Fruits are packed with nutrients. However, our modern food system encourages the harvesting of unripe fruits because they ship easier. This has gone on for so long now, that I find many people are completely unaware of how to tell the difference between a ripe and unripe fruit. There are two main ways of testing the ripeness of your fruit, smell it and touch it.
The nose knows
The best way to test most fruits is to smell them. As fruits ripen they produce the chemicals that give them their unique flavor and color. Blueberries are a great example; they go from a pale green to deep, dark blue. At the same time, the flavor of the blueberry changes from sour to sweet and develops a strong “blueberry” taste. If you want to test this yourself, go to your local grocery store and smell the apples, pears, peaches and especially, tomatoes and melons. Then, visit a farmer’s market during late summer, when those fruits are in season, and smell the same fruits. The difference is obvious. In general, grocery stores are buying unripe fruits that will never ripen completely.
The intensity of the smell will vary depending on the type of fruit; citrus fruits, bananas, mangoes, melons and tomatoes all have stronger smells, apples, pears, grapes and berries have milder scents.
Touching your fruit is especially important for two reasons; checking for ripeness and checking for damage. Different fruits will have different levels of hardness. Usually a ripe fruit will be softer than a hard, unripe fruit. A ripe fruit should still have a lot of springiness on its surface. If it has a mushy feel or has mushy spots on it, then it may already be turning bad.
I recommend shopping at the local farmer’s markets. These provide locally grown fruits that are in season. Buy extra and freeze them. Canning fruits also works, but freezing preserves the fruit in a more natural state. Frozen fruits in the grocery store are harvested closer to ripeness. They are a good alternative for cooking when local fruits aren’t in season.
Images courtesy of Justin Liew and theloushe