The Ultimate Guide to Picking Only the Best Produce
Find the best fruits and veggies at your local grocery store or farmers’ market with this guide to picking everything from avocados to watermelon.
Few things are worse than shelling out money on fresh produce only to bring it home and find that it’s overripe, rotten, or completely lacking in flavor. When you’re craving great fresh fruit or crisp veggies, lackluster results can be horribly disappointing. (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 even help you figure out how to save money on groceries by making sure you don’t waste a single sprig or melon.
When you order produce online you put your produce-picking in the hands of others, but when you can make it to a farmers’ market or grocery store, knowing what to look for in your favorite fruits and vegetables can all-but guarantee better flavors when you get home. To ensure your cucumbers are crisp and your nectarines juicy, 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—whether you’re speeding through the store or perusing a local farmers’ market.
Print your own version for the fridge or download this guide and keep it on your phone. 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.
How to pick an avocado
Looks like: Taut skin; free of dents, dry spots, and shriveling.
Keep in mind: The avocado should yield to pressure, not be rock hard.
How to pick blueberries
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.
How to pick a cucumber
Looks like: Dark, uniformly green color, free of yellow spots.
Keep in mind: The cucumber should be firm, not soft or wrinkled.
How to pick a date
Looks like: Shiny, uniformly colored.
Keep in mind: The date should be plump, not hard.
How to pick an eggplant
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.
How to pick figs
Looks like: Intact, with bent stems. Minor markings in flesh are OK; colors may vary.
Keep in mind: Figs should be soft and plump.
How to pick garlic
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.
How to pick 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.
How to pick 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.
How to pick jalapeño peppers
Looks like: Clean and dry with smooth, unbroken skin.
Keep in mind: “Stretch marks” on jalapeños indicate hotter peppers
How to pick a kiwi
Looks like: Rough, fuzzy skin.
Keep in mind: The kiwi should be slightly firm and yield to gentle pressure.
How to pick 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.
How to pick a mango
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
How to pick a nectarine
Looks like: Free of green coloring and wrinkly patches.
Keep in mind: The nectarine should give slightly when gently squeezed.
How to pick a pineapple
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.)
How to pick a quince
Looks like: No spots.
Keep in mind: The quince should be firm. The fuzz will fall away as the fruit ripens.
How to pick a rhubarb
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.
How to pick sugar snap peas
Looks like: Bright green, free of blemishes.
Keep in mind: Sugar snap peas should be firm and crisp.
How to pick a tomato
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.
How to pick an ugli fruit
Looks like: Color should not be examined, 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.
How to pick a Vidalia onion
Looks like: Medium-sized and free of bruises.
Keep in mind: A good onion should be firm and hard.
How to pick a watermelon
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
How to pick Ximenia (a plum-like fruit from the Ximenia tree)
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.
How to pick yellow squash
Looks like: Bright skins; less than eight inches long.
Keep in mind: Yellow squash should be firm at the stems.
How to pick a zucchini
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; USDA.gov; Fruits & Veggies More Matters