When inspecting produce, use your senses. Ask yourself how the item smells, how it feels, and whether it looks appealing. These are good indicators of its freshness. Check out these tips for finding the fresh pick in your fruits and vegetables.
The flesh should be firm, but give a little. If your plums, berries, or nectarines are rock hard, they’re not ripe. Citrus fruits that are too firm are likely dry on the inside. Heaviness can indicate how juicy a fruit or melon is, especially with oranges, lemons, watermelon, and cantaloupe.
Give the fruit a sniff. You should pick up a light aroma from it. A strong aroma can indicate over-ripeness, and if the fruit smells a bit sour or stinky, you’re probably holding an apple or bag of grapes that’s past its prime. A light, sweet smell is a good indicator that your fruit is fresh and ripe. Smell is particularly important when it comes to melons and pineapple, which can smell very strongly when past their prime, so the lighter and sweeter the better.
· Apples – When shopping for apples, look for firm fruit that has a rich color. Apples will keep in the refrigerator crisper for up to a month.
· Blueberries – Examine the container. If it’s stained or leaking, chances are the berries are beginning to spoil. Blueberries freeze very well, but don’t wash them beforehand. Spread them on a cookie sheet, place in the freezer until solid and then transfer to a freezer-safe container.
· Cantaloupes – These should have a sweet smell and they should have a little bit of give at the end. Store in the fridge for a week. Cut melons will keep for a few days.
· Cherries – The best are plump and dark red, with fresh stems. Cherries should be refrigerated and eaten within a few days of purchase.
· Grapefruit – Heavy, firm grapefruit are the super juicy ones. Grapefruit can keep in the fridge for two weeks. Check out the broiled grapefruit recipe in this issue.
· Oranges – The heavier the fruit for its size, the juicier it’s likely to be. Avoid oranges with thick, coarse or spongy skin. Oranges will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.
· Peaches – Tree-ripened peaches taste best of all. Don’t buy more than you plan to use in a couple of days.
· Strawberries – Look for firm strawberries with the cap stem still attached. Don’t wash too vigorously, just rinse under running water before using. You can also freeze them (unwashed) to use later.
Some of the same rules for fruit apply to vegetables. Pay attention to the surface of the vegetable and make sure it’s consistent, evenly colored, and firm all the way around. With most vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, onions, and potatoes, you want them to be as firm as possible. Even the gentle give you look for in fruit, can indicate over-ripeness in vegetables. Softness in specific areas is generally an indicator of slow rotting or bruising, even if you don’t see anything obvious that would indicate spoilage.
· Asparagus – Look for smooth, dark-green spears and closed tips. Use within a day or two of purchase. Store in the fridge with the cut ends of the spears submerged in a pitcher of water.
· Bell peppers – Red peppers are riper, sweeter versions of the green, and both contain a number of disease-fighting chemicals. Look for smooth, heavy peppers, and don’t be afraid to shake one. If you hear seeds rattling, the pepper is past its prime.
· Broccoli – Look for bright, compact heads; avoid those that look bruised. The clusters should be dark green or green with a purplish cast. The buds should not be open.
· Cabbage – Choose cabbage with a dense, heavy head and with red or green leaves. Cabbage will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
· Carrots – Look for firm carrots with a rich orange color; avoid those with soft or flabby roots. Store carrots in the veggie bin, where they’ll last for a few weeks. Slightly limp carrots are fine for soup or stew.
· Cauliflower – Look for compact heads and don’t worry about green, leafy bits throughout the bunch. Avoid heads that are discolored or blemished. Look for cauliflower that still has its green outside leaves. Store cauliflower in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper, where it will last for up to a week.
· Corn – Look for corn with green, moist-looking husks; avoid brownish husks. When you peel back the husks, the kernels should be plump. If you apply slight pressure to a kernel with your fingernail, juice should squirt out; this is a sign of freshness.
· Cucumbers – Select hard cucumbers; avoid those that appear yellowish or have squishy ends. Cucumbers will last for a week in the fridge.
· Mushrooms – Before buying mushrooms, look at the underside to make sure the gills (the row of tissue located under the caps) aren’t open, a sign that the mushrooms are past their prime. Raw mushrooms don’t freeze well, so cook them first.
· Potatoes – Store potatoes in a cool, dry place. If you use a plastic bag, poke holes in it so air can circulate. Baking potatoes are good baked or mashed. Red-skinned potatoes make great hash browns.
· Spinach – Fresh spinach has healthy-looking, dark-green leaves; avoid those that are wilted and discolored. Get rid of sandy residue by soaking then gently rinsing in cold water. If you’re making a salad, wash only the amount of spinach you plan to use.
Lisa Lewis is the Chief Operating Officer for First Place 4 Health. Lisa is author of Healthy Happy Cooking released in December 2016, a speaker, group leader, chef at spa and wellness weeks and provided recipes for 13 First Place 4 Health Bible studies