There are some lovely apples at our local upscale organic grocery store. They look crisp and delicious. How fresh do you think those beauties must be? It turns out that they look a lot younger than they really are. What’s their secret? Its called 1-methylcyclopropene, a chemical branded as SmartFresh.
According to author Martin Lindstrom, the average apple has already celebrated its first birthday by the time it reaches your grocery cart. Even an organic apple in an upscale market averages 14 months old when it hits the shelf.
In the fall, apples are picked and treated with 1-methylcyclopropene, a chemical branded as SmartFresh. The apples are waxed, boxed and placed in cold storage for an average of one year. In storage, carbon dioxide is pumped in to slow the oxidation process.
Here’s a word-for-word explanation straight from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service:
“Apples not intended for fresh market are stored at low temperatures, with low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide. While this slows the apples’ natural production of ethylene and its effects, fungicides must often be applied to prevent fungal rots from taking hold. But since its commercial debut in 2002 under the name “SmartFresh,”1-methylcyclopropene has in some cases diminished the need for such treatment.” http://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2007/oct/apples
The wonders of modern technology have made it possible for us to have fresh apples all year round. Not exactly.
The nutrient and antioxidants in apples (phlyphenols for example) help fight cancer and do a number of great things to support the body, including aid muscle recovery after a workout. Yet, these start to oxidize the moment the fruit is picked, and are not present in the fruit after three months of being stored, according to this study by the Food Research Program (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-2007-0956.ch020). By the time the apple has been in storage for a year, it will have virtually no antioxidants left.
This is true of most vegetables and fruit. The longer they sit between the harvest and your plate, the less nutrition they have to offer your body. What can you do?
Shop at a farm, and ask questions. Get to know your supplier, by asking where the produce was grown, when it was harvested and who handled the work. If you are shopping at a farmer’s market, make sure to ask these questions and move on to the next purveyor until you are satisfied with the answer.
Ultimately your taste buds are smarter than you think. If a fruit or vegetable is freshly picked and still retains its nutrient and antioxidant power, the taste and scent will let you know. Your taste buds will tell you if a vegetable is lying about its age.
When you try a freshly picked vegetable for the first time, the vibrant scent and strong flavor may blow you away. Many people who taste romaine lettuce picked right off the plant at our local farm have the same reaction, saying it is like nothing they have ever tasted before. Sad but true.