Did You Know?
The U.S. FDA has classified calcium carbide, a popular artificial ripener, as unsafe for human consumption.

Artificial ripening is a quick and easy way of making unseasonal fruits available to the consumers. Even before the onset of their season, we notice markets being flooded with seasonal fruits. Well, this is possible due to artificial ripening. Also known as chemical or forced ripening, it is a practice of exposing fruits to certain chemicals so as to speed up their ripening process. The increasing demand for fruits even off-season has led to the excessive use of artificial ripeners.

Compared to the United States, artificial ripening is more rampant in Asian countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. These developing countries primarily use calcium carbide for expediting the process of ripening.

Harmful Effects of Artificial Ripening of Fruits
One of the cheapest artificial ripening agents available in developing countries, calcium carbide is deemed toxic and can be extremely dangerous to human health. Moreover, it can have a negative effect on the fruit, nutrition-wise.

Reduces Nutritional Value
If artificial ripening destroys the very purpose of eating fruits, there is no point in implementing these methods of chemical ripening. The thing is, studies have shown that fruits lose their nutritional value considerably when ripened artificially.

In one study, it was observed that artificially ripened bananas and pineapples had noticeable lower content of vitamin C and beta-carotene than their naturally ripened counterparts. Sugar levels were also found to be more in chemically ripened fruits. This clearly indicates that nutrition of the fruit gets compromised due to artificial ripening.

Loss of Natural Taste
  • The poor taste and aroma of forced ripened fruits is another concern. It is observed that artificial ripeners rob the characteristic aroma and flavor of the fruit. No wonder, mangoes tend to have a bland taste due to artificial ripening.
  • Also, there have been several reports of artificial ripeners impairing the taste of bananas. In short, hastening the process of ripening does not impart the same flavor to the fruit that one can enjoy when it is naturally ripened.
Shorter Shelf Life
Chemical ripening is also responsible for reducing the shelf life of fruits. So even if these chemicals do help in hastening the process of ripening, the fruit gets spoilt easily once it is ripened. For instance, mangoes ripened with calcium carbide stones tend to get spoilt in as little as 2 days.

Health Concerns
  • Calcium carbide is a known carcinogen and can also affect the nervous system, leading to neurological problems. Traces of arsenic and phosphorus and acetylene gas (that is released when calcium carbide is dissolved in water) has been associated with a wide range of health issues including excessive sleepiness, dizziness, headache, and mood disorders.
  • Eating these contaminated fruits can also cause heart ailments, cerebral edema, memory problems and even seizures in the long run. Even handling calcium carbide can cause cheilitis (cracking of lips) lead to formation of rashes.
  • Mouth ulcers, skin rashes, diarrhea, stomach upset, and gastric problems have been associated with the intake of artificially ripened fruits on a regular basis.
  • Pregnant women having fruits treated with calcium carbide may have miscarriages or the baby may be born with congenital abnormalities.
Safer Alternative
  • Ethylene that naturally occurs in fruits like apples and pears is called the ripening hormone as it plays a key role in the ripening process. It is synthesized within the fruit to promote its ripening.
  • Hence ethylene when released artificially can be helpful in accelerating the ripening process. Also, exposing the fruit to ethylene is not a cause for concern as the U.S. FDA has given the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) to ethylene. No wonder, in the United States, the use of ethylene during the post-harvest phase of fruits, is permitted.
On the whole, natural ripening makes the fruit suitable for consumption but with artificial ripening agents like calcium carbide, the fruit is robbed of its healthy ingredients and flavor, making it less palatable. However, safer alternatives like ethylene when used judiciously, can accelerate the ripening process without producing any detrimental side effects.