Eating certain vegetables has known health benefits. Cabbage and broccoli, for example, contain glucosinolates that are thought to inhibit cancers. But could we get more out of vegetables by storing them differently?
That’s the implication of research looking at the effect of light conditions on the production of antioxidants. It turns out that plants have internal clocks, like humans, and that this clock keeps cycling for several days after harvest. Researchers at Rice University and U.C. Davis have found that by keeping produce in day/night conditions, rather than in a dark box, the produce takes on more healthful properties.
“Our work suggests the possibility that continued storage under conditions to keep the clocks cycling might significantly alter the levels of phytochemicals,” says Janet Braam, a professor at Rice, who led the research.
Braam’s work, which tested cabbage, carrots, squash, blueberries, and other plants, follows previous research into pest resistance. That study found that day/night light cycles also promotes production of insect-fighting chemicals. Braam is now working with the Gates Foundation to apply the research in the developing world.
Still, she says more work needs to be done on the best way to store vegetables, both for antioxidants and pest control. “It shouldn’t matter much the time of day of harvest. It may matter, however, what time of day the vegetables or fruits are eaten, cooked or preserved.”