There are obvious signs you must pay attention to when you’re at the store doing grocery shopping and you get to the fresh produce vegetable section. Brown spots, wrinkles and mold are all pretty common red flags that tell you something’s not right with a vegetable, but there are plenty of other signs you should learn; not only to avoid ripe food that seems OK, but also to pick the freshest in the batch. Keep reading to find out how to select 12 fresh vegetables just by looking at them (and giving them a little squeeze!).
These vegetables are very nutritious and one of the most versatile around: you can eat them cold in a salad or grilled as snacks. The first thing to look for in a good-quality asparagus is the head or bud. It should be quite firm and tightly closed. When asparagus is at its best, they’re either green, purple or white but with no fading colors. The stalk of a fresh asparagus should be firm, straight and smooth, a bright green color with a bit of white at the bottom but it should never feel or look dry. You’ll notice that stores make sure to keep asparagus fresh by storing them in fridges, cold water or at least a cool place.
Pumpkins are a very popular vegetable one night of the year. When Halloween’s getting closer stores and patches get filled with pumpkins of all sizes and colors. If you’re looking for the perfect pumpkin make sure to look for one that has a green stem, firm and leathery skin, and that sounds hollow when you tap it (just like with watermelons). You should also check for any wounds or cuts on the pumpkin, because just like it happens with human skin, wounds are the perfect place for infections.
Even though peas come “hidden” inside their pod, that doesn’t mean there’s no way of knowing how to pick the freshest ones. To pick fresh peas you have to start from the outside. Look for pods which are medium-sized and firm, and avoid those which are too large and have very thick skin. In the color area, stay away from yellowish or brownish pods. If you have a chance to open the pod, check that the peas are small, bright green and firm yet tender when gently squeezing them.
Related: How to Select Fresh Vegetables- Part 2
If you want to use the perfect eggplant in one of your dishes, start by checking out the cap or head, go for green ones instead of brown ones. Overall, look for the small, yet heavy eggplants in the bunch. The skin of the eggplant must have an even color and be smooth and very shiny. The best way to test for a fresh eggplant, press your finger against the skin. If it leaves an imprint, the eggplant is ripe. A fresh eggplant usually tastes sweet and has less seeds. The shape of an eggplant should be slightly curved and a little thick on the bottom, but you must pay more attention to details such as texture and color.
Cauliflower has become very popular in recent years, being the perfect ingredient to replace carbs in several recipes while dieting. If you want to know what to look for in a fresh cauliflower check the color of the floret, it should have a creamy white, even color. Any spots or decoloring are bad signs that indicate the cauliflower has passed its prime. The leaves should look green and fresh, indicating that the vegetable has been harvested recently. Overall, a fresh cauliflower head feels firm and looks tightly closed, without pieces of the floret falling off.
Lettuce is probably one of the hardest fresh vegetables to pick, since its leaves are full of water and its texture and consistency can change in a matter of hours. When choosing a lettuce, check every one of its leaves; they should be tight shut and they shouldn’t be spotted, brown, yellow edges or slimy looking spots. It’s pretty common that the bottom part of a lettuce looks white, in fact it’s a sign that the lettuce was picked at the right moment.
The outermost leaves of a lettuce are the ones with the highest levels of nutrients, but they are quite fragile. That’s why a store should always keep lettuce under refrigeration or at least laying over some ice to remain fresh produce. As for the smell of a lettuce? It should be earthy and a bit aromatic but always with a natural scent. Any strong or artificial smells might indicate the use of pesticides.
Related: How to Select Fresh and Ripe Fruit – Part 1
This exotic African-origin vegetable has a very fresh, yet strong flavor. If you want to look for an okra in the best condition, the best indicator will be a bright green color and feels firm yet not hard. Pick okras that are no more than 4 inches long and have no bruising or blemishes on its skin. Okra presents in slim and thick versions, which are both acceptable depending on the recipe you want to cook.
The best indicator of a fresh potato are its texture and color It should feel firm enough when you squeeze it and it should look yellow to brown, never green. Even though potatoes have skin that must be peeled before eating, you should always look for the ones that are as smooth as possible. Check for cuts or bruises in the skin because they could lead to bacteria accumulation. The size of a potato is no indicator of its freshness, but it’s always best to go for medium-sized ones with well-rounded shapes. If you discover one of your potatoes has sprouted before you eat it, just remove the sprouts and cook it. As long as the potato isn’t wrinkled or looks old it’s safe to eat it.
If you haven’t paid attention, radishes also need to be picked thoroughly. A fresh radish should be firm, with a smooth surface that has a bright red color. The top (or head) of a fresh radish should look green and healthy, and you should avoid radishes that have spots or discolorations of any kind.
Related: How to Select Fresh and Ripe Fruit – Part 2
Common bell peppers are far from spicy and come in 4 different colors: red, yellow, orange and green. Believe it or not, peppers come in female or male versions. 4 pointed peppers are female and 3 pointed ones are male. The female kind is best to eat raw and the male one is best for cooking. Either way all bell peppers that are fresh must be firm, evenly shaped and make a hollow sound when you tap them. The flesh of the pepper must be firm and shiny, without bumps, stains or cuts. The stem of a fresh bell pepper looks straight and tight, but not dry.
These fresh vegetables can be eaten grilled, roasted, sauteed and even shredded. If you want to pick fresh brussel sprouts look for bright green heads with tightly closed leaves. The heads must be heavy when you lift them and should feel firm. Of course, check for the right color and avoid brussel sprouts with yellowing spots.
Since onions come in different sizes, shapes and colors, these 3 features are no indicator of a fresh onion. The first thing to look for in onions is the surface. It should have shiny, thin and smooth skin. As opposed to most vegetables, onions should look “dry” on the outside. When an onion looks wet or humid it might not be at its best anymore. Fresh onions are firm when you press them, and the narrower the rings of the onion the better. If you see a sprouted onion try to avoid it. They’re not poisonous or dangerous but they might be a little mushy.
As you see, choosing only the freshest vegetables could save you some precious time in the kitchen trying to make them work in the recipe; and it could also save you lots of money you could lose by having to throw them away because they spoiled quickly. Keep track of the tips in this list and always have your fridge and pantry stocked with the highest quality ingredients and fresh produce!