Cloudy with a Chance of Macintosh Apples
27 Jul 2013 08.05 am by K. Daniel
Imagine an aromatic, sweet, soft nectarine bursting with juices on a hot summer day. Now think of a hard, crunchy, insipid peach, sour and lacking flavour. What separates a pleasurable eating experience and one that you'd rather forget is a process called ripening. By definition, ripening means a process at which point a fruit becomes more palatable. What you might consider to be a ripe fruit is usually distinguishable by several sensory cues such as sweeter aroma, better flavour, softening of the flesh, changes in size, and colour changes. Akin to metamorphosis, a dull, green fruit in time may change into a sweet, brilliantly coloured fruit.
Growing up in the tropics, fruits were of abundance to my family, and this included mangoes, citrus, and unique tropical fruits such as rambutan. Near the harvest period, it is noticeable that some of the green, under ripe fruits have fallen off the tree without any apparent changes to pruning, weather, or soil conditions. It was odd as I thought that only fully ripe fruits would fall off the tree as part of the normal life cycle of fruiting plants in order to disperse the next generation of trees. Not to mention the wasted food! But what I did not realize was that this is an unavoidable, naturally occurring process.
Most trees will produce more flowers (and therefore, more fruits), than it could normally handle. Why? It is a simple matter of survival. If the whole purpose of an organism is to pass down future generations, it would be natural to have a mechanism where in a worst case scenario there would be a plan B.
For fruit trees, this comes in the form of spare fruiting bodies. But the spares have to be maintained, and so in favourable conditions, when spares are unnecessary, the trees shed them before they deplete its energy sources. Other potential factors for prematurely dropped fruits may include changes in soil, water levels, parasites and/or pests which may stress the plants, and physical forces such as strong winds and shaking of the branches.
And how are these different from fully ripe fruit?
The best indicator would be visual cues, as prematurely dropped fruit will tend to have smaller sizes and different, duller coloration compared to fully matured fruits. Aroma is another significant indicator, as is flavour and texture. Ripe fruits in general should be more aromatic, softer, and less astringent than under ripe ones.
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