Some great tips for those of you that have problems picking out good fruit at the grocery store from baselle’s Financial Diary:

Good produce weighs more than you expect: Technique 1: take 5 of anything of the same size, preferably medium. Grab each one and gently hold it in the palm of your hand for a few seconds. Pick the heaviest feeling one. No need to squeeze, no need to dig in with your fingernails and disgust everyone. Works for citrus, works for corn, works for melons, works for tomatoes, works for celery, heck, it works for garlic bulbs…it just works for everything.

Good produce smells good: Technique 2: sniff the stem end of a fruit. It should smell appetizing, like the fruit. If you don’t smell anything and especially if it feels light, it means it’s mealy and dry. If you smell fermentation, pass it by, and if you can’t smell it because it’s wrapped in plastic … ahem, you’re not in the spirit of this, are you? This, along with technique 1, is an especially good tip for melons and pineapple.

Side tip for the uninhibited: A quick way to assess the whole produce bin is to move some of the top most pieces and put your nose in the bin. If you can’t smell anything if you put your nose deep in the bin, it might mean that nothing is ripe.

Good produce has a firm cut end: Technique 3: check the stem or the cut end. It should be firm, not soft or slimy or with weird colors. It can have a little bit of soil on it for street cred, but if it’s filthy, pass it by…if it’s a farm stand, pass the whole stand by. It probably means everything was cut with that dirty knife and the storage life of anything you buy at that stand will be short.

Side tip for corn: feel the tip through the husk. The fatter, less pointed tip is the ear you want. Very pointy tips means the ear hasn’t filled out.

Good produce is not the biggest: Technique 4: try to pick medium, medium-small sized fruit in the bin, not the largest. All the good stuff the plant puts in the fruit – sugars, acids, fragrances, flavors, secondary plant products, water – it seems like the plant will put in a certain amount, but no more. The good stuff in the larger sized fruit is diluted, spread out, while in the medium or small sized fruit, the good stuff is concentrated. It’s no secret that the gigantic apple is going to taste like a softball, while the smaller apple will taste like an apple. Not to mention that it’s a whole lot easier to figure out if something is heavy when you don’t get thrown off by grabbing the biggest thing.

Good produce ripens with its friends: Technique 5: check the bottom of the basket. Okay, the joke is that the produce guy puts the rotten strawberries in the bottom of the basket, and I would believe that in some cases. The truth is that many fruits ripen in the presence of ethylene gas, and that ripe fruit produces more ethylene gas. Baskets and bins often produce an enclosed space so that the fruit at the bottom of the bin or basket gets a bigger whiff of ethylene and therefore ripens faster.

Side tip: Aim for the middle of the bin for produce that you want to eat that night. Not everything is sensitive to ethylene – middle of the bin tip seems to work best for citrus, berries, bananas, and apples, and should be applied after all the other tips.

A word or two about the classic, “buy slightly soft, when the flesh yields to gentle pressure.” Good advice for buying ripe stone fruits and tomatoes. However, there are two caveats: 1.) most shoppers know that – after the sixth person submits the fruit to “gentle pressure” I guarantee you that it will be soft, but not in a delectable way. 2) you’ve picked ripe produce. Moreover, if you buy 6-7 ripe pieces of produce, you are committed to eating them within 2-3 days, which can be a challenge.

Have any other tips? Share them with us…

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1 Comment

  1. Ask the Produce clerk to help you select the fruit and / or veggie you are looking to buy.

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