How to Choose Fresh, Ripe Fruit

How can we tell when fruits are ripe? Or when they’re rotten? Do the fruits that looks the prettiest actually taste the best? Too often, we pass over ugly produce just because of how it looks!

Have you ever fumbled through all of the apples in the store, avoiding any with bruises or blemishes—choosing only the biggest and shiniest apples—but then that pretty batch you picked ends up tasting tart and sour?

Or what about cantaloupe? It’s the worst! It may look fine and dandy on the outside, but you cut it open at home only to find that you’ve got a dry, unripe melon—or a melon that’s turning to mush!

Not all fruits are picture-perfect, and looks aren’t everything. Here are some tips to help you pick fresh, ripe fruit the next time you’re in the grocery store!

Ugly Produce Can Be Delicious—Don’t Judge A Fruit by It’s Cover!

Ripe, delicious fruits typically have an even surface. But, small bumps and blemishes actually don’t mean a fruit isn’t ripe—these can often be caused by weather damage or in transport. You can also use the color of a fruit to help you determine its ripeness. Many fruits (like bananas, strawberries, or peaches) are green before they’re fully ripe. With other fruits (like plums and cherries), the deeper and brighter their color is, the more ripe they are.

But, color is not a clear indication of ripeness for all fruits (like melons, pineapples, or grapefruit). While our eyes do part of the work when it comes to picking produce, there’s much more to ripe fruit than just looks!

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Get Handsy and Feel Your Fruits

As fruit ripens, it’s maturing and changing—and some of these changes we can feel: 

  • Pick up different fruits and turn them over in your hands.
  • Most ripe fruits are firm, but not rock-hard. You can tell that some fruits (like berries, plums, and kiwi fruits) aren’t yet ripe if they’re too hard. Citrus fruits that are too firm are typically dry inside.
  • Many fruits feel slightly soft to the touch when ripe (like apricots, mangoes, peaches, and pears).
  • Think about biting into a ripe fruit—it’s slightly soft and juicy, but not mushy and not rock-hard!
  • When you gently press on a ripe fruit with your thumb, it will give a little bit. Your thumb doesn’t indent or squish the fruit, but the fruit doesn’t feel like a stone, either. 

But, this trick doesn’t work with all fruits! Some fruits (like apples) are ripe, but still feel rock-hard. Some have a thicker skin or rind (like citrus fruits, melons, and pineapple) that prevents us from feeling their softness. In these cases, choose fruits that feel heavier for their size—the heavier, the juicier! A ripe fruit is juicier than its unripe counterparts, and all of that juice will make it feel heavier in comparison.

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Take A Whiff and Listen Up

Much like when a flower blooms, many fruits become more fragrant as they ripen. When you take a whiff, you’ll likely smell a light, sweet aroma if the fruit is ripe. If the scent is too strong, a fruit may be over-ripe. If a fruit smells sour or stinky, it may be getting old.

Now, smell won’t help you when choosing all kinds of fruit, but use your nose to help you pick out ripe: 

  • apricots and peaches
  • strawberries
  • lemons and limes
  • pineapple
  • cantaloupes and honeydew
  • thick-skinned fruits (like pineapple and melons) often have a sweet smell at the stem

There’s one last trick that can help you pick ripe melons: listen to them. Melons have a thick outer rind, and their inner flesh is generally very juicy when ripe. Especially with ripe watermelons, they should sound hollow inside when you thump or knock on them. That hollow sound means the fruit inside of the rind is extremely juicy and ready to be devoured!

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‘Ugly’ Fruits Can Still Be Delicious!

Just because a fruit is picture-perfect, that does NOT guarantee that it will taste great! The outer appearance of fruits can be deceiving:

  • Plenty of the minor bruises, scratches, and tears we see on fruits are harmless—these are a reality of fruit growing outdoors on farms, and then being transported to the grocery store where most of us buy them.
  • The sun may leave dark spots on fruit, but they aren’t harmful, nor a sign of rotting.
  • Fruits may bruise if they fall from their tree or bustle in boxes during transport.
  • We have to remember that fruits are a product of nature—not a factory! They can come in any number of strange shapes, some are larger than average, and others are smaller than average.

Fruits (and veggies) that look different from the norm or less-than-perfect—a.k.a. ‘ugly’ fruits—can still be just as ripe and delicious. Don’t be deceived by appearances! Some apples seem tiny, and some strawberries seem enormous. Some melons are longer and skinner, some are more round. Apples with yellow patches of skin or small scratches can still be perfectly ripe and tasty!

