Healthy Eating Tips

The Surprising Fruit Salad Ingredient That’ll Keep Your Colorful Bowl From Going Brown

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Photo: Stocksy/Julie Rideout
If ever there were an epicurean homage to spring and summer, it would be the salad. But not just any salad—raw greens, after all, are not always cause for celebration. Instead, I'm talking about fruit salad. Alas, good things don’t tend to last very long, and these vibrant, yet rapidly-browning bowls of goodness are no exception. Luckily, everyone’s favorite springtime citrus fruit—lemon—can help keep fruit salad fresh for hours.

Here, we’re answering some of your key questions around why fruit salad goes brown so quickly, why lemon is the antidote, and other ways to stop your salad from browning, leaking, or otherwise heading south of fresh before it disappears into appreciative bellies.

Why does fruit salad turn brown so fast?

You may notice that after you’ve carefully cut and combined your various slices of apple, strawberry, or banana, those once-luscious pieces of fruit begin to turn brown before too long. This is a result of oxidation. When fruit is exposed to oxygen (which is to say, the air), it can trigger a process called enzymic browning. As the name suggests, this makes your fruit turn brown. While this process doesn’t really affect the taste of the fruit, it certainly makes it look less appetizing.

Why does lemon juice help?

In order to prevent the effects of oxidation, your fruit needs a dose of citric acid—and lemons are chock full of it. As a natural antioxidant, lemon juice can help prolong the life of your fruit salad (as well as its aesthetic appeal). “The acidity of lemons helps to prevent the browning of fruits,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN. “Specifically, it helps to inactivate the enzyme polyphenol oxidase, which is responsible for the browning.”Beyond keeping fruit salad fresh, lemon can also help enhance its flavor. The acidic bite of the citrus accentuates the sweetness of the other fruits, and also helps bring forward their juices.

How much lemon juice should I use in fruit salad?

If you don’t want the taste of lemon overwhelming all the other flavors in your salad, consider using two tablespoons of lemon juice and one teaspoon of sugar for every four cups of fruit. Combine the lemon and sugar in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved, then pour the mixture onto your fruit salad. That said, the exact amount of lemon juice that you use is ultimately a flavor preference. If you like a tart bite to your fruit salads, by all means, pump up the lemon flavor a bit.For extra protection against oxidation, use a wooden spoon to mix the finished product rather than metal.

What else can I do to help keep my fruit salad fresh?

  1. Keep it covered and refrigerated

    Sue, fruit salad is delightful picnic centerpiece, but keeping it outside—especially uncovered—does nothing for its lifespan. Keep your fruit salad covered and refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it. And if you have leftovers, be sure to store those in the refrigerator as well, tightly covered.

  2. Use sturdy fruits

    Your fruit salad should reflect your favorite fruits, but if you’re looking for longevity, some ingredients are better suited to storage than others. For example, apples, oranges, peaches, and mangos tend to keep better than bananas, watermelon, raspberries, and strawberries. Fruits that can keep their whole skins on, like blueberries and grapes, are also wise choices.

  3. Reduce chopping

    To increase the amount of time your fruit salad lasts, don't go overboard when you cut your fruit. Roughly chopping it into larger pieces keeps the fruit from leaking too much juice. For fruits with edible skins, leave the skins on.

Whether you’re all about berries or more interested in citrus, there are a cornucopia of fruits that are newly coming into season and just waiting to be enjoyed. With this knowledge—and a few slices of lemon—you're now well-equipped to win the battle between fresh fruit salad and the open air.

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