OK, we’ve all been in the produce section and seen those people who smell, poke, examine and compare pieces of fruit like some sort of weird fruit doctor. You are not alone. You don’t need to be a fruit expert when you shop. Here are a few tips to help you pick the best fruit for your family.
Buy in season
Check your local farmers’ market or watch for specials at the grocery store.
Locally grown produce doesn’t have to travel very far to get to your table, so it tends to be fresher and less expensive. And fruits grown close to home often taste better because they’ve been allowed to ripen naturally. If you shop at a farmers’ market, go early in the day when produce is freshest. When you buy loose produce, you can pick the best of the bunch.
Buying organic fruit means you don’t have to worry about most pesticides or genetically modified foods. But buying organic can be a lot more expensive, too. If you want to go organic, shop at your local farmers’ market or food co-op. Organic produce from these sources is often less expensive (and tastier) than what you find at a chain grocery store.
Use your nose
When choosing fresh produce, follow your nose. Ripe strawberries and melons, for example, have an irresistibly sweet aroma.
The Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit sponsored by growers and agricultural producers, has information on its website to help you find out what’s in season.
How to choose the freshest fruits
Children should eat 1 to 1 1/2 cups of fruit daily. Follow these tips to get the most out of the fruit your family eats:
Apples: Look for firm apples with good color. Brown or tan “scald” marks (irregularly shaped areas) may not affect taste, but soft, discolored bruises indicate damage.
Avocados: Grown in Florida and California, avocados are available year-round. Choose ones that are slightly soft. If you buy unripe avocados, let them ripen at room temperature for three to five days. Refrigeration slows ripening. Don’t buy avocados with dark, sunken spots or a surface that’s cracked or broken – these are signs of decay.
Bananas: These are best eaten when yellow with brown speckles. Bananas get damaged below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so never refrigerate. Bananas that look dull and gray have been exposed to cold and won’t ripen properly.
Blueberries: These berries are in season from May to September. Look for plumpness and uniform color – blueberries should have a dark blue color with a silvery bloom that forms a natural, waxy coating. Watch out for soft or leaking berries.
Grapefruit: Look for firm fruit that feels heavy for its size. Grapefruits with thin skin are juicier than coarse-skinned fruit. (You can tell if a grapefruit has thick skin if it’s pointed at the stem end or has rough, ridged, or wrinkled skin.) Don’t buy fruit with water-soaked areas or a soft peel that breaks easily with finger pressure – these are signs of decay. Scratches and discolored spots on the peel don’t usually indicate damage.
Grapes: Select bunches with green, pliable stems that have grapes firmly attached. Don’t choose leaky grapes or ones that feel soft, looked wrinkled, or have bleached areas around the stem ends.
Kiwi: A ripe kiwi yields to a gentle squeeze but doesn’t become marked with permanent indentations.
Melons: A melon that has a stem still attached may not be ripe. Most cantaloupes need two to four days at room temperature to ripen. When the blossom end of the melon yields slightly to thumb pressure, it’s ready to eat. Ripe cantaloupes have a pleasantly sweet smell. Don’t buy any that are overly yellow or have soft skin. These are signs of over-ripeness.
Oranges: State laws require that oranges be ripe before being harvested and shipped, so don’t worry if you see oranges with a greenish cast or green spots. Often mature oranges will turn green late in the marketing season (called “regreening”). Look for firm, heavy fruit with reasonably smooth skin. It’s common for oranges from Florida or Texas to have tan, brown, or black mottling – this doesn’t affect flavor. Don’t buy lightweight oranges (which are likely to be dry) or fruit with soft, decayed spots.
Peaches: These favorites are in season from May to September. Freestone varieties are best for eating fresh because the flesh separates easily from the pit. Clingstone peaches (so-called because the flesh clings tightly to the pit) are best for canning. Don’t buy very hard peaches because they’re unlikely to ripen properly. Also avoid very soft peaches or ones with large bruises.
Pears: Ripe pears should be firm but slightly soft. Their color depends on the type: Bartlett pears (generally available from early August through November) should be pale to rich yellow. Bosc pears (usually available from November until May) are greenish or brownish yellow. Pears that are hard in the grocery store will probably ripen at home at room temperature, but your best bet is to choose pears that have already started to soften and eat them right away. Wilted or shriveled pears won’t ripen, so give those a pass. Also check pears for spots on the sides or blossom ends of the pear – that’s an indication there may be “corky” tissue underneath.
Raspberries: Look for berries that are plump and tender but not mushy. Stains on the container may indicate mushy or moldy berries inside. Berries should not have their caps attached.
Strawberries: The first shipments of strawberries appear in supermarkets in January, but they’re in peak supply in May and June. Look for ones with the cap stem still attached, and avoid fruit with white at the top or large discolored patches. Check berries for mold, which can spread quickly from one berry to another. Small to medium strawberries are usually more flavorful than big ones.
What problems have you had when buying fruit? What are the most favorite fruits in your house?