Picking Perfect Produce
My husband worked as a produce manager in his other life (that is what we call our young, single days). Because he was a “pro” I have always let him be the family expert on all things produce.
Until recently that worked well, but with four kids and schedules taking us all over town and often in circles I don’t have the luxury of depending on him to shop with me anymore. Not long ago I found myself standing in the produce department feeling really overwhelmed and lost. With a family as large as mine, and for as many trips to the grocery store as I have made in my life, I felt a little foolish for being so lost.
For something that is so common and seems so simple, buying fruit can be deceivingly complex. It is made even more complex by the fact that just about every shopper has their own technique for choosing. That's why if you look closely at most any grocery store produce section you'll notice people squeezing, sniffing and examining their fruit very carefully.
Depending on whom you ask, a watermelon is "ready" when you knock on it and it sounds hollow. Others swear it's only worth buying if it makes a thumping sound. Likewise for cantaloupes. Should a ripe one be soft? Smell sweet? Have no green patches? How am I to know?
Finally, I decided I better do some homework and I want to share it with you!
1. Apples: A ripe apple will be firm and deeply colored. Depending on the variety, there should also be a slight rosy tone (such as with yellow and green apples). If you want to find apples with the best flavor, buy them during apple season, which spans from late summer to early winter.
2. Bananas: Ripe bananas are, of course, yellow, but it's OK to buy them while they're still green if you don't plan on eating them for a few days. What many people do not know is that you can actually refrigerate ripe bananas to extend their freshness (the peel will darken, but the flesh won't be affected). Do not put unripe (green) bananas in the refrigerator, though -- this will interrupt the ripening process.
3. Blueberries: Look for blueberries that are firm, dry and brightly colored. Pass up those that are watery, moist or dull in color.
4. Cantaloupe: Be choosy when picking a cantaloupe because they're often picked while still unripe so they're not damaged during shipping. You can spot an unripe cantaloupe by its green tones. Instead, look for a cream-colored cantaloupe (with no green patches) that has a slightly soft end (the end opposite the stem). Also, give it a sniff and choose one that smells slightly sweet (but not overly so, which could mean it's too ripe).
5. Grapefruits: Like oranges, don't judge a grapefruit by its color. Instead, look for heavy, thin-skinned fruits that are firm but slightly springy when pressed. Avoid those with thick, rough skins or overly soft spots.
6. Grapes: Ripe grapes are firm and smooth and should still be attached to the stem. Green grapes with a yellowish cast will be sweeter, as will deeply colored red and purple grapes.
7. Honeydew Melons: Look for melons that are free of bruises and areas of broken skin/rind. When approaching ripeness, the melon’s skin transforms from very hard and smooth to a velvety texture and often develops a slight stickiness. Their skins may also wrinkle slightly and give off a mild melon fragrance. If the blossom end yields to gentle pressure, your honeydew is ready to eat.
8. Kiwi: A kiwi is ripe when it gives slightly when pressed. Those that are too hard will not be sweet, while those that are too soft or shriveled are spoiled.
9. Mangoes: Finding a ripe mango can be tricky because they can be yellow, red, green or orange in color. Those that are ready to eat will usually have a yellow hue and should be slightly soft to the touch. Ripe mangoes also have a sweet aroma near the stem end.
10. Oranges: When looking for a ripe orange, don't worry about color. Oranges with green or brown patches can be just as ripe (and some very orange oranges are even injected with food coloring to get that bright color). For the best flavor, look for a firm, heavy orange with a thin, smooth skin.
11. Papaya: Papayas with a red-orange skin are ripe and ready to eat. Those with yellow patches are still fine, but will take a few days to ripen. Avoid papayas that are green or very hard, as they're not fully ripe and won't have a sweet flavor.
12. Pears: Most pears in the supermarket are not yet ripe, so choose those that are firm (but not extremely hard) and free from dark soft spots (brown speckles, though, are OK and may signify a better flavor). Once you get the pears home, leave them on the counter to ripen for a few days (or put them in a paper bag to speed things up).
13. Pineapple: Like strawberries, pineapples don't continue to ripen once they're picked. You can find a ripe pineapple by choosing one that's heavy for its size and has a sweet smell (particularly near the stem). Avoid those that have soft spots or dark patches.
14. Plums: The best plums are those that yield slightly to pressure and have a deep color and semi-soft tip. Plums that feel firm will ripen in a few days, but avoid those that are rock-hard, as they may have been harvested too soon to fully ripen.
15. Raspberries: As raspberries are highly perishable, they should only be purchased one or two days prior to use. Choose berries that are firm, plump and deep in color while avoiding raspberries that are soft, mushy or moldy.
16. Strawberries: Strawberries are ripe when they're a deep red color with a shiny skin. Avoid buying any with green or yellow patches, as they're unripe (and won't ripen any further). Also stay away from very large strawberries. Though they look tempting, their flavor is often inferior to smaller berries.
