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The bright colors and fruity aromas of the produce department are designed fill us with optimism—and recipe ideas. It’s going to be a delicious, healthy week, we’re thinking, although we know there’s a risk a lot of our haul is going to end up going to waste. It’s not that we don’t mean well. It’s that we don’t pick well, particularly when it comes to fruit. And that’s often because we don’t understand how produce ripens.
When it comes to ripening, most fruit falls into two categories: climacteric and non-climacteric. Climacteric refers to those that ripen off the plant, through the production of ethylene gas. Non-climacteric refers to those that ripen before they’re picked. Check out our quick list of ripening and non-ripening fruits to make sure your next supermarket run is successful.
Fruits That Keep Ripening
Bananas are picked before they’re ripe and only get more ripe as they sit. When shopping for bananas, look for ones that aren’t fully green or deep yellow. A banana that’s totally green might never ripen. A banana that’s too yellow, on the other hand, can get mushy fast (but older bananas are perfect for banana bread—here how to make it at home).
If you want to speed up the ripening process, toss the bananas in a paper bag. Want to slow it down? Pop them in your refrigerator. The skin will darken, but inside they’ll be just fine.
We all know how hard it is to get the perfect avocado. That’s because they are picked before ripening and they can turn from rock hard to mush seemingly overnight, foiling our plans for perfect guacamole. However, if you keep an eye on your avocados, you can catch them at just the right time. That means they yield to a little squeeze but don’t feel mushy.
Ever try frozen avocados? We did, and here’s what happened.
Peaches also continue to ripen once they’re picked. When purchasing, look for peaches that are fragrant and have a slight give when you squeeze them. They will keep ripening at home, so be sure to use them up. If you find your peaches are just a touch underripe, just place them stem down on a dishtowel and lay another dishtowel over the top. This should help speed up the process. You can also pop them in a paper bag.
Like bananas, you don’t want to buy peaches that are still green. Those were probably picked too early and won’t ripen normally. Also, just a word to the wise, red color doesn’t mean that peach is ripe—red skin is normal for certain varieties of peach.
Plums are picked before they’re ripe and will ripen if allowed to sit on the countertop for a few days, or you can speed up the process by placing them in a brown paper bag. Unlike bananas and peaches, plums do not become noticeably sweeter as they ripen, only softer. When shopping for plums, look for fruit that feels heavy in your hand and has a slight give. Soft plums are already past their prime.
Cantaloupes can be a tricky fruit, but when you know what to look for, you can be sure you’re eating yours at the right time. When shopping, look for slight indentation on the stem, the netting (the pattern on the melon) should be raised and the exterior should be golden (not green). Like plumbs, good cantaloupes should feel heavy for their size.
If you grab one that’s a touch too green, just stash it in a paper bag for a day or two. It will ripen up.
Blueberries ripen after picking, provided they’re picked at the right time. If a blueberry is white or green, it was picked too soon and won’t ripen. Keep an eye out for full looking berries with a gray-blue color. They should be ready to eat (or pretty close).
The best tomatoes are those that are fully ripened on the vine, but tomatoes will ripen somewhat off the vine as long as they’re not exposed to the cold—that means no refrigerator! Stashing them in the fridge won’t help them keep longer, it just makes them mealy in texture. If you have a tomato that isn’t quite ripe, let them sit on the counter or toss them in a paper bag stem side up.
Fruits That Don’t Ripen After Picking
Strawberries don’t ripen once they’re picked, so if they don’t look ripe, they never will be. Look for a bright red color, a natural shine, and fresh looking greens. Avoid berries with white tops or tips. Keep berries refrigerated, although they taste sweeter if you let them come to room temperature before eating. Wash them only just before eating.
Pineapple is another fruit that’s picked when it’s as ripe as it’s going to get. Pineapple can be kept on the counter for up to three days after bringing it home. After that, it should be stored in the refrigerator.
When you’re shopping look for pineapples with green leaves and firm flesh. There should be a faint sweet aroma at the base. Don’t worry about the color or whether the leaves pull out easily; neither is an indicator of ripeness. Medium to large pineapples are often better than small ones.
Since watermelons don’t keep getting riper, you want to make sure you choose a good one. Look for a buttery yellow spot on the melon. This indicates that the melon ripened in the field. A white or green underside means the melon was picked to soon. Once you get it home, it will store for about two weeks in the fridge.
Apples, no matter what the variety, should be picked at peak ripeness and kept in the refrigerator. There they should keep for several weeks.
Want to keep them longer? Check out these tips.
Cherries, grapes and citrus fruits
Like the other non-climacteric fruits, cherries, grapes, and citrus fruits don’t ripen once they’re severed from the plant that serves as their growth source. So what you see in the store is what you will get at home, and all of these should be stored in the fridge to keep them from perishing.
Be sure to check out this guide to how long your fresh produce will last once you bring it home.