I’ve seen a few beekeepers lose their honey stocks to spoilage, and fermentation is often the culprit.
That’s because there might be naturally occurring yeast in the honey. When the water content goes beyond 18%, that’s when you really need to start worrying about the yeasts feasting on the sugar.
To gauge the risk, you can either test the honey yourself with a refractometer or have it analyzed professionally. Since you’re here, I assume you don’t want to send a sample to a laboratory.
Doing the test yourself isn’t a bad idea at all, but you need the right tool for the job.
In this post, I’ll share with you some of the best honey refractometers I’ve come across. Plus, I’ll highlight three critical factors to consider before buying.
Top 7 Honey Refractometers on the Market
Here are my favorite seven refractometers. If you want something digital, skip to number four and make your way down from there.
Let’s get to it!
1. Aichose 3-in-1 Honey Refractometer – Best Overall
When I first started beekeeping, this was the refractometer that was recommended to me. Years later, I still have it around in my beekeeping kit!
Apparently, I’m not the only one who fell in love with the Aichose, either. It’s one of the most popular analog handheld refractometers on the market right now.
What does the “3-in-1” mean in this context? Well, it means that the display part has three scales: Brix (58–90%), moisture content (12–27%), and Baume (38–43).
Admittedly, the Baume scale might not be the first thing you’ll need as a beginner beekeeper, but it doesn’t hurt to have it on the side!
- It’s lightweight (3.2 oz) and portable.
- It comes with a cleaning cloth and a storage box.
- The aluminum alloy body doesn’t wear out quickly.
- The manufacturer doesn’t list how many pipettes/droppers come with the kit.
2. SmartSmith 3-in-1 Honey Refractometer – Budget-Friendly Pick
At first glance, the SmartSmith honey refractometer looks a whole lot like the Aichose. Even after doing some research, I could only find limited differences between the two.
For one, the scale for water content is a bit different. The SmartSmith has a slightly lower customer rating, too.
Other than that, both have 3-in-1 scales, automatic temperature compensation (ATC) features, aluminum bodies, adjustable eyepieces, and the same Brix range (58–90%).
The moisture content range is supposedly wider than the Aichose’s, at 10–32%.
However, the pictures actually show a scale of 12–27%. I would have liked to see something more conclusive from the manufacturer before ordering the refractometer, but it’s not too bad of a range for honey either way.
All in all, the SmartSmith might be a good pick if you’re starting out and haven’t made enough money from beekeeping just yet.
- It’s affordable.
- The components of the kit are clearly laid out, including the three droppers.
- It has a lightweight body, much like the Aichose.
- Some users found the calibration instructions unclear.
3. TRZ Honey Refractometer – The Perfect Set
This TRZ model isn’t a 3-in-1 refractometer—you won’t find a Baume scale here. It does have a water content scale, which is what you need to make sure your honey batches stay fresh.
It’s also not as popular as the Aichose or the SmartSmith. However, I felt it’s worth a mention because it comes with a mini bottle of calibration liquid.
Sure, you could use virgin olive oil or liquid paraffin for calibration. But isn’t it just more convenient to receive a full kit? I certainly think so!
Keep in mind that the Brix and water content scale ranges on the TRZ are comparable to the ones on the SmartSmith 3-in-1 refractometer. So, you’re not sacrificing the measuring capabilities.
- It comes with four pipettes, a storage bag, and a cleaning cloth.
- The kit includes a clove-scented calibration liquid.
- Clove oil’s value and the calibration line (Brix 65%) are marked on the display.
- The storage case isn’t hard-shelled but rather a soft, cinch-type bag.
4. Lachoi 3-in-1 Refractometer – Best Mid-Range
Suppose you took a look at the 3-in-1 models and the TRZ kit and wanted the best of both worlds. In this case, you might appreciate the Lachoi honey refractometer.
It has the same scale types and ranges as the Aichose but comes with a bottle of calibration oil like the TRZ.
I know what you’re thinking: Why isn’t the Lachoi the list’s overall winner if it’s so well-rounded?
Well, its rating is currently even lower than TRZ and SmartSmith, and there weren’t many customer reviews.
As a general rule, I like to see what other beekeepers have to say about any given product before I give it a shot. So, I more or less had to go in blind here.
Thankfully, the Lachoi wasn’t a total miss. It did the job just fine.
- It comes with a full kit and calibration oil.
- Slightly more affordable than the Aichose honey refractometer.
- Its build is similar to the top picks on the list.
- One of the few reviewing users didn’t receive the adjustment screwdriver with the kit.
5. DiFluid Ultimate Refractometer – Best for Tech Geeks
If you’ve heard about DiFluid before, odds are, it was in a context related to brewing coffee.
I have a few friends who are really into brewing, and they were so happy with this high-tech refractometer that I decided to check if there’s something in it for beekeepers like myself.
As it happens, the company’s lineup includes a model that can handle more than just coffee: the DiFluid Ultimate/
With a Brix range of 0–95%, it would be a good fit for honey, among plenty of other sugary samples.
What I really loved about this device was how ridiculously easy it was to use. You don’t have to adjust any screws, squint, or balance blue lines—it follows an intuitive one-click process.