17. Watermelon: How do you find the sweetest watermelon when opting for a whole melon (with cut pieces, look for deeply colored flesh)? Choose a firm, heavy watermelon with a smooth skin - and be sure it has a well-defined yellow area on one side. This is the spot where the watermelon has been resting while ripening, and if it's not there it means it may have been harvested too soon.
1. Artichokes: Choose globes that have tight leaves and feel heavy for their size. The leaves should squeak when pressed against each other.
2. Asparagus: Choose firm, smooth, and brightly-colored stalks with compact tips. Avoid limp stalks. Choose stalks of equal thickness to ensure even cooking times.
3. Avocados: Choose avocados that feel slightly soft to the touch. Firmer avocados may be ripened at home, but avoid rock-hard ones. Also avoid avocados with cracks or dents.
4. Beets: Choose firm beets with fresh stems and slender taproots. Avoid beets with wilted leaves, scaly tops, or large, hairy taproots as they may be older and more woody.
5. Bok Choy: For mature bok choy, look for dark green leaves and bright white stalks. Baby bok choy should be light green in color.
6. Broccoli: Choose broccoli with firm stalks, tight florets, and crisp green leaves. Avoid yellowed or flowering florets.
7. Brussels Spouts: Choose firm, compact, bright green heads. Avoid sprouts with wilted or loose outer leaves.
8. Cabbages: Choose firm, compact heads that feel heavy for their size. Check that the stems are also fresh and compact.
9. Carrots: Choose firm, smooth carrots without rootlets.
10. Cauliflower: Choose heads with tightly packed, creamy white florets. Avoid yellowed, spotted, or flowering florets.
11. Celery: Choose firm, unblemished stalks. The stalks and leaves should be green, not yellow.
12. Celery Root: Choose firm, hard roots that feel heavy for their size. Any attached leaves should be fresh and green.
13. Corn: Choose corn with bright green husks and moist but not slimy silk. Peel back the husk to ensure the kernels are plump and not dry.
14. Cucumbers: Choose cucumbers that are uniformly green (not yellow).
15. Eggplants: Choose eggplants that have smooth, naturally shiny skin and feel heavy for their size. When gently pressed, flesh that gives slightly and then bounces back indicates ripeness. Unripe flesh will not give, while overripe flesh will remain indented. Also, smaller eggplants tend to have fewer seeds and be less bitter.
16. Fennel: Choose fennel with white, firm, unblemished bulbs as well as firm stems and fresh leaves.
17. Garlic: Choose firm, plump heads. Avoid heads with soft spots or green sprouts.
18. Green Beans: Choose slender beans that snap rather than bend. Avoid bulging or dried pods.
19. Jerusalem Artichokes: Choose smooth, firm tubers. Avoid those with green spots or sprouts.
20. Kale: Choose crisp, deeply-colored leaves. Avoid yellowed leaves. Smaller leaves tend to be more tender.
21. Leeks: Choose firm leeks with tightly-rolled tops. Slender leeks tend to be younger and more tender, while larger ones with rounded bulbs tend to be older and more woody.
22. Lettuce, Spinach, and Other Leafy Greens: Choose greens with fresh, crisp leaves. Avoid any that are wilted or slimy.
23. Onions and Shallots: Choose dry, firm bulbs that feel heavy for their size. Avoid any with soft spots or green sprouts.
24. Parsnips: Choose firm, ivory-colored roots. Large roots may be fibrous, so choose small and medium ones for better texture and flavor.
25. Peas: Choose crisp, green pods. Avoid bulging, dried, yellow, or white pods.
26. Peppers: Choose firm, naturally shiny peppers that feel heavy for their size.
27. Potatoes: Choose firm, smooth potatoes. Avoid those with bruises, green spots, or sprouts.
28. Radishes: Choose radishes with fresh, green tops and firm, unblemished roots.
29. Rhubarb: Choose firm pink or red stalks. Green stalks tend to be stringy and sour.
30. Rutabagas: Choose rutabagas that feel firm and heavy for their size. Avoid any with holes or bruises.
31. Scallions: Choose scallions with crisp, green tops and firm, white bulbs. Avoid wilted or browned scallions.
32. Summer Squash: Choose squash with naturally shiny, taught, unblemished skin. Avoid squash that appear dull or have soft spots.
33. Sweet Potatoes and Yams: Choose potatoes with firm, unwrinkled skins and no bruises or cuts, as they are highly perishable.
34. Swiss Chard: Choose chard with crisp stalks and shiny, bright, unwilted leaves.
35. Tomatillos: Choose green tomatillos with green husks. Avoid yellow fruits with brown husks.
36. Tomatoes: Choose tomatoes that are fragrant, smell earthy at the stem end, and feel heavy for their size. Avoid tomatoes with wrinkled skins.
37. Turnips: Choose turnips that feel firm and heavy for their size. Smaller turnips tend to be sweeter and more tender than larger ones, which may be woody.
38. Winter Squash: Choose squash that have stems intact and feel heavy for their size. Avoid squash with cuts or soft spots.
Print this list and attach it to your shopping list. Maybe there is a tip you didn’t know that could help on your next trip to the store!