Eat your fruit ripe!
Fully ripe fruits are far superior in their nutritional profile (and hence for our health) than underripe fruits. Unfortunately, finding ripe fruits picked straight from the plant is a struggle for many of us. Therefore learning which fruits still ripen “off the tree” is important. Knowing the ripening characteristic is also relevant when buying imported tropical fruits, which are always picked before fully matured and ripened. Because ripe tropical fruits play a pivotal role in our health, it is essential to learn which fruits are suitable to buy when you do not live in a tropical area.
When it comes to fruit ripening, there are two main categories: There are fruits that continue ripening post-harvest (climacteric fruits) and those that do not ripen after being picked from the plant (non-climacteric fruits).
What does “climacteric” mean?
The climacteric in fruits is a stage of ripening that depends on increased ethylene (plant hormone) production and respiration at the final stage before full ripening is achieved. Those changes go along with higher simple sugar content (sweetness), decreased acid content, and other beneficial nutritional changes to its consumer.
Climacteric fruits continue to ripen after harvesting, because they produce ethylene. Fruits must be fully mature and only need to be in the early stages of ripening when harvested. This being said, ripening on the plant is superior and results in more flavorful and nutritious fruits. That is why “vine-ripening” is a thing. Fortunately, many tropical fruits fall into the climacteric fruit category, which makes the importation of the most nutritious fruits into colder climatic zones possible. Think banana, papaya, mango…
Non-climacteric fruit do not produce ethylene and will not continue to ripen after being harvested. For this reason, it must be harvested ripe and usually eaten shortly after.
Some fruits can show climacteric and non-climacteric characteristic depending on their strain and how they are cultivated. Thus the distinction is not perfectly binary or clear-cut (Vijay et al., 2012). Those fruits are for example guava, melon, pepper and asian pear.
List of fruits that do / don’t ripen after harvest
|Ripen After Picking||Don’t Ripen After Picking|
|Avocado||Citrus (Oranges, Tangerine, Mandarin, Limes etc.)|
Natural Ripening Is Superior to Synthetic Ripening
Hormones are the principal compounds responsible for the initiation of ripening fruit. They activate the genes responsible for the coding of the enzymes discussed in the latter section of this text.
The hormone Ethylene plays a particularly important role in the ripening of climacteric fruit. It is a volatile hormone meaning that it is produced by the fruit and quickly turns into a gas. This is why if you keep a Banana in a closed container, or simply forgotten in a backpack, it ripens much quicker. Ethylene gas builds up within the confined space, triggering a quicker production of the enzymes responsible for ripening.
It is important to note that modern day agricultural practices often utilize synthetic ethylene gas to control the ripening process of the fruit. It allows them to harvest before the ripening process has completed naturally, and induce it post-harvest by blasting the fruit with ethylene gas.
While this process may give fruit the appearance of being fully-ripe, the reality is that this synthetic process is not equivalent to a natural ripening process. In fact, many synthetically ripened fruit still have a high content of non-sweet complex sugars (instead of sweet simple sugars) and more toxic compounds than naturally ripened ones. This is one reason why many fruits at the supermarket are far inferior to those grown at home or purchased at a farmers market.
Always aim to get your fruits ripe and right on time from the plant in grows on, as natural ripening is superior in terms of the fruit’s flavor and nutritional value. However, if you cannot get access to enough naturally ripened fruits, the second-best option is buying climacteric fruits – fruits that can ripen after harvest. If everything fails, consider buying frozen fruits, as those are usually harvested ripe and frozen right after picking.
Read more about fruit ripening here:
Go To What Happens During Ripening? Are Unripe Fruits Unhealthy?