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7 Canned Fruits To Buy And 7 To Avoid

Open a tin can of fruit and you might find something delicious or a slimy, mushy mess. It all depends on the fruit inside. 

Buying canned goods has some clear benefits. For example, you don't have to worry about the produce going bad in your fruit bowl or picking perfect specimens out of a huge tub of unlikely candidates. Rather, a particular brand of a specific fruit provides consistent taste and texture. It already comes cooked, and in most cases, you won't have to peel or core it. With cans, you can also snack on exotic and seasonal fruits that are otherwise inaccessible. Then there's the fact that PennState says canned produce even offers similar nutritional benefits as fresh fruit, as long as it doesn't have added sugars or sodium.

Despite its many benefits, canned fruit has a huge problem: It never tastes as good as the fresh alternative. The crunch and burst disappear and sometimes fruit pieces absorb a metallic taste from their container. Of course, some fruits fare better than others when preserved via can, and this guide will take a look at which are best to buy or avoid considering taste, price, and the availability of the fresh alternative.

Buy: Pineapple

Eating a slice of fresh, ripe pineapple is delightful. Ripe is the operative word here, and unless you live on a pineapple farm, it's hard to find one. There's a battery of tests for picking the best pineapple from the supermarket — rated for yellowness, aroma, and ease of removing a leaf. Even so, occasionally you'll buy a sour dud with the texture of cardboard. Then, it takes a lot of effort to cut it to get the maximum amount of fruit while avoiding the prickly outer part and woody core. But a nice can of peeled and cored pineapple alleviates both problems and always tastes edible.

There's also the fact that canned pineapple works best in some recipes. Think of hummingbird and pineapple upside-down cakes. If you plan on using pineapple in jello, only canned will do. That's because when fresh, this fruit exudes an enzyme, bromelain, that breaks down the collagen in gelatin and results in a slimy mess.

Finally, pineapple is cheaper in the can. A fresh 24-ounce pineapple costs about $0.10 per ounce, whereas canned goes for around $0.08 per ounce. Keep in mind, you can use all the pineapple from the can, but you end up throwing out about half of the weight of a fresh one because of the leaves, core, and skin. That makes the value of the canned fruit even better in comparison.

Avoid: Mandarin oranges

Fresh mandarin oranges, like clementines, are famously easy to peel and often seedless. Opening a can probably takes more effort than preparing a few slices of this citrus fresh. Plus, they're so sweet that kids love them. Unlike some other fresh fruit, there's no need to sprinkle any sugar on top or add cream to counteract sour notes. Mandarins in the can, though, are not so alluring — they acquire a bitter taste and slimy texture.

Mandarins are a winter fruit, available between November and April when peaches, nectarines, cherries, and plums are out of season. If you're eating canned mandarin oranges in summer, you're missing out on a bunch of delicious fresh produce. On the other hand, if you're eating them in winter, it would be more cost-effective and beneficial to buy them fresh, especially since they cost half the price and taste 1,000 times better. A 3-pound bag of mandarins costs about $5 (10 cents per ounce) whereas a 10-ounce can costs around $2 (or 20 cents per ounce). 

Buy: Peaches

Of all the canned fruits, there's something special about peaches. People love them and, admittedly, they taste pretty fantastic this way, maintaining a pleasant texture and taste. For example, chef and food writer for the Clarion Ledger, Robert St. John, says he frequently fills a plate with canned peaches when he visits salad bars and, although he still prefers fresh, this product holds a special place in his culinary canon. It's not often that culinary professionals defend the taste of commercially canned products, but peaches deserve this place of honor.

Yes, canned peaches taste great on their own as a snack, but they're handy for baking, as well. They come pitted, peeled, and pre-cooked, which cuts down on prep time for recipes like peach cobbler and pie. In fact, there's absolutely no need to get out a cutting board since you can choose between sliced, halved, and cubed, depending on which will go best in your creation. The convenience won't cost you extra either since fresh and canned peaches have a similar value. Fresh peaches cost around 10 cents per ounce, while canned ones are closer to 11 cents per ounce. So, if you're wondering what fruit to buy but nothing in the produce aisle has caught your eye, you might want to grab a couple of cans of peaches.

Avoid: Pears

In the early 2000s, canned pears were more popular than they are now. In those years, about 75% of Bartlett pears grown in Washington and Oregon ended up in a tin. Since then, consumers have progressively started eating more fresh pears and fewer canned. Today, the numbers are inverted and around 75% of the crop is marketed fresh in the produce aisle, with just 25% traveling to processing plants for canning. There's a good reason for this change of heart: Canned pears aren't very tasty. They can be a little hard with a sandy texture. This fruit is far more enjoyable when eaten fresh.

