The Perils of Falling Fruits
27 Jul 2013 07.25 am by K. Daniel
Fruit ripeness is usually measured through several methods such as sights, smells, and taste. Other than these, there is one less conventional method of knowing when a fruit is ripe for eating; it falls off the tree.
Granted not all fruits that have been shed are necessarily ripe. The phenomenon of dropping fruits has been discussed in another article, as are the reasons for such events. Now let us imagine if a larger, heavier fruit the size of a football were to be harvested in that method. Such is the case with several tropical fruits.
Examples of such fruits include the durian, also known as the tropical king of fruits, the jackfruit and its close relative cempedak, and coconuts. Harvesting methods are relatively limited due to several factors, but the main constraint would be the size, weight, and shape of such fruits. Handpicking would not be an efficient method of harvest (although still employed), as it is labour intensive and potentially dangerous. Neither is mechanized harvesting methods, as there is potential risk on the equipment and the operators. The traditional technique of harvest therefore is by allowing the fruits to fall from the trees when ripe, and catching them through nets spread around the trees or baskets suspended on top of the trees and lowering the fruits through a pulley system. This prevents damage to the skin or the fruit from bruising, and reduces the risk of hurting nearby people.
By allowing the fruits to mature in the tree, it is said that the flavour and aroma qualities are superior to those gained through cutting the stems (handpicking). But as we've discussed before, fallen fruits do not necessarily mean ripe fruits, and as such several cues are needed.
For coconuts, maturation may continue up to 12 months, at which point ripe fruits will have developed a brown husk. Throughout the process, edible white flesh forms inside the seed in addition to the sweet juice. When fully ripe, the juice loses flavour, the flesh thickens and hardens, and the colour change is complete. As opposed to young, green coconuts, fully ripe coconuts are rarely eaten as it is, and more often used to prepare coconut oil, cream, or milk.
Both jackfruit and cempedak belong to the same family of plants, and have similar appearances. Both are large and oval in shape, with ripe fruits ranging in colour between dark yellow and brown to bright green, with some brown spots. The flesh of both fruits is bright yellow, which may slightly darken as it matures. The most striking difference between these two species would be size, with the jackfruit growing up to 3 or 4 times the size of cempedak. In addition, the flesh of the latter is softer and more fibrous than the former, with a stronger smell. Both fruits exude a sweet, fruity, pungent aroma, especially as it continues to ripen. Under ripe fruits from both species are still edible, although are starchier and more commonly consumed as a vegetable in soups and curries. The seeds are also edible once cooked.
Finally, similar to jackfruit and cempedak albeit thornier, is the durian. There are approximately 30 species of durian recognized, of which 9 are usually consumed. Ripe fruits range in colour from bright green to dark yellow. The flesh varies between the different species, with some having bright yellow coloration while others dark yellow, as well as one red fleshed variety. Texture has been described to be custard-like and creamy, whereas flavour of ripe fruits is sweet with a slight hint of bitterness in several cultivars. Ripeness may also be assessed by aroma, with descriptions ranging from pungent and sweet to turpentine, road kill and rotting onions. Some believe that cracked skin marks ripeness, but aroma is usually the main indicator used. Both aroma and flavour intensifies as the fruit ripens, so does the coloration tend to darken. Over ripe fruits tend to be discoloured, mushy, and some browning of the flesh may be seen.
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