The ripening and decay process of fruit is a continuum of enzymatic activity, meaning anything beyond the peak of ripeness indicates some degree of fermenting. Fermentation converts fruit's sugar into alcohol enzymes and carbon dioxide, both of which cause decay. This is also why overripe fruit feels soft, mushy and omits a strong, sweet odor. Consuming overripe fruit will not automatically cause gastric distress. However, variables such as age, health status and how you eat the overripe fruit determine whether your stomach suffers later.
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Identifying Overripe Fruit
Like anything living, the enzymatic and bacterial activity of fruit is always changing. Distinguishing between overripe and rotting or fermenting fruit affects whether gastric upset occurs. The exterior of an overripe fruit feels soft and stays depressed after squeezing. Additionally, an overripe fruit smells sweet while a rotting fruit smells sour or even malty. To qualify as overripe, a fruit must also be free from any signs of bacterial decay such as fuzzy mold or structural decomposition, like the flattening of an entire side.
Certain individuals are more vulnerable to gastric upset after eating fruit past the point of ripeness. Infants and elderly individuals with weakened or underdeveloped digestive systems are vulnerable to gastric upset from any fruit beyond the point of ripeness. This is because their compromised digestive systems are unable to process the high levels of bacteria found in overripe or mildly fermented fruit. While a healthy individual may be able to consume an overripe peach without incident, an older or much younger person will experience gastric upset after eating this same peach.
Difference in Fruit
Not all overripe fruits are equally hazardous. For example, fruits with high levels of acid, such as berries, apricots and oranges, are more likely to cause gastric distress than fruits with low levels of acidity, such as bananas. The reason for these differences lies in a fruit's method of decay. A banana decays by increasing its sugar conversion, turning the interior mushy and causing brown spots on the exterior. An orange or raspberry, on the other hand, also increase its acid levels during decay, making it harsh on the digestive track and therefore more likely to cause distress.
The consumption method of overripe fruit is another variable that affects gastric distress. Consuming raw overripe fruits is more likely to cause digestive upset due to the high bacteria levels. Baking overripe fruit, however, exposes the mildly fermenting fruit to 350 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, which kill the bacteria responsible for gastric difficulties. For example, using overripe fruit to bake a blackberry pie, banana bread or apple pie is a much safer method of consumption than eating raw overripe fruits.
- Agriculture and Consumer Protection: Prevention of Post-Harvest Food Losses: Fruits, Vegetables and Root Crops
- University of Tennessee - Agricultural Extension Service: A Guide to Buying Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fruits and Veggies Matter
- Missouri Families: New Weight-Loss Fad Is Poor Advice
- Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection: Food and Standards Division