Shopping Guide

35 Easy Ways to Pick Perfect Produce Every Time

By The Editors of Eat This, Not That!

From bananas to avocados, and everything in between, we’ve got the dirt on scoring the best of the bounty.

One of the reasons why Italians eat so well is that every last one of them believes it is their fundamental right to walk out of the market with the very best ingredients. They won’t settle for a wrinkled eggplant, a withering artichoke, or an apple that tastes like Styrofoam. And neither should you. Problem is, finding the best, ripest, most jaw-droppingly tasty fruits and vegetables isn’t as intuitive as you might think. It’s a task that requires the attention of all five senses in order to pick up on the subtleties and nuances behind ultimate ripeness and utmost quality. Regardless of what you’re shopping for, start with these three rules:

1. Beautiful Doesn’t Mean Delicious
Sub-par conventional produce is bred to look waxy, glistening, and perfectly symmetrical, while prime fruits and vegetables are often irregularly shaped, with slight visual imperfections outside but a world of flavor waiting inside.

2. Use Your Hands
You can learn more about a fruit or vegetable from picking it up than you can from staring it down. Heavy, sturdy fruits and vegetables with taut skin and peels are telltale signs of freshness.

3. Shop with the Seasons
In the Golden Age of the American supermarket, Chilean tomatoes and South African asparagus are an arm’s length away when our soil is blanketed in snow. Sure, sometimes you just need a tomato, but there are three persuasive reasons to shop in season: it’s cheaper, it’s better, and it’s better for you. So mark your calendar. (And speaking of gathering a better bag of groceries, check out these 50 Best Supermarket Shopping Tips Ever).

To dig even deeper in our hunt for perfect produce, we asked Aliza Green, author of Field Guide to Produce, and Chef Ned Elliott of Portland’s Urban Farmer restaurant for the dirt on scoring the best of the bounty. Use the tips and tricks that follow and you’ll bring home the best fruits and vegetables every time, just like an Italian grandma. And while you’re at the store, consider picking up these 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen, too!

1
Apples

PERFECT PICK: Firm and heavy for its size with smooth, matte, unbroken skin and no bruising. The odd blemish (read: wormhole) or brown “scald” streaks do not negatively impact flavor. The smaller the apple, the bigger the flavor wallop.

PEAK SEASON: September to May

HANDLE WITH CARE: Keep apples in a plastic bag in the crisper away from vegetables. Here, they should remain edible for several weeks.

THE PAYOFF: These fall and spring favorites are packed with quercetin, a flavonoid linked to better heart health, plus the soluble fiber pectin, which keeps cholesterol in check. Check out these 10 Apple Recipes for Weight Loss to incorporate more of the sweet fruit into your diet.

2
Artichokes

PERFECT PICK: An artichoke with deep green, heavyset, undamaged, tightly closed leaves is the best bet. The leaves should squeak when pinched together.

PEAK SEASON: March to May

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to 5 days.

THE PAYOFF: Aside from being one of the 26 Best Vegetarian Protein Sources, artichokes have a higher total antioxidant capacity than any other common vegetable, according to USDA tests.

3
Asparagus

PERFECT PICK: Look for vibrant green spears with tight purple-tinged buds. Avoid spears that are fading in color or wilting. Thinner spears are sweeter and more tender.

PEAK SEASON: March to June

HANDLE WITH CARE: Trim the woody ends and stand the stalks upright in a small amount of water in a tall container. Cover the tops with a plastic bag and cook within a few days.

THE PAYOFF: Asparagus are potent sources of folate, a B-vitamin that protects the heart by helping to reduce inflammation. Whip up this Potato, Salmon and Asparagus One Pan Dinner to reap the benefits.

4
Avocados

PERFECT PICK: Avocados should feel firm to the touch without any sunken, mushy spots. They should not rattle when shaken—that’s a sign the pit has pulled away from the flesh.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: To ripen, place avocados in a paper bag and store at room temperature for 2 to 4 days. To speed up this process, add an apple to the bag, which emits ripening ethylene gas. Ripe avocados can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.

THE PAYOFF: The green berry (yes, we said berry!) packs plenty of cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat. Bonus: A diet rich in monounsaturated fat may prevent body fat distribution around the belly by downregulating the expression of certain fat genes. Simply put: It can whittle your waist by zapping away belly fat.

5
Bananas

PERFECT PICK: Ripe bananas have uniform yellow skins or small brown freckles indicating they are at their sweetest. Avoid any with evident bruising or split skins.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store unripe bananas on the counter, away from direct heat and sunlight (speed things up by placing green bananas in an open paper bag). Once ripened, refrigerate; though the peel turns brown, the flavor and quality are unaffected.

