How to Pick the Perfect Watermelon and Other Tips for Selecting the Best Produce

There’s nothing worse than watching expensive fruit grow mold mere days after buying it or suffering through the bland taste of unripe vegetables that never reach their full flavor potential. But aside from bringing an experienced farmer shopping with you, what’s the best way to assess produce’s quality before you buy it? Well, it depends.

Rather than taking a guess while you’re shopping, follow these handy tips for selecting the juiciest, most delicious fruits and crispest veggies so your summer salads taste extra delicious. (Plus, learn how to keep your produce in tip top shape once it’s in your home.)

1. Get a better head of lettuce

green salad Romano

Green, leafy lettuce | iStock.com/Wmaster890

The most important thing to look for when you’re lettuce shopping is crisp leaves. Wilted, weathered leaves that are yellow or brown or dark green and slimy indicate that the lettuce has passed its point of freshness.

The outer leaves are usually most susceptible to damage, but even they should be visually appealing and stiff. However, a brown stem on the lettuce is totally normal and does not indicate that the lettuce has gone bad.

Next: Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to picking the best veggies. 

2. Single out the best zucchini

Organic Baby Zucchini

Don’t pick the biggest zucchini. | iStock.com/Bhofack2

Not much is better than grilled zucchini in the summer, the height of their growing season.

When looking for the best one, bigger is not better. Giant zucchinis are watery, seedy, and lack good flavor, so always choose the smaller ones when possible. It can be green, yellow, or white, but no matter the color, it should be vibrant rather than full. Ripe zucchinis are firm to the touch with no apparent blemishes or rot spots. A zucchini with the stem still firmly attached will last longer.

Have too much zucchini? Try freezing it for later and enjoying it any time of the year.

Next: Make sure to squeeze this fruit before buying.

3. Get the best mango

Squeeze your mango. | iStock.com

For mangoes, the feel of the fruit is a better way to determine ripeness than the color. Give your potential mango a little squeeze. Just like with peaches and avocados, mangoes get soft as they ripen. Look for gentle give that’s just the right amount of soft and hard. The stem ends may also have a slightly sweet aroma.

Next: Make sure that purple skin shines.

4. Choose an excellent eggplant

Eggplant roasted on plate

There’s more than one way to cook an eggplant. | iStock.com/Olha_Afanasieva

Eggplants taste great in so many ways – from chopped up and grilled with a little olive oil to baked into decadent eggplant Parmesan.

When choosing an eggplant, look for smooth, shiny skin that’s free from spots and blemishes. The green stem on the top should have healthy-looking leaves that aren’t soft, spotted, or shriveled. Your eggplant should also be heavy and the skin should bounce back quickly when you gently press on it.

Next: Avoid pre-selected bags of this fruit.

5. Opt for the best apples

Apples should be crisp and brightly colored. | iStock.com

Apples will tell you a lot about their tastiness based on sight alone.

First, be sure to choose your own apples whenever possible, and avoid pre-made bags that don’t allow you to select the best ones of the bunch. Look the apple over to check for discoloration or rotten spots. Bruises and dirt may look similar, so be sure to check your apple closely before casting it aside.

Next, give your apple a little squeeze. It should be firm to the touch and free from noticeable soft spots. Check for a bright red color (or green or yellow, depending on the varietal). Dull apples are usually less flavorful. Lastly, you can give your apple a quick sniff. Good apples smell sweet and fragrant while rotten apples are obvious to the nose.

Next: Some veggies actually squeak when they’re at peak freshness. 

6. Hunt down the tastiest artichokes

artichokes

Artichokes | iStock.com/Dianazh

Unlike most of the fruits and veggies on the list, you’ll actually need to use your ears in order to find the best ones. The freshest artichokes will actually squeak when you squeeze their leaves. Besides this audible cue, also look out for a pistachio-green color and leaves that aren’t brown or dried out on the edges.

Next: Color doesn’t matter when it comes to selecting some fruits. 

7. Picking a tasty pineapple

close up of someone cutting a pineapple

Source a superior pineapple. | iStock.com

The most important thing to remember is that the color of a pineapple does not hint at the ripeness. Because ripening stops once a pineapple is harvested, even green pineapples can be ripe. Look for pineapples with fresh, stiff leaves and firm exteriors. Also, give your potential pineapple purchase a good smell to check for sweetness. Always store uncut pineapples at room temperature and only refrigerate them after cutting.

Next: Always inspect this fruit’s container before purchase.

8. Selecting the sweetest strawberries

Buy strawberries in season. | Sandra Mu/Getty Images

The best way to ensure your strawberries taste delicious is to buy them when they’re in season. While you can purchase them year-round, they’re more likely to be fresh and local during strawberry season, which lasts from May to June. Strawberries purchased in January have likely been on a long journey, making them more expensive and prone to rotting faster.

