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How to Pick Perfect Produce Every Time

How to Pick Perfect Produce Every Time



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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.

Click here to see How to Pick Perfect Produce Every Time (Slideshow)

The best way to pick perfect produce is to look for locally grown foods, whether you’re at a supermarket or a farmers market. When food has traveled a shorter distance to get to you, it means that you’re getting it sooner after it was picked and that the produce wasn’t jostled around in a truck for days before getting to the store.

Many of these tips can save you money; although buying in bulk may initially seem like the cheaper option, coming home to find that half a bag of lemons is mushy is a disappointment and an expensive one at that. Buying overripe produce or allowing it to go bad is a waste of money.

An easy way to avoid this is to take a look at the produce and give it a gentle squeeze; if it’s overripe it’ll crush right in your hands. Most produce, like garlic, peppers, and squash, should feel heavy for its size; if it's light, it means that it's old and, most likely, about to rot.

These rules apply to the majority of fruit and vegetables. Some produce, like melons and corn, are difficult to choose because there are no obvious ways to find out what’s going on inside the skin without cracking them open. (Of course, many corn shoppers pull open the husks to investigate — which some markets permit and others strongly discourage.)

The stem of a fruit or vegetable is another good place to look for some guidance. For example, pop off the small brown stem of an avocado and, in a fresh one, you’ll see a light green spot where it was.

Follow these simple steps and you’ll be able to make your way around the market like a pro, even if you’ve never bought produce like bok choy before.

Look

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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.

Smell

(Credit: Shutterstock)
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.

Click here to see more ways to Pick Perfect Produce Every Time

Julie Ruggirello is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Find her on Twitter @TDMRecipeEditor.


35 Easy Ways to Pick Perfect Produce Every Time

Refusing to eat broccoli or skipping the salad bar aren't just habits exhibited by picky kids turns out, most grown-ups aren't eating their fruits and veggies, either. Federal guidelines recommend adults eat at least 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day. But only 12 percent of adults meet the requirement for fruit and just 9 percent of adults eat enough vegetables, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Making sure you're getting your daily fill isn't the only problem finding the best, ripest, and tastiest fruits and vegetables isn't as intuitive as you might think. It's a task that requires all five senses to decipher the quality of your supermarket produce. Regardless of what you're shopping for, start with these three rules:

1. Beautiful Doesn't Mean Delicious

Sub-par conventional produce is bred to look waxy, glistening, and perfectly symmetrical, while prime fruits and vegetables are often irregularly shaped, with slight visual imperfections outside but a world of flavor waiting inside.

2. Use Your Hands

You can learn more about a fruit or vegetable from picking it up than you can from staring it down. Heavy, sturdy fruits and vegetables with taut skin and peels are telltale signs of freshness.

3. Shop with the Seasons

In the Golden Age of the American supermarket, Chilean tomatoes and South African asparagus are an arm's length away when our soil is blanketed in snow. Sure, sometimes you just need a tomato, but there are three persuasive reasons to shop in season: it's cheaper, it's better, and it's better for you.

To dig even deeper into our hunt for perfect produce, we asked Aliza Green, author of Field Guide to Produce, and Chef Ned Elliott of Portland's Urban Farmer restaurant for the dirt on scoring the best of the bounty. Use the tips and tricks that follow and you'll bring home the best fruits and vegetables every time, just like an Italian grandma. And while you're at the store, check out these 50 Best Supermarket Shopping Tips Ever.


All About Ripening

First, it’s important to know that not all fruit continues to ripen after harvest.

An extremely common set of misconceptions is that they all either arrive at the store perfectly ripe, or all fruit needs some time to reach peak flavor and texture. Unless you truly understand produce basics (which we hope you will by the end of this article!), it can genuinely feel like a game of luck.

Will I get good fruit this time around?” is a question we’d like to help you avoid. It doesn’t have to feel like a constant hit-or-miss.

The reality is that fresh fruit isn’t strictly one or the other. Each variety has its own set of ripening rules.

