How to Pick Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
If you want your grocery dollars to consistently bring home the most nutritious fruits and vegetables that your local market has to offer, you have to know when different fruits and vegetables are in season and what to look for in appearance and texture.
In this article, the peak in-season range for different fruits and vegetables is relevant to all of Canada, most of the upper half of the United States, and pretty much all other countries that lie within the same latitudinal range, give or take a few degrees.
Whenever possible, you want to choose fruits and vegetables that are in season in your living region. Fruits and vegetables that are in season and locally grown tend to have more nutrients and flavor than those that are imported from far away places
Look for firm apples that are free of bruises. For red-colored varieties, look for apples that are mostly red. For yellow-colored apples, look for apples that are mostly bright yellow. Red and yellow apples that have several patches of green color are generally not as tasty as bright red and yellow apples.
Handle apples with care to prevent bruising.
Apples are in season from October to about late April.
Look for straight, bright-green stalks with stiff tips. For optimal nutritional value and flavor, steam asparagus instead of boiling it.
Asparagus is in season from March to about June.
Look for bananas that do not have bruises or soft spots, especially along the undersides of the bottom-most row. If left at room temperature, bananas that are any shade of green should eventually ripen. Extra-ripe bananas can be peeled and stored in a container in the freezer for smoothies or banana ice cream (made with a champion juicer).
Bananas are imported year-round.
Choose beets that are firm and attached to red stems and fresh green tops. Loose beets without their tops are typically older than those that are attached to their green tops.
Beets are in season from about mid-June to mid-October.
For fresh blueberries, look for firm berries. You really can't go wrong with frozen wild blueberries, which are available year-round.
Fresh blueberries are in season from about mid-June to mid to late August.
Look for tightly budded heads that are dark green in color.
Broccoli is in season from July to October.
Look for firm carrots with relatively smooth skin. Avoid thick carrots, as they often have tough centers.
If you buy fresh bunched carrots with green tops, remove the tops before storing, as they can suck moisture and nutrients away from the roots.
Carrots are available year-round, but are best from July to September.
Look for firm, unblemished, and dark green cucumbers.
Cucumbers are in season from June to September.
Choose eggplants that are heavy for their size and have smooth skin.
Eggplants are in season from August to September.
Fresh Figs (not dried)
Choose plump figs that seem heavy for their size. Be sure to pick ones that smell nice; old figs tend to smell a tad sour.
Fresh figs are in season from about mid-May to mid-October.
Look for plump and firm bulbs that are completely surrounded by their tissue-like covering. Avoid ones that have green sprouts.
Garlic is in season from August to October.
Choose grapes that are firm; soft grapes or those that feel like little water balloons tend to be too ripe. If possible, use a tissue to wipe down a single grape for a taste test before choosing each cluster.
Grapes are in season from August to September. Imported grapes are available year-round.
Choose avocados that have roughly-textured skin; those that are relatively smooth skinned tend to have less flavor. Avocados are ready to eat when their skins are dark and they give a little to slight pressure.
Hass avocados are in season from February to October.
Look for melons that are free of bruises and areas of broken skin/rind. Leave at room temperature until they give ever so slightly to heavy pressure. Their skins may wrinkle slightly and they may give off a mild melon fragrance when they are ripe.
Honeydew melons are in season from August to October.
Look for leeks that have dark green leaves and white bulbs. Leaves that have yellow and brown spots are usually overripe.
Leeks are in season from August to November.
Look for mushrooms that are free of bruises and other blemishes. Fresh mushrooms are not wrinkled or slimy.
Mushrooms are in season from October to November.
When looking for dry onions, choose those that are firm and have no soft spots.
When looking for green onions, choose those that have bright green leaves and are not slimy.
Dry onions are in season from September to December.
Green onions are in season from July to September.
For eating out of hand, choose California navel oranges that are heavy for their size and without obvious blemishes.
California navel oranges are in season from about mid-November to late spring. They are sweetest from about January to early March.
Choose peaches that have smooth skin without bruises, and that give a bit to pressure. Peaches that do not give to pressure can ripen, but often do not get as soft and sweet as those that are already somewhat ripe at the market.
Peaches are in season from July to September.
Choose pears that have smooth skin and no bruises.
Pears are in season from August to December.
Choose firm potatoes that are free of bruises and cracks.
Potatoes are in season from September to January.
Choose raspberries that are bright red. Look carefully to be sure that there are no signs of mould, the most common one being the presence of white, cotton-like strands in and around the berries.
Raspberries are in season from July to September.
Choose red peppers that have thick, smooth skin.
Red peppers are in season from about May to September.
Choose spinach that is dark green with no signs of yellowing, sliminess, or wilting.
Spinach is in season from June to October.
Choose strawberries that are plump, dark red, and without bruises. Fresh berries carry a distinct strawberry fragrance.
Strawberries are in season in June and early July.
Choose tomatoes that are bright red, firm, and free of bruises. Like strawberries, fresh tomatoes will carry their own distinct fragrance.
If preparing tomato slices, slice them from top to bottom to prevent unnecessary loss of natural juices.
Field tomatoes are in season from August to September.
Look for a watermelon that has a firm, dark green rind. A slight hollow sound upon tapping with your knuckles is often a sign of a full and juicy melon.
Peak season for watermelons is from mid-May to late August.
Look for squash that have hard, smooth skin.
Acorn and butternut squash are in season from September to December.
Choose yams that do not have any cracks or soft spots. Steaming is the best cooking method to preserve the nutritional value of yams.
Yams are in season from October to about March.
Choose zucchini that have firm, dark green skin. Old zucchini are soft and wrinkly.
Zucchini are in season from July to September.
Note: Some of the tips in this article are from a Canadian publication called Glow.