Honey refractometers – Buying guide & Comparison
If you’re short on time or just don’t feel like going through this whole and all you’re here for is a quick suggestion for a good honey refractometer, then the following paragraph should tell you everything you need to know. After going through scores of honey refractometer reviews, both from experts and satisfied customers alike, we found that the Vee Gee Scientific BX-3 to be the item that might best suit your needs. Its outstanding feature is the manual temperature control, which allows for a greater temperature range to be adjusted for with a higher degree of precision than in models that do this automatically. Otherwise, it takes accurate Brix measures slightly exceeding the usual ranges — which makes it especially useful for premium honey makers — and its high-quality construction will ensure that it will keep providing you with accurate measures for a long time. If the BX-3 is not available, then the GoerTek Refractometer would be our next best pick.
Whether you want to measure the sugar content in jams, jellies, marmalades, malt, honey or beer a refractometer is an invaluable tool for today’s homebrewer, especially since it can effectively replace a hydrometer for most sugary liquids. It can be however slightly off putting to shop for one since it’s not really an item we are all familiar with. That’s why we compiled the following short guide, which we hope will serve as an adequate introduction.
A refractometer works on the optical principle that light passing through a liquid refracts at a slightly different angle depending on the density of that liquid. Since sugar will always affect the density of fluid it is dissolved in, you can use the angle of refraction to discern the volume occupied by the sugar.
In short, the light passes through a sample, gets refracted at a certain angle dependent on its density (i.e., sugar content) and ends up a scale upon which Brix measurements are printed, Brix effectively being a measurement for sugar content. You look through the eyepiece and determine where the mark is at.
Potentially, a refractometer can measure the sugar content from 0 to 99%, but that’s only practical for lab equipment and will hardly be useful in a product for common use. Furthermore the higher the range, the harder will be for you to take accurate readings since the scale markings will be uncomfortably small.
The most common ranges for honey are around 58% to 90% Brix, with sensitive measurements towards the higher end of that spectrum being more important if you want to ensure that your honey has as little water as possible. That’s why the best refractometers for honey tend to exceed the 90% range, in order to provide more accurate and easy to read information near the area apiculturists care about.
Accuracy and temperature adjustment
Accuracy is as important as you need it to be. If you aim at winning international prizes with your honey, then we suggest you invest in the most accurate unit you can find. Otherwise, most good refractometers specify an accuracy of +/-2% and a resolution of 0,20%, which might as well tell us the thickness of the markings on the measuring scale.
Accuracy is also factored by how easy it is to read the measurement on the other side of the eyepiece. Most commercial refractometers use a contrast line between light blue and white, which is both transparent and comfortable to the eye in order to highlight the value.
Since you’re technically dealing with a difference in pressure, outside temperature and how well the product adjusts for it are the most important factors that can affect accuracy. Most models are advertised to compensate well for temperatures between 10 and 30 degrees C, and they do this both automatically or with user input.
Automatic temperature adjustment is a feature many users might find convenient. But like with any automatic function, it can work less well than advertised, while manual adjustments are always as good as your level of skill. There is a reason, after all, that professional photographers rarely buy auto-focused cameras.
The refractometer’s construction should provide both optimum heat transfer properties for higher accuracy and physical durability for a higher lifespan.
If you’re more interested in the former, know that a good model should employ materials with good heat conducting properties between the prism and the sample palette to ensure a perfect temperature equilibrium (most metals will do, you can find charts on which ones work better online) while insulation should be used on areas where your hand touches the item.
Top honey refractometers reviews of 2017
Despite it being a niche instrument, there are enough brands and models of refractometers available for sale to make finding the right one quite hard. After looking through dozens and dozens of consumer reports and expert reviews, we’ve made a selection of a few good units we are willing to recommend.
Vee Gee Scientific BX-3
This Vee Gee Scientific model might require a little extra tinkering on your part but it’s clearly been made with great love and care, to provide the most accurate readings. Unlike most other refractometers its casing is made out of copper to ensure great heat conductivity between the sample and the prism. A soft rubber line protects the unit from the heat radiating out of your hand and a non-roll stand allows it to sit safely on plane surfaces.
Adjustments for outside temperature are made manually, through a highly sensitive calibration ring, with no extra tool required. This neutralizes one of the potential factors for error present in units that do these calibrations automatically and allows the user to take full advantage of the precision otherwise offered by the BX-3.
As a testament to its quality, the maximum range for sugar content goes up to 92%, and that extra 2 % makes all the difference when you’re trying to obtain the thickest honey or maple syrup.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($86.22)
One of the most popular refractometers out there, this GoerTek model offers a surprising degree of versatility at a very affordable price.
Its Brix scale goes from 0 to 90%, with the base calibration being at 0 which means it allows you to check for the sugar content of basically everything there is to brew at home.
A less obvious benefit to this is that you can easily tell if it skews up towards a higher Brix value and then adjust it accordingly using the calibration screw.
The fact that it has an automatic temperature compensation function also makes for great convenience, since this will allow you to use the item at anywhere between 10 and 30 Celsius without having to compensate for the differences in between through manual input. (While this is indeed a great time saver, it does add to the list of things to go wrong with a refractometer.)
Buy from Amazon.com for ($40.99)
Aqueous Lab COMINHKPR143478
This Aqueous Lab product was made with the specific needs of the beekeeper in mind. Besides using the Brix scale, it also shows measures as glucose Baume between the ranges of 38 to 43 and honey moisture from 10 to 33%.
This offers all the relevant information a honey producer might need from this type of tool and it can prove especially convenient for those that don’t want to bother with converting units or just don’t have the time to because of the quantity of honey they need to handle.
The automatic temperature adjustment provides a great range, from 0 to 30 Celsius, which doesn’t really add to its functionality (since honey tends to crystallize at those temperatures) but can make it easier to calibrate.
The Aqueous Lab COMIN is bought together with a large set of extra items, besides the firm plastic case, operating instructions and suction tube/pipette that nearly all models come packaged with, you will also get a special cleaning cloth and a screwdriver.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($26.99)
Ade Advanced Optics Brix5890ATC
The Brix5890ATC is your basic beekeeper’s refractometer, which tells you everything you need to know in a timely fashion without needing to resort to conversion scales or specialized apps. It shows Brix (sugar levels) within the ranges of 58% to 90%, honey moisture from 10% to 33% water and Baume Specific Gravity Scale (sgs) taken at 20 Celsius within 38% and 43% margins.
It’s sturdy and easy to use on the go, with only a Phillips head screwdriver, which comes in the same package, required for adjustments and calibration. Like with most other product of its type, initial calibrations are made using readily available extra virgin olive oil of 70 – 71 Brix (only the Vee Gee BX-3 of the products featured is advertised to come with it own test substance, required because of the high accuracy it boasts).
For extra convenience, it has automatic temperature compensation capabilities, and it seems to be a well-appreciated product overall judging by the feedback it received.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($28.99)
Like the Vee Gee BX-3, this Hanstronik product has its metal parts made out of high heat conducting copper, to ensure a good temperature balance between the sample and prism, as well as a significantly extended life compared to an aluminum model. This quality, however, comes at a more affordable price than in the case of the product above.
Another nice feature of the Hanstronik is the full array of honey related measuring scales it displays — Brix between 58 to 90%; the Baume sgs between 38 to 43% and honey moisture between 12 and 27%.
Since the glass display can get a little crowded with so many chevrons, it’s accuracy is specified at 0,5%, which is a little less than you will get with a refractometer that only shows Brix, but well within the practical limits for honey testing and we believe that the extra convenience makes up for it.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($25)