How to Choose the Ripest Fruits

How to Choose the Ripest FruitsBy Lori Bongiorno

There's nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than biting into a juicy, sweet, ripe piece of fruit.  But how do you know if a peach or strawberryt is going to taste as good as it looks?

While it's true that choosing delicious fruits is more of an art than a science, there are some guidelines that can help you make smart choices.

It's helpful to know that there are different categories of ripe, according to Shirley Corriher, a food scientist and author of BakeWise.  Some fruits become ripe when carbohydrates break down into sugar and they become sweeter after they are picked, such as bananas, apples, pears, and mangoes.

Then there are the ones that are so deceptive, she says, because they ripen in color, texture, and juiciness after they're picked, but they don't get any sweeter because they get their sugar from the plant sap. Apricots, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, cantaloupe, and honeydew are all good examples.

Soft berries, cherries, citrus, watermelon, pineapple, and grapes will never ripen after they've been picked, says Corriher. So if they're not ripe in the grocery store, you probably don't want to bring them home. Avocados, on the other hand, don't actually start to ripen until after they've been picked.

Color, smell, texture, and other clues can also help determine which fruits you should buy. The rules differ depending on the fruit. Below, experts share their secrets for finding the best fruits.

One thing they all agree on is that you'll get the ripest most delicious fruits if you shop for local produce that's in season. It's also easier to sample fruits at farmers' markets, -- the only surefire way to know if fruit tastes good -- than at the grocery store. Going to a farm that lets you pick your own fruit right off the vine yields the best fruit, they say.

Experts agree that scent is important in choosing the best-tasting melons, particularly when it comes to cantaloupe and honeydew (less so with watermelon). They should smell very sweet, particularly at the blossom and stem ends, which should also be tender if you press on them.

The best way to check for ripeness of a cantaloupe or honeydew melon is to look at the skin, says Emily Wallendjack, pastry chef at Cookshop in New York City. "If the veins on the skin are green, they aren't ripe." Corriher likes to choose melons that are pale.

Wallendjack and other experts suggest tapping melons: "If you tap on it, and kind of flick it and hear a deep hollow sound, it's ripe."

A watermelon should feel heavy for its size and the underbelly should have a splotch of creamy yellow.

Stone fruits
Look for peaches and nectarines that are tender to the touch, but not too soft. Feeling is the best way, but smell can also be a good indicator of taste, says Gabriel Kass-Johnson of
McEnroe Organic Farm in Millerton, New York. Stay away from peaches that have a greenish tint, which usually means they were picked too early.

Plums should be slightly tender to the touch and fully colored, says Rachel Saunders, owner of Blue Chair Fruit.

Color is key when it comes to cherries. "Look for Bing cherries with a deep rich burgundy color," says Nick Trocano, a farmer at
Sycamore Farms, in Middletown, NY. "A cherry should feel like it's plump and full of juice. It should feel like if you just squeeze it a little harder, it will burst."

Some additional tips from Saunders: The stems should be attached. Cherries should be firm -- if the flesh is too soft, then it indicates an overripe cherry.

"With berries, color is surefire," says Kass-Johnson. "Smell isn't as important." And remember that they will not ripen after you buy them. They'll just get softer and mushier.

Strawberries should be entirely red, according to Saunders. "If a berry has white shoulders (the part of the berry hidden by the leaves), it was picked too early." She says strawberries should be firm and have dark green leaves. If the leaves are dried out, then it's a sign that the berries are old.

"With raspberries you want the most intense, deep red that you can find," says Corriher. "Pick the biggest blueberries you can find, and they'll be sweeter." Saunders says she seeks out blueberries that are both firm and blue.

Apples should have a very tight, hard skin, and there should be no give when you press on them, says Wallendjack.

Color is also important. "You need to know what color an apple is when it's ripe," says Corriher. For example, look for really yellow golden delicious apples.

Saunders suggests looking for bright, firm oranges. "A too-pale color can indicate that the fruit was picked a little early," she says. "A leather-looking peel indicates the orange is old."

"A ripe pear typically has a sweet aroma and is slightly tender to the touch," says Saunders. "If the fruit is hard, it's not ready." She also points out that pears ripen very well off the tree at room temperature.

Bananas aren't grown in America so they're always picked when green and ripen on the way, says Kass-Johnson. He says it makes no difference if they are a little green when you buy them. It just depends on when you are going to eat them.

"You can take a mango that's not ripe and throw it in a brown paper bag on the counter and it will ripen on its own," says Wallendjack. "If it feels soft and if you press it in and it keeps the imprint of your finger, then it's ripe and ready to eat." She also says the skin should have a yellowish tint to it. Green on the outside means it's not ripe yet.


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