Sometimes the produce section of the supermarket is like a Las Vegas casino. It’s a gamble. There are piles of fruit, huge crates of melons, cartons of berries, but which ones are good? Which ones are worth buying? If you’ve ever had a bad piece of fruit, you understand the risk of shopping for fresh fruit. There’s nothing worse than spending $10 on a huge watermelon just to cut it open and realize it’s pale pink instead of bright red and tastes more like water than melon.
Sometimes it’s this fear of buying bad fruit stops people from buying it in the first place, but this is even sadder. Like anything in life, there is a trick to the game. There are strategies to picking out the best fruit, and though these techniques aren’t fool proof, they greatly increase your chances of walking out of the store happy with your purchase. If you want to continue the casino metaphor, it’s kind of like counting cards. (Except the store employees won’t beat you up if they catch you.)
Since there are a lot of different fruits, there are a lot of different strategies, but here are a few.
The obvious: Feel
Okay, maybe it’s a waste of time to tell you that you don’t want bruises in your fruit, but I’ve seen plenty of people just walk by and throw some apples in a bag without a second though. For almost any fruit beside thick rind fruits like watermelon or ultra delicate fruits like raspberries, the feel of a fruit is a good indicator of what you’re getting. Besides checking for bruises on apples, pears, peaches, etc. the feel of citrus fruit can also tell you how juicy the fruit is. If you pick up a lime that’s really firm, it may not be the best to get because this could mean the fruit is dried out on the inside. The same goes for lemons and clementines. With oranges it’s a little harder to tell because of the thick rind, but still a very hard orange will probably not be the juiciest. That is not to say that mushy feeling fruit is good, because its juiciness could be coming from the fruit rotting from the inside (yuck). So you’ll want to look for ones that are firm, but still soft enough to give in a little when you press them.
The still pretty obvious: Smell
The people give you weird looks in the store: Mom’s techniques
So the first two are pretty much common sense, which brings us this this final installment: the weird things that my mother does in the grocery store. These are for the fruits that give us the most trouble.
Grapes: Grapes are tricky because you can't smell them. So what do you do? Just taste it. You still want to buy grapes that are firm and crispy, but the only real way to tell with any fruit is to taste it, and with grapes, you can. Just take one, this isn't a sample counter, but most stores won't care especially if you tell them why you're doing it. You can also taste cherries or blueberries, but I'd stay away from blackberries and strawberries as they can be expensive and you might get in trouble.
Cantaloupe: My mother likes to say that the ugliest melons are usually the best, but I haven’t done enough research to yet prove this. So give it a quick sniff, if it smells cantaloupely, that’s a good sign. But to test whether the melon is ripe, press your thumb into the bottom of the fruit, the side opposite where the stem was. If there is a pleasant springiness, the melon is ripe. If it feels hard it will need to ripen a few more days. If it’s mushy, don’t get it!
Pineapple: First look at the color- you obviously want a pineapple that’s more yellow than green. Next, a pineapple should smell like a pineapple. However, to test its ripeness, pluck out a leaf. Grab a leaf from the top part of the fruit and lift up. If the leaf snaps off easily, the fruit is ripe.
Watermelon: Probably the most annoying fruit to pick out. The watermelon’s thick rind makes feeling and smelling impossible, so another technique was developed: sound. Yep, you may have seen people knocking on watermelons in the store and wondered what in the world their listening for. A good watermelon should make a popping sound when you hit it. A bad watermelon will thud. To clarify, a good watermelon is like throwing a tennis ball on the ground- it pops back, sharp and clean, echoing slightly. A bad watermelon is like dropping a baseball- it thuds, heavy and without a residual ringing sound.
And there you have it fruit fans. No more blindly choosing fruits and hoping you get lucky. Now you can walk in confident and freak people out a little. Always fun. Always worth it.