An Experiment on Antioxidants and Apples
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The following ingredients will be required:
- An apple
- A vitamin C tablet (we used 99p vitamin C tablets from a local pharmacy)
- Another type of nutrient tablet (we used an inexpensive variety of A-Z multivitamins and minerals tablets)
The following items will be required:
- Chopping board
- One cup for each type of tablet you are testing plus one extra for a control sample
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Exploring Everyday Chemistry
Ensure that you read through all of the instructions before beginning the experiment to ensure that you understand exactly what will happen at each step.
Fill each cup three-quarters full with cold water. Then cut the apple into three equally sized segments and drop one into each cup.
Carefully crush up each of the tablets that you have chosen, and place one into each glass, ensuring that you leave one glass with just water, as a control.
Make sure to stir each glass so that the tablet powder has dissolved in the water.
Once a day, monitor the apples to see how the oxidation process is progressing. Our results, on a pink lady apple, are shown below.
Figure 1. The three apples after twenty-four hours, from left to right: The apple in water, the apple in water containing the vitamin C tablet, the apple in water containing the A-Z multivitamins and minerals tablet.
Figure 2. The apples after forty-eight hours, from left to right: The apple in water, the apple in water containing the vitamin C tablet, the apple in water containing the A-Z multivitamins and minerals tablet.
Figure 3. The apples after seventy-two hours, from left to right: The apple in water, the apple in water containing the vitamin C tablet, the apple in water containing the A-Z multivitamins and minerals tablet.
Figure 4. The apples after ninety-six hours, from left to right: The apple in water, the apple in water containing the vitamin C tablet, the apple in water containing the A-Z multivitamins and minerals tablet.
Examining the Results
When the apple is cut and exposed to oxygen, free radicals are released and the apple undergoes the oxidation process and turns brown (i.e. oxygen is introduced into the injured plant tissue causing enzymes in the apple to rapidly oxidise phenolic compounds that are naturally present in the apple tissues to form the brown-coloured products called melanin). This is seen in the first apple, the one in water. Because the apples are in the water, the rate of oxidation is reduced slightly. This is why the control glass (the apple in plain water) is necessary, otherwise, it would not be a fair comparison.
The apple in water containing the vitamin C tablet (which contains antioxidants) has a very reduced rate of oxidation. This is because vitamin C is an antioxidant that reacts with the very reactive oxygen-centered radicals, turning them into less reactive species. Hence, this reduces the amount of oxidative damage to the apple flesh. This is why the apple in the vitamin C solution does not turn brown and remains fresh-looking.
The apple in water containing the A-Z multivitamins and minerals tablet goes black and looks moldy. While there is still some protection from oxidation due to the presence of antioxidants, the over-the-counter A-Z multivitamins and minerals tablet contains traces of ‘crude oils’ and ‘heavy metals’, which turn the apple black. The A-Z multivitamins and minerals tablets contain many ingredients that are used as fillers and colourants, such as titanium dioxide, magnesium stearate, and corn oil. While the vitamin C tablets also contain fillers and sweeteners, from the results, it appears that they probably do not contain any ‘heavy metal’ or ‘crude oil’ traces.
Overall, we have determined that vitamin C tablets are the most effective at reducing oxidative damage and producing the healthiest looking apple, but, we would like to see the results that you have found. Upload pictures of your apple experiment onto our open Padlet (we have included some examples from a previous course to help inspire you) and/or on Twitter or Instagram hashtag #FLchemistry.
Another biologically important antioxidant is vitamin E, so you could compare the effects of vitamin C and vitamin E and see which apple browns first! Also, consider trying other commonly available vitamins and/or different types of apples. There are around 7,000 varieties of apples, but around 20 common ones, to pick from.
By the way, another way to stop the browning is to add lemon juice. The citric acid in the lemon increases the acidity and when the pH drops to around 4, the enzymes involved in the browning process stop working.
Experiment adapted from: R. Torres, The Apple Oxidation Test (USANA Mega AntiOxidant vs other brands).
In the headlines – The Genetically Modified Arctic Apple
One of the most famous GM foods, which hit supermarket shelves in the US in 2017, is Arctic Apples. This is a group of trademarked apples that don’t go brown. The apples have been engineered, using a technique called ‘gene silencing’, to stop the production (by around 90%) of the browning enzymes (called PPO). They decay naturally, just like any other apple, but will not turn brown from bruising, cutting, or biting – not in minutes, hours, or days. Unlike the first genetically engineered crops (such as the Flavr Savr tomato) the apples are not transgenic, that is, they do not contain a gene from another species. So, despite protests from environmental groups, perhaps this crop may be more popular with consumers.
What do you think?
Extension Activity – Get Your Teeth into it
For those of you keen to do some further practical work – we have added an extension activity in the downloads section below. This uses denture tablets, with a dye in them, to test for the antioxidant activity of vitamin C tablets.
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Exploring Everyday Chemistry
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