When it comes to chemically ripened fruits almost everyone can relate to this. You buy ripe pawpaw, mango, apple or banana, only to eat it then wonder as to why the taste doesn’t match its state. What you may not know is that the bitterness/sourness is attributed to a chemical treatment using calcium carbide. It hastens the ripening process at the expense of maturity of the fruit. Since the fruit sugars do not get to reach the maturation process – as they would naturally – the taste remains bitter as that of raw fruits.
Calcium carbide is a chemical compound with numerous industrial applications. It is also a popular agent in the food industry, commonly used to hasten the ripening of fruits. However, this compound is extremely hazardous to human consumption due to traces of phosphorus and arsenic. When dissolved in water, it produces acetylene gas, which can affect the neurological system inducing prolonged hypoxia. Other implications include headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, sleepiness, cerebral oedema and seizures.
The hazards of consuming fruits ripened using the chemical range from gastric irritation, skin rashes, food poisoning, to mouth ulcers, and diarrhoea. Since the compound also exhibits carcinogenic properties it has the potential to cause cancer. The chemical also posits a danger to pregnant mothers. If consumed it can lead to miscarriages or developmental abnormalities to the unborn child.
Free radicals from carbide play a major role in the ageing process as well as in the onset of cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and perhaps allergies.
In a report published by the Star, a test done on samples taken from leading supermarkets across Nairobi and Mombasa showed the presence of calcium carbide. Other businesses using the chemical include wholesale traders in Gikomba and Marikiti in Nairobi and Kongowea respectively.
How to detect chemically treated fruits
Right off the bat, it might be difficult to detect chemically treated fruits, although there are a few indicators.
The fruits may lack a uniform colour with alternating green and yellow patches. Others appear wrinkled with black botches yet they’re not overripe. There’s a difference in the aroma as compared to a naturally ripened fruit. The flavour and texture are also different since the fruit has not attained the optimum ripening quality through a natural process.
Another way you can try to detect calcium carbide is by placing the fruit in a bucket/bowl of water. This is assuming that the ripened fruits could’ve been prematurely plucked. If the fruit sinks, then it is mature. Although this doesn’t necessarily signify that the chemical wasn’t used to ripen it. However, if it floats this it indicates the fruit was prematurely plucked, which means that if the fruit is ripe (soft), it is contrary to its natural state signifying that it has been chemically treated.
How to avoid chemically treated fruits
There is no propagated way to avoid chemically treated fruits or foods. However, you can try by outsourcing the fruits from organic producers and suppliers. You could also plant some of the fruits at your kitchen garden.
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