Shop at farmer’s markets or roadside farm stands when you can. When choosing your carton, look for bright red berries with vibrant green stems. Generally speaking, the smaller the strawberry, the sweeter it is.

And don’t forget the sniff test! Put the container up to your nose and take a nice, long whiff. If you can smell that delicious strawberry scent, then you probably have a good batch.

Next: Never store these in a refrigerator.

9. Determine the top tomatoes

cherry tomatoes

Look for fresh green stems. | iStock.com/Voloshin311

Whether you’re making a Caprese salad or just enjoying a few fresh slices on a sandwich, fresh, plump, and juicy tomatoes are one of the garden’s great delights.

When picking yours, look for big, plump versions with smooth, unblemished skin. You should see no visible cracks or rot spots and the stems should be fresh and green. Ripe tomatoes are soft but not too soft and have a pleasant, mild fragrance. Never store tomatoes in a refrigerator or purchase them from a refrigerated case. Refrigeration damages the membranes inside the fruit’s walls, which can cause a mealy feel and gross taste.

Next: Don’t be afraid to give this fruit a little peek.

10. Buy an awesome avocado

whole and halved avocado in a wooden bowl

Avocados are perfect for a short window. | iStock.com

Avocados are one of the trickier fruits to pick, but it’s not impossible. You should determine an avocado’s ripeness by feel — not by color. To pick the best one, feel it in your hand. A ripe avocado should be just the right mix of soft and hard, yielding to pressure when gently squeezed. Store avocados at room temperature unless you find yours ripening too quickly. If you notice it getting too soft too fast, put it in the fridge to slow the ripening process.

Another quick way to determine your avocado’s ripeness is to peel the stem off the top. If it’s green underneath, that means it’s ready eat.

Next: Always buy these fruit at the height of the season.

11. Pick the juiciest peaches

peaches on wooden background

Ripeness matters for peaches. | iStock.com

Sweet, juicy peaches make a healthy and delicious snack or dessert. But how can you guarantee that you always get the good ones?

When it comes to peaches, ripeness matters a lot. To guarantee your fruit hasn’t been traveling for too long before reaching the store, shop during the height of the season (which is May to September, depending on your exact location).

Peaches should be vibrantly colored and slightly fragrant. Gently give the shoulder and top a squeeze. Soft peaches are fully ripe and ready to eat. Firmer peaches should last a few days, or they’re great to enjoy if you like a crisp feel. Just be sure your peach isn’t too mushy, which may indicate that it’s overripe and will rot sooner.

Next: Avoid this fruit if it smells too sweet.

12. Select the most delicious kiwi

Go exotic with a kiwi. | iStock.com

Ugly on the outside, amazing on the inside, kiwis prove that you should never judge a book (or a fruit) by its cover. When searching for the best of this exotic fruit, take a look at the outer skin first. A ripe kiwi is brown and fuzzy but shouldn’t have any noticeable bruises or dark spots. It should also be taut and firm without shriveling or wrinkling.

Give the kiwi a soft squeeze. Again, this fruit should have a slight give but shouldn’t be too firm or soft. Finally, check for a lightly sweet smell. If it smells too sweet, that may be an indication of the kiwi being too ripe and ready to go bad.

Next: This veggie shouldn’t have much bend.

13. Find the best carrots

Fresh carrots arranged on a wooden background.

Look for carrots with stems attached. | iStock.com/Nataliia_Pyzhova

Carrots with green stems still attached are fresher and taste better. Also, don’t look for the over-sized versions; smaller, darker orange carrots are sweeter.

A carrot should feel firm in your hand. Pliant, soft carrots don’t taste as good. When you get home from the store, remove the stems immediately and keep carrots in the crisper drawer until you’re ready to enjoy them.

Next: Sometimes, smaller berries equal sweeter fruit.

14. Buy the best blueberries

blueberries

Blueberries can be dark blue or black. | iStock.com

When shopping for blueberries, don’t worry about the size. Fresh blueberries may be small or large but the tastiest are firm and plump with a deep purple-blue hue that may even skew toward black. If your blueberries look a little red, they probably aren’t ripe yet.

Also, be sure to inspect your container carefully for rotten or squishy berries as these can contribute to ruining the rest of the bunch. Refrigerate your berries when you get home, and enjoy within 10 days of purchase.

Next: Give this fruit a solid thump.

15. Find the best watermelon

Look for the yellow spot on the watermelon. | iStock.com

The difference between a good watermelon and a bad watermelon is often extreme – and who wants to waste their time on a mediocre version of summer’s favorite treat? Here’s what you need to know about choosing the best one in the batch.

According to The Kitchn, the first thing you should measure is weight. No matter the size, the watermelon should feel heavy and substantial in your hands. Next, flip it over and look for a yellow spot. The yellow spot indicates ripeness, and the riper your watermelon is, the sweeter it will taste. Finally, give it a good thump. Ripe watermelons have a hollow sound, while those that are under- or overripe sound dull.

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