There's so much bounty in the farmers markets and grocery stores right now as summer transitions into early fall. But if you've ever stood in front of a pile of veggies and not known how to tell which items are ripe and ready to eat, you're not alone. Here, some expert tricks for knowing when your favorite fruits and veggies are truly ready for consumption.
If you're planning to make a yummy fruit salad featuring melon, pick the melon up and shake it to gauge its readiness, suggests Deborah Orlick Levy, RD, a dietitian and nutrition consultant at Carrington Farms. "Are the seeds loose? Do they move around? If so, it's a good indication that the melon is ripe," she says. "Then squeeze it and make sure it’s got a little give to it." Tip: When in doubt, give it a smell. "If it has a light, fragrant smell you’re good to go and buy it," she says.
All tomatoes are not created equal
Now is the perfect time to purchase vine-ripened tomatoes, but not every tomato you see will taste as juicy as the other. Your best bet is to smell each one to see if it has a sweet-ish garden-fresh smell. Also, always go for a tomato that's deep in color, Levy says. "You can also squeeze a tomato to make sure there's a little give but not too much," she says. "A mushy tomato is not what you’re looking for." Unless, that is, you're making spaghetti sauce to last all winter long.
Stone fruits have one (important) thing in common
Yielding to gentle pressure is an important sign of ripeness for stone fruit like peaches, plums and nectarines. "When those fruits are firm, they will have more tartness and the texture isn't as pleasant," says Michelle Dudash, RD, a Cordon Bleu-certified chef and the creator of Clean Eating Cooking School: Monthly Meal Plans Make Simple.
Focus on the pear stem
While you don't want ripe pears to yield to gentle pressure on the main part of the fruit, you do want the spot near the neck/stem to have a slight yield. "If it's soft there [the main body], this pear is past its prime though you could use it in a smoothie," Dudash says. However, green pears are juicier when they're slightly softer rather than rock hard, and Asian pears should be firm all the way through since they're supposed to be crispy, Dudash adds.
It's easy to tell if a strawberry is ready
Just use your nose, Dudash says. "Strawberries will smell fruity and aromatic and shouldn't be rock hard, nor too soft," she says. Always look at the bottom of the carton to make sure there are no moldy berries lingering there.
Use color to tell if raspberries are ready
A ripe raspberry should always be bright pinkish red. "When raspberries begin to turn darker, they're on their way out," Dudash adds. "Just peek inside the hollowed area and, if you see tiny dark spots, you know they're beginning to expire."
Be firm about asparagus
Asparagus is usually available year-round, but it's at its best in the spring. When shopping for asparagus, take a look at each stem and make sure each has firm, intact tips. When they start to look wilted, asparagus is no longer going to taste as yummy grilled with a squeeze of lemon, Dudash says.
Squeeze those avocados
Prepping guacamole? Always select avocados that yield to gentle pressure, Dudash says. "If they are really soft, they're past their prime," she says. Check the tip around the stem too. The circle around the stem shouldn't be too soft or flat. Many avocado aficionados say it should be relatively firm and round and smell sweet and fruity. Tip: Avocados, especially those of the Hass variety, typically have a mottling of green and black on the skin. When a Hass avocado is dark brown/black, it's ready to eat. However, other varieties will always have a skin that's bright green.