Guide to Selection and Storage of Supermarket Fruit

A guide to fruit selection and storage of supermarket fruit, these tips can help you bring only the best produce to your table.

| January/February 1988

"To avoid cancer and obesity, one should increase fiber, consume more fruits and vegetables and cut down on fatty meats." The advice seems to be everywhere these days. And we're taking it. After 60 years of decreasing U.S. fresh fruit consumption, the bestselling new produce items are exotic tropical fruits. We've learned that these fresh treats are not only delicious, but also contain important vitamins and the soluble fiber known as pectin.

Still, the buyer must beware! Fruit growers have strong incentives to ship firm immature supermarket fruit — which are more likely to arrive without blemishes — rather than more delicate ripe specimens. All too often, then, we hope for a burst of sweet juice on the tongue, but find little more than a bland mush, at best. Only careful shopping, home ripening and proper storage can guarantee fruit that fulfills its promise of an endless summer for the palate.

Guide to Selection and Storage of Supermarket Fruit

Two Types of Supermarket Fruit

Most people think that all fruits continue to sweeten for a time after harvest. Not so. Fruits can be divided into two classes: climacteric and nonclimacteric. When picked at the green-ripe stage, the climacteric fruits—peaches, apples, avocados, bananas, mangoes, papayas, plums, persimmons, tomatoes, pears, kiwis, apricots and many of the "new" tropicals — contain large nutrient stores which change to sugars as the flesh ripens. (If harvested too soon, however, they'll fail to improve at all, and will simply shrink, soften and eventually spoil.)

On the other hand, nonclimacteric fruits — cherries, citrus, figs, grapes, melons, pineapples, pomegranates, strawberries — do not have reserves of starches or oils, and thus will never get sweeter after they're picked.

When selecting climacteric types, remember that red, yellow or orange fruits are not always ripe and that green fruits are not always immature. You can trust yellow bananas or pears and bright red tomatoes — but color is of little help with apples, and of no use in determining which peaches or nectarines are best.

In fact, many of the new peach and nectarine varieties have been selected to redden while they're still unripe. Unless their flesh gives slightly to the touch, and background color is appropriate to the type (yellow or white, not pale green), peaches and nectarines will never ripen. If you pick out relatively mature peaches or nectarines, however, they will continue to sweeten at room temperature (70 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees Fahrenheit).

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