by Vanessa Clark
Crisp juicy apples, soft luscious bananas, succulent
raspberries, melt-in-the-mouth figs Who doesn’t love fruit? It’s one
of life’s few indulgences that’s actually good for you. Gone are the
days when you had to choose between floury apples, mushy pears, green
bananas and sour oranges. Today we have a huge variety of fruits to
choose from, and growing demand means higher quality and lower risk
of unwittingly buying old, damaged or inferior produce.
But do you know how to get the best from your fruit? How do you choose,
say, the perfect melon or a sweet, but not overripe, kiwi fruit? Everyone
knows the disappointment of biting into a perfectly-formed, sweet-smelling,
golden peach only to find it dry and tasteless, and some people go through
their whole lives convinced that they don’t like pawpaw or persimmons
just because they were unknowingly fed under-ripe or mishandled specimens.
Knowing when to buy and how to choose, store and prepare fruit can turn
the action of simply eating into a trip to taste-bud heaven. Not only
that, but eating fruit when it’s at that perfectly ripe stage will also
ensure you get the full benefits of the vitamins, minerals, simple sugars,
amino acids and life-giving enzymes that it has to offer.
The nutrients in all foods, but particularly in fruits, are unstable
and diminish with time, external conditions and processing. So, when
buying, choose fruits that are as fresh as possible and avoid anything
that has been stored under fluorescent light, as this can set off chemical
reactions that deplete nutrients. Buy loose fresh produce whenever possible,
so that it’s easier to check the quality and freshness, and buy small
quantities that you will use up in a few days (or that will tide you
over till next shopping day). Remember that buying local produce, in
season, is the way to go and that organic and home-grown fruits, though
often blemished or ‘ugly’, generally have much more intense flavours
and higher nutritional contents than conventional commercial produce.
But remember, there’s not much point in choosing the best fruits available
if you’re then going to leave them sitting around in plastic bags -
or worse, in a hot car - for hours before unpacking them. Get your fruit
home as soon as possible, and remove any plastic bags which go too far
in stopping food from drying out, trapping in condensation and causing
food to go mushy or mouldy. Natural health experts also point out the
danger of plastic bags ‘gassing off’ and contaminating food with petroleum
products. In general, fruit should not be washed before storing, but
only when ready to use - ditto with peeling and cutting, as exposed
surfaces promote the loss of nutrients, especially vitamin C. Fruit
bowls are a good idea if you go through a lot of fruit, but otherwise
it’s best to preserve freshness by storing ripe produce at the bottom
of the fridge or in the salad crisper. Spread fragile fruits, such as
berries, in a single layer on a tray lined with kitchen paper to avoid
If, on the other hand, you’ve bought hard fruit that seems like it’s
never going to ripen, try the ‘ethylene trick’. Several types of fruit,
including apples and bananas, emit ethylene gas when they are ripe.
As ethylene is a natural ripening agent, placing even one ripe apple,
for example, in a bag with green fruit will make sure it ripens in a
day or two.
These guidelines can be applied to all fruits, but each fruit has its
own peculiarities. Below is a list of species-specific tips and little-known
facts that will help you get the most, in terms of both flavour and
nutrition, out of some of the most popular fruits.
Choose firm apples as they will retain their texture well, but don’t
be seduced by vibrantly coloured or shiny-skinned ones, which often
have dry, tasteless pulp or excessive wax which will then need to be
scrubbed off before eating. Organic apples often look a bit ‘tatty’,
but their flavour usually more than makes up for it. Different varieties
vary in sweetness and texture, but all apples should be crisp, juicy
and sweet when at their peak.
Apricots are bad travellers and don’t ripen after picking, so store-bought
ones are often disappointing. Look for soft, plump fruit with a rich
colour. At their best, apricots are sweet, soft and juicy and will keep
for a couple of days at room temperature, or in a bag in the fridge
for up to five days.
Avocados are unusual in that they only ripen after being picked. This
means two things: they are available all year round and they can be
easily ripened to perfection at home. To do this, store in a dark spot
or paper bag, and eat (or refrigerate) when they begin to give slightly
when pressed. If an avocado is overly soft and/or brown when you open
it, that means it’s over-ripe. As well as tasting ‘off’, the otherwise
healthy monounsaturated oils in avocados are rancid at this stage and,
rather than being ‘great for guacamole’, should just be thrown out.
Choose firm bananas and allow them to ripen at room temperature. Small
brown spots appear on the skin when ripe, an indication that the starches
have been converted into simple sugars. If eaten green, these starches
are indigestible and can cause lower-intestinal discomfort.
