Tips for Choosing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

shmitta 040 This is the third part of a series on shopping for produce.

Part I: Ten Questions to Ask Before Going to the Store

Part II: Ten Questions to Ask When Buying Produce

Part IV: Tips on Storing Fruits and Vegetables

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).
  • decaying-mushroomMushrooms: 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:].
  • 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.

You may also enjoy:

Ten Questions to Ask Before Going to the Store

Ten Quick Tips for Cutting Your Produce Bill

Ten Questions to Ask When Buying Produce

Grow a Kitchen Herb Garden to Save Money

Frozen fish in Israel is allowed to contain an additional 20% of water or ice. Kolbotek, the Israeli investigative television program, measured the amount of water in frozen fish. Although up to 20% water is allowed, the amount of added water must be listed on the package. Some types had as much as 40% water–water that we are paying for since fish is sold by weight. According to experts, the flesh of fish does not retain water so any water left after defrosting must have been added during processing.

Only one-third of fish eatest by Israelis is grown locally. The rest is imported, mainly from China. Kolbotek sent two investigative reporters, who posed as importers, to investigate. Before going to China, the reporters asked for estimates. They were given two choices: with a chemical known as STPP, and without. The price differences ranged between 10 and 20%.

In China, one of the marketing representatives for the fish factories told the reporters that some factories cheated their customers by adding too much STPP. STPP stands for Sodium tripolyphosphate, an organic compound used in cleaning and bleaching materials like toothpaste, laundry detergent, dishwasher tablets and toilet cleaners. In recent years, the chemical has been used in food manufacturing, to retain additional water.

The reporter Michal brought a hidden camera to the factory, but the staff made her keep her rubber coat closed. So she brought out a camera and filmed “to show to the boss back in Israel.”

Treating the fish included putting a strong light under each filet and removing dozens of tilapia and Anikasia worms with tweezers. In one factory, the fish were punctured with tiny holes to allow more STPP–and therefore water–to be absorbed by the fish.  AFterward the fish were soaked and agitated in STPP and flash frozen at -40 degree temperatures.

No government agency supervises the imported fish. But the law is clear that even harmless food additives must be listed on the label. And fish that is treated with phosphates to include additional water must be marked as me-oobad, or processed. The fish checked by Kolbotek was marked as “golmi.” Only salmon package listed the STPP, also known as stabilizer #452. The others claimed to be unprocessed raw fish.

Kolbotek then bought samples of raw, frozen fish and sent them to a laboratory. Every type had at least 9% water added. One type, Delidag zehavon, contained 59.5 % water and 33.9% ice, leaving only 7% fish.  Another type was only 18% fish.

The salmon of Supersol and Delidag  were the only type of fish with additional ingredients, including the STPP (listed as stabilizer #452), listed on the label.

Finally, Kolbotek sent the fish to the only laboratory that checks for STPP, the lab of the agricultural ministry. Since it won’t work with the media, the reporters again pretended to be importers. One of the types tested had higher than permissible levels of

Sole by winnner food. No mention of STPP. Zehavon, also full of STPP. More than is permitted, not allwed to be marketed. most of hte fish are processed, full of water and phosphates, but we are not told.

The lawyer of the fish manufacturers replied in one voice, saying that they did not see the results of the lab so they have no comment.

are the primary points:

Israelis eat 10kg of fish a year, Americans 6. 1/3 are grown in Israel. 2/3 are imported: Merloza, salmon, sole, Nile perch, zehavon, and others.

Fish is not cheap: We pay for the ice as well. It must be more than 80 of the weight.

2:30 minutes: Supersol: we buy Sole, amnon, salmon and nile perch. We defrosted the fish and measured the amount of water.

We weighed and calculated.

Nile perch: 31%, mushkat 37% Sole: 40%

Experts: Meat has water, not fish.

There’s only one reason to increase the water content: money.

3:49 Chinese biggest manufacturer of fish. Most fish sold in Israel is water. The Israel exporters request the “combina” of adding water to the fish.

Expose: We made up a false importer company. We asked for estimates from Chinese companies.

4:00 Two types: Raw fish, without stpp, and fish treated with stpp, to increase the water content and weight.

Two examples: $4.40/kg vs. $3.95/kg for the treated fish, a 10% difference.

Sole: $3690/ton vs. $2920/ton (the English text is in error, it should say tons). A 21% difference.

5:30: The reporter pretends to be a sail manager and goes to the coast.

Meet with trader 6:20 in English. pollak (mushkat) She warns about the quality and addition of chemicals. Accuses them of cheating customers. They add too many chemicals and water. She recommends Bintai. She invites her to see the factory and the chemical treatment with sttp.

7:40: Guided tour. Sterilization: rubber robe boots and mask, scrubs,  The camera is in danger, and so is the reporter Michal, in a hostile country.There is fear in China of exposure of secrets.

8:29 The workers don’t leave their positions. They are quick and efficient. Michal checks the fresh fish. A worker closes her robe. Michal takes out her camera “to show the boss at home” and begins filming. It works.

9:09 They go to the station where the tilapia are removed. A lighted tables makes the inside of the fish transparent. dozens of anisakis are removed from each fillet by pincetta.

