Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ethylene Ripens Fruit and More

Ethylene is a plant hormone that does many things. It was first utilized by the Ancient Egyptians who cut figs, as, when a plant is injured, the tissues start producing more ethylene. The result of slashing figs was quicker ripening, not as beautiful of fruit, but quicker nonetheless. Ethylene is a natural hormone emitted by the plant tissues, but can be synthesized for several purposes. Ethylene triggers ripening of fruit (such as tomatoes, melons, apples, etc...),
but also can induce shedding of leaves. In many situations, ethylene can be much more harmful than helpful. Stressed plants can produce excess amounts of ethylene, such as flowers. In trucks, flowers that are bumped around produce ethylene which decreases their shelf life and quality due to accelerating the aging. Ethylene ruins greens and other fresh leaves for the same reason.

Gas powered engines also emit ethylene, though not enough to ripen fruits. Which makes sense, because synthetic ethylene is made from liquid ethanol. The process they use in stores to harvest tomatoes is this: First, they pick the tomatoes green, no hint of red. Next, they keep them in storage in a room with no air, ensuring no ethylene is present (usually for a month or two) until ordered. They then place the tomatoes in a ripening room where synthetic ethylene is released. Finally, they ship the tomatoes in crates from the ripening rooms to their destinations. Many times they are shipped for hundreds and even thousands of miles away, this is expensive. Wouldn't it make sense to support the local community, and have fresh, natural, and much more tasty tomatoes, for a cheaper price? Buy local, it makes sense.

Reed wrote this post after briefly researching the topic and recently completing biology as a high school freshman.

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