Minimizing Brown Discoloration

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Enzymatic browning can be discouraged by several means. The single handiest method for the cook is to coat cut surfaces with lemon juice: the browning enzymes work very slowly in acidic conditions. Chilling the food below about 40°F/4°C will also slow the enzymes down somewhat, as will immersing the cut pieces in cold water, which limits the availability of oxygen. In the case of precut lettuce for salads, enzyme activity and browning can be reduced by immersing the freshly cut leaves in a pot of water at 115°F/47°C for three minutes before chilling and bagging them. Boiling temperatures will destroy the enzyme, so cooking will eliminate the problem. However, high temperatures can encourage phenolic oxidation in the absence of enzymes: this is why the water in which vegetables have been cooked sometimes turns brown on standing. Various sulfur compounds will combine with the phenolic substances and block their reaction with the enzyme, and these are often applied commercially to dried fruits. Sulfured apples and apricots retain their natural color and flavor, while unsulfured dried fruits turn brown and develop a more cooked flavor.