Derek likes to think I have a God-given talent to pick out the best fruits and vegetables, but he just doesn’t know all of the secrets I got up my sleeve. 😉 This post will walk you through the best ways to pick out produce in general and specific tips for certain fruits and vegetables. You will be produce royalty in your town. All the neighbors will beg you to pick out their fruit and you’ll have so many requests, you’ll have to move three states away and never expose this amazing gift again. Or… you could show them this post and basically knight them with produce royalty, too.
Tips and Tricks to Picking out Produce:
This section will detail general tips to pick out most produce, below I will give specific tips based on the vegetable or fruit.
Tip #1: Put Your Sniffer to Good Use
This is my most valuable tip and never fails me. This tip does, however, mostly apply to fruit. The number one thing I do to pick out fruit is smell it. If the fruit doesn’t smell like itself, how can you expect it to taste like it?
I don’t put my nose all over it (be respectful, kids), but I will put it close to my face and take a good whiff if I can get a faint smell of the fruit, it’s good to go! The fruits I commonly smell are apples, oranges, peaches/nectarines, pineapples, pears, mangos, and other small fruits.
When picking out a particular fruit, say apples, smell a few apples to get a baseline and go from there. Some fruits will be way more fragrant than others, so just because your apples don’t smell as noticeable/potent as your pineapples doesn’t mean the apples aren’t good. Look for a faint smell that is sweet and like the fruit (peaches should smell peachy). If it smells sickly sweet, it is most likely overripe and if the fruit smells like green bananas or just ‘green’ in general, it is probably not ripe, you’ll get the hang of it!
Tip #2: Don’t be Afraid to Open Packages!
When I buy berries in general, I ALWAYS open the packages. I’m not about to pay $5 for berries rotten in the very center that I can’t see.
Say I’m looking for strawberries, I will first start by glancing at all the packages and seeing which looks best on top. I will then grab the one I like the most and check the bottom (this is where I generally will have to check several before moving to the next step because the bottom berries always get squished and molded). Once I find one that looks good on the outside, I will pop open the lid and move a few of the top berries gently, place them gently back down, shut the lid, and get it if it looks good (I also have to check several here because the middle is where I tend to find squished and molded berries or berries eaten by bugs).
I generally use this trick for berries, grapes, cherries, and herbs! I DO NOT use this trick on packages that are not easily resealable (things closed with tape/plastic that needs to be torn to open). Be respectful of the packages.
Also, don’t go switching fruit around (be respectful). The packages are specifically weighed to contain X amount of produce, you switching that all around may jip someone else out of their fair share. If you open a package that has one bad berry, and is the best one you can find, just buy it and immediately remove the bad berry when you get home.
Tip# 3: The Pinch Test
I have been wronged too many times by perfectly looking produce that is a squishy rotten mess on the inside. I will always gently touch and test my produce before purchasing it. For grapes, blueberries, apples, cherries, pineapples, and pretty much everything, I will make sure to notice how firm/soft the produce feels.
Say I’m shopping for grapes, I will open the bag and lightly pinch the grape to test how firm they are. I will search for something fairly firm in most produce (peaches, nectarines, mangos, and pears should be softer but not squishy).
This is a great tip for asparagus as well. Lightly pinch the tips of the asparagus, they should feel firm. If it is soft they are about to go bad and if they just squish like a bug it is way overripe.
Tip #4: Bruised Produce Doesn’t Mean Bad Produce
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Just because something has a small blemish doesn’t mean it is bad. I will find some awesome apples that are bruised and a quick cut with the knife fixes the issue and you have an amazing piece of fruit. Just make sure the blemish isn’t a hole (bugs), moldy, or slimy.
Tip #5: Know What’s in Season
My second most used trick to pick the best produce is to make sure it’s in season. You can google ‘your location’ and ‘in season produce’ and find the best time for you (yes, it is different even from state to state)!
