Using Color Quality to Indicate Ripeness in Fruits: Creating a Better Product with Spectrophotometric Technology

Fruits come in a wide variety, each with a unique maturation and color. Most importantly, all fruits have a peak ripeness state that is quickly followed by decomposition. As it turns out, color can help to indicate ripeness in fruits. As a result, color quality measurement techniques can determine how to pick and sort fruit, thereby helping growers to maintain higher plant yields while still providing a quality product to the consumer.

apples color quality
Color quality measurement in fruits has revolutionized the agricultural world. New advancements in technology ensure that fruits are processed at the desired stage of maturity to ensure ripeness
Image Source: Flickr user Erich Ferdinand

Using Color to Measure Ripeness

For many fruits, color is taken as a reliable indicator of ripeness, but external color does not always give an accurate account of fruit maturity when viewed by the naked eye. Spectrophotometric technology uses finite color quality measurements to quantify specific regions of color that are undetectable by the human eye. Color measurement in the NIR (near-infrared region) can be used to measure color quality and provide accurate data about the maturity of various fruits.

What makes this process superior to other methods of evaluation is that color quality measurement is non-destructive to the fruit itself. These measurements use advanced light technology to provide an accurate analysis of ripeness and to alert agricultural growers to ideal harvesting times. This technology is also useful in the on-line processing, packaging, and shipping of fruits because it can ensure that the product reaches the consumer at the ideal stage of ripeness. It also protects against the possibility of premature degradation of the fruit before it reaches the point of delivery.

rotten tomatoes color quality
Degradation of fruit leads to wasted product. Fruits that are harvested and sold at their peak maturity levels indicate higher quality to consumers.
Image Source: Flickr user Tim Sheerman-Chase

Using NIR for Color Quality Testing

NIR technology for fruit analysis was first developed in the late 1980’s. This technology used light reflectance measurement values to sort various fruits according to color quality features. However, the initial use of this technology was limited and could only penetrate the product to a measurement depth of approximately 5mm. This allowed for minimal data when measuring intact fruits and made the determination of ripening stages difficult. As technology evolved, scientists were able to develop on-line instrumentation that could measure color quality through thicker outer surfaces and with increased accuracy. This advancement allowed scientists to analyze fruits with thicker peels, like oranges and lemons.

oranges color quality
New color technology allows for the measurement of fruit ripeness through thicker skinned fruits such as oranges. This nondestructive method increase product yield and efficiency in harvesting and production.
Image Source: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture

Color quality measurement technology is also useful in the measurement of sugar content as well as internal bruising, moisture content, and vitamin C levels in fruits. New technology and instrumentation continue to result in more durable and streamlined equipment that is both easy to use and portable. These new design features allow for better use on the production line and even in the field where harsh conditions are often present. Spectrophotometric instrumentation has multiple uses in a variety of applications in agriculture manufacturing and development.

Spectrophotometric Instrumentation and Design Features

One of the most important design features of today’s spectrophotometers is the ability to assess fruit quality using non-contact methods of evaluation. The ability to measure significant amounts of product  using nondestructive methods allows for faster processing for real-time applications. Continuous monitoring of color quality in agriculture has opened the door to high-quality yields in produce-based products throughout every stage of development. The ability to measure fruit maturity using nondestructive methods provides valuable information on growing times and conditions and can transform the whole harvesting process, which results in higher crop yields with fewer defects.

Since most fruits depend on extended ripening periods after harvesting, spectrophotometric analysis can be used to continuously monitor of the product until it reaches the desired state of maturity. According to the University of California publication: Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops, “the term mature describes the stage at harvest that will ensure that the fruit’s quality will meet or exceed the minimum level acceptable to the consumer at the time it is consumed.” Consumer satisfaction is the prime factor in a competitive economy. Therefore, using technology that ensures that precise fruit maturity is attained allows producers to maintain an edge in the agricultural market in terms of quality assurance.

Leaders in Color Technology

Color quality technology has significantly evolved over the past several decades, and at HunterLab, we have pioneered many of those advancements. Our instrumentation makes use of the latest advancements in spectrophotometric technology, and we work hard to meet the needs and challenges of our clients. With numerous satisfied customers, it is no wonder that HunterLab is a leader in color technology for many of the world’s leading manufacturers. To learn more about the HunterLab commitment to color measurement and technology, contact us today.

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