Why Cut Apples Turn Brown

Apples and Peaches Form Rust

Once a cut apple is exposed to air, it starts to discolor.
Once a cut apple is exposed to air, it starts to discolor. Burazin, Getty Images

Apples and other produce (e.g., pears, bananas, peaches, potatoes) contain an enzyme (called polyphenol oxidase or tyrosinase) that reacts with oxygen and iron-containing phenols that are also found in the apple. The oxidation reaction basically forms a sort of rust on the surface of the fruit. You see the browning when the fruit is cut or bruised because these actions damage the cells in the fruit, allowing oxygen in the air to react with the enzyme and other chemicals.

The reaction can be slowed or prevented by inactivating the enzyme with heat (cooking), reducing the pH on the surface of the fruit (by adding lemon juice or another acid), reducing the amount of available oxygen (by putting cut fruit under water or vacuum packing it), or by adding certain preservative chemicals (like sulfur dioxide). On the other hand, using cutlery that has some corrosion (as is seen with lower quality steel knives) can increase the rate and amount of the browning by making more iron salts available for the reaction.