As stone fruit season approaches, I think now is a good time to address many common questions people have regarding how to choose perfectly ripe fruit. We sell fruits in different locations according to ripeness, and knowing where to get exactly what you want will ensure that you go home satisfied with your purchase every time. Additionally, we know that many people are unclear about exactly what indicates ripeness in different fruits, so I will go over that here. Hopefully this article will clarify common confusions and increase your confidence in choosing fruit.
The biggest time-saving tip I can give any fruit customer is this: we sell ripening fruit on the dry racks, and ripe fruit in refrigeration. This is because temperature affects the ripening process. Fruit left at room temperature will ripen quickly, whereas refrigeration slows that process. Once a particular fruit achieves ripeness, we place it in refrigeration in order to maintain its shelf life.
The fruit dry racks are located right at the front entrance to the store, and are the first thing you see as you enter. On the front of this rack we tend to feature ripening seasonal items like pears, stone fruit, avocados, and pineapples. On the back side of this rack we stock tropicals, such as mangos, coconuts, plantains, and certified Fair Trade bananas. If you prefer to purchase things unripe and ripen them at home to your ideal stage of ripeness, this is where you should do your shopping.
However, if you are seeking an item that can be eaten the same day that you purchase it, you would be best suited to look in the coolers. On the island and on the top shelf of the apple cooler we carry items that have been ripened for either immediate consumption, or that should be eaten within a couple of days. All fruits have a range, or spectrum, of ripeness. When we choose to put an item in refrigeration, we do so very early in the window of when the fruit is edible. Many fruits can be enjoyed much riper, but we do this in order to prevent loss. Extremely ripe fruit is not only very fragile and has a short shelf life, but is also less visually appealing in a display. Knowing this can better inform your purchasing choices.
The category of stone fruit includes, but is not limited to, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and pluots. Once ripe, stone fruit will have a slight aroma, and give to a very gentle pressure. Excessive handling and firm pressure will cause the fruit to bruise. Store stone fruit in shallow layers as opposed to in a deep fruit bowl. Even bearing the weight of other fruit will cause the items on the bottom layer to bruise. Bruised areas rot more quickly. I cannot emphasize enough the delicate nature of ripe stone fruit. Once ripe, peaches and nectarines especially must be transferred immediately to refrigeration, and eaten shortly.
The main tropical items we carry are mangos, avocados, and plantains. To test mangos and avocados for ripeness, apply a gentle pressure to the fruit. They are ready to eat when they have the feel of firm butter. There is no need to squeeze very hard, as that will cause the fruit to bruise. A gentle pressure should indicate to you whether or not the fruit has reached that “firm butter” stage, and is ready to be eaten. Of course, they can be allowed to ripen further until they become much softer, but it is at the “firm butter” point that we will refrigerate these items.
Color is a less reliable means of testing for ripeness. Of course, some avocados, particularly the Hass variety, will turn from bright green to black or maroon when ripe. However, Fuerte avocados, as well as some other varieties, remain green even when ripe, though their texture will soften. The same is true for mangos. Sometimes mangos will turn from green to yellow or red when ripe, but not always. Texture is the most sure-fire way to know that your fruit is ripe.
Unlike bananas, plantains are ripe when their skin is black and they are very soft. At this point they may be eaten raw, and will be very sweet. I have heard that they may be used for cooking at any stage of ripeness, though they will taste more starchy than sweet if used when yellow. I personally have only cooked with them once they have become black, and have had very good luck serving them fried.
Though technically a tropical fruit, I have decided to give pineapple its own section. Many people seem intimidated by the process of selecting a pineapple, so I will give you some tips. The vast majority of pineapples we carry are from Costa Rica. This variety differs in some significant ways from Hawaiian pineapples, which are typically sold in many conventional grocery stores, and are completely gold when ready to eat. Unlike Hawaiian pineapples, the Costa Rican may be eaten—and are delicious—when still somewhat green. Sometimes the Costa Rican pineapples will come in completely golden in color, but more often they will remain rather green while the top or some part becomes gold. When first introduced to pineapple here, I would buy them green with some small areas of gold, and wait for the green portions to lighten in color. What I found is that the bottom of the fruit would stay green while the golden area turned brown. At that point, the pineapple is overripe, and the fruit is no longer sweet; once cut it will smell acidic, almost like vinegar. As the person formerly responsible for the cut fruit section of Produce, I have cut literally thousands of pineapples, and assure you that they are wonderful even when they are a bit green!
All of the pears that we sell, other than the Asian pears, are ripe when they give to gentle pressure at the stem end. Like other fruits, pears have quite a range of ripeness, and color is a less reliable method of determining that than gentle pressure. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will tell you that the “firm butter” rule applies to them as well. Due to their delicate nature, we place pears into refrigeration at the earliest sign of ripeness. The only exception to this is the Asian pear, which should be eaten crisp. This variety is picked ripe, and growers determine ripeness according to color.
Ripening fruit at home is easy! A key thing to remember is that refrigeration hinders the ripening process, so if you would like to ripen fruit, keep it at room temperature, like on the counter, though out of direct sunlight. A paper bag will hasten the ripening process, as will adding an apple or banana to the paper bag. (This is because apples and bananas release a gas that causes other fruits to ripen—and spoil—more quickly.) Avoid storing any of fruits talked about here in plastic bags, which restrict air flow, and disrupt the ripening process. Also, avoid exposure to moisture, which will cause mold.
The best advice I have is to experiment. This will help you determine what you like in a fruit. Buy multiple pears in one shopping trip, and cut one open each day. Perhaps you will find that you, like me, prefer pears to be very, very soft. Or perhaps you will learn that you like mangos and avocados a little on the firm side. Regardless, it will increase your comfort and familiarity with fruit at different stages of ripeness so you can better know what you like, which will hopefully motivate you to eat more fruit!