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How to Pick (the Right) Ripe Produce

People want to know the tricks for picking out the best stuff, and so here’s our foolproof system for buying 14 of our favorite fruits—plus, ideas for how to use them when they’re getting a little too ripe. (Speaking of too ripe, it’s good to separate your ethylene-producing, and ethylene-sensitive fruits and veggies, as ethylene can hasten spoilage—bananas and apples are big culprits.)

fruits

  • 1. Mango

    Season: Mostly imported from tropical climates and can be found year round.
    Continues to ripen after picked: YES, mangoes ripen and get sweeter.
    Look: Avoid any with bruising, soft spots, or wrinkled skin. Mangoes come in many colors, but the most common ones turn mostly yellow, orange or red when ripe.
    Touch: A ripe mango should be firm yet yield somewhat when gently pressed. Avoid any that give too easily as they are likely overripe and stringy.
    Smell: It should smell sweet and fragrant, especially near the stem.

    Ethylene: Producing.

    When overly ripe: Make mango lassis or freeze for smoothies.

  • 2. Watermelon

    Season: Summer
    Continues to ripen after picked: NO.
    Look: Avoid any with bruising, soft spots, or cracks. Look for one that has a creamy yellow “field spot” (the spot where it was sitting on the ground)—if this is white or non-existent it will probably be underripe. Look for one that is dark green but has a dull rather than shiny appearance, and is a nice uniform shape.
    Touch: Pick it up! It should feel heavy for it’s size. Knock with your knuckles—this trick is heavily debated, but we find that if it sounds hollow, it’s probably ripe.
    Smell: Watermelons don’t have a strong scent.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Make watermelon aqua fresca.

  • 3. Peaches

    Season: Summer
    Continues to ripen after picked: YES, peaches get softer and juicier but not sweeter.
    Look: Avoid any with bruising, soft spots, or dents.
    Look for peaches with a deep orange or yellow hue, and be sure to check near the stem, as any green or white color here means it’s underripe.
    Touch: Should be firm but give slightly when pressed.
    Smell: A ripe peach smells like great. If it doesn’t smell delicious, it’s not ripe.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Make jam, a pie, or freeze for smoothies.

  • 4. Cantaloupe

    Season: Summer
    Continues to ripen after picked: YES, cantaloupes gets softer and juicier but not sweeter.
    Look: Avoid any with bruising, soft spots, or cracks. The surface of the melon (under the web-like outer cage) should have a golden rather than white or green hue.
    Touch: Look for one that is heavy for its size and has a little give at the base opposite the stem, called the “blossom end.” Make sure there is no mold or discoloration here.
    Smell: Should have a fresh sweetmelon-y smell,
    especially at the “blossom end.” Avoid any melons with an overly sweet/fermented smell, though, as this is a sign of decay.

    Ethylene: Producing.

    When overly ripe: Freeze for smoothies.

  • 5. Pears

    Season: Fall/Winter
    Continues to ripen after picked: YES, pears get softer and sweeter.
    Look: Avoid any with bruising, soft spots, dents, or wrinkled skin. Check at the stem to make sure the skin looks firm and fresh.
    Touch: A perfectly ripe pear should feel firm but yield to gentle pressure at the base.
    Smell: Ripe pears smell sweet and delicious.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Make pear butter.

  • 6. Avocado

    Season: Spring/Summer
    Continues to ripen after picked: YES, avocados ONLY ripen off the vine.
    Look: Avoid any with bruising, soft spots, or cracks, but size, shape and color are not great indicators of quality or ripeness.
    Touch: A perfectly ripe avocado feels firm with just a little give, and the flesh is pressed up tight against the skin. If they are very soft and the flesh feels separated from the skin, they are overripe. If they are rock hard, they will ripen, but don’t plan to use them for at least a couple of days.
    Smell: Avocados develop a scent only when they are overripe. Look for ones that have no smell

    Ethylene: Producing.

    When overly ripe: Make guacamole or freeze for smoothies.

  • 7. Raspberries

    Season: Summer/Fall
    Continues to ripen after picked: NO.
    Look: Look for a uniform deep red color. They should look plump, dry and firm. Avoid any that are mushy, moldy or leaking.
    Touch: If they are in a plastic clamshell, give it a gentle shake to make sure they move freely. If not, there are
    likely moldy or soggy berries hiding in there. Check the bottom of clamshells and avoid any with stickiness
    or stains.
    Smell: Should smell subtly sweet and fragrant.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Freeze for smoothies or make a compote to pour over ice cream or pancakes.