THE PAYOFF: Bananas are a good source of vitamin B6, which helps prevent cognitive decline, according to scientists at the USDA.

6
Beets

PERFECT PICK: A beet that’s in its prime should have a smooth, deep-red surface that’s unyielding when pressed. Smaller roots are sweeter and more tender. Attached greens should be deep green and not withered.

PEAK SEASON: June to October

HANDLE WITH CARE: Remove the leaves (which are great sautéed in olive oil) and store in a plastic bag in the fridge for no more than 2 days. The beets will last in the crisper for up to 2 weeks.

THE PAYOFF: Beets, one of the The 40 Best-Ever Weight-Loss Superfoods serve up a hefty dose of nitrates, which may help lower blood pressure by de-stiffening arterial walls. Try beet greens in stir-fries and throw beetroots into salads or sandwiches to reap the benefits.

7
Bell
Peppers

PERFECT PICK: A perfect bell pepper should have lots of heft for their size with a brightly colored, wrinkle free exterior. The stems should be a lively green.

PEAK SEASON: July to December

HANDLE WITH CARE: Refrigerate in the crisper for up to 2 weeks.

THE PAYOFF: All bell peppers are loaded with antioxidants, especially vitamin C. Red peppers lead the pack, with nearly three times the amount of vitamin C found in fresh oranges. A single serving also has a full day’s worth of vision-protecting vitamin A.

8
Blueberries

PERFECT PICK: Look for plump, uniform indigo berries with taut skin and a dull white frost. Check the bottom of the container for juice stains indicating many crushed berries. Those with a red or green tinge will never fully ripen.

PEAK SEASON: June to August

HANDLE WITH CARE: Transfer, unwashed, to an airtight container and refrigerate for 5 to 7 days. Blueberries spoil quickly if left at room temperature.

THE PAYOFF: Blueberries have more disease-fighting antioxidants than most commonly consumed fruits, according to Cornell University researchers. Another study out of the University of Michigan found that rats that ate blueberry powder as part of their meals lost belly fat and had lower cholesterol levels than their counterparts—even when they ate a high-fat diet. It’s theorized that the catechins in blueberries activate the fat-burning gene in belly-fat cells, which is why the fruit made our list of the 30 Best Foods for 6-Pack Abs!

9
Broccoli

PERFECT PICK: Look for veggies with rigid stems and tightly formed floret clusters that are deep green or tinged purple. Pass on any with yellowing heads—they will inevitably be more bitter.

PEAK SEASON: October to May

HANDLE WITH CARE: Place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

THE PAYOFF: These mini trees are filled to the brim with sulforaphane, a phytonutrient that activates enzymes that seek out and destroy cancerous cells. Sulforaphane has also been shown to boost testosterone and fights off body fat storage, making it one of the best foods to lose weight.

10
Brussels
Sprouts

PERFECT PICK: Look for compact, tight, and un-shriveled heads that are vibrant green and feel overweight for their size. Select ones of similar size for ease of cooking, knowing that smaller sprouts pack sweeter flavor.

PEAK SEASON: October to November

HANDLE WITH CARE: Refrigerate, unwashed, in a tightly wrapped perforated plastic bag for up to 2 weeks.

THE PAYOFF: Sprouts contain nitrogen compounds called indoles, which have cancer-protecting efficacy. Not sure how to incorporate the nutrient-packed veggie into your diet? We have some great ideas in our 20 One Pot Dinner Recipes For Weight Loss recipe round-up!

11
Cantaloupe

PERFECT PICK: The stem end of the melon should have a smooth indentation. Look for a sweet aroma, slightly oval shape, and a good coverage of netting. The blossom end should give slightly to pressure. Avoid those with soft spots—an indication of an overripe melon.

PEAK SEASON: May to September

HANDLE WITH CARE: Ripe cantaloupes should be stored in plastic in the fridge for up to 5 days, after which they begin to lose flavor.

THE PAYOFF: Cantaloupes have loads of vitamin C, which may offer protection against having a stroke. The vitamin has also been shown to elevate mood and counteract stress hormones that leave you feeling tense and trigger the storage of belly fat. Aside from noshing on melon, there are plenty of other ways to fight back against a widening waistline. Check out our exclusive report, 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat to get in the know.

12
Carrots

PERFECT PICK: Carrots should be smooth and firm with bright orange color. Avoid those that are bendable or cracked at the base. Bunches with bright green tops still in place are your freshest choice.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store carrots in the crisper in a plastic bag with the greens removed for up to 3 weeks.

