Tuesday, 22 September 2009 | Tags:

You can find almost anything from around the world at the grocery store these days, but do you know how to choose produce at its best? Here is what we've learned about choosing fruit during our research for Anna and Kristina's Grocery Bag...


Acai Berries

  • Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-EE ) is a berry-like fruit that grows on the Acai Palm Trees in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil. The berry is smaller than a grape in size and is a dark purple colour. About 90% of the Acai fruit is seed and is inedible.

  • Some say that the Acai tastes like a berry with subtle chocolate notes.

  • Acai berries are packed full of antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids.They have 10 times the antioxidant power of red grapes and twice that of blueberries

  • Used by Brazilian natives the Acai is traditionally consumed to treat intestinal illnesses as well as skin conditions.

  • The berries are very fragile, so finding fresh Acai berries is next to impossible. But you will find health bars, drinks, juices, powders and supplements that contain the dried fruit and juice.

  • Acai juice is available at some health food and organic grocery stores but call ahead to make sure it’s available.

Ackee Fruit

  • A native West African plant, ackee is used frequently in Jamaican cuisine.

  • The ackee fruit is bright red – when ripe, it bursts open to reveal three large black seeds and bright yellow flesh.

  • Ackee is poisonous if eaten before it is fully mature and because of its toxicity, is subject to import restrictions and may be hard to obtain in some countries.

    • Because of this, NEVER open an ackee pod – it will open itself when it is no longer deadly.

  • Ackee is sold canned in most North American markets.


  • Select fruit that is unblemished, avoiding any with cracks or dark, sunken spots. (These are overripe.) 

  • Avocados are green and relatively hard when they’re not ripe, and a darker green-black with a bit of softness if pressed when they are ripe.

  • If you don’t plan to use it right away, buy one that is more on the green side.

  • If there are only unripe ones to choose from, you can get it to ripen faster by placing it beside ripe bananas. It still takes a bit of time to ripen like this, however.


  • When it comes to buying capers, the smaller the better.

  • Scour shelves to find a variety: vinegar-brined, oil-packed, or packed in sea salt. All can be used interchangeably in recipe, but capers packed in salt are especially prized.

  • Before using capers of any kind (especially those packed in salt), rinse capers thoroughly with water and blot gently with a paper towel.

  • Chop capers before adding to dishes to intensify their flavor.

  • When using in sauces, add capers at the end of the cooking process.


  • Before ripening, dates range in colour from bright red to bright yellow. As they ripen, they become dark brown in colour and shrivel up like a prune.

  • Depending on where they are cultivated and the soil they are grown in, dates have a slightly different colour, taste, and size.

  • Fresh dates are available from September until May, with their peak season being November.

  • When buying fresh dates, choose ones with smooth, shiny skin and avoid those that are shriveled or show signs of damage or mould.

  • Dried dates are readily available year round in the baking aisle of most grocery stores. Look for dried dates that are wrapped tightly and do not show any signs of damage.

  • Fresh dates can be stored in an airtight container in the crisper section of a refrigerator for up to one month.

  • Dried dates keep up to one year as long as they remain well sealed in a cool, dark place, or in the fridge.


  • Though similar in price and calorie intake, pink grapefruit contains more than 50 times the amount of Vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant, than white grapefruit.

  • A good grapefruit doesn’t have to be perfect in color. Skin discoloration, scratches or scales may affect the appearance of a grapefruit, but they do not impact the taste or texture quality.

  • Signs of decay include an overly soft spot at the stem end of the fruit and areas that appear water-soaked. These forms of decay usually translate into poor taste – a flavour that is less vibrant and more bitter than a good quality grapefruit.

  • Since grapefruits are juicier when they’re slightly warm rather than cool, store at room temperature if you’re planning to consume them within a week of purchase.

  • Fruit should be heavy for its size, which usually indicates a thin skin and therefore a higher concentration of juicier flesh. Those that have overly rough or wrinkled skin usually tend to be thick skinned and should be avoided.

  • Grapefruits should be firm, yet slightly springy when gentle pressure is applied.

  • While chilled grapefruits do not have an apparent fragrance, those kept at room temperature should have a subtly sweet aroma.

  • For the highest level of antioxidants, choose a fully ripened grapefruit. If you will not be using them within a week, store in the refrigerator crisper where they will keep fresh for two to three weeks.


  • When choosing a bunch of grapes, look for those that are plump and firmly attached to the stem, and that the stem is predominantly green and pliable.

  • Red grapes should be deep-coloured and the red should be predominant over the entire berry.

  • Avoid soft or wrinkled grapes, or bunches of grapes with stems that are brown and brittle. These could be indicators of the berries being frozen during shipping or have dried out since they were picked.

  • Wet or leaking berries are a sign of decay, so make sure to inspect the grapes and the stems ends as well. Avoid any that have whitish areas or mold.

