The last few weeks have seen health conscious online fanatics dig in on the scum that is artificially ripened bananas after it emerged that some bananas sold in Kenya are treated with calcium carbide to speed up their ripening.
Of course it is easy to understand why: quick bucks. And it is not just for bananas. Apparently, the calcium carbide technology – if you may call it that – is used on a wide range of fruits including mangoes, pawpaw, and water melons.
But naturally ripe bananas have dark 'polka dot' spots. According to nutritionist Kepha Nyanumba, a consultant with AAR, calcium carbide is meant to subvert the process of ripening.
“The fastened process therefore causes an even glow of yellow on the skin,” and "such bananas (as well as other fruits) are not fit for human consumption. The chemical used contains phosphorus hydride and arsenic.”
When consumed, Kepha says that the chemical is known to cause ulcers, “a burning sensation that may also be accompanied with diarrhea and vomiting.”
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Studies have also indicated that calcium carbide is a carcinogen — an agent capable of causing cancer. In the fast paced world of trade, Kepha fears that residents of Nairobi – and indeed many parts of Kenya – may have to do with bananas ripened using this dangerous chemical. However, he advises, thorough washing of fruits using clean water may greatly lower concentration of the bad chemical.
The fruit, says Kepha, is among the best sources of potassium – an electrolyte against sodium. Ideally, one needs a maximum of two bananas in a day. This would reduce poisoning if one has bought artificially ripened bananas.
Among symptoms that you should watch out for regarding calcium carbide ripened bananas are headaches, dizziness, and occasionally blurred vision.
Well-ripened bananas, adds Kepha, go through a natural cycle of respiration that causes buildup of ethylene gas which then transforms the hard white core into a soft pulp. The process, he says, is gradual but complete.
“That is an aspect that bananas ripened with calcium carbide don’t have. The outer parts may feel soft but soon enough one discovers that the inner sections are hard. Such bananas, when swallowed, cause a lot of digestive problems and discomfort,” says Kepha.
In many developed countries, calcium carbide is banned from civilian use.
Its dangers are well documented. Speaking to Mail online, Indian dermatologist Dr Ak Dadhwal revealed that Calcium carbide leads to skin allergies. In extreme cases, victims will suffer from skin cancer.
He warned: "The use of this chemical should be stopped completely in order to wipe out the risk of cancerous diseases."
It should also be known that bananas can be classified as starch or fruits. When green, bananas are essentially starch. When ripened, they become fruits. It is green bananas that shroud businesses will apply calcium carbide to cause an instant and even glow of mellow that gives the impression that the fruit is ripe.