You are a smart shopper. When you buy mangoes, you always go for the ones that are naturally ripened. And you know that because the seller told you so. In all probability, you were misinformed (unless you stay very close to a mango growing belt). Let’s understand, why?
Need for artificial ripening
Natural fruit ripening is a slow process. If you have done a bit of gardening, you would know that it can take a few weeks before the fruit is ripe and ready to eat. Also, once the fruit is ripe, it softens and can begin to rot in a few days once plucked. A raw fruit, on the other hand, is hard and has a long shelf life.
Consider this; fruits like Mango are grown in specific belts and then transported across to different parts of the country and exported to other countries for consumption. As such, there is a possibility of a long time gap between harvest and sale. Add to that the fact that transporting a ripe (read soft) fruit by road may lead to losses due to damage to the fruit during transport. Also, transporting ripe mangoes during the hot season will require cold chain facilities during the transit to improve shelf life and reduce damage. All of these will add to the costs. As such, Mangoes are rarely (if ever) transported ripe. They are always plucked raw, transported, and then ripened later (by traders) in the cities before the sale.
Using artificial means, the process of ripening takes only between 24 – 48 hours, thus making this an efficient and cost-effective mode of operation.
Artificial ripening of fruits
The process of natural maturation of fruit is a complex process involving multiple chemical interactions. Ethylene is the principal agent, found in plants, and utilized during natural ripening of fruits. Same ethylene (in the form of) gas can be used to accelerate the maturing process in fruits that were harvested raw. The use of ethylene for artificial ripening of fruits is considered safe (approved by US FDA) and accepted all over the world. However, the chemical that is prevalent in use in India for artificial ripening is not Ethylene, but Calcium Carbide (CaC2). Calcium Carbide releases a gas called acetylene which has a similar impact on fruits as that of ethylene. Calcium carbide is a known carcinogen, and its use for ripening fruits artificially is banned under section 44 of Prevention of Food and Adulteration Act. Still, various raids conducted by Govt. bodies over last five years have repeatedly found an overwhelming usage of Calcium Carbide for ripening of fruits (in 90%+ of the recorded cases).
Why do traders prefer Calcium Carbide for ripening
A couple of reasons, first, it is cheap and second, it is easy to use.
Ripening with ethylene
For ripening using ethylene, one needs to have a contained chamber that does not allow for air circulation. The room needs to be maintained at low-grade temperatures specific to the fruit. After making provisions for above, the product Ethylene itself will cost around ₹200 for ripening 10 tonnes of fruit. Ethylene is supposed to be used in the gaseous form and is harmful if inhaled.
Ripening with Calcium Carbide
CaC2 comes in a powdery form and does not need any of the elaborate requirements that are needed with Ethylene. All a trader needs to do is place a small pouch of CaC2 (wrapped in paper) in the fruit container. The fruit will ripen within 24 to 48 hours. The chemical costs around ₹25 for ripening 10 tonnes of fruit.
Thus, it’s easy to understand why it makes economic sense for the traders to use banned CaC2 for ripening instead of allowed Ethylene. The raids by Govt. agencies are rare. Even when it happens, all it leads to is confiscation of stock found at that time. Though there are penal provisions (including arrest) but these are rarely implemented thus leading to the continuous use of Calcium carbide for ripening.
Best practices while consuming artificially ripened fruits
As consumers on the receiving end, we need to be careful and responsible for our health. Here are a few practices one may follow:-
- Don’t buy before the season. Mango season starts post-April. Any fruit that comes early is ripened artificially (to sell pre-season and make higher profits).
- Buy local variety. The shorter the distance the food travels, the higher the nutrition value, the higher the chance of natural ripening
- Buy naturally ripened mangoes. When the seller claims naturally ripened, in all probability, she means matured using ethylene and not using CaC2.
Once you have brought the fruit, before consuming
- Always wash it under running water for some time to eliminate traces of the chemical.
- Peel the mango and take out the fruit in a different vessel for eating.
- If the mango is not juicy and does not taste sweet, it was ripened using Calcium Carbide. Discard the fruit and change your vendor.
Gaurav is an entrepreneur whose first Start-up was focused on providing services to patients suffering from Chronic Diseases. While researching about the causes of lifestyle diseases and the ways to reduce their incidence, he chanced upon the idea of growing healthy and nutritious food using advanced farming techniques.
He founded CityGreens with a mission to enable City Dwellers to access Safe, Healthy and Fresh food.