A piece of fruit is only ever really delicious when fully ripe. We take for granted that a fruit ripens, without really considering the process. If under-ripe, a piece of fruit can taste bland and its texture overly hard. If over-ripe, it can taste bitter and become overly soft. So how does a piece of fruit ripen, and how does it let you know it is ripened at its peak? If you have ever wondered how a piece of fruit ripens, then read on.
Ethylene is a gaseous plant hormone, which creates a natural chemical synthesization which causes fruit to ripen. When a piece of fruit ripens it undergoes a series of changes. These changes alter the appearance of the fruit, the taste of the fruit, and the smell. Although the synthesization is a natural process, there are a variety of ways in which the process can be speeded up or slowed down. For thousands of years, people have known of a variety of methods to speed up the ripening process of fruit. Chinese farmers, for example, would leave pears to ripen in a warm closed room where incense is burning. Although they may not have been aware of how exactly this process worked, they worked out that high temperatures triggered the fruits ripening process. The ripening process is also encouraged when the fruit is damaged or cut in some way. Cutting or damaging fruit has also been utilized for centuries. So how to know when the fruit needs to be ripened before eating? Or, if in fact, it is overripe already?
Signs of under-ripe fruit
An unripe piece of fruit is distinctive by its often green, hard, sour and odorless texture and smell.
When a piece of fruit is unripe, the different acids and sugars which give the fruit its sweet taste are not detectable on our palette. Unripe fruit is bound up in various polymer networks such as starch, which is composed of glucose syrup. Over time the starch polymer breaks down and releases the glucose, which makes the fruit taste sweet.
Signs of over-ripe fruit
The ripening process of fruit unfortunately does not stop, meaning that a piece of fruit can eventually over-ripe and spoil. Over ripe fruit is normally quite distinctive and easy to spot, in that it is normally quite bitter and overly soft.
Slowing down the ripening process
In many circumstances, such as when shipping fruit to a variety of destinations, it is best if the fruit is not allowed to ripen too quickly. One way in which to keep fruit from ripening and spoiling is to transport them in bins periodically flushed with carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide prevents ethylene from building up and inhibits further synthesis.
When fruit is at its peak, it should be stored carefully so that it does not spoil easily. The best way to store fruit is laid out in much the same manner that a shop displays their fresh produce displays. Shop food displays have the fruit laid out in such a way that each piece of fruit is not touching another piece of fruit. In this way it keeps the fruit from spoiling too quickly.
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Maintaining fresh produce displays involves a continuous tracking on the ethylene, a plant hormone used in the artificial ripening of fruits, to ensure the fruit undergoes a steady ripening process when in storage. To understand the ripening process better, follow this link.
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