Devan

Devan

Editor

We’ve all done it: Silently suffered through a hard, chalky pear or discovered in one bite that what seemed to be a fragrant peach was actually horribly past its time. There’s nothing worse than having to force yourself to eat unripe—or overripe—fruit but don’t worry, I’m here to save you from nature’s whims.

With a few easy tips and tricks, you can help the ripening process along and get the sweet, juicy fruits you crave, just about whenever you want—so plan ahead and thank me later.

The science behind ripening fruit

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With lots of different tips and tricks out on the interweb, once you know how and why fruits ripen, it’s a whole lot easier to utilize that knowledge to get what you’re looking for.

Ethylene is a plant hormone that affects a lot of different things in the life cycle of a plant, from cell growth to stem diameter and height, but one of its most important functions is how it affects fruit-ripening. For more on this, it’s best to break fruits into two categories—ripening fruits and non-ripening fruits—to see how ethylene plays a role (or not) in their ripening.

Climacteric fruits, aka ripening fruits

Climacteric fruits are fruits that can and will ripen after being harvested: apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, guavas, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, persimmons, plums, and tomatoes.

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These kinds of fruits go through ripening stages brought about by increased ethylene production. Climacteric actually refers to a specific stage, the final stage in fact, that marks the end of the maturation of the seeds within a fruit. This triggers an increase in ethylene production, making the fruit more attractive for animal consumption, and therefore hopefully leading to a successful spread of the plants’ seeds.

When ethylene production increases in climacteric fruits, things begin to change–colors morph, the flesh softens, becoming sweeter and less bitter, and the smell is noticeably more fragrant. Ethylene production can happen both before and after harvesting, with lots of fruits even being harvested completely unripe and then artificially ripened after shipment with exposure to ethylene en masse.

Ways to use overripe fruits

When you purchase more fruit than you can eat—a rare occurrence, we know—and they get a bit too ripe to enjoy as is, there are lots of ways to still make the most of them.

1. Toss them into a baked dessert like a cobbler, pie, crumble, or cake:

Swiss apple cake

Swiss apple cake

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Strawberry pie

Strawberry pie

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Rhubarb raspberry crumble

Rhubarb raspberry crumble

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Blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream

Blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream

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2. Make jam or chutney:

Palatschinken (crêpes) with plum compote

Palatschinken (crêpes) with plum compote

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Turkey burger with apricot chutney

Turkey burger with apricot chutney

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Scones with blackcurrant jam

Scones with blackcurrant jam

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Coconut rice pudding with mango sauce

Coconut rice pudding with mango sauce

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3. Make a fruity drink like a tea, slushie, juice, or smoothie:

Peach-pineapple wine slushie

Peach-pineapple wine slushie

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Peach iced tea

Peach iced tea

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Avocado delight smoothie

Avocado delight smoothie

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Mango lassi

Mango lassi

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Ways to use underripe fruits

Just like overripe fruit, if you’ve got underripe fruits that you just can’t wait to use, try these techniques to bring out their sweeter, softer side.

1. Poach them in a sweet liquid, or wine, like:

Red wine-poached pears in puff pastry

Red wine-poached pears in puff pastry

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2. Roast or grill them like:

3-ingredient roasted peaches with honey whipped cream

3-ingredient roasted peaches with honey whipped cream

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Grilled pineapple

Grilled pineapple

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3. Chop them up into a salsa:

Marinated shrimp with mango salsa

Marinated shrimp with mango salsa

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Non-climacteric fruits, aka non-ripening fruits

Non-climacteric fruits, or fruits that cannot ripen after being harvested include blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, cherries, figs, grapes, olives, watermelon, coconut, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, and pomegranates.

Just because a fruit is non-climacteric, does not mean it doesn’t go through different stages of ripening—because it does. From berries that shift in color from pale green to deep red or purple, to lemons that start out looking like limes, many non-ripening fruits show similar signs as ripening fruits to indicate their ripeness, the difference comes into play when the fruits are harvested. Non-ripening fruits that are harvested before reaching peak ripeness will never ripen, whereas ripening fruits harvested unripe have the ability to ripen and reach peak “off the vine” so to speak.

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Pop quiz: Are green tomatoes underripe tomatoes or a different variety completely?

While they’re not as common on the supermarket shelves as they are at the farmers market, green tomatoes seem to be a rather confusing matter. Are they unripe tomatoes or a specific variety that is green when fully ripe? Winner, winner, tomato dinner—both are correct.

Green tomato varietals are usually heirloom tomatoes and feel and taste just like a ripe red tomato but come wrapped in a usually subtly striped or speckled skin.

Firm, green, unripe tomatoes are usually available early on in tomato season, if at all. They’re not so popular to cook with but can be darn delicious when prepared right.

How to cook green tomatoes

If you can find unripe or ‘green tomatoes’ and want to embrace their tart, punchy flavor and somewhat crisp texture, you can use a few different approaches in the kitchen:
– Purée your tomatoes and use them instead of canned tomatoes in a simple red sauce, turned green, that’s excellent with pasta, fish, or fried eggs and toast
– Bread and deep fry slices of green tomato for a classic American dish from the South
– Swap them into tomato soup for a new flavor profile
– Chop them up into a salsa for tortilla chips or to spoon over grilled meats
– Grill and layer them onto a plate and pile up with fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper for a fun take on the Caprese salad

Our most trustworthy tricks to ripen your favorite fruits

While there’s no one true and best way, these are our favorite ways to ripen fruits. Of course you can surround your bananas with rice, place your melons in paper bags, or cover and wait for your mangoes—just make sure to check up on your fruits every day so they don’t get overripe or start to rot.

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How to ripen avocados–the rice method

Avocados are a special kind of climacteric fruit, as they only ripen after being harvested. Where other climacteric fruits will continue to ripen whether on the vine or off, avocados don’t! This means you might be more likely to run across rock hard, green-skinned avocados that need some time to ripen on their own. How to speed it up? Use rice to trap the ethylene the avocado will naturally give off by submerging the unripe fruit in a large bowl filled with rice.

How to ripen bananas–the classic paper bag method

There are two camps when it comes to bananas: those who prefer them early on in the ripening process, with harder flesh and a yellow skin with no trace of brown speckles, and those you prefer them super soft, sweet, and speckled brown all over. I’m a proud member of the second camp, so when I can’t wait for my bananas to soften up, placing them in a paper bag will help speed up the process.

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How to ripen peaches—the cover and wait method

A ripe peach is not to be eaten lightly but savored. That’s why we think it’s best to set them, stem side down, on a clean kitchen towel, and cover them with another kitchen towel. Make sure they aren’t touching, and wait until their smell is so fragrant, their flesh just soft enough, and dig in. It usually takes no more than 3 days for their stem side to flatten a bit—another visual cue to let you know they’re ready.

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How to ripen mangoes—the flour method

Just like rice, flour is another great way to trap natural ethylene and speed up ripening. Place a clean, dry mango into a paper bag filled with flour to ripen. Then dig in! Not sure where to start? We can help with that!

How to cut a mango

How to cut a mango

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How to ripen cantaloupe—the apple or banana method

Ripe melons are some of my favorite summer fruits, and an easy way to get them to ripen is to trap them in a paper bag or simply place them next to other high ethylene producing fruits—like apples or bananas.

Have any ripening tips for us and the community? Let us know in the comments below!

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