I've long preferred the fuller flavors of ripe fruit. From the tree is best — and perhaps that's where my preference came from, since I grew up eating peaches, pears and apples from the trees on my home's property. Today I won't buy peaches if they don't emit a delicious peachy scent (which means I usually only find them at the farmers market in the summer), and I wait, often impatiently, for my bananas to develop at least a few brown spots before eating them.
But my boyfriend and most of my friends seem to prefer what I think of as un-ripe fruit. Bananas with a touch of green, rock-hard peaches and plums, mangoes that taste like pretty yellow sawdust to me. This works out well, as I usually have all the ripe fruit to myself!
But I always had a feeling that ripe fruit was somehow healthier — my grandma who raised me (and also preferred ripe fruits) always told me this, but I never knew if it was true. After a recent discussion with my boyfriend, I looked it up, and it turns out that my grandma was right ... mostly.
Riper fruit doesn't just have more natural fruit sugars (carbs in the fruit flesh turn to sugar as it ripens, making it sweeter), but it has more antioxidants — those amazing substances that fight cancer and help our body repair itself (including easing wrinkles and signs of aging). According to a study at the University of Innsbruck that looked at apples and pears, the antioxidants are a natural byproduct of ripening fruit. Unripe fruits are green because of their chlorophyll.
"In ripe fruits, NCCs [nonfluorescing chlorophyll catabolytes] have replaced the chlorophyll, especially in the peel and the flesh immediately below it," reports ScienceDaily. It's these NCC's that are the antioxidants, leading to the conclusion that: "The breakdown of chlorophyll in ripening apples and pears produces the same decomposition products as those in brightly colored leaves. These ... nonfluorescing chlorophyll catabolytes are highly active antioxidants — making them potentially very healthy."
What unripe fruits do have (a bit) more of is fiber. Since their carbs are tied up in the fruit instead of less available as sugar, they take longer to digest, and require more energy to do so. As a vegetarian who eats a fiber-rich diet, that's not an issue for me, but it's something to consider. I'll stick with my friends' fruity discards and the half-price bin for my overripe produce — sometimes I save money, and it always tastes better to me.
And don't forget: if you don't like overripe fruit, don't trash it! Wash it off, throw it in a baggie in the freezer, and use it for smoothies. You'll never notice the ripeness and it will save you from buying frozen fruits and wasting food.
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