Aug. 23, 2012 at 6:33 PM ET
Chemists from China are working on a spray made from shrimp and crab shells that could extend the life of your bananas from a day or two to a week or more.
Fruit going bad from when it was picked isn't just a simple question of time; there's a complex interplay between the sugars and other substances that make up the fruit, the bacteria that live inside it and the air around it. In bananas, unlike other fruits, the process accelerates after they're picked, resulting in the frustratingly short period (for consumers and sellers) between unripe and overripe.
A team from Tianjin University of Science and Technology in China hopes that a substance called chitosan could help slow the process. It's made from the shells of crustaceans like shrimp, crabs and lobsters (composed of chitin, hence the name), and has powerful anti-bacterial qualities. They presented their findings Wednesday at the American Chemical Society's National Meeting and Exposition.
Chitosan is already used for agricultural and medicinal purposes, but this would be the first time it might be deployable by consumers. By spraying it onto the banana in the form of a super-absorbent "hydrogel," the researchers managed to slow the respiration and bacterial growth, extending the life of a banana up to 12 days.
Spraying it early on could ease the logistics of getting fresh bananas to faraway locations, and spraying it at the store or at home could potentially keep the fruit in peak yellow condition for much longer and reduce waste.
Unfortunately for consumers, the team is still investigating how to make a commercially viable product, which means finding a replacement for an ingredient that happens to be unsuitable for general use. So for the moment, mushy bananas will continue to be a familiar sight in the world's kitchens.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.