By Noel Ugarte, MS, RD | Registered Dietitian
It happens all too often: we purchase loads of fresh fruits and vegetables with big plans of eating a healthier diet, only to toss out the majority of the produce the next week when it goes bad. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, so let’s find a better way to make them part of your daily life.
As a dietitian, one of the hardest parts of eating more fruits and vegetables is making sure it actually makes it onto your plate before spoiling! We can do a few things to make sure that the shelf-life of produce is extended.
Picking Your Produce
Picking produce – your fruits and vegetables – at the correct stage of ripeness starts at the grocery store. Don’t be afraid to use your sense of sight, touch, and smell to investigate the produce before placing them into your cart.
I recommend planning out meals and snacks for the week to prevent defaulting to fast food or unhealthy snacks when life gets busy. This usually means grocery shopping at least one time per week. If you know you will be enjoying specific fruits and vegetables at the end of the week, you may want to purchase it under-ripe and allow it to finish ripening in your home. If you will be enjoying the produce the same or next day, get it when its ripe to enjoy optimal flavor and nutrients. If you want to enjoy the produce steadily throughout the week, you could purchase a mix of under-ripe and ripe produce. Here are the best tips for different types of produce.
- Under-ripe: firm and small, green/red/pink/white in color
- Ripe: slightly yielding and plump, deep purple/blue/red in color
- Over-ripe: soft and easily squished, wrinkles, black/brown spots
- Fun fact: blueberries get a dusty, white film called bloom on their outer skins. This bloom naturally protects against pests and retains moisture. Removing the bloom should be done right before the blueberry is consumed, otherwise it may ripen quicker than desired.
- Under-ripe: empty “plinking” sound when knocked on, light in weight, no smell, firm when pressed at blossom-end
- Ripe: deep and full sound when knocked on, heavy, sweet smell, slightly yielding when pressed at blossom-end
- Over-ripe: solid and thudding sound when knocked on, very soft or mushy rind, strong and overly sweet scent
- Fun fact: watermelon develops a white spot where it sits on the soil without sunlight as it grows. When ripe, the white spot will turn more yellow.
- Under-ripe: firm when squeezed, little to no smell, green/light yellow
- Ripe: slightly yielding when squeezed, sweet smell, bright and even color
- Over-ripe: very soft, dark spots or uneven coloring, leathery and less oily peel
- Under-ripe: firm near stem, underdeveloped color, little to no smell
- Ripe: slightly yielding near stem, bright and deep color, sweet smell
- Over-Ripe: soft all over, brown spots
- Fun fact: stone fruit are fruits with a pit in the center, including peaches, nectarines, cherries, plumbs, and mango. The colors of each type of stone fruit vary significantly. It may be more helpful to use the firmness and smell as a gauge of ripeness if you are unsure of the ideal color.
- Under-ripe: green peel and pseudo-stem
- Ripe: bright yellow, firm, little to no smell, brown pseudo-stem
- Over-Ripe: brown color or spots, soft, sweet smell
- Fun Fact: Much of the process of ripening involves the fibers of the plant breaking down. As fruit ripens, it generally becomes softer and sweeter with a higher sugar content. The sugar content of an unripe banana versus an over ripe banana is particularly significant!
- Under-ripe: firm when squeezed, bright green or uneven color
- Ripe: slightly yielding when squeezed, dark skin color (color may vary; green, black, brown)
- Over-Ripe: soft and mushy when squeezed, white/ashy mold formation on skin, rancid smell
- Under-ripe: firm when squeezed, dull skin, uneven color, no smell
- Ripe: slight yield when squeezed, shiny skin, even color, aromatic smell
- Over-ripe: very soft when squeezed, wrinkles, leaking juice
- Under-ripe: dull skin, uneven color
- Ripe: shiny skin, even color
- Over-ripe: soft and mushy when squeezed, wrinkles
- Fun fact: corking is when the ribs and seeds of the pepper grow faster than the outside of the pepper causing small, shallow cracks in the skin. It is thought that peppers with corking have sweeter or spicier flavors depending on the type of pepper you choose.
- Under-ripe: less than 6-8 inches in diameter when whole
- Ripe: white in color, tight florets, 6-8 inches in diameter when whole
- Over-ripe: brown or yellow in color, loose florets, grainy texture when consumed
- Fun fact: white cauliflower is the most consumed cauliflower variety in America. However, this vegetable can come in a variety of other colors including yellow, green, and purple. Their colors should be vibrant; under-ripe colored cauliflower may look less vibrant while over-ripe may have dark or brown spots
- Under-ripe: light green color, less than 4-7 inches in diameter when whole
- Ripe: dark green color, tight florets, 4-7 inches in diameter when whole
- Over-ripe: yellow or brown color, loose florets, open buds
- Ripe: bright color depending on variety, firm, crisp and not easily bent
- Over-ripe: soft, easily bent
- Fun fact: blushing is when the carrot skin becomes dry and white. As the carrot becomes dehydrated, some of the carrot’s skin cells begin to shrivel and die. Blushing can be an indication of freshness but does not necessarily mean the carrot is over-ripe or sick. Carrots (including dehydrated blushing carrots) have a long shelf-life of 3-4 weeks.
- Under-ripe: tender silk, difficult to peel husk from the ear, small kernel buds at the top of the ear
- Ripe: slightly dry silk, large kernels visible at the top of the ear, milky clear/white liquid when kernel squeezed, can have a sweet smell
- Over-ripe: silk and entire husk dry, wrinkled or shriveled kernels visible at the top of the ear, minimal to no liquid when kernel squeezed
- Ripe: firm when squeezed, medium-to-dark green in color, can have a fresh smell
- Over-ripe: very soft when squeezed, wrinkled skin, yellow or brown spots
- Fun fact: cucumbers are commonly coated in an edible wax to preserve moisture and provide a shiny appearance. This wax coating should be washed off the cucumber right before preparing and eating. Washing the coat off several days before eating may lead to excess moisture loss and may lead to quicker ripening process.
If you want to learn more about healthy changes to make in your daily life, contact NOAH to meet with one of our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists today!