When it comes to choosing fruits and vegetables, become a perfectionist. By knowing how to find the best -- by touch, by smell, by sight -- you can get your money's worth, and plenty of enjoyment. Download our free Printable Produce Guide to help you select the freshest, tastiest produce. Let it (and your senses) be your guide to finding crisp corn, juicy berries, and melon as sweet as the summer sun.
1. General Tips
Buy locally. If you can, shop at farmers' markets or farm stands.
Take your time. Handpicking items one by one instead of grabbing a plastic or netted bag doesn't cost more -- and the bags often include smaller, inferior produce.
Avoid prefab. While convenient, bagged salads and precut produce are not as fresh. It takes only a few minutes to ready your own and the results are worth it.
Look for taut skin that feels very firm when gently pressed. Avoid those with soft spots or punctures. Flavor and texture vary widely among varieties. Seek them out at local farm stands or farmers' markets in the fall.
Thickness is a matter of taste. Choose bunches with tightly closed tips without flowering. Stalks should be bright green and firm. Avoid those with stalks that are flattened or wrinkled and feel hollow.
Look for Hass, with bumpy, dark-green to almost black skin. When ripe, they will give to gentle pressure (pressing too hard will bruise the flesh). If you buy a firm one, store it at room temperature to ripen.
Look for flesh that's neither too firm nor too soft, pick those that are yellow all over, with no green, browning, or spots whatsoever, from stem to end. Store at room temperature to ripen further.
Sneak a taste, but watch out for mold and mush.
Strawberries: Look for strawberries that are fragrant, shiny, firm, and not too big, and that have green stems.
Blueberries: Look for firm berries with no green or red areas.
Raspberries: Choose ones that are full, just soft, but not oozing juice.
Corn is best served the day you buy it; don't refrigerate it. Look for bright-green husks wrapped tightly around the ear, with flowing, moist silk (not brown). Pull back the husk; the kernels should be small, shiny, firm, and tightly packed.
Look for firm, unwaxed Kirbys (which are nearly seedless) with variegated color from light to dark green and without wrinkles or soft spots; for best flavor, purchase cucumbers no more than six inches long. If Kirbys are unavailable, buy the longer, seedless English cucumbers.
The flesh of an eggplant should give a bit when gently pressed, and there should be no hard spots. Skin should be shiny, not shriveled, wrinkled, or mottled, and stems should be green. Use eggplant within a day or two. Don't refrigerate.
10. Grapefruit and Oranges
Choose fruits that feel heavy for their size.
Navel oranges: Avoid severe bruises and soft spots.
Juice oranges and grapefruit: Look for ones with taut, shiny skin. Through skin, you should be able to feel the sections inside.
11. Green Beans
Look for beans that are bright, firm, and have no soft spots or wrinkles. They should snap when bent with very small beans. Avoid any with tough skin.
Shell Beans: Pods should be a bit leathery but firm with no yellowing and the beans should be easily felt through the pod.
12. Lemon and Limes
Choose lemons and limes that are not much more than three inches from tip to stem and heavy for their size. Look for ones with taut, thin skin, and avoid those with very hard skin. Through the skin, you should be able to feel the flesh inside. It should give slightly when pressed.
Look for those that are fragrant and heavy. Press the end of the opposite stem to feel for a bit of give.
Watermelon: Avoid those with flat sides. Presliced, it should be deep red with about 1 inch of white rind.
14. Mesclun and Lettuces
Mesclun: Dig down into bin for the freshest greens. Make sure there are no wilted leaves or wet, mushy, or yellow spots.
Romaine: Choose lettuce with dark green, narrow, stiff leaves.
Butter lettuces: Look for lettuce with small, round, loosely formed heads.
Look for onions with dry, papery skins and flesh that is full and firm, especially at the stem end. Avoid any with mold, discoloration, or soft spots, or the ones in net bags; select onions one by one. Store at room temperature.
Choose pears that are fragrant, with no soft spots, punctures, or bruises. To eat right away, they should give easily if pressed gently. For coming days, pick those with less give, and allow them to ripen at room temperature. (Buy Bosc very firm.)
For bell peppers, choose ones that are very firm all over with taut skin. Flesh should be thick without soft spots or wrinkles. Look for bright-green stems.
For chiles, any variety you choose should be vibrant and wrinkle-free.
Look for potatoes that are firm, without any soft areas or wrinkled skin; avoid those with sprouting eyes, slits, or a green tinge. Avoid buying bagged potatoes; choose them individually, buying all one size to cook evenly. Store at room temperature.
19. Stone Fruits
For plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and cherries, select fruits that are fragrant and have taut skin. Avoid those with wrinkles and bruises. They should have some give when gently pressed; handle carefully; no more than four per bag (except cherries!). Leave firmer ones at room temperature to ripen.
Tomatoes are best in season from farm stands and farmers' markets. Look for ones with taut skin, firm flesh, deep and even color (greenish coloring at stem end on heirlooms is okay). Avoid pale ones. Store at room temperature.
Fresh veggies don't need much to taste delicious. Use them to make a simple, crowd-pleasing side like this one.