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Bjorgvin Gudmundsson
February 06, 2019

The Ripening Process

  AdobeStock_78043383Let’s talk the ripening process for the world’s most consumable produce. Discussing the ripening process, and the produce industry leveraging the process to benefit them is a discussion of delay. Delaying the inevitable state in which the fruit or vegetable is ripe can be beneficial in numerous ways. Most importantly, delaying a fruit or vegetable’s peak state means there is more time for the product to reach its destination within the parameters of its estimated expiration.

One of the most popular methods is the leveraging of ethylene, which is a natural plant hormone associated with growth, and ultimately ripening and aging various plants. Ethylene, which is characterized as a phytohormone, is known as a natural ripening factor for multiple fruits. Some of the fruits include bananas, tomatoes, melons, pineapples and mangoes. Depending on what type of fruit you’re dealing with, the ethylene’s production tends to vary. When the concentration of the gas reaches 0.1 to 1.0 parts per million, the ripening process in these certain fruits is irreversible. The ripening process is often sped up by the shipping and transportation of certain fruits. In fact, certain climacteric fruits are typically harvested only after they are at full maturity and experience a rapid acceleration in ripening once they are packed and shipped to their destination. These climacteric fruits refer to fruits that are often found in rather tropical regions such as mangoes, papaya and guava. For other non-tropical fruits, the ripening process is a bit different. Non-climacteric fruits do not have any more room to ripen once the farmers have harvested them. This makes it a bit challenging for the farmers aiming to harvest the fruit at its peak state. To make sure they are harvesting the fruit at its full ripeness and flavor, they are only harvested once they reach the desired state of ripeness.

There are a few ways that man can manipulate the ripening process. The amount of ethylene produced in a fruit or vegetable can be controlled by a process that is referred to as “switching off,” or in other words, decreasing the production of ethylene in the product. There are multiple ways to go about doing this, and each have their own unique method. The first is the introduction of the ACC deaminase gene. In a nutshell, it converts ACC to a different compound thus cutting down the amount of ACC available for the purpose of ethylene production. Another method is the suppression of ACC synthase gene expression. Sounds a little confusing so it is best to think of it as an altered state to the enzyme expression through an identical copy of the synthase gene being introduced to the plant’s “genome.”

In the interest of avoiding a description that is too granular to fully comprehend without hurting one’s head, think of ripening manipulation as addition or suspension of an essential component necessary to accelerate or decelerate the life span of a fruit or vegetable. It’s all about maximizing the time in which a product remains valuable to the consumer. Logistically, it’s on the farmers to shoulder the burden of making sure their products are sold to the consumer at their peak state. A customer’s willingness to pay for produce is based on the quality of the product, so it is imperative for those within the industry to allow for ultimate ripeness once the product is available at the local market.

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