SUMMER is time for the sweet and juicy fruits that flood the market. Fruits quench thirst and provide necessary nutrients and fiber, but increasing food safety problems of all kinds - including those with fruit - make buyers wary.
Careful soaking and rinsing is always necessary before eating fruit, especially where chemical fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones and other chemicals are common in agriculture, as in China.
Last month, shoppers were shocked to hear the news of white worms emerging from cherries and blueberries soaked in salty water for cleansing. Agriculture experts said the worms are the larvae of fruit flies and are harmless, seldom carrying germs. They are common in sweet fruit with tender, easily bruised skins, such as cherries and blueberries. Still, it's disgusting and disquieting.
And there have been cases of "exploding" watermelons reported after farmers used too much growth hormone to hasten ripening.
The residue of agricultural chemicals makes many health-conscious shoppers reluctant to buy fruit.
Around 500 grams of fruits and vegetables should be eaten every day to ensure sufficient vitamin, mineral and fiber intake. The elderly and the weak should eat even more, 700 to 900 grams a day, according to Liang Zhiming, health management coach at Mahota, a health management center promoting healthy lilving that integrates natural therapies, modern science and traditional Chinese medicine.
Eating local and seasonal fruits is a principle of health maintenance in TCM and it reduces, but does not eliminate, the likelihood that growth hormones are used to hasten ripening.
"If you cannot tell what is local and seasonal, just walk around a market and choose what's abundant and available in every fruit shop," says Liang. "They are gifts from the universe."
Liang recommends leaving newly bought fruit exposed to the air for one night before storing in a fridge. This helps oxidize and eliminate chemical residue.
Soaking fruit in clean water for three to five minutes, then rinsing under running water for severalminutes can largely dissolve and wash off chemical residue.
Do not pull off the pedicel (the stem connecting fruit to the main stem) because that leaves a hole in the skin that chemicals can enter. Try not to bruise or damage the skin or peel for the same reason.
"Generally, I advise peeling fruit if possible, since most chemical and ripener residue is in the skin," says Liang. "For those that cannot be peeled, soaking and rinsing in clean water is effective in reducing risk."
However, the skin is especially rich in nutrients, as in the case of grapes.
Soaking for about five minutes in a solution of dietary alkali can help neutralize chemical residue since most agricultural chemicals are acidic. Around 2-3 grams of alkali is needed for 1 liter of water. Fruit then should be rinsed thoroughly.
Traditional cleansing methods, such as soaking in salty water, may help clean the surface and expel worms, but it won't get rid of chemicals, Liang says. Furthermore, water that's too salty can weaken the fruit skin, enabling chemicals to enter.
As for the various fruit-cleaning agents on the market, Liang strongly advises using natural rather than chemical cleanser. Clean water is better than chemical cleanser, he says. Reading labels is essential.
Watermelon is a favorite summer fruit that quenches thirst. It is considered a "cold" (yin energy) fruit in TCM and helps dispel "pathogenic" heat in summer.
There isn't much need for elaborate cleansing of the melon, since nobody eats the peel or rind.
But there are many tips for picking a fresh and tasty melon.
The peel should be smooth and green. The zigzag patterns on the skin should be sharp and well-shaped. The pedicel should be green and crisp to ensure freshness.
Tap the melon and listen for sharp sound indicating ripeness; a flat sound indicates an immature melon. This requires experience.
The biggest concern with cherries is the recent problem with worms or fruit fly larvae, so cherries should be chosen carefully.
Cherries with tough skin are usually safer than those with thin skin. Green pedicels and smooth surface indicate the cherries are fresh. Dark red cherries are usually sweeter than light red fruit.
It is widely known that red and purple grapes are rich in anti-oxidants and are good for cardiovascular health, as is red wine, famous for its tannins.
They work to reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol and reduce chance of getting diabetes.
Most of these nutrients are found in the skin and seeds, so it's best not to peel.
Mature grapes are naturally covered with white frost-like powder containing yeast, which is good for health, however, pesticide residue can also appear like a white powder.
Thorough cleansing is called for.
Remove the grapes with pedicel one by one, so the skin is not broken. Soak in clean water and add two teaspoons of flour or starch.
Sway the basin of water to enhance friction but do not rub the grapes directly, lest the peel be damaged and chemicals enter. The starchy flour water removes dirt naturally.
The grapes should then be rinsed under running water.
Peach fuzz is annoying but it can be removed by soaking in slightly salty water and then rubbing lightly.
Peaches then should be soaked in clean water and rinsed under running water.
Growth hormones are frequently used in strawberry growing to producer bigger fruit that ripens faster, but hormones are harmful to human health.
Natural strawberries are usually cone-shaped, while strawberries grown with hormones are often bulging and unusual in shape.
Natural strawberries, which usually ripen in May and June, have a mature red color covered by a light layer of fuzz. They are not very white inside and do not have interior cavities.