We like to feel in control when we’re shopping and this is at least one reason some of us avoid the produce section. There are fruits and vegetables in there we don’t recognize. People are pounding on some of them and sniffing others. Sprayers are going off randomly. How do we know what’s good, what’s ripe, what we’ll enjoy, or anything else that might be important? Safer to just stay away, right? You are missing out on a world of health and deliciousness if you do. Here are a few ideas.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. That’s what the employees in the produce section are there for. Ask them how to tell what’s organic, what’s ripe, what’s good, or even what recipes that veggie might work well in. If they don’t know, they will find someone who does. There are also other shoppers who might be more than willing to help. Yes, it’s always awkward for a second when you approach someone who is sniffing the bottom on pineapple and ask them why they do that, but it will spark a fun conversation. The awkwardness passes quickly.
Ask the internet if you aren’t ready to approach someone you don’t know. Pull out that expensive smart phone you use mainly for games and do a quick search on the fruit or veggie that caught your eye. Easy, painless, and plenty of information available to you in an instant.
Buy in Season
Try to buy fresh produce in season and select certified organic whenever possible. This will assure you have the best fruits and vegetables that haven’t been picked early and ripened while shipped around the world. For even fresher produce, try to find locally grown varieties. These can be found at farmer’s markets, and many grocery or whole food stores will mark or tag locally grown foods.
Spring – Buy apricots, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, beets, cauliflower, cherries, greens, radishes, rhubarb, and spinach.
Summer – Buy berries, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, greens, and tomatoes.
Winter – Root vegetables, like leeks, sweet potatoes, and turnips. Also lemons. For other fruits and vegetables, buy organic. Many will most likely have been shipped, but they still a healthier option.
Use Common Sense and Senses
Picking the best produce leans heavily on common sense. Don’t select fruits or vegetables that don’t look right, have insect or worm holes, are rotten, or are beginning to mold. Make sure they aren’t slimy, bruised, or shriveled either.
Once you’ve vetted that veggie with some common sense, it’s time to rely on your senses of smell and touch.
That’s right, smell the produce. Hold it up and sniff away. Don’t feel silly, it’s for good reason. You can often smell mold, mildew, or rot even when you can’t see it. Many types of produce will begin to give an “off” scent if they are too old. Then feel the produce for mushy spots or to see if they are too hard. The more you buy the same produce, the better you will get at knowing when a fruit or vegetable is perfectly ripe. Here are what some common produce should look and feel like to get you started.
Apples: Should be firm with no soft spots or bruises.
Apricots: Slightly soft and uniform in color.
Artichokes: Should have tight leaves and feel heavy for their size. Leaves should squeak when pressed together.
Avocados: Should feel slightly soft. Firm ones can be ripened at home, but very hard ones may not. Avoid any with cracked or dented skin.
Bananas: Choose yellow bananas with a hint of green. Bananas ripen quickly.
Beets: Dark, red, firm, and small roots with slender taproots. Larger ones will be woody and fibrous.
Berries: Check the bottom of any berry container for mold and choose bright colored berries with uniform color.
Blueberries: Plump, firm, dark blue colored with a silvery frost.
Bok Choy: Larger ones should have dark green leaves and bright white stalks. Smaller, baby bok choy should be light green.
Broccoli: Choose firm stalks with tightly bunched, dark green florets and crisp green leaves. Avoid broccoli with brown or yellow spots or flowering florets.
Brussels Sprouts: Should be firm, compact, and bright green, without loose outer leaves.
Cabbage: Firm, compact, and with a heavy feel for their size.
Cantaloupes: Slightly soft without lumps or soft spots.
Cauliflower: Should have tightly packed, cream colored florets. Avoid brown, yellow, or flowering florets.
Celery: Stalks and leaves should be firm, free of spots or blemishes, and green, not yellow.
Celery Root: Any leaves attached should be fresh and green. The root should be firm, hard, and feel heavy.
Corn: The husk should be bright green, the silk should be moist, and the kernels should be plump. Do not choose corn that has slimy silk or dried out kernels.
Cucumbers: Solid, deep green, and without spots.
Eggplant: Smooth, shiny skin and feels heavy. Check for ripeness by pressing the skin with a finger. It should give slightly and then bounce back. Choose smaller ones for better texture and flavor.
Fennel: Choose fennel without spots, with white, firm bulbs, firm stems, and fresh, green leaves.
Garlic: Firm, plump, without soft spots or green sprouts.
Grapefruit: Slightly springy, thin skin and feels heavy, without rough spots, thick skin, or very soft spots.
Grapes: Plump, all one color, and firmly attached to the green stems. Don’t choose grapes where the stems are starting to get too brown.
Green Beans: Not bulging or dry. They should snap when bent not just bend.
Kiwi: Kiwis give slightly when pressed. Hard or overly soft ones won’t be good.
Leeks and Green Onions: The bulbs should be small and white with dark, tightly rolled leaves without spots. Large, rounded bulbs will be tougher.
Lettuce: All leafy greens should have crisp, bright leaves, not wilted or slimy.
Mangoes: Mangoes can be a multitude of colors, yellow, green, red, or a mix of those, and still be good. They should be fairly soft with a sweet smell at the stem end.
Mushrooms: Smooth, cream colored, without wrinkles, and not slimy.
Onions and Shallots: Firm, dry, with a heavy feeling for their size, without soft spots, sprouts, or a musty smell.
Oranges: Some spots are usually okay with oranges. Their skin should be thin and smooth and the fruit should be firm and heavy.
Parsnips: Firm, cream colored roots. Choose small or medium sized parsnips for better texture and flavor.
Peaches: Should have a creamy peach color and be free of soft spots or wrinkles.
Pears: Pears should be firm, but not hard, and slightly softer at the stem end. Some blemishes are okay.
Peppers: Should have firm, shiny, brightly colored skins, feel heavy, and be free of soft spots.
Pineapple: Heavy, no soft spots, no dark spots, and smells sweet near the stem.
Plums: Slightly soft with a deep, rich color.
Potatoes: Firm, smooth, without soft spots, bruises, or sprouts.
Radish: Firm roots with fresh green tops.
Rhubarb: Should have firm red or pink stalks. Don’t choose rhubarb with green stalks.
Spinach: Choose spinach with crisp, bright green leaves.
Strawberries: Bright and plump with a strong strawberry smell. Do not choose bigger ones, they tend to be more bitter.
Sweet Potatoes: Firm, smooth, without bruises, wrinkles, or cuts.
Swish Chard: Crisp stalks with shiny, bright leaves.
Tomatoes: Should be firm, bright colored, heavy, and without spots or wrinkles. They should also have an earthy scent near their stems.
Watermelon: Firm, smooth, heavy, and bright colored with one yellowed side. The yellow side means it ripened in the field and wasn’t picked too early.
Zucchini: Should be firm with dark green skin, not soft, bendable, or wrinkled.