/ Food & Drink, Shopping

The pear necessities: why doesn’t my fruit ripen at home?

A pile of green pears in a supermarket

Supermarket fruit aisles offer an attractive abundance of choice, but I’m wondering why I bother buying fruit to ripen at home. Which fruit ripening trick works best for you?

No matter how long I leave plums in my fruit bowl, all too often they stay hard, crunchy and frankly not that pleasing to eat. They lack the deliciously sweet taste and scent that comes with ripeness.

Bowls, bags and bananas

I’ve tried keeping the fruit bowl in different places around the house in case my north- facing kitchen wasn’t sunny enough, but using a south-facing windowsill made no appreciable difference. There’s usually a ripe tomato or banana to keep the ripen-at-home apricots, peaches or nectarines company in the bowl. I’ve tried using paper bags, sometimes popping a tomato or banana in the bag too.

All too often I end up cooking fruit in a crumble or flan or regretfully consigning it to the compost bin because it has passed its best, without ever having been ripe.

To be fair, I’ve had more success with kiwi fruit. They don’t seem to go off so quickly, but I wouldn’t expect to eat them soon after buying them. Bananas manage to ripen on the banana hanger without taking too much time. Avocados eventually yield, but the four I bought over a week ago are still rock hard. They might not be thought of as fruit, but they still need to ripen at home, unless perhaps you pay extra for ‘perfectly ripe’ ones.

The ripe choice – ready or not?

I’ve been disappointed by surprisingly crunchy ‘perfectly ripe’ pears and peaches that needed a knife to tackle them. I appreciate that retailers can’t afford to lose stock because it goes off before they can sell it, but I think this type of fruit should be called ‘nearly ready to eat’.

Sometimes I buy fruit from a nearby street market. While being served I always enjoy the sweet, fruity aroma, something I never experience in a supermarket. I’ve noticed that fruit bought from the stall ripens at home more often. And in the summer it’s a treat to buy apricots or nectarines and eat them right away, rather than having to wait to see if they’ll ripen at home.

Does ‘perfectly ripe’ mean something different to what I expect? Am I out of step with current consumer preferences? Would people rather have an under-ripe peach than deal with the juices from a melt-in-the-mouth ripe one?

Even if this is the case, I find it hard to believe that fruit that simply doesn’t ripen at all is what consumers want or expect. I’ve tried the tips and techniques on the side of the pack, but with no success. Maybe I’ve been unlucky, but I find that ‘ready to eat’ fruit often isn’t ready at all.

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I struggle to work out when pears are ready to eat. Sometimes when they seem ripe I find that every one has gone brown in the centre.

Fruit is handled so roughly in supermarkets, both by staff and customers, that it is only practical to sell ripe fruit if it is packaged, which is obviously wasteful. ‘Perfectly ripe’ food annoys me too, Chris. I often buy this when it has reached its ‘use by’ date and is discounted, and it can be a week or more before it is really ripe. I like your suggestion of calling it ‘nearly ready to eat’.

I am not surprised that bananas are so popular. A glance will tell you when they are ready to eat and even if they are unripe, it will not take long before the taste and texture is ideal.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Buying ripe/ready to eat fruit or avocados from M&S has been pretty successful. It avoids wasting, or not enjoying, under-ripe fruit. If it costs slightly more, this is offset by the reduced waste. In the event it was not ready to eat, or not heading that way, I’d return it on the next visit – never had a bad response to a (rare) complaint..

Member
jim watt says:
6 December 2012

It seems to be an increasing Which bad habit. You introduce a subject by asking a very interesting question, but fail to produce anything like an intersting answer.
Which used to be mag that asked intersting questions and provided interesting, informed answers.
Are those days gone ?
Should I stop contributing to Which ?

Profile photo of wavechange
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The lack of interesting, informed answers is one problem, and comments that are not relevant to the topic is another. 🙂

To say something relevant, I would be grateful for any suggestions for how to speed up the ripening of kiwi fruit.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Hello Jim, Which? Conversation is mainly about offering a Conversation starter to kick off the debate. Our investigations do often appear on Which? Convo, but in this case, we want to hear your ideas about ripening fruit, and this may help inspire us to do research of our own. For more on our research and investigations, Which.co.uk is often the best place to look. Thanks.

