There’s nothing worse than going to the grocery store, grabbing a bunch of fruits and vegetables from the produce section, and getting home only to realize they aren’t fresh or tasty. It’s so hard to know how to select the freshest fruit when you are at the store, especially if you are trying to be quick because you have impatient kids with you.
- Give your produce a quick once-over and avoid any that is wilted, wrinkled, drooping, bruised, or has signs of insect damage.
- Don’t wash your produce until you are ready to serve because the additional water can speed up the molding process.
- Most stores don’t get produce shipments over the weekend, so any out on Sunday and Monday morning have usually been there for a few days.
- Avoid large fruit, usually, they are so big because they are overripe and won’t have as much flavor or will start to get bitter.
- The surface of fruit should be smooth and even.
- Give a gentle squeeze, most fruit should be firm with just a slight give to it.
- Judge the weight of a fruit compared to the others, especially melons and citrus. Heavier fruit usually means they are juicier on the inside.
- Fruit should have a slightly sweet smell. Too sweet may mean it’s overripe, and a foul smell means it’s either rotten or way past desired ripeness.
- Similar to fruit, give your vegetables a quick overview to look for even color.
- Most vegetables should be as firm as possible. A soft vegetable means it is either overripe, rotting, or bruised on the inside.
- Leafy greens should be crisp with leaves that are consistent in color. There may be a couple of leaves that are torn or brown from shipping, but this should only be in a few spots.
- Root vegetables should also be firm and solid.
- A root vegetable with a crack can mean they are dry inside.
Buy Ripe and Ready or Let Ripen at Home?
There are some fruits and vegetables that you need to buy ready-to-eat because they won’t get any riper as they sit at home. Others can be bought a little under-ripe and will ripen up on your counter. For those that will continue to ripen, they should be left out and transferred to the refrigerator once ripe to “lock in” the state of ripeness for a few days.
- Leafy Greens
- Sweet Potatoes
What to Look For
Of course, the general rules are great for a quick and easy reference for buying the freshest produce. But if you want to be more specific, the following information will give you a guide for the most popular fruits and vegetables.
- Apples: Look for a rich, even color without blemishes
- Avocados: Slightly soft without cracks or dents
- Bananas: Ripe bananas are a solid yellow with a few brown spots. If you want to ripen at home, buy with a little green still on them.
- Blueberries: Brightly colored, firm blueberries without any leaks in the container
- Cantaloupes: Sweet smell with a little bit of give to the ends
- Cherries: Plump and dark red with fresh stems
- Grapefruit: Heavy and firm
- Kiwi: Brown and fuzzy skin, slight give when squeezed, citrus smell
- Oranges: Heavy, skin is not coarse or spongy
- Peaches: Tree-ripened have the most flavor
- Pears: Even color with slightly more give than an apple
- Pineapples: Heavy with a fragrant aroma, leaves are crisp and green
- Strawberries: Firm with the cap still attached
- Tomatoes: Fragrant earthy-smell at the stem, heavy for their size, no wrinkled skin
- Watermelons: Richly-colored flesh, no white streaks, symmetrical, smooth surface. May have a bit of discoloration on one side from where it was sitting on the ground
- Artichokes: Tight leaves and heavy for their size, leaves should squeak when rubbed together
- Asparagus: Smooth, dark green, closed and dense tips
- Beets: Firms, fresh stems, slender taproots
- Bell Peppers: Smooth, heavy. When shaken you don’t hear many seeds rattling around.
- Bok Choy: Dark green leaves with white stalks
- Broccoli: Bright with compact heads, dark green, buds not opened
- Cabbage: Dense, heavy head, red or green leaves
- Carrots: Firm, rich orange color, firm roots
- Cauliflower: Compact curds, ok to have leaves throughout. Avoid discolored or blemished heads.
- Celery: Firm, unblemished green stalks
- Corn: Husks are green and moist-looking, kernels underneath should be plump and juicy when slight pressure is applied with a fingernail
- Cucumbers: Hard with a sheen green skin
- Garlic: Firm plump heads without sprouts
- Green Beans: Slender, firm beans that snap instead of bending
- Leafy Greens: Crisp, deeply-colored leaves that aren’t wilted or slimy
- Mushrooms: Check the bottoms to make sure they are unopened just under the cap and lighter in color
- Onions: Dry, firm bulbs, heavy for their size
- Potatoes: Firm without “eyes”, smooth
- Spinach: Dark-green leaves without discoloration or wilting
- Squash: Shiny, unblemished skin without dull or soft spots