Shopping in season helps ensure you are actually taking advantage of when the produce should be at its peak. Here in Colorado, apples are at their peak in the fall, but they taste pretty similar all year. However, there are lots of other produce that is disgusting when it first hits the store and I always wait until the season starts to pick up any. Just because a specific fruit/vegetable was just introduced to the store doesn’t mean it is their season or that they are very good.
For example, I will see Cuties (mandarins/clementines) in late November/early December hit stores. They are so sour and gross at this time of year. However, if you wait until January, they are amazing.
Get to know what is in season when and realize that if something just made their way to the store you should probably wait a few weeks before picking them up so they are at their prime.
As you start to pick out more and more produce, you’ll find out what time in the season is best for you. Here in Colorado, the beginning of the season isn’t very good, and the middle of the season is spot on. However, in Missouri, the beginning of the season for lots of produce is really good! You’ll have to figure out what is best for your location, but a seasonal produce chart should get you started.
Tip #6: Look for Vibrancy
For all produce, look for something vibrant. If a piece of fruit looks dull it probably isn’t ripe or in-season. If you are picking out asparagus, for example, it should always be vibrant darkish green at the tips and bright green towards the bottom, if it looks grayish or brownish, it’s not ripe/rotting.
How to Pick Out Specific Fruit and Vegetables
This section will detail how to pick out produce that can’t be guaranteed with the above tips.
When picking out artichokes, look for one that has relatively closed leaves. The leaves shouldn’t be crazy tight together (unripe), but they should be closed. If they are open they are overripe. See image below, the artichoke is closed but not tightly. The tips of the leaves are slightly open but not bursting open like a flower.
Ripe artichokes should also squeak when lightly squeezed. Artichokes can have purple looking blemishes around the bottom leaves and be good as long as it’s not excessive.
Squeeze the stem of the artichoke, it should be firm but not hard as a rock (unripe) and not soft (overripe).
I am a self-declared Watermelon Master. One time Derek brought home a watermelon he was so proud of and one thunk later I knew it wouldn’t be sweet. We bet on it (all in good fun), opened the sucker up, and you can bet I went a bought a better watermelon with the winnings.
When looking for a good watermelon it should be heavy for its size. Basically, what this means is when you pick it up, you should be slightly surprised at how heavy it feels. You can also test if it is juicy by slightly swishing the melon around. If it feels like it’s “throwing” it’s weight, it is nice a water-filled which equals a ripe and juicy melon.
Look at color. One side of the melon should be a vibrant dark green with lighter green striping, and one side will be pale yellow (this is where it was touching the ground while ripening). If the melon is more than 40%-50% pale yellow, it will not be very good.
The last tell of a ripe melon is all in the thump. Give your melon a good knock and listen. If it sounds dull/high pitched, it’s underripe, if it sounds very deep, it is probably overripe and squishy (bleh)! You should look for a nice in between that sounds full and middle range (try a few and you’ll find what middle ground I’m talking about).
Picking out avocados can be tricky. It seems like they are underripe and hard as a rock for weeks, ripe for one day, and rotten the next. 🙄 You can use the pinch test above, but sometimes that’s not enough.
When using the pinch test, use your palm and lightly squeeze (using fingertips will cause bruising). Look for an avocado that is in between firm and slightly soft. A hard avocado is underripe (but will ripen in a few days on the counter) and squishy is overripe.
You can go one step further, and check the avocado by popping off the small stem/cap on top and looking at the color inside. If it is vibrant and bright green (like the outside ring of the flesh pictured above), it is ready to go (if it is firm with a slight give). If it is brown, it is probably overripe (even if only slightly squishy).
Lastly, you can look at the outside color. If it is vibrant green (like pictured above), it is ripe. Dark green to brown is overripe, and lighter green is underripe.
On Thursday I will be posting a part two to this guide that talks about the easiest and best ways to prepare some of those trickier fruits and vegetables, subscribe so you don’t miss it! If you are on a desktop/laptop, you can subscribe in the upper right sidebar ↗️. If on mobile, you can subscribe to the blog below ⬇️.
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Thank you so much for reading and may the produce odds be ever in your favor!