Profile photo of rarrar
Member

Which Conversation starters may well be aimed at starting off a debate but they often come over as shallow, sloppy research under the banner of an organisation which prides itself on good, relevant , well researched advice for consumers.
You really do need to get rid of this “conflict” and make sure that anyone reading a starter is in no doubt that it is unresearched opinion aiming to start a debate and in no way reflects Which?’s thoughts on the matter.

Member

I agree with Jim

I came onto this page from an email newsletter I received. Although it asks for tips at the very end of the paragraph, it is slightly misleading. I was expecting more from this piece.

And saying that we should inspire Which? as to what research it should do. Well, then probably the criteria should be more open. We are asked for our tips on a very specific subject, and then told that this might inspire Which? to carry out research.

If I want only user opinions I can search the general internet for free. I’m paying to subscribe to Which? for their wisdom and knowledge…

I don’t think Jim’s comment is irrelevant. I’m disappointed by this piece.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Hi both, thanks for the feedback. Which? Conversation is often the start of the journey for us – we want to work for you as consumers and so your ideas and feedback here are very valuable to us.

For instance, comments made here led to our Fixed Means Fixed campaign to stop price rises on fixed mobile contracts. We’ve even started testing new products, like winter tyres, from your feedback here.

We weren’t quite sure whether you’d be interested in poor ripening of fruit and veg, and so your comments here and the tips you give are a good indication that it may be a good idea to investigate and test out the theories. This is similar to our Convo on ‘fridge myths’ where you shared your tips on what should and shouldn’t be put in fridges – we then went and busted/confirmed some of these myths: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/freezing-food-myths-busted-freezers-safety/

Rarrar, we have high standards and would not like to think we’re sloppy, however a Convo is often only a suggestion of the topic which are, as you rightly say, personal opinions.

If you’d like to give us more feedback on this, please use our Contact Us form https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us, as I’d like to keep this debate on topic – the ripening of fruit and veg. Thanks.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Jim – presumably by running these conversations Which gets a variety of views and information from consumers based upon which it can pursue a more focussed investigation and come up with useful and interesting answers. I hope so, otherwise apart from entertainment we are all wasting our time.

Member
Gill W says:
6 December 2012

I’ve long assumed that supermarkets/importers are simply not undertaking all the processes necessary to ripen fruit.
If fruit is picked before it’s ripe, so that it doesn’t rot during transportation, it’s supposed to be put through various processes to finish the job that would normally happen on the tree. These are not processes that you can carry out at home (see link: http://humantouchofchemistry.com/the-artificial-ripening-of-fruits.htm).
You can, with some fruits, induce artificial ripening. You can ripen unripe tomatoes by putting them in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple (an old end-of-season gardening trick). But you have to know what to do and supermarkets don’t tell you when they sell fruit ‘ripening at home’.

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

I ripen fruit by wrapping in clean, multiple
newspapers (broadsheet), works well for mangoes
not so sure abt avocados…. left a bowl
of kiwi fruit on top of fridge-freezer, ripens alright,
no wrapping… maybe due residual heat
emanating.

Yes, I met a guy who did a doctoral write-up
onthat gaseous hydrocarbon at
Imperial College.

,

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

The gaseous hydrocarbon is ethene (ethylene), which is naturally produced by various fruits, the best known being bananas. I might try putting my unripe pears or kiwi fruit in a bag with apples or bananas.

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

I saw a video clip filmed in Spain how green tangerines
straight off the orchard were passed over a conveyor
belt with the application of ethylene gas…they turned
the colour ripe tangerines should look like… mind you, the
flesh inside remains its consistent colour regardless.

I have a problem with ripening avocados..they don’t
seem to ripen in winter…. whatever method I devise,
they turn black and go off.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

I have a picture illustrating “The seven stages of the avocado” – not ripe, not ripe, not ripe, not ripe, not ripe, not ripe, bad. There is some truth in this, and there is a lot of disappointment when looking forward to eating one to find it hard and tasteless. They seem to lie in the fridge like this for a long time before suddenly turning black and uneatable. Does anyone have a reliable test for when they are just ready?

Member
mham says:
7 December 2012

Don’t put them in the fridge maybe ?

