Food & Drink

How to select the best produce, and leave the garbage for everyone else

Published On 01/27/2014 Published On 01/27/2014
produce section
All photos by Lee Breslouer

Buying a bunch of bananas at the supermarket isn't as easy as picking up a bag of Cheetos and going home: those bananas you paid for could be rotten, whereas every single bag of Cheetos has been personally inspected by Chester Cheetah and has to be incredible. But with the help of Patrick Mills, Produce Director for Lucky's Market, you can now determine which of the most popular fruits and veggies you should put in your shopping cart and which you should leave for the losers.

BANANAS
What to look for: Color, color, color. These are the most perishable item in the entire produce section, and the hardest item for the staff to manage. Mills recommends finding a canary yellow banana with a little green on it that isn't too curved. Is it super curvy? Skip it.
What to feel for: Firmness is key here, as it is with many fruits and veggies and, you know, other things. And here's a useful tip: pick one or two from multiple bunches and then all your bananas won't ripen at the same time.

GALA APPLES
What to look for: We missed out on the opportunity to ask him how he liked them apples, but he did tell us that indentations are to be avoided. If you see a dull-colored apple that has wrinkles on it? Treat it like your grandma and avoid it, even though it's very nice to you and sends you birthday cards with three crinkled dollar bills inside.
What to feel for: Soft spots mean there's trouble lurking below the surface. Apples are so sensitive that dropping them from less than 1ft in the air can cause bruising, so make sure you place it in your grocery bag carefully.

AVOCADOS
What to look for: Hass Avocados are the most popular variety of the delicious fruit, and your best bet is to select one that's dark green. The riper the avocado gets, the less green it will be. If you're looking to make guacamole that night, avoid the bright green ones.
What to feel for: You want it to have some give to let you know it's ripe, but if it feels like you're groping a water balloon, put it down. And if you're currently groping a water balloon, please stop. You're creeping everyone out in the Starbucks.

HOT HOUSE TOMATOES
What to look for: 'Tis the season for hydroponic tomatoes, and the brighter they are, the better. Any green in it suggests it's under ripe.
What to feel for: While some look for a soft tomato, Mills recommends one that feels firm when you press into it. "You can't slice a soft tomato," he reminds us. That sounds like it could be a metaphor or a grand life lesson, but it simply is advice about buying a tomato.

STRAWBERRIES
What to look for: A solid red color and a little white on the "shoulders" of the berry (that's the area by the stem) is ideal. And the stem itself is important too: does it look ratty? Is it curly? If it's colorless, that's also a bad sign.
What to feel for: Never assume all the berries in a box are good, even if the top layer looks tasty. Lift it up and look under it. Mold loves to hide.

KALE
What to look for: Mills said when you pick kale, select it like you would flowers for your girlfriend: nothing should be drooping. Instead, aim for clean, fresh, and firm. And if it has a hole or two in the leaves, that's normal. Is it infested with holes? You can do better.
What to feel for: There's no need to touch kale unless you're lonely, and then you do what you gotta do!

RED ONIONS
What to look for: Is there onion skin strewn about the bin? That's likely less of a problem with the particular onion you're holding and more because "stores just don't clean the onion tables like they should". Just make sure the onion you're holding has a clean skin and isn't bruised. If it looks deformed, that's actually fine, as long as it's clean and dry.
What to feel for: Similar to buying an apple, you want to avoid soft spots and bruising.

NAVEL ORANGES
What to look for: Go for the brightly colored oranges that have a natural luster. As oranges age, they start to wrinkle at the top near the stem. At five--six days old, they get wrinkly on one side and smooth on the opposite end. Eventually, the skin becomes completely smooth.
What to feel for: Firmness is key here; the less give, the better. And if it's cold? You hit the orange jackpot. That means it came out of the cooler in the back sooner, and is more fresh than the others.

RED SEEDLESS GRAPES
What to look for: Red is the most popular grape by a landslide, but don't focus too much on the reddish tint, which can differ depending on the variety. Moisture is really what can sour your grapes. Don't buy anything smushed or with soft spots.
What to feel for: Since you're buying the grapes by the pound, it's in your best interest to search through multiple bags for the best grapes. Make sure to pick up the bunch you've selected. If the grapes fall off, "that's a sign of age", like a Ferrari or a second wife.

Lee Breslouer eats an apple a day, and can spot a bad one from a mile away. Follow him @LeeBreslouer, because you can't make a name that good up.

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