Choose raspberries that are brightly coloured without mould or mildew,
and preferably eat them within 24 hours of buying. Otherwise, store
covered but unwashed in the fridge, or freeze them, as frozen raspberries
come out almost as good as new (open freeze on trays in a single layer
and then pack into cartons). Blueberries should be plump and roughly
of uniform size; store them in an airtight container in the fridge for
up to 2 weeks. Store strawberries, on the other hand, uncovered and
unwashed in the fridge. Don’t hull them before rinsing, as strawberries
easily become waterlogged, losing flavour, texture and vitamin C. Blackberries
should be shiny, while mulberries and boysenberries usually bleed -
all three should be treated as carefully as raspberries. With most berries,
if they are tart, you should let them ripen further. Also, check the
bottom of the punnet before buying, to make sure there are no squashed
or mouldy ones.
Carambolas (Starfruit or Five Corner fruit)
These tropical fruits are edible when green, but it’s worth waiting
for them to ripen. Handle them with care and they will become a golden
yellow, with sweet, juicy flesh.
Cherries come in a range of colours, from yellow to red to dark purple,
and their flavour varies accordingly from sweet to sour. Choose plump
cherries with green stalks and preferably taste before you buy. Refrigerate
cherries unwashed for up to three days, or remove the stalks and freeze.
Buy firm, unblemished fruit and refrigerate only after ripening. When
ripe, the flesh can be eaten with a spoon out of the skin. Magnificent
sweet, creamy flavour, like strawberries, pineapple and custard all
Hotels throughout Malaysia prominently display ‘No Durian’ signs. The
flesh is so smelly you wouldn’t want to store it anywhere near other
food, but don’t let that put you off eating it - as the Malays say,
“Durian smells like hell, but tastes like heaven”. The thick, knobbly
skin of this football-sized fruit encloses pockets of succulently sweet,
creamy, custard-coloured flesh that surrounds the large, shiny seeds.
They are unusual fruits in that they are oily rather than juicy, and
are definitely worth the trip to your local Asian greengrocers - let
them pick a ripe one for you.
These suburban backyard favourites fall ripe from the tree from March
to June and can then be kept in a cool spot for up to 6 weeks. Alternatively,
choose green feijoas and allow to ripen, refrigerating for up to 3 months,
but remember that they won’t be quite as sweet or juicy as the tree-ripened
Nothing compares to the decadent sweetness of figs ripened naturally
in the sun. These are worth seeking out. Alternatively, buy slightly
under-ripe fruit and allow to ripen at room temperature for a day or
two, eating once the skin becomes very soft and fragile.
Green grapes should have a golden tinge, so avoid those that are uniformly
brightly green, as they will be sour and won’t ripen. With all grapes,
the fruit should look slightly translucent when ripe. If they are attached
to fresh-looking, green stems, they will keep for up to a week in a
fruit bowl, or 2 weeks if stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
Grapes should then be brought to room temperature before eating, to
allow their flavour to return, and rinsed just before eating.
Grapefruit can have yellow, pink or red flesh - the yellow ranges from
tart to sweet, while pink flesh tends to be sweeter. Choose heavy, unblemished
fruit, with no soft spots. Buy ripe fruit, as these are sweeter and
have more vitamin C and you cannot ripen them further once they have
been picked; pink ones have significant amounts of beta carotene, too.
(Note: pomelos are a separate species similar to the grapefruit, while
ugli frit are a hybrid of the grapefruit, orange and tangerine)
Guavas have green, knobbly skin that turns yellow when fully ripe, and
the flesh can be pale pink or creamy yellow, containing hard but edible
seeds. They are slightly tart even when ripe and have an unusual texture
that makes them ideal for juicing; this produces a delicious, subtly
sweet and highly nutritious nectar.
This enormous fruit is ripe when its hard, knobbly skin changes from
green to yellow. Store in a cool place when whole, but refrigerate once
Choose firm fruit and let it ripen at room temperature. Kiwi fruit is
tart when firm, quite sweet when ripe but, if left too long, becomes
mushy and tastes fermented. If buying organic, eat the skin, too - it’s
tangy and contains concentrated nutrients, on top of the kiwi’s famous
high vitamin C content (a day’s recommended dose in a single kiwi fruit!).
It is the most nutrient-dense fruit, also containing vitamin E.
Lemons and Limes
Choose firm, shiny fruit that is heavy for its size; never buy lemons
with hard, shrivelled skins. Limes actually become yellowish when ripe,
and are much sweeter than lemons. Both will keep for 2 to 3 months in
the fridge. (A fantastic summer drink is the juice of half a lime in
a glass of mineral water - a delicious and healthy alternative to a
G and T!)
When loquats look perfect, with yellowish skin and crisp, tart flesh,
they aren’t quite ripe yet - allow brown speckles to form by ripening
in a fruit bowl, by which time they’ll be divinely sweet and juicy.
