Sunday, August 7, 2016

In which I go (green) bananas.

Some of you may have already seen this photo when I posted it on Facebook yesterday. I bought this bunch of bananas last Monday. They were really green, so I let them sit for a few days to ripen.

Five days later, they were still green on the outside. The fruit inside is ripe, but the peel is still mostly green -- and it's remarkably tough. Not tough like a regular green banana peel, but tough like the peel has gotten denser. It's older, but it's not ripening the way it should. It's weird.

Nobody who commented on the photo had any idea what could have caused this to happen, so I turned to the intarwebz. In one article (most of which was over my head), I learned that wholesalers expose green bananas to ethylene gas before they're shipped to market. That encourages the fruit to turn ripe, as long as the bananas are kept thereafter at temperatures between 16 and 24 degrees Celsius (or 61 to 75 degrees, for those of us of the Farenheit persuasion). If the treated bananas are stored at temperatures above 24 degrees Celsius, however, the peel doesn't turn yellow, even though the fruit inside ripens normally. The article goes on to say that this phenomenon costs the banana industry big money in lost sales. Anyway, I figure that's what happened to my bananas: they were stored somewhere that was too warm for them.

But that brought to mind another weird produce-related thing. Last fall, I think it was, I cut open an apple and let the two halves sit for a while while I did something else. When I came back, I noticed that the apple's flesh had not turned brown. So I let it sit for a while longer. It never turned brown.

Thus reminded, back I went to the intarwebs. There, I learned that a couple of years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started test-growing a genetically-modified apple that doesn't turn brown. The process involves inserting extra copies of the gene responsible for the enzyme that encourages oxidation. The apple tree reacts to those extra copies by shutting off production of the enzyme entirely. The apple will eventually rot, but it won't turn brown. And further, I learned that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the process last year -- as well as a similar one that keeps potatoes from turning brown when sliced or peeled.

I'm sure this is not news to some of you. I confess that I have not been closely following the debate over genetically-modified foods; I knew that GMO foods sold in the U.K. must be labeled, but here in the U.S., the government has sided with growers and resisted calls for labeling these foods -- so far. Apparently three of our four current candidates for President support GMO labeling, with only Donald Trump opposing it.

I like knowing what I'm eating, so I suppose I'm in favor of GMO labeling, too. But I'm especially in favor of fruits and vegetables that ripen naturally, because they taste better. My still-green bananas are okay, but that non-browning apple didn't taste like anything. My biggest fear is that we're breeding produce for shelf life at the expense of taste. Fresh fruits and vegetables are certainly healthier than the sugary/salty processed foods that jam our grocery store shelves. With obesity such a problem, maybe tasty produce ought to be a matter of public policy.

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These green yet tasty moments of blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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