Now we go to a side room, to see the addition of the water.

New video:

STPP Sodium tripolyphosphate. An organic compound used in cleaning and bleaching materials like toothpaste, laundry detergent, dishwasther tablets and toilet cleaners.

In recent years, food man. have used it as a stabilizer and preservatives. It keeps the water in the food.

The fish is soaked in STPP before flash freezing at -40 degrees.

In another factory, each fish is treated to torture, punctured with nails so that the water will be absorbed They are placed in water with STPP and the fish are agitated like in a machine. They weigh much more than originally. They are packaged and sold as fish.

There’s no “teken” or supervision.

The takanot say you cannot sell any food that is worse than is indicated to the consumer. You can add harmless items as long as it is not done secretl to increase volume or weight.

(and who decides what is harmless)

The flesh of fish doesn’t take water, so to increase the water, phosphate must be included.

We decided to check in a lab all of the fish sold in chain andn groceries. How much water was added.
We sent them to a lab. Not even one of the fish was natural.


Amnon/mushat (pollak) of Delidag: 9.4 percent.

Golddag Nile perch 16.7 %

Shiloh: 24.5 %

Delidag: sole 41.3% Sodium: 3x more and citric acid.

Zehavnon: 48.7% and 33% ice, leaving 21% 18% fish.

Delidag zehavnon 59.5 and 33.9% ice. 7% fish.

Salmon: Supersal admits there is sugar, #452 (STPP), water and salt.

Delidag: Salmon same.

When we buy fish, we want pure fish.

The importers don’t tell us, including to people who might be sensitive to the ingredients.

health min. insists that phosphate is a food aditive, makes it meubad and fish must be labelled as such.

They took it to the only place in Israel that check s for STPP  Lab of health min doesn’t work with media, so we pretended to be importers.

Sole by winnner food. No mention of STPP. Zehavon, also full of STPP. More than is permitted, not allwed to be marketed. most of hte fish are processed, full of water and phosphates, but we are not told.

The lawyer of the fish manufacturers replied in one voice, saying that they did not see the results of the lab so they have no comment.


  1. Thanks, Hannah, for sharing this very useful information!

  2. These are great tips, thanks for compiling!

    Another thing to look out for when buying mushrooms is the texture – if they are wettish or have some “slime” on them then they are no longer ripe (although I’ve used them in soup without trouble).

    I’ve also seen vendors selling avocados that were picked too early, so it pays to know when the season starts, as there are different types of avocados. My rule of thumb is not to buy any fruit – especially avocados – if only one or two vendors are selling them. When most supermarkets, produce shops, or market vendors are selling an item, I know it’s in season (and the price will probably be better, too). I’ve bought hard avocados thinking they would ripen, but if they were picked too early they never will – and will rot instead.

  3. I keep hearing that most fruits and veggies should be heavy for their size, but I don’t know how I would jugde that. My mom taught me to pick the lightest weighing peppers so your not paying for seeds.

    I heard that melons have no sugar stores so they can’t continue to ripen off the vine, they only go downhill, and you should look for a the pale “ground spot” to be very yellow.

  4. Here is a lesson I learned about peaches several years ago that you may find useful.

    I went to the peach orchard and was advised to pick the ones that had no green, but not the soft ones. They *should* be left to ripen on the counter. So I picked them, let them ripen a few days and they were hard and flavorless. For some reason I then neglected them for several days (could have been a week? week and a half?). When I noticed them again they were slightly wrinkled and did not look too appetizing and I almost threw them into the compost without a backward glance.

    Instead I cut into one. Wow! It was the most perfect, most peachy peach I’d ever tasted. The texture was perfectly firm, the flesh was golden yellow and it was absolutely wonderful!

    I also heard on a podcast of The Splendid Table in an interview about some book called (I think) How to Pick a Peach. The author said that refrigerators are exactly the wrong temperature at which to store peaches. So don’t refrigerate them!

    You should also not refrigerate tomatoes because it affects the flavor and texture.

    Hannah, any additional info regarding the optimal way to store various types produce would be welcome!

  5. Mrs. S., thank you!
    Debbie, you’re right about the slimy mushrooms. And I’ve also had that experience with avocados. I wonder if there’s a way to tell.

    Yosefa, I wrote about melons based on my experience, maybe the ones here have more sugar than American honeydew.
    tdr, I have some peaches just like that in the fridge right now.

  6. Watermelons – should have a yellow spot somewhere on their skin. That means they were left to ripen naturally in the sun without being overhandled and turned this way and that. (Source: my cousin who grows them on his kibbutz)

    Galia melons are sweeter the more lines they have. I pick melons that have lines crazy all over, very tightly together and they’re prety much always sweet.

    I find tomatoes I buy green from the store and let them ripen on the worktop taste better than those that I buy red from the store.

    It took me a few years here in Israel to buy the green citrus fruits they sell at the start of the season. It was only when I saw the local supermarket advertisement with pictures of bright green oranges that I worked up the courage to buy these totally unripe-looking oranges, and I was pleasantly surprised!

    Useful information to know, thank you for sharing!