  • To get the most nutrition out of a grape, purchase berries with the seeds inside as these are high in flavonoids.


  • A ripe mango has a sweet, fruity aroma at the stem end. If the smell is really strong, it could be overripe.

  • Choose a ripe mango if you plan to use it right away. The colour should be yellow-red, and it should be slightly soft to the touch. Avoid mangoes that are so ripe they feel mushy. 

  • A few black spots can be ok. It means the mango is ripe and ready to be eaten right away. If the mango is mushy to the touch, it’s too ripe.

  • If a mango has shriveled skin or fibrous flesh, it has been picked too early and will taste acidic.

  • Some mangoes remain green, even when ripe, so don’t discount them by colour.

  • If you buy an unripe mango, ripen it by putting it in a sealed paper bag and leaving it at room temperature.

  • Don’t put mangoes in the fridge. It’s too cold for this tropical fruit, and will affect the flavour and texture.


  • Niçoise olives are French olives and are small, purplish black or earthy red-brown, cured in red-wine vinegar.

  • Olives are different colors not because they are different varieties, but because they are at different stages of ripeness or are cured in different ways.

    • Olives are green when unripe and turn purple to black when fully ripe.

    • Green olives are picked while unripe, making them more dense and bitter than brown or black olives, which stay on the tree until fully ripened.

    • Curing is usually done in lye, brine, or salt.

  • Olives are one of the few fruits that are not enjoyed in their raw state. Fresh raw olives need to be cured in brine or dry salt to remove the bitterness and make them palatable.

  • Olives have a very high content of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and are one of the two fresh fruits that have a high fat content (the other being avocado, see above).

  • Select good quality olives from a supermarket in bottles or cans covered with brine.

  • Bottled or canned olives keep well for over 2 years when stored at room temperature. After opening the can or bottle, store the remaining olives in their original brine in the open can (in non-metal containers) and cover with plastic wrap to allow oxygen to permeate.

    • Do not store in an airtight container as harmful toxins may develop.

    • Partially used cans may be kept in the refrigerator for up to ten days.


  • Like most citrus fruit, pay attention to the skin when shopping for oranges. It should be fresh, bright-looking, and reasonably smooth for the variety.

  • Oranges should be firm and heavy. Avoid oranges with very rough skin texture and that seem too light for their size, which means they’re dry and unpalatable.

  • Avoid oranges that have discoloured, spongy, or weakened areas of skin around the stem end or button.

  • Buying a big bag of fruit may seem like a bargain, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to inspect each orange for flaws.

  • Oranges keep for several days at a cool room temperature, or for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.


  • Papaya is ripe when it is predominantly yellow.

  • It is picked when it is still green and firm, so if you can’t find ripe papaya, green papaya can be placed in a paper bag for a few days to facilitate ripening.

  • Watch for soft spots or sunken spots when purchasing papaya but don’t be too concerned about the smoothness of the skin. Often the thin skin of papaya will begin to wrinkle a bit when ripe, but it will by no means affect the overall taste or quality of the fruit.

  • A ripe papaya should have a light, sweet smell.

    • If it’s unripe, it will have very little smell at all.

    • Overripe papaya will have an overpowering, sweet smell.

  • Feel the papaya gently but don’t squeeze too hard, as the fruit easily bruises.

  • Ripe papaya should feel a bit like a ripe avocado, with a pliable but not overly soft skin.

  • Eat ripe papaya immediately or place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator as soon as possible to halt the ripening process.

  • Don’t freeze papaya as it destroys the texture and flavor of the fruit.


  • One medium pear is about 100 calories and a great source of dietary fibre and vitamin C.
  • The peak season for fresh pears is between August and October.

  • The best types of pears to eat raw are Bartlett or Comice. Bartlett are harvested in late August and are juicy (which makes them fall apart when baked). Comice are harvested September-February and have a finer, less grainy texture than others. 

  • The best pears for baking are Bosc or Anjou. Other varieties that are slightly underripe will also work. Bosc are in season from fall to spring, have dense, grainy flesh, and hold up well when cooked. Anjou pears are available October to early summer and have a creamy yet firm texture when ripe.

  • Pears don’t ripen on the tree. They’re harvested when mature, then ripen from the inside out once picked.

  • To ripen pears, leave them at room temperature. You can also put them near bananas to help speed them up. Gently apply pressure to the neck area every day to see if they are ripe. A little yield and a stronger fragrance means they’re ready to eat. You can refrigerate ripe pears to help slow the process.

  • Look for pears with brown, rough speckles on the skin, known as russeting. This effect makes the fruit more flavourful. However, watch out for large brown, bruised areas.

  • Don’t worry about fruit with shallow nicks or cuts. As long as they’re not deep, it’s ok to eat.

