You may not give a second thought about tucking into a bowl of yummy pineapple chunks, diced strawberries, and banana slices. But what’s really in the food you eat? Is your meal alive when you eat it? How certain is the future of fruit? Here are some facts from the experts.
“You do want to be careful from eating too much pineapple. In the 1800s, somebody called Rose Aylmer actually died from eating too much pineapple. The thing is, the pineapple is the only creation of nature that has an enzyme in it called Bromelain. It’s an enzyme that basically digests protein, which effectively means it’s flesh-eating. So you know sometimes you eat a pineapple and you get funny, tingly lips? What it’s doing is it’s eating your flesh.”
—Fran Beauman, author of The Pineapple: King of Fruits (The Museum of Curiosity)
“Today’s bananas are sterile mutants. I’m not trying to be mean. That’s just the truth. Unless you were alive in the 1960s, every banana you have ever eaten is pretty much genetically identical. This is a Cavendish, the virtually seedless variety that we all eat today, but it wasn’t always our banana of choice. Until the 1960s, everyone was eating the same banana—it was just a different banana, the Gros Michel, a bigger, sweeter fruit with thicker skin. You might notice that banana-flavored things don’t really taste like bananas. Well, they do. They taste like the Gros Michel. The genetic monotony of the Gros Michel was its undoing. A fungicide-resistant pathogen called Panama Disease began infecting Gros Michel crop. By the time growers understood how vulnerable their crops were, the Gros Michel variety was all but extinct. The entire banana industry had to be retooled for the Cavendish…. However, somewhat terrifyingly, a strain of panama disease that affects the Cavendish strain that we all eat has been identified….
“This new strain of Panama Disease known as Tropical Race 4 (or just TR4) is spreading…. What makes TR4 so dangerous? It’s caused by a fungus that spreads through soil. If you didn’t think dirt can carry disease, it can, and when it does, it’s bad. TR4 spreads through the dirt and infects plants via their root systems. Worse, it produces chlamydospores (or “resting spores”), which can lie dormant in the soil for decades, so just destroying an infected crop won’t solve the problem…. All told, it’s looking more and more like the Cavendish will go the way of the Gros Michel. The question is when, and will we be able to develop a new type of banana that will replace it in time? Either way, if you really like bananas, you might want to enjoy them now while you still can.”
—Hank Green, SciShow
“The deaths of George I of England, Pope Paul II, Pope Clement VII, Frederick the Great, Maximilian I Archduke of Austria, and Albert II of Germany were all due to melon overdose.”
—1,234 Quite Interesting Facts to Leave You Speechless by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, and James Harkin
Urushiol is that light yellow stuff that comes off poison oak and poison ivy that gives your skin a rash. Urushiol is also found in mango trees, causing some people to break out into rash from touching mango skins. One study from 2005 even suggests that you’re more likely to have this allergic reaction to mango skins the first time you encounter the peel if you have been exposed to poison oak or poison ivy than if you have not been exposed to it before. So Americans living near wooded areas, beware the mango peel.
In an episode of the radio series The Infinite Monkey Cage called “Improbable Science,” Professor Brian Cox innocently asked, “When is a strawberry dead?” to which Matthew Cobb replied, “As soon as you pick a strawberry, it’s dying…. Like meat when it hangs and it’s gradually decaying, it’s going to taste nice. Similarly, a fruit as it decays is going to increase its sugar content and then eventually it’s going to become disgusting, but it’s dying.” Cox was not satisfied that this truly answered his question. Season after season, there is never quite a consensus. So let’s look at some answers that The Infinite Monkey Cage has had from various guests over the years. As co-host Robin Ince summarizes:
“Despite looking at the concept of Shroedinger’s strawberry, and of course Planck’s raspberry, and Heisenberg’s goji berries, the puzzle remained. When must a medically trained green grocer pronounce a strawberry dead?“
“When it stops growing. When it’s no longer able to show any sign of doing things…?” —Katy Brand (“Improbable Science”)
When “localized negative entropy is breaking down.” —Dr. Matthew Cobb (“Improbable Science”)
“When you can no longer reverse the process and bring that cell… back to life.” —Sue Black (“What is Death”)
When “it’s not continually harnessing energy to produce copies or [to] at least go on living.” —Nick Lane (“What is Death”)
When its “mitochondrion’s not functioning.” —Mark Spencer (“Forensic Science”)
“When [it] exits the Krebs cycle.” —Adam Rutherford (“What is Race”)
“Strawberries aren’t dead once plucked. They’re alive as long as the possibility is there for them to germinate when planted.” —Professor Brian Cox (“What is Race”)
“We’ll put a strawberry in a box and we won’t observe it, and it can be both.” —Robin Ince (“Improbable Science”)
Sources The Museum of Curiosity, season 1 episode 2 SciShow: "The Terrifying Truth About Bananas" (7/18/13) and "Bananas Are Losing the War on Fungus" (12/18/15) 1,234 Quite Interesting Facts to Leave You Speechless by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, and James Harkin The Infinite Monkey Cage "Exploring the mango-poison ivy connection: the riddle of discriminative plant dermatitis." by Hershko K, Weinberg I, Ingber A. (US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health)