Fresh fruit is nature's candy, but those of us gathering our fruit from a produce bin instead of a vine or tree are sometimes confused about which ones to choose. Since few things in life are as disappointing as the anticipation of delicious fruit being met with a disgusting pile of mush, here are a few tips to avoid that disaster.
Bananas are at their peak when their skins are a solid yellow with a few small speckles of brown. They ripen nicely on their own, however, so if you catch some green ones on sale, go for it -- just don't put them in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures slow down the ripening process, which is handy for ripe fruit, but Chiquita Bananas advises that cold unripe bananas "may not be able to resume the ripening process even if they are returned to room temperature."
Peaches love the sun, and their skins turn darker in the areas that have received lots of direct sunlight. The sunlight makes the fruit produce natural sugars, so the dark spots indicate a sweet taste. A light-colored stripe across the stem area is a good thing -- this shows that the fruit stayed on the tree long enough for its branch to block the sun.
If gently squeezing an avocado doesn't give you a good indication of ripeness -- you want some give, but not much -- try popping the button off of its stem area. If it's brown, the avocado is overripe.
Most of us are familiar with the "thump test" for watermelons -- hold the fruit near your ear, and hope for a hollow response to your firm thumping. You also want a melon that feels dense for its size, because that indicates a high volume of juice. Don't worry about a yellow spot on the rind -- that just shows where the melon sat on the ground.
Cantaloupe skins shouldn't be too green (although green ones will continue to ripen, handy when purchasing to eat later in the week) and shouldn't have any large scrapes or nicks. Use your finger to push on the skin about an inch from the stem, making a circle around it; softness in this area indicates an overripe fruit.
Similar to a watermelon, you want an orange that feels heavy for its size: a lightweight orange is drying out -- yuck! Squeeze the skin to see if it's separating from the pulp, another indication that the orange is past its prime. Avoid oranges with noticeably dark or light spots. Oranges should retain a fresh smell, particularly around the stem area.
Strawberries vary greatly in size, so look for a solid, bright red color -- white around the stem indicates that the berry was picked too early and may not be as sweet as you like.
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