Fruits are supposed to be a part of our daily meals. They provide the body with nutrients and other compounds that nourish, protect, maintain our bodies and also prevent illnesses. The importance of daily intake of fruits cannot be over emphasized. Fruit therefore should promote health always.
Fruits can sometimes cause harm. One of the ways this can occur is when fruits are artificially ripened with hazardous chemicals.
Normally, when fruits ripen naturally, they release ethylene which is responsible for the ripening process. In the developed world, food business has evolved such that ethylene gas (which is acceptable in some countries) is used artificially to speed up ripening. In countries like Nigeria, using calcium carbide is one of the cheapest ways to ripen fruits.
Calcium carbide is an industrial chemical used in welding as well as in fertilizer production. In the case of fruit ripening, when this calcium carbide is exposed to moisture, it produces acetylene gas which also ripens these fruits. It also however contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus which are dangerous to the body. Consumption of fruits ripened with calcium carbide can lead to headaches, memory loss, cerebral edema, seizures, and dizziness. It has also been linked to cancer. The use of Calcium carbide in ripening fruits has been banned in many countries of the world and the government as well as responsible citizens need to sensitize the public as well as fruit merchants about the dangers of this chemical. We should also push for food safety laws to be enforced.
How can one detect if calcium carbide has been used to ripen fruits?
- Colour test
Fruits like mango that have been artificially ripened have patches of green as well as a bright yellow colour which appears unnatural. In the case of Banana, the stalk will be still be green while the rest of the banana will have the yellow colour.
- Taste test
Fruits that have been artificially ripened with calcium carbide look ripe just like the naturally ripened fruits but they have poor flavors and sometimes feel as if they are not ripe (tart taste) even though they are soft and look ripe.
- Shelf life Test
Fruits that have been artificially have shorter shelf-life, that is, they get softer and go bad quickly. Have you ever bought a fruit that is barely ‘ripe’ and then it’s already spoiling? Then artificial ripening might be one of the causes. Some sources have said that fruits that naturally ripen have longer shelf life.
The next two methods are tests that I am not sure about but I will write about it anyway.
- Fire test
As pointed out earlier, calcium carbide forms acetylene gas when exposed to moisture. Acetylene gas is said to be flammable. I read somewhere that if you strike a match on the skin of a fruit and it sparks, then there are traces of acetylene on it. It is not a test that I have seen anywhere else except that one source but it also says that one should NOT carry out this test when you have a large crate of fruits ripened with calcium carbide because an explosion can occur.
- Float test
I also read that if you cut the pulp of fruits that are artificially ripened and put them in a cup of water, they will float compared to the naturally ripened fruits that will sinks.
Can you tell if this basket of Mango has been artificially ripened or not?
Many times, it is very difficult to identify fruits that have been ripened with calcium carbide. The best thing to do is to wash fruits thoroughly before consumption. If you find any fruits appearing to be force-ripened, you should decide not to eat them. In developed countries of the world, there are safe and acceptable methods to hasten the ripening of fruits and until Nigeria’s enforcement agencies can clamp down on those who continuously use unsafe methods to ripen our fruits and generally ensure safety of our foods, it is our duty to protect ourselves and our families the best way we can.