The Mango Paradox: Sweet Summer or Chemical Hustle?

Ashwin Bhadri, CEO of Equinox Labs, is the National Resource person for FSSAI. In over 18 years, he has trained more than 100,000 people on food safety.

The arrival of summer in India paints the landscape a vibrant yellow. Mango trees, laden with their precious cargo, announce the arrival of a beloved season. From bustling street vendors to gleaming supermarket shelves, ‘Mango’ the ‘King of Fruits’ reigns supreme. However, beneath the golden exterior lies a hidden truth – the rise of artificial ripening practices that threaten the integrity of this cherished tradition. Mangoes are a cultural symbol, woven into festivals, religious offerings and everyday meals. However, the desire for year-round availability and faster profits has led to a worrying trend using chemicals to ripen mangoes artificially.

Calcium carbide, a hazardous industrial compound, is the culprit most often used. This banned substance speeds up the ripening process, turning unripe mangoes into a marketable yellow within days. But the consequences are far from sweet. Calcium carbide can leave behind harmful residues, leading to respiratory problems, digestive disorders and even cancer.

The allure of artificial ripening lies in its speed and profitability. Vendors can bypass the natural ripening period, bringing in more fruit, faster. However, this short-term gain comes at a long-term cost. Consumers are robbed of the true mango experience – the natural sweetness, the perfect balance of texture and the rich aroma.

Furthermore, the use of calcium carbide disrupts the natural market rhythm. Farmers who rely on natural ripening techniques are forced to compete with artificially ripened alternatives, impacting their livelihoods. This creates an unfair playing field and undermines the honest practices of generations of mango growers.

Consumer Awareness is Key

Educating the public about the dangers of artificially ripened mangoes and empowering them to choose naturally ripened fruit is crucial. Simple tips like checking for a firm yet slightly yielding flesh, a pleasant fragrance, and the absence of black spots on the skin can help consumers make informed choices. Secondly, stricter regulations and enforcement are essential. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) needs to increase its efforts to crack down on the use of banned chemicals. Regular inspections and hefty fines for offenders can act as a deterrent.

Thirdly, research and development should focus on creating safe and effective alternatives to artificial ripening. Ethylene gas, a natural plant hormone that plays a role in ripening, offers a promising avenue. Investing in safe and controlled application methods can ensure a faster ripening process without compromising safety or taste.

Finally, promoting responsible sourcing practices among retailers can have a significant impact. Partnerships between food safety labs like ours and retailers can offer testing services and guidance on sourcing naturally ripened mangoes from responsible farmers. Embracing the natural ripening process is not just about safety; it's about preserving a deeply cherished tradition. The joy of selecting a perfectly ripe mango, the anticipation as you peel back the skin, and the explosion of flavor on your tongue – these are experiences that define the essence of summer in India.

The issue of artificially ripened mangoes in India is a grave concern that requires urgent attention. To ensure the safety of consumers, it is crucial to prioritize their well-being by strengthening regulatory mechanisms and promoting ethical practices. Consumers should avoid mangoes with an off-odor, uneven color or a brown shriveled stem. Sellers can invest in safe and efficient ripening methods like ethylene gas or controlled ripening chambers. All stakeholders must work together and take decisive action to safeguard the integrity of one of India's most beloved fruits.