – clearly Jelly makes life better.
9. Watch out for the Banana Crack (aka Banana Nut Bread Jam) – it is not only the best jam on the planet – although it is organic – it is addicting.
10. The Jelly Queens’ will always take care of your jelly needs… we have over 200 flavors!
10 Ways to use Jellies, Jams and Preserves
#1 Add Preserves to BBQ Sauce – Our slow-cooked ribs call for something sweeter: The Jelly Queens’ Peach Pepper Jam or Six Pepper Jelly. Our luscious ingredient pair with bottled chili sauce and a little brown sugar to create a perfectly fruity sauce.
#2 Spread Preserves on Flatbread – The Jelly Queens’ savory jellies add a bright, poppy flavor to any golden flatbread. Our jams thick texture is perfect with rich Brie and crunchy red onion.
#3 Make Doughnut Cake with Jelly – Jelly and jam doesn’t just belong in doughnuts. We add a dose of The Jelly Queen Four Berry Jam to the filling and soft vanilla cake, then spread extra jelly in a heart shape to top things off.
#4: Add Jam to Frozen Drinks – For an extra-fruity frappe, one of The Jelly Queens berry jams, Strawberry Black Pepper or 4 Berry with creamy berry gelato, then top with broken chocolate bars for that delicious fix of sweetness.
#5: Slow-Cook Chicken in Jelly – Make your chicken thighs pop with bold flavor by slow-cooking them in The Jelly Queens Six Pepper Jelly. A squeeze of lime juice and pinch of brown sugar gives ’em a refreshingly sweet twist.
#6: Blend It into Smoothies – Creamy peanut butter and The Jelly Queens’ Groovy Grape Jelly make a fantastic (and easy as ever) PB-and-J smoothie. Just blend the unbeatable duo with plain Greek yogurt, milk, and a banana.
#7: Use Jam in Cookie Batter – These darling little cookies switch it up and use The Jelly Queens’ Cranberry Pom Sauce, Blood Orange Lavender or Pink Lemonade Marmalade to make their batter sweet as can be. Dress them with icing with match fruit zest.
#8: Dunk Chicken in Jam – Pretzel-coated chicken legs may sound weird, but dunk ’em in The Jelly Queens’ Black Garlic Rosemary Sauce and they’re an instant favorite and dip away for a sweet-and-tangy finale.
#9: Slather It on Savory Sandwiches – Sweeten up your savory sandwich with a spoonful of one of The Jelly Queens’ savory jams. We smear the jelly on Italian piadina or any flatbread and add salty prosciutto, tangy Gorgonzola, and fresh arugula.
#10: Cook Meatballs in Jam – Grab a jar of The Jelly Queens’ peach, grape or our sassy apple fig jam and bottled barbecue sauce venture to the slow cooker in this so-simple party recipe. Just toss in frozen meatballs and jalapeno smoked sausage, then let ’em soak up the sweet-and-smoky goodness.
History of Preserves
The first recipe for jam appears in the first known cookbook: De Re Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking) which dates from the 1st century AD. In its simplest form, it was soft fruit heated with honey, cooled and stored. In the Crusades, warriors brought back more complex concoctions from the Middle East. Jam’s popularity as a delicacy – rather than just a way to eat fruit – took off.
Joan of Arc ate quince jam before going into battle as it was said to filled her with courage. Nostradamus loved the stuff so much he wrote an entire treatise on it, including a love-potion version that, if passed from mouth to mouth, would strike a woman with ‘a burning of her heart to perform the love-act.’ (Presumably this wouldn’t be the same woman who had slaved for hours over a scalding hot stove, praying desperately for seven different batches of it to set.)
The tale goes that marmalade was invented when Mary Queen of Scots was suffering from sea-sickness (Marie est malade, in the fashionable French spoken in court at the time). Her doctor whipped up a concoction of orange peel and sugar which cured her ailment immediately. It’s more likely, however, that the word comes from ‘marmelo’ – the Portuguese for quince. Sailors and pirates stockpiled jam on board their ships as it became clear that Vitamin C prevented scurvy. Meanwhile, Louis XIV was so passionate about it that he insisted that every meal be finished with jams served in special ornate silver dishes. All of his was made from the fruit gardens at Versailles.
