It’s a common sight in the produce section of the supermarket: people poking, prodding and even sniffing the fruits and veggies. Everyone has their own not-so-secret method of predicting if produce is ready to use. But how accurate are these techniques? We’ve compiled the most effective ripeness tests for all your favorite fruits and veggies. Whether it’s for a farm-fresh salad or a big pot of veggie soup, follow along and you’ll be confident you’re choosing the best ingredients.
The Sniff Test
The nose knows, especially when it comes to certain fruits and vegetables. Sniffing is the best way to determine ripeness in berries, mushrooms, melons, pineapple and onions. If berries smell too sweet, they’re probably close to turning, and if your mushrooms smell like fish, put them back and choose another package. Pineapple and melons, with the exception of watermelon, are simple to gauge. Just close your eyes and take a whiff. If you can tell what you’re smelling, it’s ready to eat. Onions can be tricky because they are pungent even when they aren’t ripe, but if the onion-y smell is overwhelming, it’s probably best to choose a different one.
Most any produce is going to give up some information if you squeeze it. From avocado to zucchini, texture and firmness are key to choosing good produce, but sometimes firmer is better. Look for sturdy texture when it comes to veggies like bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini and yellow squash. Tomatoes, potatoes, plums and avocados should have a little give.
Sometimes all it takes is a good once-over to tell how ripe your produce is. Is the color bright and vibrant? Are there any brown or mushy spots? Fruit flies? Mold (especially berries, turn over the container and check the fruit on the bottom for mold and mush)? Just taking a good look often will yield enough information to help you avoid produce that has turned or is close to turning.
People have been thumping melons forever. But why? What does the thump tell you? The commonly held belief is that a ripe melon sounds hollow when its underside is tapped. If it sounds dull, you should probably move to the next one.
Size and Weight
One tried and true ripeness test is to judge based on the size of the vegetable or fruit compared with others of the same type. Smaller than average? It was likely harvested too early and won’t ripen adequately. If it’s dramatically bigger–think zucchini–it was left on the plant too long and will be bland or tough and fibrous. A heavier fruit likely has a higher water content and will be juicier than a lighter one of similar size, and certain fruits, such as limes, should be heavier than you expect them to be.
Choosing the ripest, freshest and most delicious produce in your supermarket is not like finding a needle in a haystack if just know the values of sniffing, squeezing or thumping.