Sunday, 20 July 2008

Up the Apples and Pears

Apples: 1 - Pears: 0

Another example of 'how long's that been going on?' science, once again courtesy of the BBC website. And even though the science that gets the most publicity these days is the kind that tackles big issues and fundamental problems, like climate change, fighting diseases and the origins of the universe, it's very reassuring to know that there are still people out there tackling the much smaller, but far more tangible issues that affect us all, as in this case. Why do pears go off so quickly? They're rock solid for ages, then suddenly semi-liquid (making a colloid, if you're up on the terminology, a substance that exists between two states, like toothpaste [solid/liquid] or aerosols [liquid/gas], learning is fun isn't it!). I've heard so many people moan about that. Eddie Izzard has a whole inspired rant about it.
Now I'm wondering how many other irritating traits of modern life are being studied. Is there some biology lab somewhere with people investigating why flies never go to the open part of the window? Although, I had a more annoying experience recently when a large bluebottle kept buzzing around, then flew out the window. The flew back in again! It did this five times. I was not amused.
But these scientists have now established exactly why pears go off so quickly, and also why apples don't. I didn't know apples floated whereas pears don't, which is maybe why bobbing for pears never really took off. Hope nobody drowned finding that out. But this obviously shows that pears are denser, and apples have more air spaces in them. Apparently, this is what causes this faster decay. More air gets into apples, so the cells in the centre don't 'die' so quickly, whereas the structure of the pear means the core gets less air. This also explains the whole rotting from the inside out thing too.
This is all well and good, but I was amazed by the extent to which the researchers went to to establish why this is. It's all to do with the actual internal structure of the fruit. They put an apple and a pear into one of the moat powerful x-ray machines in the world. At first, I wouldn't have thought that would have worked, seeing as said fruits can't handle exposure to a household microwave. That's wrong logic though, of course, as X-rays are far more energetic than microwaves and pass straight through the fruit. Although I still doubt anyone ate them afterwards.
There seems to be a massive misconception about radiation these days. My wife bought a diet book, which gave advice for preparing food, and it warned about using microwaves as 'they can project electromagnetic radiation up to several metres away'. Yes they can. Microwaves can't actually leave the device, that mesh layer in the glass bit stops them due to the wavelengths. But some electromagnetic radiation does leave the device. This kind is more commonly known as light. My friends physicist brother gets outraged when people worry about the complaints and concerns about radiation 'dangers' from phone masts and wi-fi networks, seeing as your basic lightbulb gives out higher levels of 'radiation' and people don't seem too concerned about those. I never read the rest of the diet book, they've clearly got no idea what they're talking about. I follow the Catholic diet anyway, I eat what I want, when I want, and apologise for it on Sundays.
But this story is a brilliant example of the persistent nature of some scientists. Who would be so fanatically obsessed with what seems like such a trivial issue to actually put fruit in a massively expensive high-energy X-ray machine? Fair play for doing it though, that's properly seeing something through to the end. And it also proves that apples are the best fruit, as I've always maintained. Apples are the workhorse of the fruit world. They are the multi-skilled, rough and ready but under-appreciated stalwarts of the produce community. Strawberries? Timid little weaklings with upper class aspirations. Grapes? If it wasn't for wine, would we care about them at all? Convenience is all they offer. Oranges? Pips and skin, that's all they offer, aside form the overrated juice. Apples are where it's at. Breaburns though, not the wimpy golden delicious or those shiny red sods. Jonagold, Gala, Cox's at a push, but I still feel kind of weird eating a pink lady, despite my liberal leanings.
Scientists do take their fruit very seriously.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I'm more into tangerines myself- all the taste of a citrus fruit combined with the easy peel convenience consumers love. There like fruit for the fast food nation.

Excuse the shameless plug, but I think you might like the 'pointless research' episode of our podcast. It's about a scientist researching why knives get left in the wasing up bowl. You can get it at thedeviantattack. com or go to istore and search for deviant attack

cheers x

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