With spring blooms and summer fast approaching, the demand for light, refreshing fruit and vegetable recipes is on the rise. Casual chefs and kitchen professionals alike agree that the key to a quality meal is quality ingredients, so it is best to pick your produce the right way. While farmers’ markets are the way to go for the freshest products, strategy is still necessary to ensure you’re getting the most out of your purchase. These tips from health food expert Dr. Darya Pino should help you get the best health foods in the bunch.
Pino’s summertomato.com is dedicated to advise on healthy eating, especially for food lovers in urban areas. The site was elected one of TIME’s 50 Best Websites of 2011. A California native, Pino received her Ph.D in neuroscience from UCSF and her bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley. Pino writes about food, health and science for several publications and is a dedicated foodist, health enthusiast and proud “geek girl.” She often posts helpful information about buying healthy food in Las Vegas.
1. Bright colors satisfy
You can truly see the best fruits and vegetables. Those with the strongest color will hold the best taste and most robust character. These cues are easier to detect in some items than others—a vegetable like cauliflower may not vary as much in color as a vine-ripened tomato. A universal red flag, however, is dull color or a faded, white sheen on the produce’s skin: this typically signals food that is either unripe or lacks nutrients. For fruits with stems, green stems signal freshness, rather than brown stems. And regardless of color, be sure to check for bruises and blemishes.
2. Heavy, ‘healthy’ weight
Put very simply: the heavier, the better. Heavier produce signals rich, juicy flavor while lighter alternatives tend to be dry with less-than-ideal flavor.
3. Firm, but not too hard
The best fruit is firm to the touch. You should be able to squeeze the fruit and feel a healthy amount of resistance. Fruit that gives easily will not hold ideal flavor. Note that some fruits are certainly exempt from this rule. Avocados, for example, are ripe when they are slightly soft when squeezed lightly. For vegetables with stalks, such as carrots and broccoli, bend them to ensure firmness. Ideal stalky vegetables will bend slightly while holding with proper resistance. Leafy vegetables should feel light and crisp.
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4. Smells like it should taste
Your nose will guide you the right way. The best produce will smell exactly as you imagine it should taste: rich with flavor and nutrients. Fruits that give off little to no scent are unripe, while the ripest fruit delivers a robust scent. This rule applies to most vegetables as well, particularly leafy vegetables, though some [such as eggplant] are exempt.
5. Get the technique right
In order to determine ‘weight’ correctly, it’s best to employ this easy method for picking a fresher item over its less-tasty counterpart. To compare produce [this technique works better for fruits], pick up two items of similar size. Get a feel for which fruit is heavier. Replace the lighter fruit and pick up a different one, again choosing the heavier of the two. Repeat this process until you are comfortable with your selection.
For smell, put aside your fear of looking foolish at the store or market; produce experts will only appreciate your tactics. Hold your nose to the part of the fruit that was attached to the stem and take in a deep breath. Compare one fruit over another in a similar manner to the weight technique, eventually picking the strongest-smelling fruit. Note that the strongest-smelling fruits are the most ripe, and if you want your produce to last a few days, you should go with a piece that smells good, but not quite as strong.
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Benjamin Brown is a food journalist and schoolteacher currently residing in Las Vegas. Graduating with a degree in journalism from USC and moving to Sin City with Teach for America, Ben gravitated toward all things food and has since become a expert of restaurants on and off the Strip. His work can be found at Examiner.com.