But large-scale jam production did not become possible until the discovery of pasteurization. In 1785 Napoleon Bonaparte offered a reward to anyone who could find a way to preserve large quantities of food for soldiers. It was Chef Nicholas Appert, who worked out that boiling fruit at high temperatures and then sealing in airtight containers kept food safe. Louis Pasteur validated these empirical findings in the next century.
Immigrants to the US brought their own recipes with them, the first book on making jam appeared in this country in the 17th century. Early settlers in New England used other ways of making jam, using molasses, honey and maple sugar to give it the sweet taste. They used pectin obtained from boiling apple peel to use as the thickening agent.
In the early 1800s in the United States, the country was experiencing a surge westward. Of the many legendary characters to emerge during this period was John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. A nursery-man from western Pennsylvania, Chapman walked through the Midwest planting apple orchards. His purpose was to provide crops for the coming pioneers.
One of those pioneers was Jerome Smucker of Ohio who used Chapman’s apples to open a cider mill in 1897. Within a few years, he was also making apple butter. Smucker blended the apple butter in a copper kettle over a wood stove. He and his wife ladled the apple butter into stoneware crocks. She then sold it to other housewives near their home in Wayne County, Ohio.
Fifty years earlier in Concord, Massachusetts, Ephraim Wales Bull finally achieved his goal of cultivating the perfect grape. His rich-tasting Concord grape became enormously popular. In 1869, Dr. Thomas Welch used the Concord grape to launch his grape juice company.
In 1918, Welch’s company made its first jam product, Grapelade. The entire production was purchased by the U.S. Army and shipped to France for consumption by the troops during World War I. When the troops returned to the States after the war, they demanded more of this “Grapelade,” and it was produced in quantity. The company’s trademark Concord grape jelly debuted in 1923.
During WWII in the UK, there was widespread anxiety about a shortage of food. The Women’s Institute came to the rescue. A government grant in 1940 gave them £1,400 to buy sugar for jam. As a result, 1,631 tons of preserves were made in more than 5,000 ‘preservation centers’ in farm kitchens, village halls or sheds. They were largely made by volunteers, under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. 5,300 tons of fruit were preserved between 1940 and 1945.
To appreciate today’s gourmet jam and the artisans that create it. One must look to the past and understand it’s journey from the Kings and Queens who regaled in its delicate creation, the settlers who relied on its nutritional value and sustainability, to troops and sailors that utilized the quick energy jam would provide them during battle.
Nothing like a Texas back road to free your spirit!
We have had a wild month since the last posting. The Jelly Queens were 1 of 100 food companies invited to Slow Food Nations in Denver. So we spent July making every kind of jelly, jam, marmalade and preserve we could! Once I started out for Denver I decide that in Texas it did not matter which way you went, cause all roads lead to beautiful countryside…
precious little towns…
and the best skies ever. (‘Cept I think this one is on the edge of New Mexico!)
Slow Food Nations is such a cool organization. Good. Clean. Food. Which is what The Jelly Queens make. There were classes taught by great chefs, fabulous dinners and lunches, and a tasting market with some of the best food in the world. And we got to be included.
To get prepared we poured on the jelly making! Got peppers and rosemary from the “We Over Me Farm” at Paul Quinn College and…
tomatoes from Green Gate Farm, eggs from my favorite chicken farmer, Lisa Robertson and got busy! We made Rosemary Salt and Sriracha Salt, Peach Pepper Jam and Lemon Lavender Curd and 16 other summer flavors including…
Red Horn Brewery’s House United Coffee Stout Bacon Jam!
Amanda, Cameron, Adam, Jennifer and I got to stay in a house that was built in 1847! We love Denver and plan on spending a lot more time there in the next few months! Thank you! Denver for welcoming us and Thank you Slow Food Nations we are honored to have participated and look forward to more great events with you !
