Kitchen 101: The Secret of Summer Fruit Storage

August 5, 2014

One of my favorite memories of childhood in Colorado was my mother’s fruit bowl, overflowing with peaches, cherries, plums and apricots. A similar bowl – filled with all the fresh summer fruits I can gather in my little arms – is a fixture on our kitchen countertop now. I feel the same way about that overflowing bowl of color as I might about a bouquet of flowers; it’s completely luxurious and beautiful and somehow signifies the comforts of home. A few years ago, however, I started to notice that this same romantic bowl of plenty was in constant need of attention; our fruits were ripening way too quickly and some of them were even going bad in the bowl. I just couldn’t use them fast enough! About that same time, I started seeing these inspiring design-centric kitchens that were boasting not just one fruit bowl, but several. Soon, I learned why; the answer was hidden in the secret of summer fruit storage.

Ethylene is an invisible, odorless, naturally occurring gas that aids in the ripening process of fruit. Fruits and plants produce this gas as a byproduct of ripening and, as a fruit produces more ethylene, it begins to create enzymes which help break down cell walls and starches, making the fruit softer and sweeter over time. Some fruits and veggies produce a lot of ethylene as they ripen; often, these give off enough ethylene to ripen fruits nearby as well. At the same time, some fruits + vegetables are particularly sensitive to ethylene, so you can imagine that if you had a big-ethylene producer, and a ethylene-sensitive fruit close to one another, you’re likely to hasten the ripening of both! 

It is inevitable that ethylene will ripen your fruits, but you can absolutely control how quickly the gas is produced with proper storage. Namely, separating fruits from one another depending on their ethylene sensitivity, and by storing them in the proper environment for optimal ripening. The following are a couple of lists to help you decide what should go where, and which fruits can play with which in your bountiful counter-top fruit bowl:

Ethylene-producing: (in alphabetical order)
– apples
– apricots
– avocados
– ripened bananas
– cantaloupe
– figs
– honeydew
– kiwi
– mangoes
– nectarines
– papayas
– passion fruit
– peaches
– pears
– persimmons
– plantains
– plums
– prunes
– quince
– tomatoes

– unripe bananas
– green beans
– Belgian endive
– broccoli
– Brussels sprouts
– cabbage
– carrots
– cauliflower
– chard
– cucumbers
– eggplant
– leafy greens
– okra
– parsley
– peas
– peppers
– spinach
– squash
– sweet potatoes
– watercress
– watermelon

Basically, as you can see, fruits emit more ethylene than vegetables, and so it’s safe to say that they should be kept separately. Bananas in particular are known for their impact on the ripening of other fruits. (Ethylene gas explains why it is suggested that you ripen stone fruits and avocados in paper bags on a countertop; the bag traps the gas and forces ripening!) Our bananas accidentally ripened an avocado in just a couple of hours in our hot summer kitchen last week! So, lately, I’ve been storing our peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots away from the bananas, and the bananas away from the avocados. The lemons live in their own special spot, and the rest of our fruits (berries + figs, namely) live in the refrigerator with the other vegetables. 

Later this week I’ll share a recipe for a stone fruit + tomato salad we’ve made with this bumper crop of summer fruits; it’s a great reason to restock that fruit bowl! 

P.S. One other quick and very cool thing to note: the brown spots you see on bananas don’t actually signify that they are going *bad*. Those little spots indicate that resistant starches in the fruit (which can’t be broken down by your digestive system) have actually been converted to body-fueling sugars. Neat, eh?

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  • Reply ldpaulson August 6, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Funny, but I thought the secret was to eat more fruit!? Then the rest are used for ice cream and/or are preserved. Right? There simply cannot be enough black Mission figs this summer. You may not have seen this news piece. Every neighborhood — yours, too! — needs one of these magical trees :

    • Reply Lentine Alexis August 7, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Ha! Well, eating more fruit is certainly a tactic! Ice cream, preserves, roasted, baked…there are lots of different uses for the bumper crop. There cannot be enough black mission figs EVER in my opinion. I did see the article on the Tree of 40 Fruits. Pretty incredible!

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