Bananas Can Help Ripen Other Fruits Quickly

Bananas are delicious, nutritious, and affordable. But the benefits don't stop at your stomach and your wallet. Fewer people know one of the banana's other surprising benefits — the ability to quickly ripen other fruit stored with them.

The secret is the plant hormone ethylene, released by many fruits and vegetables, particularly bananas. When plants, including bananas, interact with ethylene, it triggers a complex series of biological reactions. These include changes that soften the fruit, turn starches into sugars, and sometimes alter the fruit's color. The process produces what we think of as ripe and can be sped up or slowed down by varying the levels of ethylene fruits and vegetables come into contact with.

You can take advantage of this principle at home with nothing other than a paper bag, one of the more common of the seven tricks to make bananas ripen faster. Place the unripe fruit in the bag with the bananas and loosely close. A day or two later, remove your newly-ripened fruit. While various containers will work, paper bags are preferred for their balance of trapping ethylene while providing some breathability to avoid mold or other spoilage issues.

More than just an at-home trick

Ethylene also plays a critical role in commercial fruit and vegetable production. A variety of chemicals can also be used to either encourage or discourage ripening via ethylene. The latter is often used to extend the life of items sensitive to even natural amounts of ethylene, like carrots, broccoli, greens, and cucumbers. On the flip side, some produce like apples and tomatoes can be picked before they're fully ripe and ripened with high concentrations of ethylene in processing facilities.

The benefits of bananas to fellow plants don't stop even after they've been eaten. Banana peels are an ideal source of nutrients like potassium for home gardeners, who can easily compost them or steep them in the water to create a simple liquid fertilizer.

If all this fruit talk has you hungry, don't forget to check out our list of the best banana recipes ever.