Jelly Lessons #1Every country has a national preserved fruit or veggie that they are known for, from coconut to strawberries, cucumber to peppers, sweet to savory, for dessert toppings, sandwich fixins’ or meat glazes. The ingredients used and how they are prepared to determine the type of preserves; jams, jellies, conserves, curds and marmalades are all examples of different styles of preserves. In English, the word, in plural form, “preserves” is used to describe all types of jams and jellies.Jelly Queens’Chutney – Sassy Apple Fig – A chutney is a pungent relish of Indian origin made of fruit, spices, and herbs. Although originally intended to be eaten soon after production, modern chutneys are often made to be sold, so require preservatives – often sugar and vinegar – to ensure they have a suitable shelf life. Ours is laced with our favorite spice blend – Garam Masala.
Jelly Queens Confit – Bacon Bourbon – While confit, the past participle of the French verb confire, “to preserve”, is most often applied to the preservation of meats, it is also used for fruits or vegetables seasoned and cooked with honey or sugar till jam-like. Savory confits, such as ones made with garlic or fennel, may call for a savory oil, such as virgin olive oil, as the preserving agent.Jelly Queens’ Conserve – Banana Nut – A conserve, or whole fruit jam, is a jam made of fruit stewed in sugar. Because of the quick cooking time some fruits are not particularly suitable for making into conserves because they require cooking for longer periods to avoid issues such as tough skins. Because of the cooking period, not as much pectin will be released from the fruit, and as such, conserves will be slightly softer set than some jams. Conserves usually also include dried fruit, like raisins or nuts.
Jelly Queens’ Fruit Butter – Pumpkin, Apple – Fruit butters are made from larger fruits, such as pumpkins, apples, pear or peaches. Cook until softened and run through a sieve to give a smooth consistency. After sieving, add sugar and spices and slow cook the pulp for 4 days, allowing all the water to evaporate. The finished product should mound up when dropped from a spoon, but should not cut like jelly, it should be very thick, rich and can be used in other recipes like applesauce would be to replace the fats.
Jelly Queens’ Fruit curd – Lemon Lavender, Cranberry, Strawberry, Coconut, Blood Orange – Fruit curd is a dessert topping and spread usually made with lemon, lime, orange, or raspberry. The basic ingredients are beaten egg yolks, sugar, fruit juice and zest which are gently cooked together until thick and then allowed to cool, forming a soft, smooth, intensely flavored spread.Jelly Queens’ Jams – maybe we should be the jam queens! Four Berries, Strawberry black Pepper, Tomato Basil, Peach Pepper, Lavender Peach, Raspberry Chipotle, Raspberry Framboise, Raspberry Rose, and to many to name!! – Jam typically contains both the juice and flesh of a fruit or vegetable, although some cookbooks define it as a cooked and jelled puree. The term “jam” refers to a product made of whole fruit cut into pieces or crushed, then heated with water and sugar to activate its pectin before being put into containers. Good jam has a soft even consistency without distinct pieces of fruit, a bright color, a good fruit flavor and a semi-jellied texture that is easy to spread but has no free liquid.
Jelly Queens’ Jellies – Lavender, Cabernet, Champagne, Six Pepper – To me jelly is the hardest to make, it is pure chemistry. I have seen everyone struggle with jelly – even some of the best chefs I know don’t seem to be able to get it to set correctly. It is either too soft and is just syrup or too hard and chippy. In the U.S. and Canada, jelly refers to a clear or translucent fruit spread made from sweetened juice lemon juice and pectin. Outside North America jelly usually refers to a gelatin-based dessert, what we call JELLO. Pectin is essential to the formation of jelly because it acts as a gelling agent. Jelly can be made from sweet, savory or hot ingredients. Good jelly is clear and sparkling and has a fresh flavor of the fruit from which it is made. It is tender enough to quiver when moved but holds angles when cut. Jelly Queens’ Marmalades – Blood Orange Lavender, Pink Lemonade, Triple Citrus, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Calamondin Vanilla, Onion Fig – Marmalade is a fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of the fruit boiled with sugar and water. It is typically produced from lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarins, sweet oranges, bergamots and other citrus fruits, but also include fruit where eating the skin is delicious, like figs! The benchmark citrus fruit for marmalade production in Britain is the Spanish Seville orange, prized for its high pectin content, which gives a good set. The peel has a distinctive bitter taste which it imparts to the preserve. In America, marmalade is sweet. Marmalade is generally distinguished from jam by its fruit peel.