  • Never ripens after picking: soft berries, cherries, citrus, grapes, pineapple, watermelon.
  • Ripens only after picking: avocados
  • Ripens in color, texture, and juiciness, but not sweetness: apricots, blueberries, figs, melons (excluding watermelon) nectarines, passionfruit, peaches, persimmons.
  • Gets sweeter after harvest: apples, kiwi, mangos, papayas, pears.
  • Ripens in every way after picking: bananas

It’s easy to grab a bunch of green bananas and let them ripen up at home, but it’s important to know that doesn’t work with all fruit. Planning your weekly meals will become much easier while keeping this in mind.


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You'll want to forego any piece of produce that is significantly smaller than the rest of its kind. Smaller produce usually indicates it was harvested too early. Produce that has been harvested prematurely won't ripen the way it should. Skip it. When you have found the perfect tomatoes, Here's How to Make Homemade Red Sauce For the Entire Year.


Chicken + onions + peppers + seasoning + whole-wheat tortillas

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Go gourmet: Follow the full recipe from Simply Recipes.

For our cheat version: Simply Recipes' recipe is, unsurprisingly, really pretty simple. To save yourself from rummaging through your spice drawer—or having to shell out cash on individual spices—just grab a premixed spice blend like McCormick's Perfect Pinch Mexican to season your chicken, and you'll have dinner on the table in no time.

When you're picking up peppers, go for a medley of red, yellow, and orange and leave the green on the shelf. The warmer-colored peppers have almost three times more beta-carotene (the colored pigments that provide vitamin A) and one and a half times more immunity-boosting vitamin C than their green counterparts.


The Perfect Amount Of Orange Produce To Eat For A Subtle Summer Glow

Most of us covet that healthy summer glow we get from a good dose of sunshine&mdashwell, at least I do. Anything that makes my raccoon-like under-eye circles less obvious, allowing me to ditch my makeup for a few months out of the year, is enticing. But you know what's not enticing? Skin cancer, wrinkles, and sunspots. So I slather on the SPF.

But it turns out, there's a better way to fake a sunbathing session than a spray tan. What I'd long thought was just a myth&mdashthat certain fruits and veggies can actually change the color of your skin, giving you an orange-rose glow&mdashis actually true.

"Certain orange and red fruits and veggies that are rich in carotenoids&mdashbeta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lycopene&mdashcan give skin a natural glow," says Jessica Levinson, RD, nutritionist at Nutritioulicious. "These include things like carrots, tomatoes, watermelon, sweet potatoes, papaya, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and apricots."

But how? Carotenoids are fat-soluble, says Levinson, so excess carotenoids are stored in the layer of fat right under the skin, which can lead to the color peeking through if you have a lighter skin tone to begin with.

In fact, one small study in PLOS One found that when Caucasian participants consumed just three servings of beta-carotene- and lycopene-rich produce daily (in addition to the produce they were already eating) for 6 weeks, they developed a yellower, rosier skin tone. These hues, researchers say, have also been associated with vitality and good looks&mdashwhen a different set of participants was shown images of the people with slightly yellower skin, they rated them as healthier and more attractive.

But, uh, are you going to turn totally orange? Maybe you've heard tales of people going crazy on carrots only to end up looking like real-life Oompa Loompas&mdashand yes, that can happen. It's a harmless condition called carotenosis, and it's most common in young children and vegetarians. But as long as you keep your intake of carotenoid-rich foods reasonable&mdasharound two to three servings a day, along with other fruits and veggies&mdashthen you shouldn't have a problem.

Another perk of carotenoids: "They're powerful antioxidants that help prevent UV-induced sun damage," says Levinson. So not only do they make you look like you've spent time in the sun, they also protect you from it. Win win!


If connection to an actual farm is important to you, make sure you are going through a farm and not a 3rd party company appearing as a CSA.

Some CSA’s are better than others when it comes to providing their members support. Look for things like weekly recipes, a blog with resources, events on the farm like farm tours and meet & greets.

I hope this is helpful, and now with all this knowledge you should be ready to go out there and find the perfect CSA program for you!


Stock Up On Lots of Produce

Because eating the same ol' greens every day gets old fast. If you stock up on a range of healthy components—including underdogs like chard and watercress, which are superfoods healthier than kale—you won't get bored. And if you fear the mid-week wilt, measure out portions and pop half of them in the freezer, cycling them into the refrigerator the day before they're needed. Incorporating last night's leftovers will stretch your dollar even further. If your confidence about picking out produce is a little low, then follow our guide to 35 easy ways to pick perfect produce every time.


