/ 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
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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/

Thanks very much Patrick.

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.

Don’txrefrigeratextomatoes!

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.

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.

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.

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…

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.

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??

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?

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.

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

Hélène Brockless says:
14 August 2018

Agree. My neighbour visited France for the first time and returned astonished by how flavoursome the fruit and vegetables are there. Also most of their yoghurt is real, made with milk, not thickened with additives. Look at the ingredient list. There’s only one brand in the UK selling genuine fruit yoghourts as long as you stay away from their reduced fat rubbish.

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.

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