Do you ever wonder why bananas will ripen when placed on the counter, but strawberries don’t?
What it comes down to is that there are two different types of fruit: fruit that will continue to ripen after they are harvested (climacteric) and fruit that will not continue to ripen after they are harvested (non-climacteric). It is important to remember that fruit and vegetables are still living and breathing after they are harvested.
There are a few main factors that come in to play with the ripening process of the climacteric fruit:
- Whether or not a climacteric fruit can ripen to its full extent is dependent on whether or not the fruit was harvested at the proper maturity stage. This is one of the major reasons that tomatoes from the store don’t taste as good as those home grown, because they are harvested prematurely and are unable to ripen properly.
- As the climacteric fruit ripens, it naturally produces ethylene gas and when it is exposed to more ethylene, it acts as a natural catalyst to further the ripening process. For example, have you ever heard of the “trick” of putting a banana and an apple in a paper bag together to ripen the banana? People do this because the apple is already in the ripening process, and the ethylene gas being given off by the apple acts as a catalyst for the ripening process of the banana. This same concept can be applied to other climacteric fruit. For example, if you put bananas that are already on the riper side (less green) and put them in a bag with a hard avocado, the ethylene gas being given off by the banana will help speed up the avocado ripening process. This same idea can also work by placing climacteric fruit together on the counter (e.g., pears, bananas, peaches, etc.).
- If the climacteric fruit is kept at a lower temperature, ethylene will not have as much of an impact. This is why avocados that you buy from the store that do not ripen when you bring them home and put them in the fridge versus on the counter.
In the table below, I have compiled a guide of commonly eaten fruit to help you see which fruit can continue ripening after harvest to help you while you are selecting fruit in the grocery store (Kader 2002). For example, if you buy strawberries that aren’t fully colored and have white near the stem, they will not change in color or in sweetness. But, if you buy a pear and set it on the counter for a few days, it will soften and become sweeter.
I would love to hear your comments on this, as I’m sure a lot of you are wondering about your store bought tomatoes!
Reference: Kader, Adel A. “Postharvest Biology and Technology: An Overview.” Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops, 3rd Edition. Oakland, CA: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, 2002. 39-47. Print.