How To Pick The Best Produce Every Time (AKA: Tips To Tell It’s Ripe)

It’s no secret that produce can be finicky. While there are some fruits and veggies that make spotting ripeness simple (thank you, bananas and avocados), others can be much trickier (we’re looking at you, pears and squash).


So when ripeness isn’t quite as obvious, what are you supposed to do? Do you just throw caution into the wind and pick at random? After all, even if you try your best to examine each piece of produce, you may still end up with something that’s under or over ripe.

But as you probably guessed, there’s definitely a method to the produce madness. For instance, there are different ways to gauge ripeness—besides just look and feel—like weight and smell. Also, did you know that some fruits and veggies continue to ripen after being harvested, while others don’t? This means that if certain fruits and veggies don’t look ripe at the store, they won’t at home either.

For example, when it comes to strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, apples, cherries, grapes and citrus fruits, what you see is what you get—they won’t ripen any more. On the other hand, you may have a little more wiggle room with bananas, avocados, peaches, plums, cantaloupe, blueberries and tomatoes, as these fruits will continue to ripen (even after they’re harvested).

To make sure you don’t leave your produce selection up to the luck of the draw, here’s exactly how to choose fruits and veggies when they’re not too under ripe and not too over ripe, but right in the sweet spot of peak freshness:

Avocados: Often times, ripe avocados don’t exactly look appealing on the outside. But beneath that dark green or black skin is the soft, light green middle is that so many of us love. When you squeeze a ripe avocado, it should feel slightly soft to the touch. However, if it’s firm, you’ll want to keep it out at room temperature to ripen (put it in the refrigerator to keep it from ripening further).

Beets: Despite their impressive list of nutrients, beets aren’t always the most popular root veggie. But don’t let their strange look and bright color deter you from trying them. Ripe beets should be firm and round with fresh-looking tops and deep red roots. Avoid beets with rough areas and long roots, as they may be tough.

Berries: While strawberries and raspberries won’t continue to ripen after being harvested, blueberries will. This doesn’t change how you should select your berries in the store, though.

Make sure that you look for berries that are uniform in color (deep red or deep blue—no white, green or brown). Also, the key to checking for ripeness is to shake the plastic container(s) they come in. If the berries move around freely, you are all set. If not, then there’s likely a soggy, sticky berry somewhere in there.

Brussels sprouts: This small, but mighty veggie is right in season throughout the Fall. To pick the best sprouts, look for those that are smaller (these will be sweeter and more tender), more compact (tight leaves) and bright green in color. If you notice that their leaves are yellowing, this is likely a sign of aging post-harvest. 

Citrus: Whether we’re talking about oranges, clementines or grapefruits, the rules of ripeness are the same: it’s all about the skin. Steer clear of those with bruising, soft spots or discoloration. As a good rule-of-thumb, ripe citrus should feel  heavy for its size when you pick it up.

Peaches: You can’t talk about Georgia and not talk about peaches—right? And it’s the perfect time of year, too. Now in terms of spotting that perfect peach, you’ll want to look for a nice golden orange/yellow color. And you’ll want to check for slight softness to the touch—it should be firm with some give when you squeeze it.  

Pears: The main thing you want to watch for when picking a pear is skin health. Make sure that it’s firm and that you avoid those with bruising or soft spots. In terms of ripeness, a pear should be firm with a little bit softness when squeezed. However, even if you pick a pear that’s under ripe, it’ll continue to soften and sweeten with time.

Squash: This may be the easiest fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit) to pick out of all. Even though this fall favorite comes in many, many different variations, the guidelines to spotting a ripe squash are all the same. It comes down to just a few things: it should feel heavy (for its size) and it should have firm, blemish-free skin (no bruising or soft spots).

A healthy outside starts on the inside.

As with all things, becoming a produce expert takes time. After all, there are hundreds of different varieties. So in addition to remembering these helpful tips—like which fruits and veggies should feel tight and/or firm (eggplants, grapes, tomatoes) vs. those that should be slightly soft (mangoes, avocados and peaches), make sure to talk to your primary care provider, too. As the health care expert that knows your health needs best, your partner in good health can help by making nutrition recommendations customized just for you.

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