Dear Straight Dope: My mom once screamed bloody murder when, at the age of nine, I attempted to keep a banana cold by putting it in the refrigerator. She told me with wide eyes and fear in her voice that putting a banana in the refrigerator causes all sorts of toxins to develop inside the peel and it could kill me if I ate it. Haven’t tried to put a banana in the ice box since. I have noticed on all sorts of salad bars that in the fruit sections the bananas are sitting on ice. Haven’t noticed anyone keeling over at Shoney’s though, have you? There is also a woman I work with who states bananas give off nitrogen so the best way to keep them fresh is to keep them next to an unripe mango which absorbs nitrogen. Incidentally she says this also keeps the mango fresh. What do you think of all this? David Grodsky
SDStaff Wolf, Straight Dope Advisory Board replies:
I found this tidbit on Chiquita Banana’s website (http://www.chiquita.com/Home.aspx):
“To ripen the banana faster, seal it in a brown paper bag with an apple or tomato overnight. This allows the natural gases in the fruits to speed up the ripening when combined in a dark place.”
So the bit about the gases seems to be true, or at least Chiquita believes it. There was no mention of refrigeration, except to say that green bananas are often refrigerated for shipment.
But there’s no end to what you can find out on the Web these days. This from the Dole Bananas website for kids (http://www.dole.com/#/superkids/):
“You can store bananas in the refrigerator if you want to keep them for a longer time. However, the peel of this tropical fruit will darken. But the banana inside will remain firm and delicious.”
And this from Colorado State University Extension Service:
“Bananas: Wash skin, peel and eat. Avoid grayish-yellow fruit that indicates a chilling injury; a banana with this coloring may never ripen correctly. Ripen at room temperature and refrigerate when the banana reaches the stage of ripeness that you prefer. The skin will darken in the refrigerator, but the fruit will not.”
In other words, the banana won’t ripen in the refrigerator and its skin will darken — but it won’t become poisonous. On the contrary, the experts _recommend_ refrigeration as a good way to stop ripening, if you can get past the darkening of the peel.
Nothing against your mom, but it sounds like she could stand to chill a bit too.
SDStaff Wolf, Straight Dope Advisory Board
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.