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Avocados are sensitive to ethylene (not all fruit is), so it might be worth putting one in a container with a ripe banana or apple. A sealed glass container would be better than a bag or newspaper because you can keep an eye on what is happening without opening the bag and losing the gas.

Member
Elizabeth Blunt says:
7 December 2012

“Fruits that can ripen after picking — including melons, peaches, apples, avocados, mangoes, pears and tomatoes — are called climacteric fruits. In these fruits, ripening is hastened by chemicals, primarily ethylene gas, that are produced inside the fruit and convert stored starch into sugar even after picking.
Non-climacteric fruit produce little or no ethylene gas and therefore do not ripen once picked; these stubborn fruits include raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, watermelons, cherries, grapes, grapefruit, lemons and limes.
“If you buy a grapefruit or a pineapple and think it is going to ripen, it simply won’t,” Harbut said.
Storing fruit in a paper bag will help ripen climacteric fruits because the bag retains the ethylene.
“But the biggest myth is that people think any fruit can be ripened in a bag,” she added.
With a pineapple or a grapefruit, “this won’t do anything to improve the sweetness or flavor,” Harbut said. “The pineapple may become softer and juicier as the fruit breaks down, and the rind may turn yellow, but the flavor will not improve. Pineapple has to be picked ripe. In North America, it’s very rare to taste a truly ripe pineapple unless you are in Hawaii where pineapples are grown.”

(Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin)

Member
retired says:
10 December 2012

Thanks – good info Elizabeth.

Member

just reminded me of a tip for ripening cheese…….microwave it for a VERY FEW seconds. Good for Blue Stilton,Brie,etc but not cheddar and hard cheeses.

I digress……good for avacados

Member

To ripen your avocados, pop them alongside a bunch of bananas as we often ripen our avocados at home in this way.

Member
Anita Burksfield says:
7 December 2012

myself i have found supermarkets,either freeze their fruit or keep in a cold store for too long,kiwi fruit takes an age to rippen & then gone over, plums urgh as already stated do not rippen well, or have gone over by time they do. i always keep my fruit together in the fruit bowl. The other day when i went to a localmarket the fruit was nice & soft kept warm at the right temprture seems to do the tick. T rouble is all the fruit coming from aboard have different rippening stages where as over here fruit that is grown is lovely & soft,just take the strawberry or rasberry,the smells are divine when grow in Britain, fruits from abroad don’t seem to have this certain smell in fact no smell at all.

Member
Neil says:
7 December 2012

I was told long ago by a domestic orchard owner that supermarkets need to show their fruit with it;s best appearance, as, to be fair, that is what the Brits look for; however to do this they store the stuff in Carbon Dioxide. The next question was—-what would happen to us if we were stored in CO2 ? Exactly. Therefore, I buy most of this stuff in markets, the appearance may not be as good, but at least it is edible when I buy it.

Member
Geoffrey Parker says:
7 December 2012

Never pick hard or soft fruit from the supermarket shelf. Pick fruit that’s just slightly soft to the touch. I find this will soften up and be ready in two days. Too soft- becomes a sluge; two hard – just stays that way. Incidentally I’ve never had a poor Costa Rica pineapple – always delicious.

Member
mham says:
7 December 2012

Much better to just buy your fruit and veg from a normal grocer or even better get a box delivery from a farmer or local growers. Supermarket fruit and veg is over-packaged, unripe and although it looks the part, can be tasteless ! Often the price they charge is too much as well.

Member
Georgina says:
7 December 2012

We cant do much about the problem except do as I do take them back to the supermarket& tell them they are not fit for purpose.At least one gets ones money back.

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

Not with my greengrocer…. as to black UNripened degenerated black avocados!

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

Sorry… ‘black’ got repeated.

Member
Jane in France says:
7 December 2012

I would NEVER put avocado in the fridge – and I find that putting them in the fruit bowl with apples seems to help them ripen “naturally”. If I have a definite date when I want to eat the avo and it is close then I used to put them in the hot cupboard in a paper bag with an apple!!

