If you buy stuff from supermarkets on-line, I wonder whether you ever purchase fruit as ‘home-ripening’ or ‘ready to eat’ and find when it arrives it takes ages to ripen or is not ready for the dinner party you were giving that night or the next? Do you look at the ‘best before’ date and wonder what on earth it means?
Take these bananas for example, I buy ‘home ripening’ fair trade bananas because if I do buy ripe bananas then by the time I have eaten two or maybe three of six, they are too ripe (I do like them slightly greenish and not at all once the brown spots appear). This bunch was purchased on 4th August, no kidding! It is now the 26th inst. and they were purported to be ‘best before’ 12th or thereabouts. When I tell you that they were scarcely distinguishable from cucumbers, aside from the shape and growth formation, when they arrived you will agree that it was a faint hope that they would be ready at the anticipated ‘best before’ date.
So what is wrong with this process? I am not scientist, botanist or gardener but I do think cold storage has made a bit of nonsense of fruit growing. As I understand it the tree, or bush, flowers; the bees pollinate the flower; the fruit sets. The combination of light (sunshine) and moisture (rainfall) via the fruit stalk swells and ripens the said product. The colour of the skin changes as chlorophyll (the green stuff in plants) is broken down and in some cases new pigments are made, the acids that make the fruit sour are broken down and the mealy starches are converted into sugar (fructose). Again, I am no scientist, but I think there is a point of absolute perfection when this combination causes the fructose to do something chemical that causes FLAVOUR to burst upon the tongue when eaten – whether by humans, animals or wasps and each one of these prefers a different level of ripeness, but you get the picture. A similar but opposite reaction by the fructose causes parsnips to sweeten after a frost.
So if the producer has to pick really unripe fruit its chances of being really delicious are diminished. Once parted from the parent plant, the fruit will ripen through the process of ethylene (a natural emission of all fruit, but especially bananas and tomatoes) but because of the fructose thing, they will never taste as good.
But, if on the other hand, you buy ‘ready to eat’ fruit, I suppose you can reasonably expect it to be just that, but as with the ‘home-ripe’ bananas sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. If you are in a hurry to get some avocados to ripen you can always bag them up with a banana to speed up the process, because of the ethylene. What is the answer? Do your own shopping!
So my message among other things is to use your common sense. ‘Best before’ is only a guessimate of when the product will be at its best, but after that date it will continue to be edible right up until the date it has actually become over-ripe. Obviously, it will not be very good if you have left it that long and if you eat too much over-ripe fruit you could make yourself ill, but if it looks good, smells good and has no obvious scars, or other blemishes – eat it or cook it.