“What are some tips for picking out good produce?”
The first tip is the most time-consuming, but once it’s done—it’s done: Shop around. We’ve talked about it before, but not all grocery stores—even in the same chain—carry the same quality of produce. And they’re not very subtle about it. For the same price, you can get a cucumber or pepper that will last twice as long in your fridge at home and may even be significantly larger. All you have to do is drive over to the wealthier neighborhood’s nearest store and voilà! All the missing “good” produce is found.
Farmers’ markets are another win. (And for those who don’t know, it’s not uncommon for food stamps to go twice as far for produce at the market. Talk to your local farmers market manager to learn more.) The produce you find there was more recently plucked meaning you have many more days between purchase and use. This also fits in beautifully with our guideposts for healthy eating—more recently picked produce is more nutritious produce. Huzzah!
Okay, that’s great. That’s also not an option for many of us due to geography, transportation, time constraints, and more. So if you’re stuck sorting through the sweet potato bin on a Thursday night after nine hours at work… here’s what you’re looking for:
Firm, smooth, bright, and slightly “misshapen.”
Firm: Not hard, generally, but no specific “soft spots.” That would be the beginning of decomposition. A beautiful process in the compost pile. Not so much in your crisper drawer.
Smooth: Generally speaking, you’re looking for a fairly smooth peel or skin on your produce. Wrinkling is a sign that the interior fruit is pulling away from the peel, which is an indication of age. When this happens at home, it’s not a big concern—the food will still taste fine and be safe to eat—but you want to be able to cook the food before it goes bad, so starting by buying old produce is generally a no go.
Bright: Vibrant color is a good indication of freshness and nutrients (with exceptions for people who dye fruits, which, like, why?), avoid produce with multiple dark spots.
Misshapen: Look, there’s no one shape for a veggie or fruit to be (see also: people). But many of us still make snap judgments based on the presumed “best” shape for a particular zucchini, etc. By looking for the fruit and veggies that are shaped differently than what’s considered standard, you are more likely to find the highest quality produce that others would overlook. That’s a solid win in your column.
To hone your produce picking further, pay attention once you have the veggies home. How were they to cut into? How long did they last in the fridge? How do they smell? (Many veggies don’t have a particular smell when they’re ripe, but you sure can smell when they’re rotting!) Mental notes (or hey, write ‘em down, if that’s more your style) like this will help improve your bloodhound instincts for the freshest produce in the market.