Member

I used to often waste pears as they were too hard to eat when I bought them & when I looked again they had gone soft & fluffy inside instead of being nice & juicy. I have found if I buy Comice pears (I used to buy conference) they do not go off so quickly and even when soft to the touch are still juicy inside.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I think you are right, AVP. The pears that I have had most problems with are Conference pears. Unfortunately, these are the ones I prefer.

Member
JessG says:
7 December 2012

Plums haven’t been mentioned once! Does that mean no one knows how to ripen them? I have found that putting them with bananas makes no difference.

Member
par ailleurs says:
10 December 2012

Simple! Plums are a seasonal treat. Kentish or Worcestershire plums in the summer are for gorging on. Don’t waste your money on those big purple Spanish things in the supermarket. They are incapable of ripening off a tree and are always a disappointment.
Conference pears are tricky. Best of luck is what’s needed with them.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

JessG

Plums are sensitive to ripening by ethene (ethylene), but I have read that apples could be a better source of the gas. Perhaps a reasonably well sealed container would be better than the traditional paper bag.

Profile photo of glynnis
Member

I believe the reason super market fruit does not ripen easily is the fact that it is coated to prevent ripening during transportation. Keep large fruit such as melons or pineapples a week before eating. By this time there is a distinct difference. Try putting a portion of under -ripe fruit covered in the microwave on defrost for 1 or 2 minutes. It works! Cut plums in 4 after removing the stone in individual dishes. Add a small amount of sweetener if desired, though the fruit sweetens even on defrost.

Member
Pat M says:
8 December 2012

I buy bags of cheap small rock hard avocados and leave them on the windowsill till they ripen – they always do eventually. To test for ripeness, squeeze very gently, if they give slightly on both sides, they are ripe or nearly ripe. At this point, eat within 1-2 days or store in the fridge until required.
Supermarket plums – again, leave on the windowsill. Turn occasionally to stop them going mouldy. After 2-3 weeks you should have a couple which are ready to eat and the remainder should be ready to cook with – cut in half, remove stones, sprinkle generously with sugar, stew or use in a crumble – delicious.
Or better still, buy them from the greengrocers or market.
Pears are the only fruit I find a problem as they go very quickly from rock hard to bad. The solution is to buy only one or two at a time and check them daily.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Here is a comprehensive table showing which fruits produce ethene (ethylene) and which are ripened by the gas.

It’s a pity that it is not a pdf file.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

The URL did not copy/paste correctly and should have square brackets surrounding the 1.
Second attempt, fingers crossed.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Still not working. Any chance that Chris or Patrick can fix the URL? Cheers.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Hi, I’ve uploaded it as a PDF for you: https://conversation.which.co.uk/files/2012/12/ethylenechart1.pdf Original source: http://www.drypak.com/

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Thanks very much Patrick.

Member
Sidburt says:
9 December 2012

Could fruit which refuses to ripen have anything to do with it having been subjected to freezing temperatures in flight.

Profile photo of lessismore
Member

Don’txrefrigeratextomatoes!

Profile photo of lessismore
Member

When I buy a bag of rock hard avocadoes I always put a couple in the fruit bowl and the rest in the fridge and then put more out into the fruit bowl when the first ones have been eaten.

With the tomatoes if you put them in the fridge before they are ripe they don’t ripen. I never put tomatoes in the fridge now unless they are already ripe and going too soft. I hate those unripe orange tomatoes so often served up as part of a salad. If they are unripe they are better cooked and may need a teaspoon of sugar to be edible.

I also hate those supermarket fruit salads where the fruit is hard and unripe. Perhaps whoever makes these needs more experience.

Dessert pears are difficult – different varieties are just different when ripe.

Member
john davies says:
10 December 2012

can you investigate gluten free foods and prices? my wife was aged 86 when she was diagnosed to have Celiac disease. she nearly died with “c.diff. there seem to be an awful lot of people with this complaint.

Member
Ady Field says:
15 January 2013

I think part of the problem with fruit failing to ripen lies with the supermarkets. A few years ago they introduced chilled display cabinets so they gain a few more days display time – more profit due to less wastage. Combine that with storage warehouses where the fruit is kept for months in an oxygen deficient atmosphere to stop the ripening process ie. nitrogen atmosphere. Unfortunately this means the fruit has less shelf life left when we take it home. Basically the fruit has seen its best days before we get our hands on it. Again more profit for supermarket because we get less shelf life and have to go and buy again. The only looser is us the consumer. If you don’t believe me then try buying fruit from your local fruit & veg shop where it isn’t displayed refrigerated. Notice how it does ripen at home instead of going off first. This would be a good subject for Which? to get their teeth into & let us know what’s going on behind the scenes.

