Fresh vegetables and fruit always seem appealing in the grocery aisles, but unless you know how to choose the most flavorful varieties, the actuality may not match up with your expectations. If you’ve ever bitten into a dry orange or a mealy apple, you know how disappointing out-of-season or poorly handled fruit can be.
Apples polished to a high gloss, vivid oranges and vibrant red tomatoes may look like the most appealing options in your market’s produce section, but the prettiest fruits aren’t always the best. Apples may be waxed to produce that glossy shine, and oranges are sometimes dyed to make their hue more intense. A better plan is to trust your nose instead of your eyes. Hold the fruit a few inches from your face and inhale; you should be able to catch at least a whiff of fresh fruit scent.
Color and texture are important indicators of an item’s freshness, though, as long as they’re authentic. Look for vivid greens in asparagus, broccoli, lettuce and cabbage. Carrots and beets should be intensely colored and feel firm to the touch. Tomatoes and bananas should have little or no green to them.
You’ll have better luck getting great produce if you buy it when it’s in season. Check with local farmers’ markets, make friends with a gardener or search online to find what’s best in your region right now before going to the store. If you shop at a market that sources its produce locally, you’ll usually see advertised specials on in-season fruits and vegetables.
Holding a piece of fruit or a vegetable can tell you volumes about what’s inside it. Fruit and vegetables that feel heavy for their size have retained more moisture than those that feel light. Moisture means more juice, so an orange that feels like a baseball and less like a ping-pong ball is almost certain to taste better.