Paper or Plastic – How Storage Affects the Ripeness of your Produce

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You know how it is. The air is chilly, the room is still dark, you can hear some very cold precipitation coming down outside, and you have the funny feeling your alarm isn’t supposed to be going off at the moment. Some days it just takes longer to get out of bed and ready for action. Sometimes produce reacts the same way. Obviously, this is in a metaphorical way, since last I heard, science has plants leaning toward Motzart and away from Metalica, but not actually having feelings. It did get me thinking how, while in the heat of the summer, storing food the last longer is great; however, sometimes what you really want to know is how to get things to ripen faster.

I was going to bring you a quick and dirty list of ripening techniques by food item, much like the one for storage tips, like popping the little nub off the top of an avocado so it ripens faster. As it turns out, many techniques are surprisingly similar in nature. For example here’s technique A for ripening tomatoes:
• Remove all stems, etc… from tomatoes
• Gently wash tomatoes and let them air dry
• Place a ripe banana in a brown paper bag
• Place appropriate quantity of tomatoes in bag with banana
• Place in a warm, semi-humid place
• Wait

I’ll get into the science behind it in a minute, but first let’s check out technique B:
• Remove all stems, etc… from tomatoes
• Gently wash tomatoes and let them air dry
• Punch air circulation holes in plastic grocery bag
• Place a ripe banana in plastic grocery bag
• Place appropriate quantity of tomatoes in bag with banana
• Place in a warm, semi-humid place
• Wait

There are some variations that use a jar (don’t squish the tomatoes) or cardboard box (no banana unless you want that many tomatoes ripe at once); but as you can see, the methodology is pretty similar here. Warm. Dark. Ripe banana.

The funny thing is, some instructions for ripening bananas suggest you include a ripe tomato or apple in the warm, dark container of choice. It’s also a bit funny that this article is right after Valentine’s Day, because a lot of the induced ripening process involves chemistry and hormones. It starts with ethylene. The colorless, flammable hydrocarbon with the sweet, musky smell. Its worldwide production exceeds that of any other organic compound, frequently used in the making of polyethylene. But for plants, it’s a hormone.

Guiding both the opening of flowers and the shedding of leaves, ethylene also stimulates the ripening process. Whether you choose a container that’s more box-like or bag-like in form, either way you’re essentially creating a gas chamber of ethylene for your produce that saturates it in the ripening stimulant. As to why the inclusion of a foreign fruit or vegetable into the ripening process, I have to guess since it doesn’t matter what produce the ethylene originates from. I imagine it’s because the originators of the tips worked under the assumption that if one is trying to ripen said food article, one doesn’t have any of said food article that’s already ripe.

But supposing one doesn’t have any ripe produce on hand at all (or one needs to make banana bread even sooner than these methods allow), I have a solution. Here’s two techniques for ripening bananas even faster than the ethylene method.

Method A – Oven
• Heat oven to 300°
• Place unpeeled bananas on baking sheet
• Bake at 300° for 30-50 minutes, checking frequently
• Bananas are done when skin is shiny and black (for ripening bananas to banana bread ripeness)

Method B – Microwave
• Place banana in microwave
• Heat for 30 seconds
• Allow to cool before checking for desired softness
• Repeat as necessary (around 30-120 seconds total)

Now, I know I said a solution if you don’t have any ripe produce and are in the market for something besides banana bread. It goes something like this:
• Have/obtain a banana and a microwave
• Follow the microwave method for banana ripening explained above
• Place tomatoes, other bananas, apples, or whatever produce you intend to ripen in your brown paper bag, cardboard box of choice.
• Place turbo-ripened banana in aforementioned container with soon to be ripened produce
• Wait, checking periodically so produce doesn’t exceed intended ripeness. Time will vary, but most estimates show 12-48 hours.

You may have heard a variation on the bag or box technique before, and as a result, you may be feeling that I basically told you to microwave a banana. That’s not really true. I told you to microwave a banana in the name of science. With the exception of the high speed techniques for bananas, the formula is pretty standard. It’s all chemistry and hormones, which I refuse to complicate because I’ve been forced to watch rom coms before, and I’ve seen how that turns out. Really, there’s just one thing to remember. Always keep an eye on things you’re ripening with accelerated techniques. You don’t have to be a helicopter, but check periodically and take out any produce that’s ripe or overripe. See, ethylene not only ripens produce, it keeps ripening it until taken out of the equation. At the risk certainty of sounding cliché, one bad banana can spoil the whole bunch.

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