Picking the freshest possible produce is a crucial aspect of preparing delicious food. A meal is only as good as the ingredients that go into it and choosing subpar fruits and vegetables is tantamount to throwing your money away. But how do you actually do so? We’ve all found ourselves lost in the supermarket produce section before, unsure as to how to select perfectly a perfectly ripe watermelon or tomato, for example. Unfortunately, most supermarket clerks are just as clueless as the rest of us. If you happen to live close to one, you should buy your produce at a local farmers’ market instead and tap the collective wisdom of those who work the land and know fruits and vegetables like the backs of their own hands. Or just use your senses to sniff out the perfect produce. The first part of our guide zeros in on the most common fruit varieties. Stay tuned for the second part, which will be all about picking the perfect vegetables.
Stick with apples that are deeply colored, firm, naturally shiny, and feel heavy for their size. But beware: most supermarkets know about the “shiny” thing and wax their apples. If you want to be super-duper-extra-macchiato safe, pick them up at your local farmers’ market.
Bananas are usually harvested when they are still green and begin to ripen during transportation. Therefore, it’s likely that when they reach the supermarket that they won’t be entirely yellow and ripe. However, you can easily let them continue to ripen at home. As a rule of thumb, always pick bright yellow bananas and stay away from broken or bruised ones. Additionally, organic bananas tend to have a fuller, sweeter flavor.
When buying cherries, be sure to pick ones that are plump, shiny, and deep red. Also look out for intact stems, as they help to prolong shelf life.
If the kiwis are either rock hard or mushy, leave them in the store. However, if they’re slightly tender to the touch, take them with. If you want to ripen them at home, store them together with apples. The ethylene from the apples will kick start the ripening process. To speed things up, put them together in a plastic bag and store them at room temperature for one or two days.
Finding a decent mango is next to impossible if you don’t have the good fortune of living in a tropical wonderland. When you do come across one, choose one that is slightly soft to the touch and fragrant near the stem end. Also look for tiny dark spots. The color, however, is no indicator of ripeness. Mangoes come in a variety of different colors, ranging from green to yellow to red. If you’re into really sweet fruit, go for the Asian varieties such as Nam Dok Mai from Thailand or Manila Super Mango, the latter of which, as you can tell from its name, is officially the world’s sweetest mango.
Go for firm, smooth, and thin-skinned oranges that feel heavy for their size. But don’t judge the fruit by its color. Some oranges are dyed and certain varieties tend to re-green after harvesting. Don’t be afraid of brown blemishes, as they are indicative of the fact that the orange was grown in a warm and humid region.
Usually pears are harvested before they are fully ripe. As always, when choosing fresh produce, look for firm and smooth pears without bruises. Leave them on your kitchen counter for a few days (depending on the varietal) to ripen. They are ready to eat when the flesh just below the stem yields evenly to gentle pressure. For the purposes of cooking, it’s not necessary for pears to be fully ripe.
Always choose watermelons that feel firm and heavy and that sound hollow when thumped. Look out for a yellow spot on the side where the melon sat on the ground, as that is a sign of a properly ripened watermelon.
In general, peaches are ripe when they are tender to the touch and very fragrant. Look out for dark spots. These are usually mistaken for bruises; however, these so called sugar spots are a surefire sign that the peach in question has received ample sunlight and collected lots of sugar.