  • 8. Pineapple

    Season: Mostly imported from tropical climates but peak season is March-July
    Continues to ripen after picked: NO.
    Look: A ripe pineapple can be uniformly green in color, but your best bet is to look for one that is a nice yellow color at the base, if not all the way up the fruit. The leaves at the top should be green and the skin should look firm.
    Touch: Should be firm but not rock hard. A little give when pressed indicates juicy ripeness. Check the bottom of the pineapple to make sure there is no mold or discoloration.
    Smell: It should smell sweet and fresh, but not at all sharp or fermented, as that indicates decay and over-ripeness.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Freeze for smoothies or use in piña coladas.

  • 9. Strawberries

    Season: Spring/Summer
    Continues to ripen after picked: NO.
    Look: Look for strawberries that are uniformly red—any white or light green means they were picked too early. Check to see that none are moldy, squashed or leaking liquid.

    Touch: If they are in a plastic clamshell, give it a shake to make sure they move freely. If not, there are likely moldy or soggy berries hiding in there. Check the bottom of clamshells and avoid any with stickiness or stains.

    Smell: Ripe strawberries smell delicious, sweet, and very fragrant.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Make jam or freeze for smoothies.

  • 10. Figs

    Season: Two seasons (early summer and early fall)
    Continues to ripen after picked: YES, figs gets softer and juicier but not sweeter.
    Look: Look for smooth, firm skin. Small cracks are okay as long as they are not leaking. Make sure none are moldy, have soft spots, or are leaking liquid. Avoid any exuding a milky substance at the stem.
    Touch: A perfectly ripe fig will be plump and juicy; it will hold its shape but feel tender when lightly squeezed. If too firm, they are likely underripe and/or dry inside but if overly soft, they are most likely too mature.
    Smell: Ripe figs will smell fresh and mildly sweet.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Make fig jam or quickly poach for dessert.

  • 11. Citrus

    Season: Winter
    Continues to ripen after picked: NO.
    Look: Look for firm skin and avoid any with bruises, visible mold, or soft spots.
    Touch: Ripe citrus tends to feel heavy for it’s size.
    Smell: Not a great indicator, but might smell sweet near the stem.

    Ethylene: Sensitive.

    When overly ripe: Make fresh OJ or use the juice for cocktails or granita.

  • 12. Apples

    Season: Fall
    Continues to ripen after picked: YES, apples get softer and sweeter.
    Look: Avoid any with bruising, soft spots, dents or wrinkled skin—whether the skin is shiny or matte doesn’t matter.
    Touch: Should be extremely firm—press gently with your thumb. If you make an indentation, skip it.
    Smell: A ripe apple will have a pleasant and subtle smell, but an over-ripe apple will smell strongly sweet and slightly fermented. Less smell is better.

    Ethylene: Producing.

    When overly ripe: Make applesauce, or roast with brown butter and sugar for dessert.

  • 13. Blueberries

    Season: Late Spring/Summer
    Continues to ripen after picked: YES, blueberries get softer and juicier but not sweeter.


    Look:
    Avoid any that are moldy, overly soft, leaking, or have wrinkled skin. They should be a deep blue color and often have a slightly chalky wash or hue.
    Touch: If they are in a plastic clamshell, give it a gentle shake to make sure they move freely. If not, there are likely moldy or soggy berries hiding in there. Check the bottom of clamshells and avoid any with stickiness or stains.
    Smell: They are not particularly fragrant when ripe.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Freeze for smoothies or use in pancakes.

  • 14. Grapes

    Season: Fall
    Continues to ripen after picked: NO.
    Look: Look for plump, firm grapes that are strongly attached to fresh-looking stems, don’t have wrinkled skin, and don’t have any bruising or brown spots. Make sure the skin around the stem is not brown or leaking.
    Touch: Depending on the variety, some grapes are naturally softer than others, but they should always feel relatively firm and springy.
    Smell: Not a great indicator for grapes, but avoid any that smell overly sweet or fermented.

    Ethylene: Neutral.

    When overly ripe: Freeze and eat as a snack, or roast and use to garnish a cheese plate.

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