Here’s what we want to avoid:

  • Signs of rot—like mushiness, very soft dark spots, or parts of the fruit’s flesh that have sunken in.
  • Fruit that’s old and going bad—with dry, shriveled skin or a foul smell.
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By Choosing Less-Than-Perfect Produce, You Help Reduce Food Waste!

Don’t discount potentially-delicious produce just because it doesn’t look picture-perfect! Too often, ugly produce is left on the shelf. People mistakenly assume that produce with minor blemishes or strange-shapes are no good. This food that is never bought from the store becomes food waste.

Even worse, fruits and veggies that don’t meet current industry standards for size, shape, color, and cosmetic standards are deemed ‘unsellable.’ Around 1/3 of the planet’s food goes to waste, often because of how it looks. That’s millions of tons of edible produce that’s dumped—enough to feed 2 billion people. This ‘ugly’ produce is perfectly edible, and the majority is just as delicious and nutritious! Yet, it goes wasted.

Now, there are movements to save more of this perfectly good produce, like the Ugly Fruit And Vegetable Campaign. More stores are beginning to sell less-than-perfect produce at a discounted price, and there are even imperfect produce delivery services.

Picking ripe fruits in the grocery store can be a challenge, but, the point here is, you DON’T need to shy away from ‘ugly’ produce. (For tips on choosing specific types of fruits, check out the guide included at the end of this post!)

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How to Select the Best Fruit

Check out this awesome guide to choosing ripe fruits from The Kitchn!

  • Apples: Choose fruits that are deeply colored, firm, naturally shiny, and heavy for their size.
  • Apricots: Choose fruits that are fragrant and slightly soft but not mushy.
  • Bananas: Choose bright yellow bananas to eat right away or green bananas to ripen at home. Avoid fruits that are bruised or split.
  • Blueberries: Choose berries that are firm, dry, and blue (not red or green). A white sheen is natural. Also check the bottom of the basket to make sure there aren’t any crushed or spoiled berries.
  • Cantaloupes: Choose fruits that are fragrant and cream or golden in color (not green). Avoid fruits with soft spots, although the end opposite the stem should be slightly soft.
  • Cherries: Choose berries that are plump, shiny, and darker in color. Cherries with intact stems have a longer shelf life.
  • Figs: Choose soft, plump fruits with intact, bent stems. Minor bruises or tears are usually harmless, but avoid buying dry, cracked figs.
  • Grapefruits: Choose fruits that have smooth, thin skins and are heaviest for their size. They should feel firm but slightly springy to the touch. Don’t worry about color.
  • Grapes: Choose fruits that are firm, plump, and heavy for their size. They should be firmly attached to the stems without wrinkled or brown spots.
  • Kiwi Fruits: Choose fruits that give slightly when pressed. Avoid fruits that are either rock hard or mushy.
  • Lemons and Limes: Choose fruits that are fragrant and heaviest for their size. Avoid fruits that are shriveled.
  • Mangoes: Choose fruits that are slightly soft to the touch and fragrant near the stem end.
  • Oranges: Choose fruits that heaviest for their size and have firm, smooth skins. Don’t worry about color. For Mandarin oranges, make sure skins are firm, not shriveled.
  • Peaches: Choose fragrant, deeply colored (not green) fruits that are firm but slightly soft to the touch.
  • Pears: Pears are usually picked before they are fully ripe, but choose fruits that are free of bruises and look for any that are getting soft just below the stem. Ripen them at room temperature; placing them in a paper bag speeds up the process.
  • Persimmons: Choose fruits that are deep orange or red in color. Fuyu types should be firm but not rock-hard. Hachiya types should be soft and squishy or kept at room temperature for a week or two until they soften. Dark spots caused by by sunburn are harmless unless the flesh is sunken or broken.
  • Pineapples: Choose fruits that smell sweet at the stem end, have fresh looking leaves, and are heavy for their size. Avoid fruits with soft spots or dry, brown leaves.
  • Plums: Choose fruits that are deeply colored, shiny, and firm but not rock hard. A white or gray sheen is natural.
  • Pomegranates: Choose fruits that are heavy for their size. Cracks are a good sign that the fruits are bursting with plump seeds; just make sure there isn’t any mold in the cracks.
  • Quinces: Choose fruits that are firm and golden in color.
  • Strawberries: Choose berries that are fragrant, uniformly red (not yellow or green), and shiny with fresh green tops. Also check the bottom of the basket to make sure there aren’t any crushed or spoiled berries.
  • Watermelons: Choose fruits that are firm and heavy and sound hollow when thumped. A properly ripened watermelon should have a yellow spot on one side where it sat on the ground.