  • Only Bartlett pears change colour as they ripen. Most others stay the same shade, so you have to use touch and the stem trick (see above) to tell if they’re ripe.


  • Pineapples are delivered to market near the peak of sweetness, with colour ranging from green to orange and yellow.

  • A mature green pineapple will normally turn yellow to orange within a few days at room temperature, but many are already fully coloured when you find them in the food store.

  • Look for bright colour, a fragrant pineapple aroma (be sure to smell it!), and a very slight separation of the eyes or pips (the berry-like fruitlets patterned in a spiral on the fruit core).

  • At their mature stage, pineapples are usually dark green, firm, plump, and heavy for their size. The larger the fruit, the more edible flesh there will be.

  • A quick test to see if a pineapple is ripe is to pull one of the spiny leaves from the crown. If it comes out easily, with just a touch of resistance, it’s ready to be eaten.

  • When fully coloured, pineapples are golden yellow, orange-yellow, or reddish brown, depending on the variety.

  • Avoid pineapples with sunken or slightly pointed pips, dull yellowish-green colour, and a dried appearance, all of which are signs of immaturity.

  • Also avoid fruit that is bruised as evidenced by discoloured or soft spots, which are susceptible to decay.

  • Avoid a pineapple that has traces of mold, an unpleasant odor, or eyes that are dark and watery.


  • A plantain smells and looks similar to a banana. It’s a bit bigger and harder to peel, especially when green.

  • Plantains can’t be eaten raw – they must always be cooked first – and are ready for cooking at any stage of ripeness.

  • A plantain is technically a fruit but is used like a vegetable. They are especially popular in authentic Mexican cuisine.

  • When the peel is green, they are bland, hard, and starchy, similar to potatoes. Medium ripe plantains have yellow peels or yellow dappled with black, and are slightly sweet and more tender than green plantains. Fully ripe plantains are aromatic and sweet with skins turned almost entirely black.

  • Plantains are widely available in North America and usually found in the produce section of your supermarket.

  • When shopping for plantains, choose ones that are firm and green. Avoid any that are shriveled, squishy, cracked, or moldy.

  • You can ripen plantains by storing them at room temperature out of direct sunlight, turning daily until they reach the desired stage of ripeness (6-9 days). Once ripe, plantains can be peeled and frozen for up to three months.


  • Pomegranates are roughly the same size as apples and have a leathery, deep red to purplish red rind. Only the pomegranate seeds, with their sweet-tart flavour, are edible.

  • Since ancient times, the pomegranate fruit has been used for its antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, and has been long used in folk medicine to treat inflammation, rheumatism, and parasites.

  • In addition to iron, Vitamin C, potassium, and niacin, pomegranates contain polyphenol, an antioxidant known to help prevent premature aging and assist heart health. Pomegranate juice has been proven to contain up to three times more antioxidants than equal-sized portions of red wine or green tea.

  • When purchasing a pomegranate, choose one based on weight versus colour. Pomegranates are picked before they are ripe, so colour isn’t always an indicator.

  • Avoid purchasing any fruit that has cracks in the rind or is badly bruised, as this might affect the seeds inside.

  • A fresh whole pomegranate can be stored for up to a month on your counter and up to two months in the fridge.

  • If the seeds are removed from the membrane, they can be kept for about two weeks in a sealed container.

  • Pomegranate concentrate can be as much as 250% stronger than straight pomegranate juice. Very tart by itself, once blended with other ingredients, pomegranate concentrate provides an intense, true pomegranate flavor without diluting a recipe as juice would.

  • To create pomegranate juice from concentrate, simply add 1.5 parts water to every 1 part concentrate.


  • Also referred to as dried plums, prunes are chock-full of fiber, antioxidants, potassium, and Vitamin A.

  • While there are many varieties of plums, only a few varieties of prunes are commonly marketed, all of which are very similar.

  • Prunes are available in fresh from August through October.

  • Look for prunes that are purplish-black or bluish-black, with moderately firm flesh that separates freely from the pit (unless already removed).

  • Avoid prunes with skin breaks, punctures, or brownish discoloration.

  • Also avoid immature fruit that is relatively hard, weakly colored, or excessively shriveled. Avoid overly mature fruit that is excessively soft or leaking.

  • Potassium sorbate is a preservative that is used to prevent mold and yeast spoilage in prunes. Avoid if this a concern for you. If possible, purchase organic prunes that don’t contain any extra chemicals.

Raisins (golden)

  • Made from dried green grapes, golden raisins are rich in fibre, anti-oxidants, and minerals.

  • For superior taste, opt for organic. (Imported grapes can contain pesticide residues.)

  • Look for raisins in transparent containers so you can see the quality. If they are in semi-transparent containers, make sure they are tightly-sealed.

  • Always store raisins in airtight jars in the refrigerator to ensure they remain soft and fresh.

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