And it’s not just bananas. Chances are this is a common occurrence with a lot of the fruit piled high in your fruit bowl.
There is a lot happening to that fruit on your counter. Ripening changes the fruit’s entire cell structure, making it sweeter and more attractive for you to eat.
But once it’s ripe, it goes from perfect to past-its-prime pretty fast. If you don’t eat it quickly, you’re out of luck. That one-time snack is now destined for the compost bin.
Is there a way to make it last longer?
Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter
Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!
But first, how does fruit ripen? Ethylene gas ripens fruit, but it affects different fruit in different ways. There are two types of fruit: climacteric fruit, which continues to ripen after harvesting (such as peaches, bananas, and apples) and nonclimacteric, which doesn’t continue to ripen once it’s been picked (think grapes, watermelon, and strawberries).
As climacteric fruit ripens, it gives off even more ethylene, which speeds up the ripening even more. That’s why your grapes don’t continue to ripen once you bring them home from the store, but that peach goes from perfect to mushy overnight. That’s ethylene at work. (And it’s why it’s even more important to select the best watermelon—what you bring home is what you’re stuck with.)
The key to preventing fruit from ripening too quickly is slowing its access to ethylene. Here’s how.
Foolproof PreservingGet 110 reliable recipes (with step-by-step photos) across a wide range of categories, from sweet jams and jellies to savory jams and chutneys, pickles, vegetables, fruit in syrup, condiments, and more.
1. Store the Fruit Somewhere Cold
If you’ve brought home some ripe avocados but are still a while out from making that guacamole, cold storage (ideally the fridge) is your best option.
According to Paul Adams, our resident science expert, “Depending on the fruit, and as long as it’s above freezing, the colder the storage, the slower the ripening.” And yes, you can even refrigerate bananas.
But refrigerated fruit won’t last forever—the longer climacteric fruits are in the refrigerator, the more it can detract from their flavor. “32°F is the optimal temperature to store many climacteric fruits,” Paul adds. “Since a standard fridge is 40°F, it will slow down ripening, but the quality of the fruit may suffer a bit.”
So storing climacteric fruits in the fridge will extend their life, but it’s best practice to eat them pretty quickly once they’re ripe.
The Best Refrigerator/Freezer ThermometersFood quality and safety can be affected if temperatures go outside of the safe zone for too long.
2. Freeze the Fruit for Longer-Term Storage
Freezing fruit once it’s ripe stops the ripening process in its tracks, ensuring that it retains its peak freshness. (It’s also the reason why we prefer frozen peas to fresh.)
While certainly an option for long-term storage, freezing soft fruits means their texture won’t be the same once they’re thawed. The good news? If you’ve got frozen peaches you’re well on your way to Peach-Strawberry Frosé, and those frozen bananas make perfect ice cream.
3. Store Fruit Separately
An overflowing fruit bowl rules the countertop as an eye-catching centerpiece. However, storing fruits together that won’t be consumed within a few days leaves the fruit vulnerable to over-ripening, bruising, and more. (It’s also why a banana makes an avocado ripen faster.)
“Maximizing airflow around climacteric fruit will slow ripening,” says Paul. Consider multiple bowls or wooden trays to keep fruit varieties separate.
The Ultimate Tools for Fruit PrepWe’re shining a spotlight on the gadgets that help you make the most of your seasonal produce.
4. Wait to Wash It
When fruit is harvested, much of it is covered in a natural bee or carnauba wax to seal it and lower its exposure to oxygen and ethylene gas so it can be transported to your local grocery or farmers’ market.
According to Ben Taft, manager of the California Fruit Depot, “the advancements in technology allow [fruit] to be shelf stable much longer than what is naturally occurring. The fruit we purchase in the grocery store looks as good as it ever will.”
Once you get that fruit home, don’t wash it right away—you’ll want that thin film of wax to remain intact. Instead, wait until just before you’re ready to eat it. This will extend the life of your fruit for 3 weeks (or more, depending on the fruit) from harvest. (The only exception here is berries, which we like to wash immediately in a vinegar solution and thoroughly dry before storing in the fridge.)