Natural Ethylene Gas

Summer – the season that includes, among so many other things, an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables as people are beginning to harvest from their gardens in several parts of the country. These fresh fruits and vegetables are so good that we want to make them last as long as possible. So, we decided to write a little food science article on Ethylene Gas that could help you use the ethylene gas naturally produced by your fruits and vegetables to your advantage in order to produce an extended shelf life for these fresh goodies in your home.

Ethylene

One Bad Apple Can Ruin the Bunch

Ethylene

Can one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch? Actually, yes it can! And it’s not just apples, it’s true for several different fruits and vegetables. Certain fruits (and some vegetables) can cause other produce to ripen and spoil before their time! The reason is that apples and bananas (and many others listed below) naturally produce a plant hormone called ethylene. This hormone is released from the fruit (and a few vegetables) in gas form. Ethylene gas triggers cells to degrade – causing fruit to ripen (become softer & sweeter), leaves to drop off and buds to sprout. Some foods are strong ethylene producers while others are actually very sensitive to the gas.

Produce that Produces Ethylene – these fruits and vegetables produce high amounts of ethylene:

Apples, Apricots, Avocados, Bananas (when ripe), Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Cherimoyas, Cranberries, Figs, Green onions, Guavas, Grapes, Honeydew, Kiwi, Mangoes, Mangosteen, Nectarines, Papayas, Passion fruit, Peaches, Pears, Persimmons, Plums, Potatoes, Prunes, Quince and Tomatoes

Produce Sensitive to Ethylene – these fruits and vegetables are super sensitive the ethylene gas:

Asparagus, Bananas (unripe ones), Blackberries, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Chard, Collard greens, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Endive, Garlic, Green beans, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Okra, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Peppers, Raspberries, Spinach, Squash, Strawberries, Sweet potatoes, Watercress and Watermelon

What You Can Do

How to Use Ethylene Gas to Your Advantage

What does this mean? Knowing about ethylene allows you to use it to your advantage in the kitchen to either lengthen or shorten the shelf life of your fruits and vegetables.

To Lengthen Shelf Life: Use the above lists of ethylene producers and those with ethylene sensitivity in order to help extend the shelf life of the fruits and vegetables in your home. Simply keep these two lists of produce separated during your home food storage. Don’t mix the two lists, whether it be in your fruit basket or in your refrigerator vegetable drawer. For example, don’t put apples with unripe bananas in the fruit bowl together and don’t put potatoes near your peppers in the refrigerator.

To Shorten Shelf Life: On the other hand, if you purchased unripe produce and you do want to ripen it quickly… then you can make ethylene work for you to accelerate the ripening process. Some of our pages mention that you can ripen your fruit quickly by placing it into a paper bag and folding over the top of the bag and placing it on the counter for a few days (time varies depending on the severity of unripeness). The reason that this works is because the bag keeps the ethylene enclosed, forcing a concentration of the gas. This concentrated ethylene gas then ripens the fruit at a much faster rate. If you add a different ripe ethylene producing fruit to the bag before closing, there will be even more gas and the ripening process will be even quicker. Be sure to check your bag often, because if one of the fruits gets too ripe, the whole bag could become rotten very quickly.

Additional Info

To find out the shelf life of your favorite vegetables check our fresh vegetable menu and for fruits check our fresh fruit menu.

To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

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