Did you know avocados are technically berries? They’re one of the few fruits that only ripen once they're off the vine, which is why they will always arrive at your grocery store in varying degrees of ripeness, even if all of them came in on the same shipment.

The best test for avocados is touch: A ripe fruit will be firm, but with a slight give. If it’s rock-solid, it’s not ripe yet. If it's too soft, it won't have the right texture for eating.

Smell is another way to test avocados for ripeness. They only develop a scent when they’re overripe, so you can quickly rule out any that produce a smell.

(If you don't care about potentially ruining someone else's day, you can also try this avocado hack from BuzzFeed.)


5 Ways to Shop and Cook Your Way to Less Food Waste (No Dumpster Diving Required)

Here is a list of all the food I threw out last week while cleaning my refrigerator: An almost-full bunch of wilted scallions three dangerously tender lemons a large container of cooked white rice and an entire head of celery. The moldy rice was a lost cause (RIP), but I could have easily thrown the still-fresh scallion whites into a stir-fry, made fresh-squeezed lemonade, and opened a can of tuna for salad with lots of celery. I didn't do any of those things. It seemed like a lot of work for a bunch of, well, garbage.

Chances are you've done this at some point, too. Americans throw out as much as 25 percent of the food and beverage they buy, which can cost a family of four an estimated $1,365 to $2,275 annually. In 2010, U.S. retailers and consumers wasted 133 billion pounds of food—nearly a third of the country's food supply—according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our food waste problem is the subject of Just Eat It, a documentary that premieres on MSNBC in the U.S. on April 22 at 10 p.m.

Over a period of six months director Grant Baldwin and producer Jen Rustmeyer ate only unopened or uneaten foods that almost exclusively came out of retail and wholesale dumpsters. Once the couple figured out where to look, they found the challenge shockingly easy: Unwanted food was everywhere. Their diet was rich in eggs, dairy, hummus, bread, and fresh fruits and veg. (Their best score: More than $10,000 worth of Green & Black's organic chocolate bars). In all, the pair "rescued" more than $20,000 in wasted food and spent just $200 on the slightly damaged, unwanted produce they bought at grocery stores and farmers' markets.

Baldwin discovered a trove of unopened hummus on one of his dumpster excursions. Photo courtesy of Jen Rustmeyer

And although we're not suggesting you go out and hit the dumpsters, these less, um, messy ways to cut down on food waste will help you become a smarter shopper, eat more of those groceries you diligently buy each week, and save money.

Everyone has an optimal grocery shopping method that works best, and finding yours could make the difference in how much food you end up throwing out each week. If you're the kind of person who likes making a plan and sticking to it, come up with meals you want to cook, create a shopping list, and make one big trip for the week. If you're someone who enjoys deciding what's for dinner on a whim, try going to the store more frequently and buying just what you need. Whichever your preference, make sure you read our guide to smart supermarket shopping before you head out.

Every time Rustmeyer goes to the grocery store, she says she has to constantly remind herself not to pick through the apple bin looking for the prettiest ones. Instead, she makes a concerted effort to buy the "ugly" produce she knows other shoppers aren't likely to go for, such as orphaned bananas, bruised pears, and lumpy carrots. "People are always trying to buy the most perfect carrots," Rustmeyer says. "And what do they do? They bring them home and cut them up into tiny little pieces and cook them until they're soft. Why is it so important that they be straight, crunchy carrots when we buy them?"

"A lot of people throw out perfectly good dairy because it's getting close to the 'sell-by' date and they're scared of it," Rustmeyer says. The thing is, those Sell-By dates you'll find on products like eggs and milk are a way for manufacturers to let retailers know how long they can expect to sell a product with guaranteed freshness and quality. Those dates have no bearing on how safe a food product is to consume, so by all means, drink up that milk. If you're worried, just give it a sniff first. (Trust us, you'll know if it's gone bad). Other labels use language like "best if used by" or "enjoy by," and these are meant for shoppers to see—they're how a manufacturer lets you know how long a product will maintain its optimal quality. But again, these "Best If Used By" labels aren't safety warnings, so as long as you're happy with the quality of your food.