The price tag may be a second reason that consumers have turned their backs on this product. A 14.5-ounce can of pears costs around $2 while a similar can of peaches goes for $1.60 and a 20-ounce can of pineapple can be had for $1.50. It's hard to imagine picking a can of pears over the competition.

Buy: Mangoes

Sometimes, canned fruit hits the spot when a craving hits, but the fruit in question is out of season or impossible to get ahold of. Tejal Rao, a food writer, recalled in an article in The New York Times his childhood in France, far from his extended family in India. He missed sharing the taste of fresh Alphonso mangoes with them. These heavenly fruits are only available in southwestern Maharashtra for a few months a year around April. Rao says that not sharing mango season with his relatives was only bearable because he could eat the canned version and think of them. Sure it didn't taste as luscious as fresh ones, but it was good enough. Then there's the fact that for some recipes like lassi — a traditional yogurt smoothie — and kulfi — a frozen dessert similar to Italian semifreddo — canned, crushed mango works even better than fresh.

Mangoes aren't cheap and that applies to the can as well as fresh. A single fresh mango (around 8 ounces) costs about $1 while a 15-ounce can of mango costs about $2.30. Sure it costs more than some other canned fruits, but it's worth buying to satisfy the craving.

Avoid: Rhubarb

If you'd never come across canned rhubarb before, and someone set a bowl of it in front of you, you wouldn't know how to identify it. The brownish, mushy, gelatinous mesh could be anything. Really, you might suspect it was alien brains or something else from a horror film. It's not appetizing, and it's hard to believe it ever came from the beautiful ruby-stemmed plant that grandmas have tucked away in a corner of their gardens.

Using canned rhubarb means mixing it with something else to cover up the taste and texture, so why even do it? A few commenters on Amazon say as long as you mix it in a recipe for cake or strawberry pie, it's fine. Most others were completely unimpressed and suggested using frozen fruit instead. That makes sense if you're planning on making anything rhubarb when it's not early summer.

As far as price goes, canned rhubarb doesn't come cheap. A single 14.6-ounce can costs almost $5. A fresh bunch has a similar price tag and provides a lot more volume than what comes in the can. If you're a big enough fan of rhubarb, the cheapest option is planting a crown in your garden. This perennial can cost less than $15 and will give you abundant rhubarb to cook and freeze year after year — just don't forget to water it.

Buy: Tart cherries

The tart variety isn't what comes to mind when most people think of cherries. More often, they picture the sweet varieties — the black kind that makes your teeth squeak from all the natural sugar in them. Those are delicious, especially when you eat them fresh — cooked or canned they lose all their pizazz. The same is not so for tart cherries. Canning them almost seems to enhance their flavor, making them perfect for baking into a cherry pie or a cobbler at a later date.

There's a second reason to buy tart cherries in the can: you don't have to pit the cherries. Getting the seeds out of the small, fresh fruit can be a grueling process if you don't own the right equipment. You might find yourself cutting open cherry by cherry with a paring knife. Buying a cherry pitter is bothersome too, as unless you have your own cherry trees, you'll probably only use it once or twice in the summer but it'll take up room in your cupboard year-round. If you simply buy tart cherries in the can, you'll be ready to start cooking, with no silly kitchen gadgets necessary.

Avoid: Strawberries

Science easily explains what makes fresh strawberries so delicious. First, when berries in a field get ripe, the sugar content rises from 5% to around 9% making them just the right combination of sweet and acidic. Then, 20 to 30 different flavor molecules — the number depends on the variety — flood the fruit to give it a distinct and luscious taste. Finally, strawberries release a hormone called auxin that causes the cell walls to degrade, making the fruit extra juicy but not quite mushy. 

When you put a strawberry in a can, you disrupt every one of the characteristics that makes them fabulous. Often, processors put them in cans with syrup, thus altering the perfect sugar-acid ratio. Plus, the can itself subdues and alters the flavor molecules. Finally, the fruit becomes too juicy, losing all its firmness. Canned strawberries are 100% squish and mush. They even lose their beautiful red color, unless manufacturers add food coloring. Tinned strawberries are utterly and completely disappointing and there's no reason to buy them.

Buy: Apricot

Canned apricots are more reliable than the ones in the produce aisle. Fresh, this fruit is either ripe and falling apart or hard, tasteless, and inedible. In other words, unless you've got an apricot tree in your yard, you probably haven't tasted a fresh apricot in all its glory. The best fruits are the ones that have fallen off the tree on their own. They're half smashed from the fall and so sweet they taste like honey. Clearly, grocery stores and vendors at farmer's markets can't sell half-smashed fruit. They have to sell apricots green because sometimes it's too difficult to pick, store, and transport them. Unfortunately, the fruit loses most of its charm this way. 

