It’ll be all ripe on the night! Just use some of these handy tricks
As culinary disappointments go, there is little sadder in this world than unripe fruit.
From the weird, floury thing that a green banana does to your tongue, to entire mornings ruined by a slightly too-firm breakfast avocado, the fruit world is fraught with potential treachery and deception. True, they’re good for you, but they can also turn from almost perfect to total mush in the time it takes to go to the fridge and get the yogurt out.
When you’ve looked forward to a delicious juicy pear all day – no, all week – that first bite of tough, grainy flesh can be enough to make you weep, throw it at a wall and swear off pears forever. The betrayal! You could have sworn it looked ripe. You prodded it with your thumb and it yielded! It yielded!
But rather than give up and accept a pear-free future, why not learn a few tricks to help you conquer the world of unripe fruit? You may have lost a few battles, but together, we can win the war.
First: the basics
Unless you’re teething and need something rock-hard to gnaw on, don’t store unripe fruit in the fridge. It will always ripen better at room temperature, and in the case of some fruits, like tomatoes, will taste at least 10 times better too.
It’s also worth knowing that fruit will ripen faster in the warm if it’s previously been stored at a cold temperature, so watch out if you’re sneaking that bag of pears out of the crisper drawer now (we see you).
Check it before you wreck it
Whoa there – before you go in with a knife or your teeth, are you sure that fruit is ripe? Prodding it is one way to tell, but the real secret lies in the stem. If a pear is truly ripe, not just messing with you, the flesh around the stem will have softened to the touch.
Likewise you can check whether an avocado is ready to eat by pulling out the little stem and taking a look at the colour underneath. If it’s green and the stem comes out easily, the avocado is ripe; if it’s brown or the stem won’t come out, you need to walk away and have peanut butter on your toast instead. Hey, at least you still have the fruit of knowledge.
The banana trick
We all know this one! Storing unripe fruit with some bananas will help it ripen faster, because the bananas release ethylene gas – nature’s magic time-turner.
But did you know that you can rev up the process further by putting the stubborn fruit in a paper bag along with the bananas, rather than just the fruit bowl? The idea is to create a little sealed chamber of ripening chemicals, like a tiny fruit sauna. Be careful not to leave them too long and end up with overripe fruit, though – that’s a whole other bag of problems.
OK, but how do you ripen bananas more quickly?
The answer isn’t more bananas, although we do like the idea that they could all cheer each other and ripen together as a group.
No, to turn a banana from green to yellow you can do the same paper bag trick with a whole ripe tomato, apple or pear instead – they all release ethylene too.
I don’t have a paper bag!
Calm down and reach for the rice. A common trick in India for ripening mangoes, burying your fruit in a bag of rice has the same effect as the paper bag method, increasing its exposure to ethylene. Don’t have rice? In Mexico, they use popcorn kernels.
If you don’t have rice or popcorn kernels, you should probably just go to the shop. Buy a riper mango while you’re there.
How long will it take?
It varies, but the paper bag trick should work within about 24 hours, and the rice trick could be as quick as six hours. Sit tight.
I can’t! I need it now!
If you can’t wait for nature to take its course, there are a few more impatient methods you can try.
Some people will tell you that microwaving avocados will force them to ripen, making them soft enough to use in recipes. These people are right, but they are also eating disgusting avocadoes. Use this method only in a guacamergency.
Sometimes, however, heat is the answer. In further proof that life’s best catch-all solution is "just add wine", poaching will turn slightly too-hard pears, peaches and plums into something totally edible. And drinkable. Try this easy recipe for poached bottled pears.
Meanwhile, to ripen bananas without any hanging around, put the oven on its lowest setting and spread them out on a baking sheet. Leave the bananas in the oven for around an hour, but keep a close eye on them – you want to catch them when the skin has turned a darker yellow, but before black spots start to appear.
I left them in too long and black spots appeared!
Two words: banana bread.