The Ultimate Guide to Picking Only the Best Produce

Learn how to pick everything from avocados to watermelon.

How to pick fruits and vegetables - woman shopping at grocery store for fruits, vegetables, produce
Photo: SDI Productions/Getty Images

No one wants to shell out money on fresh produce only to bring it home and find that it's overripe, rotten, or completely lacking in flavor. (If only learning how to pick a watermelon were as easy as grabbing the biggest, greenest one.) Fortunately, learning how to pick produce effectively can help you ward off that disappointment—and help you figure out how to save money on groceries by not wasting a single sprig or melon.

Unless you order produce online, you can have some control over the crispness of your cucumbers and the juiciness of your nectarines–as long as you know what to look for at the supermarket. We've compiled the ultimate A-to-Z guide to choosing produce like a pro. Created with expert advice from the USDA, a nutritionist, and a recipe developer, this handy chart takes the guesswork out of grocery shopping.

How to pick fruits and vegetables - guide with pictures outlining how to pick avocado, watermelon, eggplant, herbs like basil, mango, zucchini, and more
Onethread Design

Print this guide and keep it handy the next time you're perusing produce; you'll know exactly how to pick the best of everything on your list.

If you're just doing some produce research, read on for the full list of how to pick all types of fruits and vegetables at the store, from avocados and blueberries to watermelon and zucchini.

01 of 26


Looks like: Taut skin; free of dents, dry spots, and shriveling.

Keep in mind: The avocado should yield to pressure, not be rock hard.

02 of 26


Looks like: Dark blue color with slight frosty-white sheen; free of stems or leaves and uniform in size.

Keep in mind: The berries should be plump and firm. Check the bottom and sides of the basket for crushed or spoiled berries.

03 of 26


Looks like: Dark, uniformly green color, free of yellow spots.

Keep in mind: The cucumber should be firm, not soft or wrinkled.

04 of 26


Looks like: Shiny, uniformly colored.

Keep in mind: The date should be plump, not hard.

05 of 26


Looks like: Smooth and naturally shiny, with a green stem with leaves clinging to the top; avoid anything soft, shriveled, or spotted.

Keep in mind: Eggplants are heavy for their size, but best at less than 1 1/2 pounds. When gently pressed, the flesh of the eggplant should give slightly and bounce back.

06 of 26


Looks like: Intact, with bent stems. Minor markings in flesh are OK; colors may vary.

Keep in mind: Figs should be soft and plump.

07 of 26


Looks like: Tight, firm head free of soft spots or green sprouts; white to off-white in color, not shriveled.

Keep in mind: The best garlic should be plump, dry, and firm.

08 of 26

Herbs (Such as Basil)

Looks like: Vibrant and fresh, not wilted, yellow, or bruised.

Keep in mind: Basil leaves should be aromatic and bright green. Avoid black spots and moldy stems.

09 of 26

Iceberg Lettuce

Looks like: Clean outer leaves, with tightly bunched leaves inside.

Keep in mind: Good iceberg lettuce should have a solid, firm head when squeezed and feel heavy.

10 of 26

Jalapeño Peppers

Looks like: Clean and dry with smooth, unbroken skin.

Keep in mind: "Stretch marks" on jalapeños indicate hotter peppers

11 of 26


Looks like: Rough, fuzzy skin.

Keep in mind: The kiwi should be slightly firm and yield to gentle pressure.

12 of 26

Lemons and Limes

Looks like: Smooth, shiny skin.

Keep in mind: The heavier, the better: This means more juice. Also, lemons and limes should be fragrant.

13 of 26


Looks like: Feel is a much better indicator of ripeness than color is.

Keep in mind: There should be a slight fruity fragrance at the stem end of the mango. It should give slightly when gently squeezed.

RELATED: How to Cut a Mango

14 of 26


Looks like: Free of green coloring and wrinkly patches.

Keep in mind: The nectarine should give slightly when gently squeezed.

15 of 26


Looks like: Fresh, green stem end.

Keep in mind: The okra pods should be firm.

16 of 26


Looks like: Fresh, dark green leaves.

Keep in mind: A good pineapple should smell sweet at the stem end and be heavy for its size. (It's a myth that the ability to pull a leaf off the top is an indicator of ripeness.)

17 of 26


Looks like: No spots.

Keep in mind: The quince should be firm. The fuzz will fall away as the fruit ripens.

18 of 26


Looks like: Stalks that are mostly red and pink; green ones will be more sour and stringy.

Keep in mind: Stalks should be firm, not floppy.

19 of 26

Sugar Snap Peas

Looks like: Bright green, free of blemishes.

Keep in mind: Sugar snap peas should be firm and crisp.

20 of 26


Looks like: Bright, shiny skin, free of blemishes.

Keep in mind: A good tomato should have firm flesh with a little give. The stem end should have a sweet, earthy scent, and the tomato should feel heavy for its size.

21 of 26

Ugli Fruit

Looks like: Color is not indicative of ripeness, and small dents are normal.

Keep in mind: The fruit should be heavy for its size, with no signs of drying at the ends. It should give slightly when gently squeezed.

22 of 26

Vidalia Onion

Looks like: Medium-sized and free of bruises.

Keep in mind: A good onion should be firm and hard.

23 of 26


Looks like: Smooth surface, yellow underbelly, well-rounded ends, and a slightly dull rind.

Keep in mind: The best watermelon feel firm and heavy.

RELATED: How to Pick a Cantaloupe

24 of 26


Looks like: Orange, red, or yellow.

Keep in mind: Regular Ximenia plums should be deeply colored and shiny; a white sheen is natural. They should be firm, but not rock hard.

25 of 26

Yellow Squash

Looks like: Bright skins; less than eight inches long.

Keep in mind: Yellow squash should be firm at the stems.

26 of 26


Looks like: Naturally shiny skin; free of cuts and bruises.

Keep in mind: A good zucchini is firm and heavy for its size, with no soft spots.

Sources: Jackie NEwgent, RDN, CDN; Emily Han, food writer, cookbook author, co-founder of Food Swap Network, and contributor to The Kitchen;; Fruits & Veggies More Matters

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles