How To Select Fresh, Ripe Fruits And Vegetables

Most of us know the feeling of buying fruits or vegetables only to find out that they're either already spoiled on the inside or so under-ripe that they need to be left out for days before eating. Thankfully it's easy to pick fresh produce, as long as you remember a few basic tips.

Every fruit and vegetable has its own clues to its freshness, but you don't need to remember a laundry list of specifics in order to walk away with something ripe and tasty. We've discussed how you should properly store your food, but if you're standing in the fruit & veg section trying to decide if something is safe to buy, here are a few things to know.

The most important thing to remember when inspecting produce is to use your senses. Ask yourself how the item smells, how it feels, and whether it looks appealing, or at least like the other items in the store. Here are the basics.

Fruits and Melons

Before you start squeezing every fruit you see in the store to determine if it's ripe, pick it up and turn it over in your hands. The surface should be largely smooth and even, with a firm-but not rock hard-surface. If you feel pits and dents under the surface, the flesh of the fruit has probably been damaged by shipping, or is slowly rotting. The flesh should be firm, but give a little. If your plums, berries or nectarines are rock hard, they're not ripe. Citrus fruits that are too firm are likely dry on the inside. Also, pay attention to weight: heaviness can indicate how juicy a fruit or melon is, especially with oranges, lemons and watermelon.

Give the fruit a good whiff. There's no need to hold it directly up to your nose, but you should pick up a light aroma from it. A strong aroma can indicate over-ripeness, and if the fruit smells a bit sour or stinky, you're probably holding an apple or bag of grapes that's past its prime. A light, sweet smell is a good indicator that your fruit is fresh and ripe. Smell is particularly important when it comes to melons and pineapple, which can smell very strongly when past their prime, so the lighter and sweeter the better.

Tree-ripened fruit should have even coloration across the surface, and avoid anything with dark marks and spots, or citrus fruits with white streaks or colours on the surface. Melons don't give too many visual or colour cues, but look for the obvious: bruises, dents, and other pockmarks. Don't dismiss a vine-ripened melon because of a little scarring on one side. As long as it's not tender or thinner than the rest of the rind, it's likely only the place where the melon rested on the ground while ripening.

Vegetables and Leafy Greens

Some of the same rules for fruit apply to vegetables. Pay attention to the surface of the vegetable and make sure it's consistent, evenly coloured, and firm all the way around. With most vegetables like cucumbers, capscium, onions and potatoes, you want them to be as firm as possible. Even the gentle give you look for in fruit can indicate over-ripeness in vegetables. Softness in specific areas is generally an indicator of slow rotting or bruising, even if you don't see anything obvious that would indicate spoilage.

With leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, look for firm, crisp, and plump leaves that are consistently coloured. Expect a little brownness and a few tears in the leaves due to shipping or handling, but they should be the exception, not the rule. The majority of the leaves should be green, smooth, and unbroken. You also want to make sure that the leaves give a good snap if you break one. Look for the same plumpness and crispness with green or string beans or peas in the pod. Check out this eHow video on how to choose leafy greens for a few more tips.

Root vegetables like potatoes, garlic and onions should be firm and tough, as well. Avoid root vegetables with cracks on the base, this means it's too dry. Most vegetables don't give you clues to their ripeness by smell the way that fruits do, but you'll know the vaguely stinky smell of slow rot or mould when you smell it. It's common sense, but steer clear if something doesn't smell right.

Trust Your Senses

It's worth noting that most commercial farms pick fruits and vegetables long ahead of their ideal ripeness. Try to see through the regular washings and coats of wax they get, and trust your nose and sense of touch as much as you do your eyes. An apple that's shiny, evenly coloured, and heavily waxed but super-soft to the touch is probably mushy and no good.

We're big fans of farmers markets and local grocery stores, which often have better turnover and are more likely to have produce that hasn't been in cold storage for months.

Did we miss your favourite inspection trick? Share your tips in the comments.


Comments

    For citrus like oranges, lemons etc, giving the skin a light scratch first makes it a lot easier to smell.

      So that's where scratch n sniff came from!

    After all this handling, pressing, smelling, and scratching (for heaven's sake) by many hands of doubtful cleanliness I think I'll stick to a takeaway thank you.

      Ever heard of washing fruit and veggies? Further you clearly have never worked at a place that sells takeaway.

    Avocado: The body should be firm to the touch, and the head/skinny-bit-at-the-top should yield to a light squeeze.

    Green bell peppers: Squeeze opposite sides of the pepper with a finger and thumb with moderate pressure (should feel similar to pressing your pinkie finger into the muscle between the thumb and wrist of the same hand). You should feel the flesh crack inside (one initial crack is still good but it won't be as full flavored, which won't change in storage). If both sides crack, and the flesh feels firm, rotate the pepper a quarter turn and repeat. If you get at least one crack after the rotation you have a sweet, ripe pepper 90-95 percent of the time and will keep for 1-3 weeks refrigerated.

    Strawberries and blueberries (packaged in packages with holes): Look at all sides of the package for mold and color (dark red for strawberries, dark purplish blue for blueberries). Smell near the holes with light, quick sniffs [like a dog]. They should have a full aroma. [note: I have not figured out how to pick between sweet and tart blueberries yet]. This is about 80% effective and will keep for about a week.

    Button mushrooms: [Find a store that has open mushrooms as visual inspection only works for mushrooms and the touch method is difficult (but not impossible) in package]. Pick up a mushroom lightly with your thumb and 1-2 fingers. It should lift easily and feel like it sticks to your fingers. Any slickness is a sign of a mushroom that's starting to turn. If you pinch too hard you will feel a bruise (wetness and slickness) start as you're pinching (grab softer). The more slickness, the sooner they will change. Mushrooms chosen this way will be full flavored and keep for 2-4 weeks when refrigerated [note that once they get slippery and even get large dark spots, they are still good for cooking (if they start to smell off, or get soft, they're too far gone)]

    Green beans: The beans should be firm and resist flexing and have no dark brown tips. If they are soft, they are dry, find another store. Very thin and very bumpy (from the seeds) beans are likely though and/or dry. Shiny beans are not an indication of moistness or flavor (it's wax). The tip opposite the stem should not be shriveled. Mottled brown skin indicates crop problems due to weather but is not reliable for judging moistness or flavor. Roll the beans around in the bin to find more. Half beans don't keep well and will rot others. This is 70-90% effective depending on season. These can last from 3-4 weeks refrigerated (5 weeks if individually picked). [this method takes practice]

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