What is DDGS?

Distillers dry grains with solubles (DDGS) is a feed ingredient substitute widely used for its high nutritional content and low production cost in the feed industry. It is a significant co-product of dry-milled ethanol production from corn. For every bushel of corn, dry-grind ethanol extraction yields ~10.22 L of ethanol and 8.16 kg DDGS.

When blended into the animal feed, DDGS provides a high-protein meal. It is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, and sulfur and most commonly feeds cattle, dairy cows, swine, and some poultry. DDGS substitute roughly 1-to-1 for corn grain in feed rations.

The DDGS industry is booming.


According to the US Grains Council, high ethanol production across the country has led to the export of 11 million tons of DDGS to 69 countries in 2020/21 when compared to 5 million tons in 2009. Mexico is the biggest buyer, with over 18 percent of the export market. Vietnam, South Korea, Turkey, and Indonesia are the other top importers.

The future looks bright too. Data Bridge, a leading market research organization, projected the demand for organic DDGS to grow at a rate of 7.00% in the 2020 to 2027 forecast period and expected to reach USD 20.95 billion by 2029.

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Why is quality so critical for DDGS sellers? 

One of the significant challenges DDGS sellers face is maintaining the quality of their export products. Globally there is variation in how DDGS quality is measured depending on the country and its socio-economic values. Most buyers use DDGS to feed their livestock, and they cannot compromise on the safety aspects.

It is essential to consider feed safety in the global food safety system as it affects both animal health and performance and animal-based products offered for human consumption. Feed contamination has an interconnected effect on the food chain and could lead to surplus production, additional overhead expenses and loss of revenue. Hence the global DDGS buyer market is a stickler for good-quality nutrient-dense products.

Color plays a critical role in determining DDGS quality. Here’s why.

The feed industry has used color as a subjective indicator of the

nutritional quality for decades. Measuring the color of distillers dry grains is one of the easiest and lowest-cost ways to check quality.

It also eliminates the risk of truck loads of DDGS going to waste because the color was incorrect or the livestock rejecting the feed because of a difference in taste. Most importantly, the DDGS manufacturers have a tremendous opportunity to sell the right color product at a premium and reap profits.


Drying temperatures in dry-grind ethanol plants can range from 127 to 621º C. A darker DDGS color indicates issues like overheating and diminished protein quality. Hence, the feed buyers have traditionally used color as a general quality check criteria to decipher protein quality and digestibility among ingredient sources.

Additional benefits of measuring DDGS color includes:

  • Determine the maturity of the grain
  • where is it stored
  • whether it is contaminated with toxins, dust, or sand
  • the use of chemicals such as insecticides.

Cultural and social values are usually associated with color, especially by big importers of DDGS like the Southeast Asian countries. These countries consider the color yellow or golden as pristine and in higher value than brown, which is perhaps why “golden” DDGS is the preferred color of DDGS in many parts of Asia.

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ColorFlex® EZ, is the cost-effective out-of-the-box solution you need.

The picture above shows four different DDGS samples that exhibit visual differences. Like the lower right sample, high-quality DDGS is usually a golden honey or caramelized color. Darker colors of DDGS indicate poor quality and result from excessive heat during the drying process.

When evaluating the quality of the DDGS with color measurements, the L* value from the CIE L* a* b* color scale (popularly known as the Hunter Color in the industry) is used as the primary indicator. Low L* values indicate that a sample is dark and of poor quality. Medium L* values indicate the ideal golden honey color of good quality DDG. High L* values indicate that the sample is too light and not good quality.

HunterLab instruments, namely the ColorFlex® EZ Spectrophotometer, can accurately measure the L* value of samples, such as the DDGS. By measuring the L* value, you can quickly and effectively determine the DDGS product’s quality.Here’s how easy it is to use the ColorFlex® EZ to measure the color of distillers dry grains:

  • Measures and displays L*a*b* color – Hunter Color
  • Requires very little bench space
  • Sample cup for DDGS to be presented to the instrument
  • It can be connected to a printer or a PC
  • EasyMatch QC quality control software for product set-ups, data collection, data archiving, reporting.

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The ColorFlex® EZ is backed by over 70 years of quality innovation and experience from HunterLab, the world’s most trusted color quality experts. With an unmatched reputation for delivering the right solution for any challenge, HunterLab tailors products and technologies for every color measurement need and budget, offering the broadest range of color measurement solutions.