It does require charging, but that didn’t bother me much. After all, I plugged it in for around an hour when I first got it. I have been using it for a couple of weeks and still haven’t run out of juice.
One thing that might be inconvenient for us beekeepers is that the OLED screen on the device itself shows Brix scales by default. A couple of users said that they managed to tweak the test settings to measure water content using the DiFluid app.
However, I know that some folks would rather see both Brix and water content scales right away on the display without having to pull out their phones.
- It could be calibrated with distilled water.
- The battery can last for around 30 days on one charge.
- DiFluid app can save your data and help you maintain consistency between batches.
- Cleaning the device is fairly simple since the body is waterproof with an IP67 rating.
- It’s incredibly petite!
- The storage bag is a soft pouch.
- The main scale is Brix, not water content.
6. Rhino Digital Honey Refractometer – Best Digital Pick
If you want a reliable digital honey refractometer without breaking the bank, I’d recommend the Rhino DR301.
It doesn’t support mobile apps like DiFluid, but it does display water content directly on the screen. Just use the “scale” button to switch between the Brix, Baume, and water readings.
The Brix scale isn’t all that different from the DiFluid, with a range of 0–90%. Meanwhile, the Baume range is 33–48.
What was particularly impressive was the water scale, which can detect 5–38%. I don’t think I’ve harvested a honey batch that was out of this range. So, you’ll be all covered here!
- The kit includes a solid carrying case with protective rubber housing and a cleaning cloth.
- The body is both waterproof and shockproof.
- Rhino Technology covers the refractometer with a two-year product quality warranty.
- The required AAA battery is included in the kit.
- Some people might find the scale display and switch system a little confusing initially.
7. Atago 4422 Pocket Honey Refractometer – Best for Pros
While the Rhino would work nicely for professional beekeepers, the Atago outshines it.
The Atago 4422 trims down all the not-so-necessary features that you might see on other refractometers.
For instance, there are no Baume or Brix scales on this model. As a beekeeper, you’ll mostly care about water content, and that’s what this device will help you measure. There’s no point crowding the interface with a bunch of readings that you don’t even care about, right?
The moisture range is 12–30%, but that wasn’t my favorite aspect. Instead, it was the External Light Interference (ELI) altering feature that stood out to me.
The catch? That would be the price tag. It’s way more expensive than any other honey refractometer on the list. Plus, the refractometer isn’t highly reviewed at all, which could make it seem like a risky purchase for some folks.
- You can calibrate it with tap water.
- The body is made from durable ABS resin with an IP65 dust-protection rating.
- Atago covers the device with a two-year limited warranty.
- The two required AAA batteries are included in the package.
- It’s quite pricey!
3 Things to Consider Before Buying a Honey Refractometer
Still haven’t made up your mind? Here are three factors that can help you pick a reliable honey refractometer:
1. Digital vs. Analog
Most of the beekeepers I know opt for analog refractometers, mainly because they’re affordable and easy to come by. There’s a bit of a learning curve for calibrating and reading analogs, though.
Digital refractometers are definitely easier to use. On the flip side, they can be quite expensive, especially for a tool that you’ll only use 2–3 times every season.
All in all, digital models could be worthwhile if you make money selling honey or have other hobbies that require a refractometer. Think brewing coffee or maintaining a saltwater aquarium.
2. Measurement Scales and Ranges
So, we’ve already covered that water content is the most important scale. In fact, it’s the main difference between a specialized honey refractometer and any general-use, Brix-based refractometer.
Sure, you could work backward from a Brix (sugar content) reading by subtracting from 100 to find the remaining water-in-solid concentration. For reference, each degree on the Brix scale equals 1% sugar.
Yet, being able to spot a moisture percentage in one glance is way more convenient. That’s even more true when you consider that you might have to squint through the eyepiece of an analog refractometer.
So, try to pick a model with a direct water scale.
That said, I’d highly recommend that you double-check the Brix range as well. Brewing refractometers might not be able to handle the high sugar content in your honey sample.
No, you don’t need a 0–100% scale, but you still want something that goes beyond 70%.
3. ATC Capabilities
If you cast your mind back to science class, you might remember that the refractive index changes based on the temperature.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the gist of it is that the hotter the room gets, the less dense the honey becomes. As a result, light travels through your sample faster, creating a smaller refractive index value.
To avoid this sort of error during testing, you can:
- Take measurements only at the standard room temperature.
- Pick a model with automatic temperature compensation (ATC) features.
In an attempt to make your life easier, I made sure that pretty much all the refractometers on the list have ATC.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear where the DiFluid stands. The 0–32% Brix version supports ATC, but I couldn’t find if the honey-suitable Ultimate model does as well.
If you decide to go with a model that isn’t on the list, look for ATC features or any ideal temperature recommendations by the manufacturer.
Overall, many of the honey refractometers on the market are incredibly similar. You’ll see the same handheld, analog design with an inverted Brix/water content scale over and over again.
Any of those can do the job, but I have to say that the Aichose would be my number one pick. It’s reasonably priced and has a decent Brix scale range.
If, however, your beekeeping business is booming and you don’t mind splurging, I’d recommend a digital model.
A final word of advice? Make sure you bottle your harvested honey the right way. After all, you don’t want to spend time measuring the water content if you’ll let moisture into the jar in the end!