Effects of artificial ripening
Ripening is a natural physiological process that makes the fruit sweeter, more palatable, edible, nutritious, softer and attractive. Ripening is also associated with colour change due to the pigments that are already present or are produced during ripening
During ripening, fruits undergo a number of chemical changes. The starch present in the fruit breaks down to sugars, giving the fruit a sweeter taste. The fruit changes its skin colour generally from green to red, yellow etc. due to degradation of chlorophyll, as the other pigments show their visible existence.
The main polysaccharide stored in fruits is starch. As ripening occurs, there is enzymatic breakdown and hydrolysis of water-insoluble starch into smaller saccharides like sucrose, glucose, fructose etc. that are water-soluble sugars, attributing fruit a sweeter taste. The ripened fruit still has a lot of acids but its sour taste is masked by the large quantities of sugar present.
The cell wall of fruits consists of polysaccharides, mainly pectin. During ripening various enzymes including polygalacturonase convert this insoluble pectin into a soluble form. As a result, the cell wall and hence fruit becomes less firm.
Acids including organic acids like malic acid, citric acid, ascorbic acid, tartaric acid etc. are present in large amounts in raw fruits, giving them a sour taste. As the fruit ripens, acids are also broken down e.g. Ripened guavas have decreased amount of Vitamin C as compared to that raw fruit.
Artificial Ripening is done mainly to fulfil customers’ demand to get high profits and to minimise other losses. E.g. Sales and demand for mangoes shoot very high during the summer season, much higher than the supply. To overcome this gap, artificial ripening (AR) is preferred.
Transportation and distribution are other factors responsible for AR. It takes several days to reach the fruit to the consumer’s hand from the farmer’s orchards as it has to pass through a number of hands. During this time the naturally ripened fruit can overripe and will not be edible. Some fruits if already ripened naturally, cannot withstand harsh transportation conditions. So there are money losses. Hence fruit vendors prefer collecting the fruit before it gets fully ripened and then artificially ripening it before selling it to the customers.
Fruits are classified into two categories:
Climacteric fruits are those that continue to ripen after being harvested like mangoes, bananas, guavas, peach, pear, plum, date, papaya, apple, melon etc.; whereas non – climacteric fruits like grapes, strawberry, blackberry, citrus fruits, fig, olive, pineapple etc. do not ripe after being harvested. They ripen only on plants. They have a short shelf life.
Artificial Ripening Agents
Calcium Carbide (CaC2)
Calcium Carbide (CaC2) is most commonly used for artificial ripening of fruits. Calcium carbide, when hydrolysed, produces acetylene, which causes artificial ripening of fruits. Other than the Calcium Carbide following Chemicals are in common practice in artificially ripening the fruits
A very small concentration of ethylene in air is sufficient to promote the fruit ripening process. Externally applied Ethylene is likely to trigger or initiate the natural ripening process of apple, avocado, banana, mango, papaya, pineapple and guava, and therefore, can be sold before the predicted time.
Ethephon is another agent which is used to artificially ripen fruits. Ethephon is often considered better in terms of taking less time than calcium carbide for ripening. The fruits ripened with Ethephon have more acceptable colour than naturally ripened fruits and have longer shelf life than fruits ripened with Calcium carbide.
Health hazards of Ripening Agents
As Calcium Carbide is an industrial-grade product, it contains traces of arsenic, leads particles and phosphorus hydride as impurities. These impurities may cause serious health hazards when workers come in direct contact with these chemicals while applying the ripening agents. They may cause frequent thirst, irritation in the mouth and nose, weakness, permanent skin damage, difficulty in swallowing, vomiting, skin ulcer and so forth. Higher exposure may cause undesired fluid build-up in the lungs (pulmonary oedema).
The acetylene released by Calcium Carbide has been found to be detrimental as it affects the neurological
system and reduces oxygen supply to the brain and further induces prolonged hypoxia. It is hazardous to
pregnant women and children and may lead to headaches, dizziness, mood disturbances, mental confusion, memory loss, cerebral oedema (swelling in the brain caused by excessive fluids), sleepiness, seizure etc.
Calcium Carbide is alkaline in nature and erodes the mucosal tissue in the abdominal region and disrupts
intestinal functions. Cases of stomach upset after eating carbide-ripened mangoes have been reported recently.
Consuming such artificially ripened mangoes could result in sleeping disorders, mouth ulcers, skin rashes, renal problems and possibly even cancer.
Apart from this symptoms of poisoning include diarrhoea (with or without blood), burning or tingling sensation in the abdomen and chest difficulty in swallowing, irritation in the eyes/skin, sore throat, cough, shortness in breathing, numbness etc.
All that glitters is not gold and is definitely harmful these days. Fruits that look attractive outside may not be good for health. Fruits that have a uniform colour are more likely to have been artificially ripened. The naturally ripened fruits are not uniformly coloured; rather, they are patchy. When tomatoes are uniformly red, or mango and papaya are uniformly orange/yellow, then Calcium Carbide may have been used. Bananas can also be identified if the fruits are all yellow-green whereas the stem is dark. While purchasing fruits and vegetables, remember not to select those that are homogenously ripened and with bright, eye-catching colours. The habit of washing and peeling before eating the fruit could help in minimising the health risks associated with the use of Calcium Carbide. It is better to cut the fruit into pieces, rather than to consume them directly. And It is not advisable to buy fruits when they arrive in the market before the due period i.e. early and offseason.
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