Three years ago, Sean Williams wrote one of my favorite Farmscape blog posts. In the post, he used Brix testing to measure the sugar content of Farmscape tomatoes against those from the grocery store and farmers market. His findings confirmed our intuition: Farmscape tomatoes taste objectively better.
As I was harvesting the last carrots of the season at Chef Niki Nakayama’s garden this week, we decided to repeat Sean’s experiment. In her garden, we were growing four types of carrots sourced from Kitazawa Seeds: Kyoto red, solar yellow, lunar white and mini-sweet. Each carrot has a unique flavor that it contributes to her dishes. However, for the purposes of this experiment we would be focusing on one element of that flavor: sweetness.
To measure Brix, we use a refractometer (pictured below). On one end of the device there’s an eyepiece and on the other end there is a clear plate that points toward the sky.
You begin the process by calibrating the refractometer. A couple drops of distilled water are applied to the plate. Then, while looking through the eyepiece, you adjust the calibration screw until the blue and white sections of the viewfinder converge at zero.
Once you’ve calibrated the refractometer, you are ready to start testing. Apply of few drops of liquid (carrot juice in this case) to the plate. The blue and white sections of the viewfinder will now converge at the “degrees Brix”, telling you how sweet the carrot is. Pictured below is the test result for a lunar white carrot.
Chef Niki and I tested all four carrots; here were the results:
Lunar White: 10
Kyoto Red: 8
Solar Yellow: 6
One thing that Chef Niki emphasized as we were debriefing is that sweeter isn’t always better. Carrots, like tomatoes, have a number of different elements beyond sweetness that contribute to flavor. However, like tomatoes, it’s a fair to say that a good carrot should have some sweetness, and that understanding the sugar content can help home gardeners hone in on the particular varieties of produce that they would like to grow.