There's nothing worse than cutting into freshly-bought fruit only to find that it's brown, bruised and just can't be used. It's the saddest kind of surprise. Even worse than the disappointment though, is that it puts you, the cook, in a tough predicament. Without ripe fruit you can't make that guacamole recipe -- yes, avocado is technically a fruit -- or that stone fruit cobbler. Now what?
Luckily, not-so-optimal produce is an easy problem to solve -- you just need to know what to look for. Some fruit lets you know they're ripe based on color; with others, its all about touch. Here are 12 tricks to help you sort it all out, which come in especially handy in the midst of summer, when fresh fruit is everywhere.
When it comes to pineapple, look for a golden color and sweet scent.
Flickr: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture
The first sign of a pineapple's ripeness is its color. It should be golden-brown, without much green color left at the base. A sweet smell also indicates this fruit's ripeness. If a pineapple doesn't give off a scent, it's not quite ripe yet. If it smells a tad vinegary, it's overripe.
Cantaloupes that are ready to crack open show it in their weight.
Flickr: Central Valley Farmland Trust
A ripe cantaloupe will feel heavy and smell sweet. (If the cantalope smells overly sweet, chances are it's overripe.) The most dependable sign of a cantaloupe's ripeness is to slightly push at the stem end; if it gives a bit then it's ready to eat.
A ripe eggplant should be tight and elastic, never soft.
Every part of the eggplant provides signs of its ripeness. The stem and cap indicate freshness. If they're bright green, the eggplant is still fresh. If it's starting to turn yellow or brown, it's past its prime. The skin of an eggplant should be deep and dark in color and free of scars or blemishes. When you put pressure on the fruit, the skin should be tight and elastic. If indentations remain were your fingertips where, the eggplant isn't ready yet.
Watermelon sounds hollow and feels heavy when ripe.
When you buy a whole watermelon, you're investing in a lot of fruit and should be sure that it's perfectly ripe. A ripe watermelon is heavy; this indicates that it's full of water.
To check for ripeness you can tap on the watermelon. If it sounds hollow, it's ripe. Another easy way to ensure ripeness is to check the underside of a watermelon. If it has a yellow or light spot on the bottom, it's ready to eat. If the stripes of the melon are found all around the melon, give it more time.
Don't judge a tomato by its color -- for ripeness do a touch test.
You can tell most tomatoes are ripe thanks to their red color. But not all tomatoes are red -- they come in orange, yellow, green and purple shades. The best way to check for ripeness is with the touch test. If it yields slightly to the touch, it's at optimal ripeness. Any more than that and it's past ripe; any less, and it needs a couple more days.
Corn tells you everything by its husk.
The best way to tell when corn is good to eat is by its husk. If the husk is green and hasn't dried out, the ear of corn is still ripe. Corn's silk threads are also indicative of ripeness. They should cling to the kernels, and the kernels should be plump.
Mangos will give slightly to the touch when ready to eat.
The color of a mango is not indicative of ripeness. The only way to know when a mango is ready to eat is by touch. If it gives slightly when touched, it's ready. Sometimes the mango will also give off a fruity aroma at its stem end when ripe.
Strawberries will always smell as good as they taste.
You can tell a strawberry is ripe by its scent -- it should smell exactly like you want it to taste. If they don't smell like anything, they probably doesn't taste like much. They should also be bright red and free of blemishes.
The ripest honeydews are golden in color.
Flickr: JASON ANFINSEN
Unlike cantaloupe, you can tell a honeydew melon is ripe by the appearance of its skin. It should be waxy and smooth with a golden -- not yellow -- color.
When testing avocados, use the palm of your hand, not your fingers.
Since not all avocado varieties look the same when ripe (some of them, like Hass avocados, turn dark purple when ripe and others remain light green), the best way to check for ripeness is through touch. An avocado should give slightly to touch when ripe. Use your palm to test for ripeness. If you test with your fingers, you may bruise the fruit.
Peaches give it away with the color near the stem.
When peaches are ripe, they turn a reddish and yellowish color. The part of the peach that was in direct contact with the sun becomes red, and the part facing away -- what is known as the ground color -- becomes yellow. You want to be sure there's no green tint around the stem. That's the true test. When perfectly ripe, a peach will give slightly to touch and will smell as a peach should taste.
Plums show their ripeness in the quality, not color, of their skin.
You can't judge a plum by its color. Some varieties are the same deep purple color when they first begin to grow on the tree as they are when ripe. When looking for ripeness in a plum, you want a slightly soft and smooth skin. Skip any that are wrinkled, hard or mushy.