Moment of Science: Pumpkin Rot

Have you already carved any pumpkins this season? Here's the science behind making them last through Halloween (and longer)! ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ
Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 5:04 PM EDT
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Weโ€™re fast approaching All Hallows Eve, and weโ€™re sure at least a few of you carved your pumpkins earlier in the month... and might be waging war against your greatest seasonal creation rotting away. This week, weโ€™re taking a look at how and why pumpkins and other fruits suffer from rot, and how you can help your artwork survive through the holiday.

* Apples are probably the best everyday example. As soon as you cut into the skin, oxygen gets in and reacts with certain enzymes, accelerating that process of turning nice and brown sometimes before you can even finish eating, much to the annoyance of certain slow eaters during childhood. If you watched our episode on matches, youโ€™ll remember that process is called โ€œoxidationโ€. The object being oxidized has its electrons stripped away by a certain agent or substance -- though in the case of fruit, itโ€™s air molecules -- and as long as you have oxygen hanging around, that process just keeps going. Other examples include rust on metals and even your body breaking down glucose and other sugars. (Itโ€™s a little weird to think of browning apples as edible rust, but... technically true.) Staying on the food pyramid, coffee and cocoa beans also get their trademark brown color because of that oxidation process.

* Here are a few general rules of green thumb -- or orange, as it were.

1) Try to pick a pumpkin with a thicker, longer stem, as it usually means a thicker pumpkin wall in general. Of course, donโ€™t pick one thatโ€™s already showing spots and signs of rotting.

2) Donโ€™t give your pumpkin a lobotomy, but instead try to cut a hole on the back of it to scoop out all the guts. That should help prolong it a bit, but heat plays a major role in longevity.

3) Consider one of those fake tea candles instead of the real thing. Heat would rot the pumpkin much faster, so keeping it as cool as possible is an easy way to get some mileage out of your work.

4) Finally, to best preserve your ghoulish gourds, consider a mixture of bleach and water -- about a tablespoon of bleach per quart of water. Get it in a spray bottle and apply it all around those insides. You can also rub petroleum jelly around any cut surfaces, keeping out bacteria and reducing dehydration.

* Thereโ€™s also something to be said for how creepy a rotting Jack-o-lantern looks to set the mood anyway -- but as long as you donโ€™t go the bleach route, consider donating them to a local wildlife center for animal enrichment-- just make sure they accept them first.

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