Food & Culture

This Handheld Scanner Analyzes Food's Nutritional Content On The Spot

Farmers need to keep tabs on the nutritional content of their crops, which usually requires waiting a week or more for a lab analysis. A new device from a Finnish company now allows them to do the same thing on the spot in just a few seconds. It's called GrainSense, and while it's only for grains right now, the potential future of the technology is exciting.

Protein Today, Gone Tomorrow

You may assume that the oats you buy in January contain the same amount of protein, carbs, and fat as the oats you buy in June. But that isn't always the case. Extreme weather, soil quality, and other elements can change the nutrition of a crop from season to season. Harvard researchers, for example, published a study in August 2017 showing that rising CO2 levels are significantly reducing the amount of protein in staple crops like rice, wheat, and potatoes. It's important for farmers to know not only how nutritious the crops they're selling are, but also the ones they're buying to feed their animals. Less protein in livestock feed could lead to less protein in the meat that results.

But testing the nutrition of a crop is no simple task. "Today you have to send at least half a kilo of grain to the lab," Edvard Krogius, the co-founder of GrainSense, told New Scientist. "It can take days or weeks to get results." GrainSense relies on the same technology used in the lab, but gets results in about five seconds with as few as 50 kernels. It does this by bathing the sample in various frequencies of near-infrared light, then analyzing how much of each frequency is absorbed. That determines the grain's protein, carbohydrate, oil, and moisture levels.

Analyze This

As its name implies, GrainSense is just for grains. But Krogius and his team are considering tweaking the technology to analyze other staple crops, like rice and corn. Even more exciting is the potential for the scanning technique to be adapted to analyze the nutrition content of any organic material — including the food you buy at the store. The ability to analyze nutrition on the spot could certainly come in handy at the office potluck.

GrainSense

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Written by Ashley Hamer October 11, 2017