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Bananas About Bananas? Their Ripening Dilemma & Its Food Waste Implications.

Not only are they tasty, but they could help us understand how various ethylene concentrations interact with food.

By Richard Xu and Avni Shah

Courtesy of Matthew Feeney on Unsplash

Have you ever questioned the science behind storing ripe fruit with unripe fruit in order to accelerate the ripening process? Maybe you’ve even thought it was a myth? Amazingly enough, it’s no myth, and being able to control the fruits and vegetables ripening process could improve food waste.

Fruits and vegetables can be classified into two groups: Non-Climacteric or Climacteric.

Non-Climacteric fruits such as cherries, grapes, strawberries, and oranges cannot ripen any further post-harvest. Climacteric fruits such as bananas, apples, peaches, and plums can continue to ripen after being picked.

As climacteric produce ripen, their respiration increases and abundantly releases ethylene (C2H4) gas that causes other climacteric produce present in their proximity to ripen faster.

A chart showing Ethylene-Producing and Ethylene-Sensitive produce.

The issue is that too much exposure to ethylene gas can cause climacteric fruits to over-ripen and become rotten, resulting in unnecessary food waste. In fact, around 30 - 40% of food is thrown away every year due to its unpalatable over-ripening and eventual rotting. One underlying reason could be that climacteric fruits, raw and ripe, get stored with one another, leading to shortened storage-life.

This is where the Nikira Labs technology comes into play: a recently developed analyzer that can measure endogenous ethylene concentration production by botanical crops in realtime, as well as monitor exogenous ethylene gas used as a ripening agent. Having the ability to measure and control ethylene gas concentration can extend the fresh produce shelf-life and reduce food waste. It is important to note that the bacterial decomposition of food waste generates methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas with a high Global Warming Potential (GWP). Therefore, decreasing food waste does not just score an economic win, but also achieves a surrogate environmental benefit generated by the reduction of CH4 emissions that cause global warming; two-for-one socially-responsible achievements.

Based on the above, what can we easily change within our household? We can avoid the storage of ethylene-producing fruits with ethylene-sensitive fruits. Moreover, we can avoid storing produce in closed bags for them not to be trapped in their own ripening ethylene gas and perish prematurely.


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