Member
LalageH says:
9 March 2013

The .pdf listing fruits and their sensitivity and production of ethylene look very useful – but because the column headings are scrambled, it isn’t clear which column is their sensitivity ratings and which column is their production ratings. Can you link up to a version where this is fixed? it would be really useful! Entrepreneurial thought; there must be a market for a fruit ripening clear box, with a booklet with this information in. However, it all makes me long for summer and to plant tomatoes and fruit trees. There is nothing like freshly picked fruit, rather than ‘controlled rotting’ fruit…

Profile photo of wavechange
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If you go to the Dry Pak website in Patrick’s message it is easy to find the relevant page in ‘Forms and technical data’. I won’t try to post the link again because that does not work.

The last two columns are Ethylene production rate and Sensitivity to ethylene action.

Member
louise says:
19 July 2014

I have two pears for 2 weeks now that have been put everywhere, on my kitchen bench, on the windowsill, and they are still hard as a rock. How do I get these damn pears to ripen??

Member
Chris Trew says:
23 July 2015

My initial thought at seeing Which were answering this was “Oh great”. Short lived as I read on and discover no answers. Personally I believe the fruit may be stored too cold before getting onto the shop floor, but it can’t be that hard for Which to discover the truth, surely?

Profile photo of John Ward
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I think the main reason for inedible non-ripening fruit is that we insist on having fruit from all over the world all through the year and a lot of it is outside its natural season and it has been stored under artificial conditions. Obviously it’s the only way we can get to eat a whole range of tropical fruits because they just cannot be grown in northern Europe.

I am passionate about English Victoria plums [which should become widely available very soon]. They are on the market for only a short time and ripen quite quickly so you have to be ready to eat them to the exclusion of all other fruit! No other variety of plum has the gorgeous colour, taste, texture, sweetness and juiciness of the Victoria plum. Buying the larger rounder plums available all year round from California or Spain [meaning, in most cases, the Canary Islands] is always a disappointment and usually a waste of money. At the same time as English plums come greengages, also delicious in their own way, It seems to be difficult to get fully ripe gooseberries these days – perhaps English growers find there is not a big enough market for them, but farmers markets and farm shops often have good ones in season. I find the ‘ripe and ready to eat’ peaches and nectarines will ripen well on the window cill in a day or two but then must be consumed quickly.

I am disappointed that it seems to be no longer possible in the UK to buy French peaches [larger and more tender than others] or Italia white grapes [larger, sweeter and softer than common varieties but with seeds]. Both these continental fruits have a richness that is unsurpassed. In my view there is no fruit buying experience in Britain that can compete with a street market in France or Italy where the range, variety and quality of the produce is stunning and where the condition dictates immediate consumption and a return visit tomorrow.

Member
David ball says:
20 August 2015

I have an allotment, and pick strawberries, raspberries and apples when they are ripe and ready to eat. Once picked, fruit starts dying off and getting soft prior to rotting – the sun ripens fruit on the plant; any rubbish about ‘ripening at home’ or ‘ripening in the bowl’ is just a monstrous con by the supermarkets,passing on unripened fruit as it’s easier to transport. Once most fruit, and vegetables are picked, all the sugar in the plant starts converting to starch, hence any ‘ripen at home’ produce can never be sweet. Try looking for traditional green grocers who will nearly always sell properly ripe fruit. The sad fact is that many youngsters who buy from supermarkets have never tasted properly-ripened produce

Profile photo of justincambs
Member

Many supermarkets will use chemicals to slow the rippen down to give a longer shelf life or if fruit comes from afar it can be shipped cheaply by boat. The fruit will rot before it rippens.

Member
william ayres says:
31 March 2016

took strawberries back to asda the other day and got refund, if more people did this we may get something done, always keep receipt. they looked delicious, bright red but on biting they were hard as wood and white inside, a couple of days later they were rotton