THE PAYOFF: Bugs Bunny’s favorite veggie carries tons of beta-carotene, a nutrient that helps fight off infections. Carrots are also considered to be one of the 50 Best Foods for Your Penis. Why? A Fertility and Sterility study that analyzed the effect of various fruit and vegetables on sperm quality discovered carrots had the best all-around results on sperm count and motility a term used to describe the ability of sperm to swim towards an egg.

13
Cauliflower

PERFECT PICK: When shopping for cauliflower, look for a veggie that’s ivory white with compact florets, There should be no dark spotting on the florets or the leaves. The leaves should be verdant and perky.

PEAK SEASON: September to November

HANDLE WITH CARE: Refrigerate, unwashed, in a plastic bag for up to 1 week. If light brown spots develop on the florets, shave off with a paring knife before cooking.

THE PAYOFF: The veggie is filled with detoxifying compounds called isothiocyanates, which offer protection against aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

14
Eggplant

PERFECT PICK: Look for eggplants that have good weight to them with tight, shiny, wrinkle-free skin. When they’re pressed, look for them to be springy, not spongy. The stem and cap should be forest green, not browning.

PEAK SEASON: August to September

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store eggplants in a cool location (not the fridge) for 3 to 5 days. Eggplants are quite sensitive to the cold.

THE PAYOFF: The tasty purple veggie contains chlorogenic acid, a phenol antioxidant that scavenges disease-causing free radicals. It also contains powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins that provide neuroprotective benefits like bolstering short-term memory and reducing mood-killing inflammation. For more foods that will keep a smile on your face, fill your shopping cart with some of these 23 Foods Happy People Eat.

15
Fennel

PERFECT PICK: Fennel bulbs should be uniform in color, with no browning and a clean, fragrant aroma. Smaller bulbs have a sweeter licorice-like flavor. Leave bulbs with wilted tops, called fronds, behind.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Separate the greens and bulbs and keep each, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. Wilted fennel can be revived in ice water.

THE PAYOFF: Fennel is filled with anethole, a phytonutrient that may lessen inflammation and cancer risk.

16
Figs

PERFECT PICK: Figs should be plump with a deeply rich color; soft but not mushy to the touch. Avoid those with bruises or a sour odor.

PEAK SEASON: July to September

HANDLE WITH CARE: Place fresh figs on a plate lined with a paper towel and eat them as they ripen. They bruise easily, so gentle handling is prudent. They also ripen quickly, so eat within a few days of purchasing. If overripe, simmer with a bit of water, sugar, and balsamic vinegar for a fig jam or sauce.

THE PAYOFF: Figs contain phytosterols, which help keep cholesterol levels in check. They also carry a bit of bone-building calcium. (Three medium fruits carry 5% of the daily recommended intake.) For more surprising foods filled with the mineral, check out these 20 Calcium Rich Foods That Aren't Dairy.

17
Garlic

PERFECT PICK: A fresh garlic bulb should feel heavy for its size, with tightly closed cloves in the bulb that remain firm when gently pressed. The skin can be pure white or have purple-tinged stripes and should be tight fitting.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Place bulbs in a cool, dark, well-ventilated location for up to 1 month.

THE PAYOFF: Garlic contains the cancer-fighting compound allicin, which has also been shown to fight off the bacteria responsible for the development of stomach ulcers. For more eats that can ward off the big C, read up on these 7 Foods That Fight Cancer.

18
Grapefruit

PERFECT PICK: Opt for a heavy fruit (a sign of juiciness) with thin skin that is a tad responsive to a squeeze. Small imperfections in color and skin surface are not detrimental to the sweet-tart flavor. Yet, avoid any that are very rough or have soft spots. The same criteria apply for oranges.

PEAK SEASON: October to June

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store refrigerated for 2 to 3 weeks.

THE PAYOFF: Top bullet points on grapefruit’s resume include a high anti-cancer lycopene content and 120 percent of the day’s vitamin C needs in just 1 cup. For more foods that will keep you healthy and trim, check out these 30 Foods That Melt Love Handles.

19
Grapes

PERFECT PICK: Look for grapes that are plump, wrinkle-free, and firmly attached to the stems. There should be no browning at the stem connection, but a silvery white powder (“bloom”) keeps grapes, especially darker ones, fresher longer. Red grapes are best if full-colored with no green tinge. Green grapes with a yellowish hue are the ripest and sweetest.