On the other hand, buying canned apricot halves means you can enjoy something closer to the ripe flavor of this fruit at least until you find a neighbor or friend who will share the real thing from their tree.

Avoid: Blueberries

There are so many ways to eat blueberries. Roll a fresh one around in your mouth for a bit, bite down and experience how the flavor and juice pop out. Stew them into a gooey syrup to pour over your ice cream and cheesecake. Bake them into pie, cobbler, or muffins. At all costs, though, avoid them canned.

Canned blueberries lose their inherent blueberriness when canned. The firm little fruits that burst in your mouth when fresh transform into mushy lumps with slimy skins in a tin. Even if you're baking in the middle of winter and fresh blueberries are months away, there's a better option than opening a can: Frozen berries have superior flavor and are cheaper. Frozen, this fruit costs around 18 cents per ounce, whereas the canned ounce comes out to about 30 cents. So next time you're in the canned foods aisle and feel tempted by the luscious photo of blueberries on a can label, ignore it, keep walking, and head to the freezer.

Buy: Maraschino cherries

Your waiter sets a sundae on the table in front of you, and the first thing you do is pluck the bright red cherry off. You pop it in your mouth and savor the slight crunch and candy-sweet flavor. Maraschino cherries have no substitute — a strawberry, blueberry, or even Bing cherry on top just wouldn't have the same effect. Without this eye-catching garnish, cakes, cocktails, and ice cream would lose some of their appeal.

Unfortunately, you can't pick a tub of maraschinos from a tree or buy them fresh from the produce aisle. If you want to plop one of these red orbs into your glass of champagne, your only option is to buy a can, or more commonly a jar. The unique taste and crunch of maraschino cherries are the result of how they're processed and preserved. First, manufacturers soak these cherries in a special brine, then add the signature red color, and finally can them in sugary syrup. Purchasing some of these ruby-colored fruits will add a special flavor and splash of color to the dessert you're preparing.

Avoid: Plums

Not every grocery store stocks canned plums, and there's a good reason for that: They're not very good. Fresh plums are succulent with their thin, sour skin that bursts open to reveal sweet, liquid flesh. You can only get fresh plums in the summer though. So, when they're out of season, eating prunes can hit the spot, since they're so sweet they seem more like candy than dried fruit. The contents of a can of plums, on the other hand, just aren't worth it.

First, canned plums taste and look nothing like fresh fruit. They're too mushy and tart, even when packed in syrup. Plus, manufacturers often preserve them whole, leaving the skin and the pit. That makes them difficult to eat since you have to worry about spitting out each seed or accidentally biting down on one. If you can't stand the slimy skin, you'll want to cut it off. What's left afterward is not much and not very tasty.

Buy: Lychee

Lychees or litchis are far more common in southeastern Asia than they are in the U.S. That means you may not have ever tried one (or heard of it), but still wish you could experience the taste. On the other hand, you may come from somewhere this fruit is popular, but have moved far away, and miss the flavor. Either way, you should buy canned lychee because fresh ones are difficult to find. In most states, it's impossible to get ahold of them with just a couple of exceptions — specialty grocers in New York's Chinatown stock them when they're in season and they grow on a few acres in Florida.

Even then, canned lychees are elusive. Your run-of-the-mill grocery store probably doesn't stock this product, so you'll need to turn to specialty grocery stores or internet vendors. Walmart and Kroger's online stores offer cans of this fruit starting at about $6 per unit if you buy a case of 24 cans. That price tag means you probably won't be buying lychees for every meal, but at least you'll get the chance to savor the exotic flavor on special occasions.

Avoid: Grapefruit

The flavor and texture of canned grapefruit are no competition for what you get from the fresh fruit. Tinned, this citrus takes on a strange, bitter, metallic taste while the fresh fruit is sour, sweet, and refreshing.

Then there's the issue of the membrane. For the best experience, when you eat grapefruit fresh, you have to cut the membrane off each section and scoop out the juicy part with a spoon. It takes some effort, but you ensure that you're only eating the very best part of the fruit. When you eat grapefruit from the can, the machinery at the canning plant should remove the membrane before putting the sections in the can. If that worked, it would make life much easier, but this process doesn't always go as expected. 

All too often, according to Walmart commenters who purchased this product, part of the membrane is still stuck on their canned grapefruit sections. That makes the canned product more bitter, stringy, and difficult to chew. It's best to stick to fresh grapefruit in that case. And if that's not available, find a can of some other kind of fruit.