Use These Farmers’ Secrets to Pick the Best Produce

Whether you get your produce at your local farmer’s market or head to the grocery store produce section, you want to get the freshest, most delicious fruits and veggies you can. Sometimes you can judge a vegetable by its cover, but not always. The following farmers, produce sellers, and food experts weighed in on how to get the most bang for your buck, wherever you buy. We were especially surprised by this essential herb tip (page 10) and this little-examined fruit part (page 15).

1. Turn over berry containers

Strawberries, red currants, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries

Berries | Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

The expert farmers at Farm Flavor recommend turning over containers of berries, to check for rotted or overripe ones. When buying blackberries, raspberries, or even strawberries, the bottom of the package should not have stained or moist spots. Berries also don’t ripen after picking, so look for full, plump ones. Don’t wash berries until you use them.

Next: Use the following farmers’ tip for your peaches and nectarines.

2. Buy a variety of stone fruit

juicy peaches hang on a branch

Peaches | BONDART/iStock/Getty Images

Peaches, apricots and nectarines will continue to ripen after picking, so think about how quickly you plan to use them. To make your haul last longer, buy them at various stages of ripeness. To stop the ripening process, stick ‘em in the fridge.

But if you want them to soften quickly, Smithsonian recommends storing them in a paper bag in a cool dark place. That will trap the ethylene gas and get them to usable faster. The same trick also works for avocados and plantains.

Next: Keep your tomatoes tasty with the following.

3. Store tomatoes like they grow

tomatoes on vine

Tomatoes on the vine | Helios4Eos/iStock/Getty Images

Store tomatoes stem end up, just like they grow on the vine, the farmers at Farm Flavor explain. Tomatoes also continue to ripen after picking, so don’t worry if they still have green at the top. You should also never store tomatoes in the refrigerator, which will turn your plump, flavorful summer tomatoes into mealy, mushy winter-like ones.

Next: The early bird catches the worm with these vegetables.

4. Purchase sweet corn early

corn on the cob

Corn | chengyuzheng/iStock/Getty Images

Buy sweet corn early in the morning, Farm Flavor recommends. As freshly picked corn sits unrefrigerated, those sugars convert to starch. For that reason, stick your corn in the fridge. Farmer Sherry Patterson also told Reader’s Digest to look for full, uniform kernels. The tuft on the end should also look brown and dried out at the tip. That means it spent enough time on the stalk to reach its prime.

Next: Size does matter for the following.

5. Go for small potatoes

Bushel of potatoes

Potatoes | TennesseePhotographer/iStock/Getty Images

“Produce whisperer” and grocery store owner Steve Napoli told Shape to think small when shopping for sweet potatoes. “Avoid very large sweet potatoes, as this is a sign of age,” says Napoli. “An aged sweet potato has lost some of its nutrients.” You also don’t want the end to look too shriveled, as this can indicate age.

Next: These cruciforms also age best the same way they grow.

6. Get bright Brussels

Brussels sprouts on a stalk

Brussels sprouts | chrisbm/iStock/Getty Images

“Look for small, firm sprouts with compact, bright-green heads—the smaller the head, the sweeter the taste. Avoid any yellowing and search for sprouts sold on the stem, which are usually the freshest,” Napoli says. Patterson also suggests buying sprouts still on the stalk. That way, you can see how they grew and make sure the outer leaves didn’t wilt off before making it to market.

Next: Choosing the following veggies is a snap.

7. Early asparagus should have bendable stems


Asparagus | DronG/iStock/Getty Images

Patterson told Reader’s Digest to look for vivid green asparagus stalks. They should have firm stems with a little give. Avoid those with tiny yellow flowers, which means they already went to seed, or dry, crispy tips. That indicates improper storage and often, older, woodier stalks.

Next: Don’t worry about the following fruit’s appearance too much.

8. Color doesn’t matter with citrus


Oranges | vmenshov/iStock/Getty Images

When shopping for citrus fruit, pay more attention to feel than appearance. The Kitchn recommends choosing fruits that have smooth, thin skins. They should feel firm and heavy for their size, as well as slightly springy to the touch. A bright skin doesn’t matter — color doesn’t indicate freshness here.

Next: Check the skin when purchasing this vegetable, farmers say.

9. You want your summer squash smooth

raw zucchini

Zucchini | Margouillatphotos/iStock/Getty Images

Summer squash have thin skins, so look for bruising and blemishes. They will also soften quickly, so choose firm varieties. Smaller ones tend to taste sweeter and more tender, so don’t get swayed by the mammoth ones.

When storing summer squash, place in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible, Smithsonian recommends. Tightly wrap the bag around the squash and store it in the low-humidity drawer.

Next: You can also make your herbs last longer with this tip.

10. Treat herbs like flowers

Fresh herbs

Fresh herbs | LiliGraphie/iStock/Getty Images

Basil, dill, cilantro, sage, and thyme all taste so much more vibrant when fresh, Food52 points out. Make sure you choose bright, unwilted plants, first. Once you get home, treat herbs like flowers. Cut off the ends and put them in a glass of water in the refrigerator.

Basil makes the only exception. Keep it on the counter, away from direct sun. Refrigerating it will spoil the flavor, and will also turn its leaves black.

Next: Before you get a melon for your cookout, farmers suggest you check the following.

11. Check the melon’s stem

Watermelon sliced into sections and arranged on a wooden table.

Watermelon |

Produce salesperson Lee Wroten told Southern Living to look at the stem when choosing a melon. A green stem means it has not stayed off the vine for too long. A watermelon should also be fat for its length and have a shiny, green exterior with bold stripes. A yellow spot just means it laid that way when growing.

Farmers recommend you pay attention to smell, too. A lighter, sweeter smell means fresh fruit. Knock on the rind too, which should sound hollow and firm.

Next: Your fruit should also weigh a lot for its size.

12. Weigh your fruit

Lemons on grey wooden surface

Lemons | 5second/iStock/Getty Images

Citrus fruits that feel too firm likely dried out on the inside, Lifehacker explains. Pay attention to weight when buying lemons, watermelon, and citrus. Heaviness can indicate a nice, juicy fruit. You also want to give it a whiff, for a light, fruity aroma. If it smells sour or too strong, it might have spoiled already.

Next: You also want to examine these vegetables carefully.

13. Leafy greens should be, well, green

Green Salad

A salad with leafy greens | peredniankina/iStock/Getty Images

With leafy greens like lettuce and kale, look for firm, crisp, and plump leaves with consistent color. A few brown spots and tears here and there can happen during transport, but not too many. The majority of the leaves should look bright green, smooth, and unbroken. If you break one, it should also snap, not mush. Check out this eHow video for a few more tips.

Next: When buying the following, look at the stems.

14. Stems hold the key to these fruits


Cherries | Azure-Dragon/iStock/Getty Images

The foodies at Kitchn said cherries with intact stems will last longer. Choose soft, plump fruits with intact, bent stems. When buying figs, the stem should wiggle just a little, but remain firmly attached. Minor bruises or tears usually don’t mean anything, but avoid buying dry, or wrinkled fruit. Just like in people, wrinkles generally also point to age.

Next: A dusty look also means good things with these varieties.

15. These fruits have a white sheen

Basket of Blueberries

A girl carries a basket of blueberries. | MNStudio/iStock/Getty Images

When choosing blueberries or plums, they can look a little dusty, The Kitchn assures us. As long as the fruits have a deep hue and a firm skin, a little white or gray sheen doesn’t’ matter. Choose berries that look uniformly blue, and have a firm appearance. In general, you want fruit whose skin feels springy and hard to the touch. Mushy skin also means mealy insides.

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