PEAK SEASON: June to December

HANDLE WITH CARE: Loosely store, unwashed, in a shallow bowl in the fridge for up to 1 week.

THE PAYOFF: Red grapes are a good source of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that offers protection against cardiovascular disease.

20
Green
Beans

PERFECT PICK: Buy green beans that have a vibrant, smooth surface without any visible withering. They should “snap” when gently bent.

PEAK SEASON: April to October

HANDLE WITH CARE: Refrigerate, unwashed, in an unsealed bag for up to 1 week.

THE PAYOFF: This tasty veggie packs 4 grams of belly-filling fiber per cup, which can ward off hunger and reduce all-cause mortality, according to Dutch researchers.

21
Kale

PERFECT PICK: Look for kale with dark blue-green, moist and jaunty leaves. The smaller the leaves, the more tender the kale. Avoid wilted foliage with discolored spots.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Peppery kale is best kept in the fridge tightly wrapped in a plastic bag pierced for aeration, where it will last 3 to 4 days.

THE PAYOFF: Kale serves up lutein, an antioxidant in the retina that protects against vision loss.

22
Kiwi

PERFECT PICK: A ready-to-devour kiwi will be slightly yielding to the touch. Steer clear of those that are mushy, wrinkled, or bruised with an “off” smell.

PEAK SEASON: June to August

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store at room temperature to ripen. To quicken the process, place in a paper bag with an apple. Once ripened, place in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to 1 week.

THE PAYOFF: With only 56 calories for a large one and 20 percent more of the antioxidant vitamin C than an orange, it’s no wonder kiwis are one of The 25 Best Foods for Instant Detox.

23
Leeks

PERFECT PICK: Purchase leeks that have a green, crisp tops with an unblemished white root end. Gravitate toward small- to medium-sized leeks, which are less woody and tough than larger ones. Those with spotted or yellowing leaves should be ignored.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge, they’ll keep fresh for a week. THE

PAYOFF: Leeks carry a good amount of eye-protecting lutein, manganese, and vitamins A, C, and K. Not sure how to cook ‘em? The veggie plays a starring role in many of these 20 Best Broth-Based Soups for Weight Loss.

24
Lemons &
Limes

PERFECT PICK: Lemons and limes should be brightly colored, well-shaped with smooth, thin skin. They should feel sturdy but give ever so slightly when squeezed. Small brown splotches on limes do not affect flavor (although they are a sign of deterioration and those with splotches should be consumed first). Lemons should have no hint of green.

PEAK SEASON: Lemons, year-round; limes, May to October

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store at room temperature, in a dark location, for about 1 week or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

THE PAYOFF: The yellow and green fruits contain the phytonutrient limonoids, which appear to have anticancer, antiviral properties. They both make refreshing additions to detox water.

25
Romaine
Lettuce

PERFECT PICK: The ideal Caesar salad staple has crisp leaves that are free of browning edges and rust spots. The interior leaves are paler in color with more delicate flavor.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Refrigerate romaine for 5 to 7 days in a plastic bag.

THE PAYOFF: Romaine is a solid source of vitamin K, which is needed for blood clotting and bone health. The leafy green makes a solid addition to any of these 20 Awesome Recipes for Mason Jar Salads.

26
Mangoes

PERFECT PICK: Mangoes that will be eaten shortly after purchase should have red skin with splotches of yellow, and the soft flesh should give with gentle pressure. Mangoes for later use will be firmer with a tight skin, a duller color, and green near the stem.

PEAK SEASON: April to August

HANDLE WITH CARE: Ripen at room temperature until fragrant and giving. Ripe mangoes can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.

THE PAYOFF: Mangoes have a good showing of vitamins A, B6, and C, plus fiber, a nutrient strongly associated with weight loss.

27
Mushrooms

PERFECT PICK: Whether you’re stocking up on button or cremini mushrooms, looks for veggies with tightly closed, firm caps that are not slimy or riddled with dark soft spots. Open caps with visible gills indicate consumption should be a priority.

PEAK SEASON: November to April

HANDLE WITH CARE: Place meaty mushrooms on a flat surface, cover with a damp paper towel, and refrigerate for 3 to 5 days.

THE PAYOFF: Shrooms are a potent source of immune-boosting, tumor-suppressing complex-carbohydrate polysaccharides.

28
Onions

PERFECT PICK: An A+ onion is nicely shaped with no swelling at the neck and dry, crisp outer skin. Lackluster onions have soft spots, green sprouts, or dark patches.

