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May 14, 2011 11:33 AM

Pick-a-peck: produce pointers

Here's a thread to collect hints for choosing the best items of fresh produce - beyond the obvious things like wilting and size. Please add your own expertise.

RED DELICIOUS APPLES - Usually, they are anything but. In a pommology book, I read that for the sweetest, non-mealy ones, avoid the ones that are very dark red all over. Look for striations in the color, the overall apple being no darker than the darker of the red bars on the CH banner.
CARROTS - Avoid thick ones with cracks, as they will most likely be woody and bitter.
CITRUS - Choose pieces that are heavy for their size, to get the juiciest ones. For thinnest skins, choose pieces that are shiny, and with smoother skins rather than those with more distinct pores.
PINEAPPLE - If other people have already been plucking center leaves, that test is useless. Look for the ones with the greatest pinkish blush. A ripe pineapple has a heady, sweet aroma when you sniff the stem end. If it only smells slightly, keep it at room temp until the aroma develops.
TOMATO - To ripen tomatoes, keep them at room temp, stem end DOWN.
PEACHES and PEARS - They say these just soften after picking, but don't ripen further. I don't think that's true. Heavy fruit is the juiciest. Really hard ones won't ever get sweeter. Look for pieces that are slightly tender, with a blush, and keep them at room temperature until the aroma intensifies.
CANTALOUPE - A ripe cantaloupe has a slightly pinkish blush. Shaking it tells you nothing about sweetness. The stem end should smell fragrant. Pick the ripest looking one you can find, and leave it on the counter if it doesn't already smell ripe.
HONEYDEW - Same sniffing, shaking, and ripening as above, but look for the raised webbing of lines - called "sugar lines" - a yellow blush, and a slightly tacky feel, as if rosin had been rubbed on the skin. Finish ripening on the counter.
GRANNY SMITH APPLES - If you like them very tart and very crisp, pick shiny dark green ones with lots of white freckles.
SWEET RED ONIONS - According to a greengrocer I spoke with, look for squat ones with flat ends.
BING CHERRIES - The sweetest ones are shiny, dark, and - surprisingly - hard.
PLUMS - Should have some give when gentle pressure is applied, and have a slightly tacky, whitish "rosin" on the skin.
THOMPSON SEEDLESS GRAPES - Choose bunches that have a slightly golden tinge.
STRAWBERRIES - They get redder after picking, but not sweeter. They should smell intensely sweet. Avoid ones with white shoulders, as they have little flavor.

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  1. For strawberries I always go with smell. I've had intensely sweet strawberries with white shoulders. If they don't smell fragrant I don't buy them.

    For grapes I look for fresh stems and firm fruit.

    For cantaloupe, I know I've read that they don't ripen on the counter and just get softer but my experience is that they do get sweeter if bought firm as they sit and "age" on the counter.

    1. Passion fruit - when it's ripe the surface is getting wrinkled, rather than smooth. It get juicier as it ripens.

      1. Seasonality is a huge, huge, portion of picking good fruit.

        1. Nice, I am going to pass this on to the kid.

          1. Since I have never been a pineapple leaf-puller, when I selected a wildly-fragrant, ripened-to-perfection specimen at H-Mart this week, I looked at the leaf crown. It appeared full; I do not beleive anyone had removed a center leaf. I tried tugging on the innermost one, which was firmly entrenched. Then I bought the pineapple, took it home, put it on the counter, and butchered it the next day. I've never had a better one.

            EGGPLANT - For the most part, the lighter the color, the milder the eggplant. The white ones, therefore, are worth buying when you find them, as are the long thin Asian ones, which are on the mild side even when they are purple. Unfortunately, the most common supermarket eggplant is the large Purple Globe, which has high potential for bitterness. Early-season eggplants have fewer seeds and are less bitter. Look for shiny, tight-skinned ones with no soft spots or other blemishes, and use them promptly.

            BELL PEPPERS - Green ones are the least sweet. The ones that have turned partly red are sweeter, and of course the fully red ones are quite sweet. They also have more vitamin C than citrus. Purple bell peppers are green inside. Their skin turns green when frozen raw.

            2 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              EGGPLANT (addendum to greygarious) - for the common purple eggplant found in many markets in North America, look for thinner eggplants that have a smaller bottom. This means that it will have fewer seeds per the amount of flesh. Also, the more sheen, and fewer dried out parts, means a fresher eggplant.

              1. re: greygarious

                Disappointing but true: The purple versions of green vegetables (e.g., peppers, string beans, asparagus) are all green inside, and they all turn green throughout when cooked. If you want to enjoy the purple color, you need to eat them raw.