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Home / Science projects / How Does Acid Keep Apples From Turning Brown?
  • How Does Acid Keep Apples From Turning Brown?

    How Does Acid Keep Apples From Turning Brown?

    Sliced apples and pears make a healthful and tasty snack or side dish for dinner. But keeping them looking white and delicious after they have been sliced can be tricky. Try this experiment to see how chemistry can keep your apples and pears fresh even after they have been cut.

    What You Need:

    • An apple or pear
    • Sharp knife
    • Lemon juice
    • Small bowl (big enough to fit half the apple or pear)
    • Clock/timer
    • Paper plates
    • Pen and paper
    • Adult help

    What You Do:

    1.  Use your pen and paper to make two labels, one reading "control" and the other reading "lemon."

    2.  Pour lemon juice so it completely covers the bottom of the bowl.







    3.  With adult help, cut the apple in half from top to bottom.

    4.  Take one apple half and place it cut­side down into the bowl of lemon juice. Leave it for two minutes. The other apple half without lemon juice is your 'control' sample that lets you see what normally happens to a cut apple.

    5.  Observe the color of both apple halves, then place them white­part­up on the plates, with the corresponding labels nearby.

    6.  Observe the apples again at 10-­minute increments, up to 30 minutes. Note any color changes and/or differences in appearance.

    7.  Look at the apples again periodically throughout the day. What do you find?

    What Happened:

    When an apple is cut open, an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase is released from the cells of the apple and reacts with the oxygen in the air. This reaction causes the fruit to turn brown, similar to rust forming on metal. Almost all plants contain polyphenol oxidase, and it is believed plants use this enzyme as part of a defense mechanism. When a plant is damaged, the browning of the affected area is thought to discourage animals and insects from eating the plant any further. It also might help the plant heal because the browning creates an antibacterial effect, preventing germs from destroying the plant even more.

    Lemon juice helps keep the apple from browning, because it is full of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and it has a low (acidic) pH level. Ascorbic acid works because oxygen will react with it before it will react with the polyphenol oxidase. However, once the ascorbic acid gets used up, the oxygen will start reacting with the enzyme and browning will occur. Lemon juice's low pH level also helps prevent browning. Polyphenol oxidase works best when the pH level is between 5.0 and 7.0. However, below a pH level of 3.0, the enzyme becomes inactivated. The pH of lemon juice is in the 2.0 range, making it very effective against browning.

    Besides lemon juice, lime juice and cranberry juice also have a pH below 3.0. Concord grape juice and grapefruit juice also have a low pH (not quite as low as the others), but will help delay the browning process. You may want to try several of these juices and find a tasty to way to serve sliced apples and pears in the process!

    To learn more about acids, bases, and pH, check out our science lesson.

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By: Frank Bill
Date: Oct 12, 2015

This is a great experiment! I recommend this.

By: migdalia benitez
Date: Sep 22, 2015

That was so cool!!!!
I would had never guess that inn a million yrs

By: silly
Date: Sep 16, 2015

great!!!!!!but i have a question “if we do not have lemon juice can we put calamansi juice?

[HST adds:  Calamansi juice is from a citrus fruit and does contain Vitamin C, so theoretically it should stop browning from happening too.  One way to find out for sure is to experiment.  Do you have other juices you can compare it to?  Hope this helps!]

By: samantha villamayor
Date: Aug 03, 2015

how much acid?

By: Angel sophia
Date: Jun 12, 2015

Am ok with the answer,this is great

By: Jessica Lollike
Date: May 28, 2015

great!! now i’m sure i’ll get a good grade for my science project :)

By: Sam Ghareeba
Date: May 10, 2015

Using this for my yr ten science project experiment

By: Gabby Obrein
Date: May 10, 2015

this is a great website

By: Dakella lewis
Date: Apr 28, 2015

Thanks now I know what I am doing for my science project

By: Jaimie
Date: Apr 15, 2015

Thanks! I am a fifth grader. I needed to know the answer for my science project.