There’s nothing worse than picking out an entire shopping cart full of fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, only to get home and find out that every apple is mealy or all of the tomatoes are mush. Using a combination of the five senses and your common sense, you can avoid this situation and pick the best produce every time.
An easy way to spot good produce is to really look at what you’re buying; most produce (everything from broccoli and leafy greens to apples and pears) will be brightly colored. Avoid bruised, damaged produce and anything that has visible mold on it. As a general rule of thumb, be wary of anything that’s sprouting, like potatoes, garlic, and Jerusalem artichoke.
Take a whiff. Most produce (think citrus and vegetables) will smell pretty strongly of its signature scent; if something smells off, it probably is. The exception to this rule is melon, which has a thick rind that prevents most of the fragrance from escaping.
When ripe, most fruit and vegetables should yield slightly to the touch. This means that if you gently squeeze produce like mangoes, tomatoes, or eggplant, you’ll be able to feel the vegetable give a little bit. Hard fruit or vegetables like melons or winter squash are the exceptions to this rule.
When permitted, take a taste of what you’re buying, especially if it’s something that only comes in a big bag or box, like grapes and blueberries. If something tastes off, it’s a good bet that the rest of them are similar.
Check out your local farmers market for the freshest produce around. Because it’s all coming from local farms, everything on sale is seasonal, making it easy to know what’s going to taste good.
If you don’t know what’s in season or you want to try something new, ask the staff at the grocery store what’s good to buy. They’ll know what just came in and how other shoppers have been responding.
Although it may save a few minutes before dinner, precut produce is a crapshoot. You don’t know what the whole fruit or vegetable may have looked like, and it may not have been something you would pick out for yourself.
It saves a few cents per pound, but bulk produce (think onions or potatoes in mesh bags) really limits your ability to check to make sure it’s all fresh and you can end up with half a bag of duds.
Know what’s in season before you even get to the grocery store. Yes, apples may be available year-round, but they’re at their peak throughout the fall in most of the country. You’ll get better prices for in-season produce that doesn’t have to travel as far to get to the store.