By JAMES TABABA
There are several reasons why someone might want to hasten the ripening process of fruits or vegetables. For growers and distributors, hastening ripening can help ensure that their produce meets market demands for fully ripe produce, prevent spoilage and reduce waste, maximize yield, and meet seasonal demands.
In a household setting, there are several reasons why someone might want to hasten the ripening process of fruits. For example, if you have purchased produce that is not quite ripe, you may want to hasten the ripening process so you can enjoy it sooner. Similarly, if you have a large quantity of produce that is ripening at different rates, you may want to hasten the ripening of some of it so you can preserve it before it spoils. Additionally, some recipes call for fully ripe produce, and if you don’t have any on hand, you may want to hasten the ripening process so you can use it in your recipe.
Climacteric vs non-climacteric
While many fruits can be hastened in their ripening process, not all fruits are capable of ripening faster. Fruits and vegetables can be categorized into two based on their ripening behavior, climacteric and non-climacteric.
Climacteric fruits are fruits that continue to ripen after they are harvested, as they produce and respond to the plant hormone ethylene. This means that climacteric fruits can be harvested before they are fully ripe, and then allowed to ripen off the plant. Some examples of climacteric fruits include bananas, mango, papaya, and tomatoes.
Non-climacteric fruits, on the other hand, do not continue to ripen after they are harvested and do not respond to ethylene. This means that non-climacteric fruits must be allowed to ripen fully on the plant before they are harvested. Some examples of non-climacteric fruits include citrus fruits, grapes, and berries.
There are several methods that can be used to hasten the ripening of fruits, although the effectiveness of each method can vary depending on the type of fruit and its stage of ripeness. Here are some common methods that are used to hasten the ripening of fruits.
Exposure to ethylene gas
As mentioned earlier, ethylene gas is a naturally occurring plant hormone that can trigger the ripening process in many climacteric fruits. Ethylene can be used to hasten the ripening of fruits by exposing them to a small concentration of the gas.
The paper bag method is a popular way to hasten the ripening process using this principle. To use this method, simply place the fruit in a paper bag and fold the top of the bag closed. This traps the ethylene gas produced by the fruit, which helps to accelerate the ripening process. The bag should be kept in a warm, dry place, such as on a countertop or in a pantry. It’s important to check the fruit regularly to monitor its ripeness, as the timing of the ripening process may vary depending on the fruit and other environmental factors. Once the fruit has reached the desired level of ripeness, it can be removed from the bag and stored in the refrigerator to slow down the ripening process.
Natural ripening agents can also be used to hasten the ripening process of fruits and vegetables in conjunction to the paper bag method. The most common ripening agents are squash peelings and kakawate, also called madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium), leaves. To use, simply place the fruit in a container or bag with a few pieces of squash peeling or kakawate leaves. The ethylene gas produced by these natural ripening agents will help to hasten the ripening of the fruit.
Temperature plays a critical role in the ripening process of fruits and vegetables. In general, warmer temperatures can hasten the ripening process while cooler temperatures can slow it down. This is why fruits and vegetables are often stored in refrigerators, which can help to extend their shelf life by slowing down the ripening process.
Some fruits can be ripened faster by subjecting them to mechanical stress, such as by gently squeezing or rolling them. Mechanical force can also play a role in hastening the ripening process of fruits and vegetables. When fruits and vegetables are subjected to mechanical force, such as through bruising or cutting, it can trigger the release of ethylene gas, which in turn can accelerate the ripening process.
Chemicals can also be used to hasten the ripening process of fruits and vegetables. One of the most commonly used ripening agents is calcium carbide, which releases acetylene gas when it comes into contact with moisture. Acetylene gas is chemically similar to ethylene gas and can trigger the ripening process in fruits and vegetables.
To use calcium carbide as a ripening agent, small amounts of the chemical are typically placed in a container with the unripe fruits or vegetables. As the calcium carbide reacts with the moisture in the fruit or vegetable, acetylene gas is released, which in turn stimulates the production of ethylene gas and accelerates the ripening process.
However, the use of calcium carbide as a ripening agent is controversial because it can potentially be harmful to human health. When calcium carbide reacts with moisture, it produces trace amounts of a carcinogenic chemical called arsenic, which can be harmful if ingested.
Because of this, many countries have banned the use of calcium carbide as a ripening agent, and alternative methods, such as exposure to ethylene gas or natural ripening agents, are often used instead.
There are safer chemical ripening agents that can be used to hasten the ripening process of fruits and vegetables. One such chemical is ethylene gas. It can be produced synthetically and used to hasten the ripening of fruits and vegetables. Commercial producers often use ethylene gas to ensure that their produce reaches peak ripeness before it is sold.
By understanding the factors that contribute to ripening, such as temperature, exposure to ethylene gas, and mechanical damage, we can manipulate these factors to hasten or slow down the process as needed. This knowledge is particularly important for commercial growers and retailers, who need to ensure that their produce is delivered to market at the optimal stage of ripeness to maximize sales and minimize waste. For consumers, hastening fruit ripening can ensure the best possible flavor and nutritional value from their produce. It can also reduce waste, as overripe produce is less likely to be thrown away if it ripens more quickly and can be consumed before spoiling.