Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/9/2004
Publication Date: 12/9/2004
Citation: Glenn, G.M., Chiou, B., Imam, S.H., Wood, D.F., Orts, W.J. 2005. Role of cuticles in produce quality and preservation. In: Lamikanra, O., Imam, S.H., Ukuku, D.O. editor. Produce degradation: pathways and prevention. CRC Press. LLC. p 19-53.
Interpretive Summary: The cuticle forms a continuous extracellular membrane over the epidermal cells of most aerial plant parts, including leaves and fruits. The primary function of the cuticle is to minimize water loss by mediating the wettability of the tissue surface and moisture vapor permeability. In recent years, the cuticle has been found to possess other functions as well. It provides the first line of defense against pathogen invasion, acts as a shield against mechanical impact, facilitates the efficient exchange of gases, provides some protection from exposure to pesticide and fertilizer chemicals. Some have viewed the cuticle as inert, nondynamic plant tissue because it is extracellular. In reality, the cuticle may constantly change during the lifespan of a particular fruit or vegetable. This review chapter covers the current knowledge of plant cuticle properties and functions as well as how these might relate to the quality and preservation of produce.
Technical Abstract: The cuticle affects the aesthetic properties of produce and protects produce from solar radiation and chemical damage that can occur from exposure to agricultural pesticides and fertilizers. Moreover, it provides some mechanical protection from bumps, abrasions, and insect damage. The cuticle plays an important role in providing a physical barrier to pathogens. Pathogen infestation is much higher in produce with cracks that penetrate the cuticle, skin or flesh. The cuticle also affects the events leading to infection of produce by providing a store of molecules that elicit a pathogen response and a host defense response during the initial steps of infection. One of the best ways to extend the life of produce is to minimize water loss. The cuticle plays a critical role protecting produce from desiccation. Cracks in the cuticle layer accelerate desiccation resulting in the loss of salable weight. Moisture loss also diminishes the quality of produce due to wilting, shriveling, softening, flaccidity, limpness, loss of crispness, and juiciness. The type of cracking whether cuticular, skin or flesh and the susceptibility of produce to each type of cracking should be understood by those in the produce industry. Inclement weather conditions that lead to cracking are beyond control. However, cultural, handling, packing and shipping practices can affect cracking, especially in susceptible produce and should be controlled to optimize produce quality and preservation.