PEAK SEASON: Year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Keep onions in a cool, dark location away from potatoes for 3 to 4 weeks.

THE PAYOFF: You’ll find GPCS in onions. The peptide has been shown to reduce bone loss in rats. The pungent veggie is also a source of quercetin, a flavonoid that increases blood flow and activates a protein in the body that helps regulate glucose levels, torches stored fat and keeps new fat cells from forming. For more foods that will help keep you trim, check out these 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.

29
Pears

PERFECT PICK: Perfect, ready to eat pears have a pleasant fragrance with some softness at the stem end. The skin should be free of bruises, but some brown discoloration (russeting) is fine. Firmer pears are preferable for cooking use.

PEAK SEASON: August to February

HANDLE WITH CARE: Ripen at room temperature in a loosely closed brown paper bag. Refrigerate once they’re ripe and consume within a couple days.

THE PAYOFF: Pears pack a respectable amount of belly fat-blasting fiber and vitamin C—as long as you eat them with the skin on.

30
Pomegranates

PERFECT PICK: Pick pomegranates that are weighty for their size with glossy, taut, uncracked skin that is deep red. Gently press the crown end—if a powdery cloud emanates, the fruit is past its prime.

PEAK SEASON: August to December

HANDLE WITH CARE: Stored in a cool, dry location, pomegranates keep fresh for several weeks (up to 2 months in the fridge).

THE PAYOFF: The red, vibrant fruit has hefty amounts of antioxidants shown to improve sperm quality and fertility. For more foods that will benefit your sex life, check out these 30 Best Proteins for Your Penis!

31
Potatoes

PERFECT PICK: Whether you’re stocking up on white or sweet potatoes, look for a tater with unyielding, with smooth undamaged skin. Avoid if bruised, cracked, or green tinged. Loose spuds tend to be better quality than bagged.

PEAK SEASON: Sweet, September to December; white, year-round

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store your spuds outside of the fridge, in a cool, dark place. So long as they’re separated from onions, potatoes will last for months. Sweet potatoes, however, should be used within a week.

THE PAYOFF: Potatoes are filled with potassium, which flushes out excess water and stops belly bloat. The mineral may also help preserve muscle mass as we age.

32
Butternut Squash

PERFECT PICK: This vibrant, fall veggie should feel dense for its size with a rind that is smooth, hard, uniformly tan, and free of splits. Being able to easily push a fingernail into the rind or scrape bits off indicates an immature, less flavorful squash.

PEAK SEASON: September to November

HANDLE WITH CARE: Butternut should be stored outside the fridge in a cool, well-ventilated, dark place, where it will stay edible for up to 3 months.

THE PAYOFF: Butternut squash has a huge amount of vitamin A to ramp up your immune system. For more foods that will keep you healthy all winter long, check out these 7 Foods That Ward Off Winter Illnesses.

33
Strawberries

PERFECT PICK: Seek out unblemished berries where the bright red color extends all the way to the stem. Good berries should have a strong fruity smell and be neither soft and mushy nor hard and firm. Smaller strawberries often have more flavor than the oversized mega-mart versions.

PEAK SEASON: June to August

HANDLE WITH CARE: Place unwashed strawberries in a single layer on a paper towel in a covered container. They will last for 2 to 3 days in the fridge.

THE PAYOFF: Strawberries have the most vitamin C of any of the commonly consumed berries. Sliced up, they make tasty additions to smoothies, overnight oats and whole grain cereal.

34
Watermelon

PERFECT PICK: Look for a dense, symmetrical melon that is free of cuts and sunken areas. The rind should appear dull, not shiny, with a rounded creamy-yellow underside that shows where ground ripening took place. A slap should produce a hollow thump.

PEAK SEASON: May to August

HANDLE WITH CARE: Store whole in the fridge for up to 1 week. The cold prevents the flesh from drying out and turning fibrous.

THE PAYOFF: Watermelon is overflowing with citrulline, an amino acid that’s converted to arginine, which relaxes blood vessels, thus improving blood flow.

35
Zucchini

PERFECT PICK: Purchase heavy, tender zucchini with unblemished deep-green skins that are adorned with faint gold specks or strips. Smaller zucchinis are sweeter and more flavorful.

PEAK SEASON: June to August

HANDLE WITH CARE: Refrigerate in the crisper in a plastic bag for up to 5 days.

THE PAYOFF: Zucchinis are a superior source of riboflavin, a B vitamin needed for red blood cell production and for converting carbohydrates to energy. Use it to make zoodles, with the help of these 21 Mouthwatering Spiralizer Recipes.


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