Ripe vs. Rotten: Tips for Buying Fruit

Written by Cara Rosenbloom

(3 min read)

Buying produce and being unsure of what the freshest items are when grocery shopping can be frustrating. Summer in Canada means that fresh produce is abundant. What’s better than crunching into perfectly ripe fruit? On the other hand, what’s worse than buying fresh fruit just for it to go bad in a few short days?  Whether you visit a farmer’s market or produce section at your grocery store, or grow a garden, you’ll need to know the signs of when your fruit and vegetables are ripe. 

It’s easier to detect ripeness for veggies rather than fruits. Fresh vegetables stay fresh for longer and don’t need the perfect sweetness to be enjoyable. Carrots, beets, fennel, celery, broccoli, cauliflower – they’re pretty consistent, right?  

You can also rely on frozen vegetables; they take the chore out of washing and chopping, and can go from the freezer to the frying pan or soup pot. So convenient! Vegetables like corn, peas, green beans and carrots also come canned, but look for versions with no added salt. 

Some fruits are easy to buy – apples and oranges are available year-round and are reliably delicious. Even green bananas ripen well after a few days. But other fruits can be more confusing to buy. Here are some helpful hints when looking for quality fruits:

Grapes: Look for plump grapes without any shrivelling. You don’t want raisins! Another great hint is to check the stems – they should be green and flexible, not brown and woodsy. Finally, check the bottom of the bag or container. If many grapes have fallen off the stem, it means they may not be so fresh and healthy. 

Watermelon: Melons are some of the best fruits to buy. The secret to buying a sweet and juicy watermelon is to look for the large yellow (not white!) spot on the otherwise green rind. It tells you that the watermelon was ripened in the sun, and the light spot was sitting in the dirt. That’s good – sun-ripened watermelon wasn’t picked too soon. You can also knock on it and listen for a hollow sound – it’s a sign of juiciness. 

Berries: When you’re buying strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or other berries in containers, it’s not enough to simply peer through the plastic. Carefully lift the lid! Check for signs of crushed fruit, bruising or mold (it will be white and fuzzy). Choose a container with firm berries. Strawberries are a little special since they only keep for about three days. So don’t wash them, until you’re ready to eat them. Their leaves also help them stay fresh for longer — save trimming the top for the last minute. And when you’re storing them in your fridge, put them in the crisper drawer to elongate their freshness. 

When berries are too expensive, visit the grocer’s freezer. They have a wide selection of berries, and you don’t need to worry about bruised or moldy fruit.

Pears: Here’s a cool fact – did you know that pears ripen quickly at room temperature, but not in the fridge? You can buy pears in bulk and refrigerate them to keep them fresh. If you take one out of the fridge and leave it at room temperature for a few days, it will ripen perfectly. How will you know? Check the neck! Gently press your thumb into the neck near the stem. If it yields to gentle pressure, it’s ready to eat. 

Avocado: Ah, the dreaded avocado. These may be the trickiest fruit to buy because they have a short window of “perfection.” Green skins indicate under-ripe fruit. When avocados are ripe, the skin turns dark brown or black, but the fruit is still firm. If it’s soft to the touch, it’s overripe. If you don’t have great luck picking avocado, buy frozen cubed avocado. It’s perfect for guacamole and smoothies.  

Now that you’ve bought your fruit, read these tips on how to keep them fresh. 

Join the conversation: What’s your favourite summer fruit?

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