Today we are gonna discuss a topic that can either make you love or hate grocery shopping — buying produce. Why it’s a pain in the ass that’s worth the effort, how to know when your food is ripe, and some tips and tricks on buying produce at your local grocery store. We gotchoo. You’re gonna be a veggie buying master in no time.
WHY IT CAN BE A PAIN IN THE ASS, BUT WORTH THE EFFORT
Figuring out what’s perfectly ripe and ready to eat is difficult if you don’t know what to look for, and we are gonna talk about that in a hot second but first we wanna talk about some of the other things that suck about buying produce.
- It’s under-ripe or overripe — if it’s under-ripe, there are things you can do to get your fruit or veggie ripe to perfection in just a day or two. Usually it involves a paper bag or some special ripening bags you can buy online, each fruit and vegetable is a little different, so you can Google ripening techniques if you come across an avocado that’s hard as tits. (Hint, try placing it in a paper bag with a ripe banana)
- Ripe bananas contain a natural plant hormone called ethylene, which triggers ripening in mature fruit. The paper bag traps the ethylene gas that’s produced by the fruit and speeds up the ripening process.
- When something is overripe, is it bad to eat it? That depends on the food. Overripe bananas are perfect for baking, but you need to know the difference between overripe and rotten. Again, each vegetable or fruit will be slightly different, so you’ll need to do some more googling.
- Ultimately nobody wants to waste food, BUT remember the saying: “If in doubt, throw it out.” Food poisoning sucks.
- It can be useful to also understand the produce ripening process. So let’s get nerdy for a few moments:
- Ripening is the set of processes that occur from the later stages of growth and development until a fruit is ready to be consumed. The firmness of the fruit flesh typically softens, the sugar content rises, and acid levels are reduced. Aroma volatiles are released, (this is also why a lot of folks will tell you to sniff certain fruit to try to guage ripeness), and the true flavor of the fruit develops. The color of fruit typically darkens, the skin and flesh soften, and the green background color fades.
- Ethylene is a gaseous plant hormone that plays an important role in inducing the ripening process for many fruits. An unripe fruit generally has low levels of ethylene. As the fruit matures, ethylene is produced as a signal for fruit ripening to happen. Ethylene production continues to increase after harvest, thus decreasing fruit shelf-life, storability capacity, and increasing its susceptibility to pathogen attacks.
- Let’s focus on the here and now though, which brings us to the next question people have…
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF THE THING IS READY TO EAT?
- Some of the typical fruit you’ll be looking at in stores will be like this:
- Watermelon: Look for a smooth skin, or “rind,” that’s pretty dull. Its ends should be full and rounded. The bottom, or “belly,” often goes from white to creamy yellow as it ripens.
- Strawberries: You want bright red color, a natural shine, and a fresh green cap. They should be plump, but not too soft, with no sign of mold. They don’t ripen once they’re picked. They typically stay fresh for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. The longest they’ll keep is about 7 days.
- Bananas: Buy them when green. When the peels turn yellow with hints of brown, they’re ready. They’ll be fragile and bruise easily when they’re ripe. If you hang them in a cool area of your kitchen, they should stay fresh for up to a week.
- Avocado: The easiest way to tell if an avocado is ready for immediate use is to gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand. Ripe, ready-to-eat fruit will yield to gentle pressure.
- Peaches: These are ripe when picked. Avoid the rock-like ones. If they are just firm, put them that paper bag we mentioned earlier. They should get soft and juicy in a few days. When they are, put them in the refrigerator, where they should stay fresh for up to 3 to 5 days.
- Pineapple: it’s ready if it’s slightly firm with a sweet smell, yellow skin, and deep green leaves. It’ll last about a week in the fridge. You can store it whole with the top still on. Or you can peel it, slice it, and put it in a covered container.
- Apples: They’re usually ripe when they’re picked. Stay away from ones with soft spots. Look for firm, smooth skin. They’ll stay ripe for up to 6 weeks, as long as they’re in a plastic bag in your fridge.
- As for vegetables:
- Garlic: Choose garlic that is plump, dry and firm. Fresh garlic should be white to off-white.
- Onions: Find firm onions with dry, bright, smooth outer skins. Avoid bulbs with cuts, bruises, or green sprouts.
- Lettuce: The best way to pick heads of lettuce are to look for firm green heads with leaves that aren’t wilty or slimy. Most of the lettuce you find in the grocery store is aces and good to go, so you don’t have to be suuuuuper picky.
- Potatoes: look for clean, smooth, firm-textured potatoes with no cuts, bruises or discoloration.
- Tomatoes: choose tomatoes with bright, shiny skins and firm flesh.
- Broccoli: choose odorless broccoli heads with tight, bluish-green florets.
- Cauliflower: choose cauliflower with compact, creamy white curds and bright green, firmly attached leaves. Avoid brown spots or loose sections that are spread out.
- That’s just to name a few. Here’s a more comprehensive list.
GROCERY STORE TIPS
Fresh vegetables are great in theory until you buy them and don’t use them or buy them and they’re either not ripe or they’re too ripe. It’s like hitting a moving target, and groceries are fucking expensive so let’s figure out how to get your veg on without breaking your budget or wasting food.
- If the thought of buying fresh fruit and veg stresses you out, go for frozen. They’re picked and flash frozen at peak ripeness and you can thaw and cook, or just throw them into whatever you’re making.
- Shop sales, we’ve talked about this before on other episodes but it’s worth repeating: shop the sales and coupons for the week. Make your menu revolve around what you can get on the cheap, it builds in variety and saves you money. Double winning.
- Picking foods that are grown locally is always best, but always pick foods that are grown regionally when possible… they’ll arrive to the store fresher and in better shape than something that comes from overseas.
- If you can find a veggie stand or an online co-op group, that’s a great way to have local fresh produce without spending a ton of money.
- You can always grow your own, I could put on my ag science hat and get really nerdy about that if you wanna, but that’s a conversation for another day.
So there you have it, MTK’s suggestions on shopping produce.