When you buy produce, you want the most for your money. But fruits and vegetables don’t come with an expiration date. I’ve collected these tips for helping you choose the freshest fruits and vegetables. Please share your tips in the comments.
Fruits and vegetables have seasons and you can’t always find the quality you want. Be flexible.
Always examine fruits and vegetables for blemishes, especially holes where insects may have entered. Many surface blemishes don’t affect the produce. But a soft spot will spread quickly to the rest of the fruit.
Produce, unless it is not ripe yet, should give off a fresh smell.
I’ve divided the produce into two categories: 1) Produce that starts going downhill from the moment it’s picked and 2) Fruits (mainly) and vegetables that can ripen or improve after you buy them.
The following items won’t improve with age, so use them as soon as you can. But if stored properly, root vegetables, garlic, citrus fruits and apples keep for weeks or even longer.
- Greens: Celery, parsley, dill, kale, leafy lettuce, broccoli, etc. should always be green and crisp looking. If it’s starting to look wilted, pale, or brown, it’s past its prime. Only buy it if it’s a bargain and you can use it right away. Sometimes the outside of a head of lettuce is wilted but the inside is still okay.
- Cabbage: Choose a crisp and heavy head.
- Root vegetables including turnips, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, etc: Root vegetables should feel heavy. The skin should be smooth, not wrinkled. They should smell fresh and have an attractive color. Smaller ones are usually tastier.
- Potatoes: The skin should be unwrinkled. Green skin is a sign of poisonous solanine. Cutting off the green won’t remove all of the solanine. Dirt on potatoes can be a sign of freshness, because they are usually washed before storage. The eyes of old potatoes start to sprout.
- Onions: Should be heavy and hard, with dark skins and no sprouting.
- Garlic: Old garlic will also start to sprout.
- Grapes: Lift up the package and look from underneath. As grapes ripen, they fall off the bunch so a lot of loose grapes means they are very ripe.
- Strawberries: Firm and without too strong a smell. Always sort strawberries as soon as you get home.
- Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, grapefruits,tangerines: Fresh smell and no soft spots. Brown surface scratches don’t affect the fruit. Green spots is also usually fine.
- Apples: Firm, smooth skin with no blemishes.
- Cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants, and peppers: Heavy, unwrinkled, dark (although some varieties of zucchini are pale).
- Mushrooms: White, if that is their original color. Smooth with no blemishes. Check the ends of the stems should also be white. I fished this one out of the refrigerator to show you. It’s a few days old: Note the brown cut edge at the stem, the way the peel is separating from the stem, and the brown spots on the white flesh.
Items below can be bought before ripening and left on the counter until ripe. Choose according to your needs and the date of your next shopping trip. Once ripe, transfer to the refrigerator.
- Melons: Press the top of the melon, where the stem was/is. If it’s soft, it’s ripe. Ripe melon also gives off a sweet smell. The stronger the smell, the riper the melon.
- Watermelons: Tap it. If you hear a hollow sound, it’s ripe. Also, lift it up and look underneath: the peel there should be yellow or ripe. [Source: About.com].
- Tomatoes: The redder the tomato, the riper it is. Refrigeration as it affects the flavor, so use tomatoes as soon as they are ripe.
- Avocados: Choose them hard, or, if you can use them right away, soft with few blemishes. Here are some photos, showing what they look like when they are ready to eat.
- Pitted fruits like peaches, apricots, plums, cherries and nectarines: Ripe ones are softer and more colorful. An imperfection or two usually means that they are just past their prime–buy only if you can use that day but they will be delicious. Strong-smelling fruit is very ripe. Avoid green peaches, as they don’t always ripen.
- Pears: Same as pitted fruits.
- Bananas: Green, hard bananas keep for a while so considering buying some yellow ones to eat right away. Bananas are best when the peel is tan with spots.
In my last post in the series, I’ll share tips for washing and storing fresh produce.
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