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Colorimeter Keeps Peanut Butter Grade A

Feb. 29, 2008
Sunland needed a colorimeter system to keep its peanut butter Grade A.

Whether you always buy your favorite brand of peanut butter or shop for the best price, one thing you should look for next time: The color of peanut butter from jar to jar and from producer to producer does not vary much.

That’s no coincidence. Peanut butter color is an essential factor in determining its grade. And manufacturers like to produce peanut butter in a color consistent to their brand.

In addition to specifications for type, texture and style of peanut butter, USDA uses color as a determinant for grading a peanut butter as Grade A, Grade B or substandard. Color accounts for 20 percent of the total score. USDA provides processors with four “paint chips” that define the acceptable spectrum for Grade A. Processors can choose any shade within that spectrum.

Sunland Inc. was formed in 1988 by a group of peanut farmers in eastern New Mexico to market the Valencia peanuts they grew. Valencias are smaller, sweeter and have more intense flavor than other varieties of peanuts, the growers claim. They have three to five kernels in each shell and are grown almost exclusively in eastern New Mexico and west Texas.

The peanuts destined for peanut butter are shelled and roasted and most of the red skins are removed. They go through several grinding and mixing areas. Not a single additive is used in the process, so the peanut butter can be labeled as “natural.” But it still needs to be graded.

Of the four USDA color chips, “We try to match our peanut butter color to chip number three, with a plus or minus tolerance of .5,” says Samantha Rector, quality control supervisor at Sunland. However, “The private label peanut butter we make for other companies may require a different color match.”

The process of measuring color involved setting up special lighting, viewing conditions and bringing in a sample of product. “We needed a way to take the subjectivity out of color matching, which was done visually,” says Rector. “I may see a batch of peanut butter as too dark, while someone else may see it as too light.

“We learned of a new and more reliable method that had been developed by Konica Minolta to speed up the color evaluation process while at the same time making the process more consistent and less subjective,” she continues.

The CR-410 colorimeter is a sophisticated color measurement instrument that can be held in just one hand. USDA grades and color matching data of peanut butter are programmed into the instrument. The colorimeter can measure, compare and pass/fail up to 100 targets and 1,000 samples in its memory.

Available in a choice of apertures (8mm or 50mm), the units measure reflected color and color difference of ingredients, raw materials, finished products, powders, pastes and opaque liquids.
Sunland peanut butter samples are put into petri dishes and placed on top of the CR-410. The unit measures the peanut butter color and reports a single number corresponding to the established USDA color chips, thereby meeting both USDA Grade A standards and Sunland’s own requirements.

Sunland measures the color of peanuts at the grinding stage and at the final peanut butter stage just before it is put into jars. “Measuring ground peanuts helps us know where the color is before processing into peanut butter,” says Rector. So color can be adjusted by controlling the temperature at the roaster, according to the results of the measurement.

“We never use colorants to adjust color; it’s all pure Valencia peanuts,” Rector emphasizes.
The CR-400 Peanut Butter Color Index Meter comes with SpectraMagic NX QC software. Sunland has the capability to store information from every batch in SpectraMagic NX to keep track of product statistics batch to batch. A custom output report can be printed for every batch.

“We have eliminated the need for special sample preparation to color standards and for special lighting and viewing conditions required to evaluate peanut butter visually,” she notes. “The Konica Minolta CR-410 Colorimeter has definitely saved us a lot of time and cost by eliminating trial and error, and it's increased our productivity too.” 

For more information on colorimeters, contact Konica Minolta Sensing Americas, Ramsey, N.J., 201-236-4300, or see http://se.konicaminolta.us.

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