Month: June 2015

Using Straw and a Brown Paper Bag To Ripen Fruits and Vegetables

While visiting my father in India, a friend gifted him with a crate of our favorite mangoes. Alphonso mangoes have a short season and a shorter shelf life, and my father was leaving nothing to chance in order to savor their valuable flavor. He unpacked the wooden crate to aerate and reassemble the contents. Using the jute fiber as a base, he spaced out the mangoes nestling them under a layer of straw. Like a mother bird guarding her eggs, my father hovered over the mangoes for the next few days. Every day, he rotated the mangoes a quarter turn and checked for black spots, especially around the stem. He removed some of the straw to regulate the heat being generated by the mangoes, and waited for the skin to turn a golden orange color – just as their floral aroma reached a peak.

Mangoes, considered the king of fruits (each state and district in India claims to have the best), have a cult-like following, and yet they share something in common with less exotic fruits such as avocado, banana, papaya, pears, and kiwis. All of these fruits are plucked before they can ripen on the tree. They continue to ripen on our kitchen counters with the release of ethylene gas, a natural plant hormone. Trapping the gases hastens ripening, and it is the reason why avocados and pears ripen faster when they are stored in a brown paper bag. The brown paper bag, like straw, allows air circulation and additionally concentrates ethylene gas, which softens and ripens the fruit.

Most fruits and vegetables produce varying amounts of ethylene, which is also responsible for their final degradation. Separating fruits and vegetables, whether in different fruit bowls or shelves in a refrigerator, is important. This prevents a high ethylene producer such as apple from spoiling an already ripe strawberry or citrus fruit. Separating vegetables such as asparagus or leafy greens, a lower ethylene producer, from tomatoes helps keep both fresh for a longer period.

This chart is helpful for separating and storing your produce:

Fruits and Vegetables Classified By Ethylene Production Rates
Very Low: artichoke, asparagus, cauliflower, cherry, citrus fruits, grape, jujube,Strawberry, pomegranate, leafy vegetables, root vegetables, potato, most cut flowers
Low: blackberry, blueberry, casaba melon, cranberry, cucumber, eggplant, okra, olive, pepper (sweet and chili), persimmon, pineapple, pumpkin, raspberry, tamarillo, watermelon
Moderate: banana, fig, guava, honeydew melon, lychee, mango, plantain, tomato
High: apple, apricot, avocado, cantaloupe, feijoa, kiwifruit (ripe), nectarine, papaya, peach, pear, plum
Very High: cherimoya, mammee apple, passion fruit, sapote


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