Lychees and Rambutans
These Asian treats ripen on the tree from summer to autumn, becoming
soft, sweet and juicy. Both fruits should be bright red; green fruit
is not ripe, while brown fruit is past its prime. Lychees can be stored
for 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge, while their hairy cousins, rambutans,
last about one week. Both can be frozen, but they will lose their colour.
There are over 2,500 varieties of mangoes! When ripe, they are high
in vitamins A and C and the skin can be green, orange or red, so don’t
just choose by colour. Instead, choose fruit with slightly soft flesh
under tough skin, with no black blotches, and a rich aroma. Ripen in
a paper bag at room temperature for up to 7 days, then eat as soon as
When buying any type of mandarin or mandarin hybrid, choose fruit that
is heavy for its size, with unblemished, tight-fitting, glossy skin.
For the best flavour and highest vitamin C, don’t store them for more
than a week in the fridge.
Knocking, smelling, pressing - most people look confused when buying
melons! All types of melon should smell sweet, while a musky smell indicates
over-ripeness. Melons are ripe, or will ripen well, if they are slightly
soft at the blossom end. Watermelons, however, do not ripen further
once picked, and this is where knocking is useful - make sure they are
not hollow before buying. Try to avoid buying ready- cut melons, as
most of their vitamins will have already been lost through the exposed
surface. Many people experience symptoms of indigestion after eating
melon. This is because the melon is often eaten at the end of a meal
and, as it travels so quickly through the digestive system, it runs
into other foods already in the stomach and ferments, producing acidity.
You can prevent any discomfort - and ensure the nutrients get to you
fresh - by eating melon alone and on an empty stomach.
Oranges are juiciest and sweetest when they feel heavy for their size
and the skin is shiny and thin - never buy oranges with damaged or wrinkly
skin. Eat some of the white pith if you really want to benefit from
the high vitamin C and bioflavonoid content. Oranges keep for up to
2 weeks at room temperature and, unless organic, should be washed thoroughly
to remove wax and fungicides.
This summer fruit is sweetest if allowed to fall naturally from the
vine when truly ripe. The pulp can be tart if eaten too early. When
buying, choose fruits that feel heavy for their size, with only slightly
wrinkled skins. They can be ripened at room temperature and should not
The flesh of the pawpaw is sweet and juicy when ripe and varies from
yellow to pink to orange, while the skin is usually yellow, but can
also be green or red, depending on the variety. Choose firm, unblemished,
sweet-smelling fruit which is at least yellow at the stem end, and ripen
at room temperature. Unfortunately, the further you are from the tropics,
the less chance you have of finding a really sweet pawpaw. Green pawpaw
is not sweet but is much richer in the protein-digesting enzyme, papain.
Peaches and Nectarines
Choose mature, sweet-smelling fruit that gives slightly when pressed
along the ‘seam’. Peaches and nectarines do not ripen well after being
picked, although firm fruit will soften if left at room temperature
for a day or two. Fully ripe fruit can be refrigerated for a couple
of days, but should be brought to room temperature before eating.
Members of the rose family, pears are high in potassium and vitamins
C and B complex only when in perfect condition. They are picked when
fully developed, and then ripen well at room temperature. Choose plump
fruit with unblemished skin and remember that pears ripen from the inside
out and can quickly become woolly or squashy.
The best persimmons, the fruit that looks a bit like tree-grown tomatoes,
are bought firm and then allowed to ripen until they look as though
they are about to burst. Handle them with great care and eat the soft,
succulent, pudding-like flesh with a spoon. If eaten too soon, you’ll
know about it, because the high tannin content has a disturbing, astringent
effect on the mouth.
Pineapples should already be sweetly fragrant when buying, as they don’t
ripen once picked (they just go brown). A greengrocer once taught me
this trick and it’s always worked for me: tug at one of the central
leaves and, if it comes out easily, it’s ripe. Make sure the leaves
are fresh-looking, and use the fruit as soon as possible. Store any
cut or peeled portions in an airtight container in the fridge for no
more than 3 days.
Choose unblemished plums, soft but not squashy, with a sweet aroma.
Plums ripen quickly and so should be stored in the fridge, and only
for a day or two.
As pomegranates ripen, their thick leathery skin becomes thin and can
break, the pithy inner walls shrink, and the juicy red pulp surrounding
the seeds grows and sweetens - so choose fruit that is heavy for its
size, with shiny skin. As well as being eaten alone, or mixed into fruit
salad or savoury dishes, the pulp can be juiced for a delicious, vibrant
red drink that is enjoyed widely in the Middle East.
Sapotes are also known invitingly as ‘chocolate-pudding fruit’. Buy
them firm and allow their skin to turn dark brown, when they will be
fully ripe and their soft, creamy flesh can be eaten with a spoon, pureed
or whipped into a mousse... Mmmmm!
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