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Ripe for the Picking

A grocery shopper's guide to choosing fresh fruits

For many consumers, buying fresh produce is like a game of roulette. There's no telling whether their fruits and vegetables will be fresh and ripe at home because they don't know how to choose produce at the grocery store.

Even some shoppers who consider themselves knowledgeable produce pickers are merely misinformed victims of old wives' tales. Contrary to popular belief, watermelon thumping, cantaloupe shaking, and pineapple plucking are not valid tests for determining ripeness, according to the Produce Marketing Association.

Experts there offer these tips for choosing the ripest of the most popular fresh fruits:


Should have no bruises or broken skin.


Should yield to gentle pressure and have no bruises or hard and soft spots.


Fully ripe when skin turns yellow with brown and black flecks. Can be purchased when green and stored at room temperature to ripen. Only refrigerate ripe bananas. Refrigeration will turn skins black, but will not affect fruit quality.


Will have a cantaloupe smell, yield to pressure on the blossom end, and have a yellowish cast under the netting when ready. Leave cantaloupes at room temperature to soften and become juicier.


Should be plump with firm, smooth, and brightly colored skins and intact stems. Avoid cherries with blemished, rotted, or mushy skins or those that appear either hard and light-colored or soft, shriveled, and dull.


Should be firm, springy to the touch, heavy for size, well shaped, and thin-skinned. Grapefruit may show russeting (browning of the peel) or regreening, which do not affect fruit quality.


Bunches should be well colored with plump berries firmly attached to green, pliable stems.


Will have a creamy yellow skin and a slightly soft blossom end. An unripe honeydew has white skin with a green tint and a hard blossom end, and will ripen at room temperature. Choose melons that are heavy for their size and are well shaped. Unlike cantaloupe, honeydew does not have a distinctive aroma.


Choose firm, plump, light brown kiwi that gives slightly to the touch.


Should have a pleasant citrus fragrance. Should be firm, heavy for size, and have thin smooth skins. To release more juice, microwave for 10 seconds or apply slight pressure while rolling it on a table or countertop.


Should be plump and heavy for their size. The same methods used to release more juice from lemons can be applied to limes.


Choose nectarines with a creamy yellow background color without any green at the stem end. Firm fruits can be ripened at home. When they yield slightly to pressure, they're ready to eat.


May regreen after harvest, but this is natural and does not indicate unripeness. To get the juiciest fruit, choose oranges that feel heavy for their size.


Should smell peachy and have no tinge of green in the background color of the skin. The amount of red blush does not indicate ripeness. Choose peaches that are fairly firm and a little soft. They should give a bit when squeezed in the palm of the hand. Stored in a paper bag, they will soften and get juicier, but not sweeter.


Will yield to gentle pressure near the stem end and side when it's ready to eat. Ripen at home at room temperature.


Will have a distinctive pineapple aroma. Should be heavy for their size, well shaped and fresh-looking with dark green crown leaves and a dry, crisp shell. Ripeness is not indicated by shell color or pulling crown leaves.


Choose plump fruit that is not excessively soft. To ripen at home, store in a paper bag.


Should be plump, firm, well rounded, and have an even bright red color with natural shine. Caps should be fresh-looking, green, and in place. When possible, avoid fruit that is white near the caps. This is called white shoulders, and it can mean two things: either the fruit was picked too soon, or the berries are fully ripe but missing some color due to a lack of sunshine.


Look for fruit with deep, rich color and "puffy" appearance. Good-quality fruit should be heavy for its size. Avoid fruit with soft or water-soaked spots or mold.


Should have a dull (as opposed to shiny) rind, a dried stem, and a yellowish underside where the watermelon has touched the ground. Immature watermelons have a shiny rind and a white, pale green, or light yellow underside. Thumping does not indicate ripeness.


Fruits that Do Not
Ripen After Harvest:

Apples Cherries
Grapefruit Grapes
Lemons Limes
Oranges Pineapples
Strawberries Tangerines
Tangelos Watermelons


To speed the ripening of soft fruits such as avocados, bananas, kiwis, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes, store them in a paper bag with an apple. The apple will boost the partly ripe fruit's exposure to ethylene, a gas required for ripening.

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Updated on October 8, 1995