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Picking a Winner - Tips and Insight to Selecting Seasonal Produce

Posted by Charles Parrott, Deputy Administrator, AMS Fruit and Vegetable Program in Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017
A young boy smiles over a bowl of freshly washed apricots.  Select apricots that are plump with golden orange color, but avoid ones that are pale yellow, greenish-yellow, shriveled or bruised.
A young boy smiles over a bowl of freshly washed apricots. Select apricots that are plump with golden orange color, but avoid ones that are pale yellow, greenish-yellow, shriveled or bruised.

As the cold, drab winter gives way to warmer temperatures and the crisp colors of spring, our longing for stews and other comfort foods ebbs, making way for some warm-weather favorites.  Picnics, hiking and other outdoor activities heighten the appeal of lighter, fresh salad greens, fruits, and vegetables.  From strawberries to broccoli, apricots to artichokes—we offer a few tips to help you pick the best of the season’s offerings.

The artichoke takes a bit of time to peel and prepare, but it is a versatile veggie whose leaves can be eaten individually, sautéed with other vegetables, or added to a spicy rice dish. Artichokes should have deep green, tightly-packed leaves closed at the top. They should be firm and with some weight.

Apricots can simply be washed and eaten, or try slicing them up and adding them to a green salad. It makes no difference how they are eaten because this sometimes underrated fruit has stood the test of time, is always delicious, and has a renewed fan base. Select apricots that are plump with a golden orange color, but avoid ones that are pale yellow, greenish-yellow, shriveled or bruised. Soft apricots tend to be the most flavorful.  Serve them at room temperature to experience their full flavor.

Broccoli is a fantastic food that is a staple in households across America and a party tray essential. When selecting broccoli, look for medium green to dark purple head with brightly colored stalks. The head should be compact and firm when squeezed slightly, with no visible flowering. Remember to wash broccoli with cold water just prior to use.

Raw or cooked, cherries are an easy crowd-pleaser.  For fresh cherries, look for firm, plump, glossy cherries with bright green stems and no blemishes. Keeping the stems intact maintains freshness and offers a built-in handle.

Strawberries are a favored staple and one of the most versatile fruits. Eat them fresh, dip them in chocolate, or slice them for a cake or ice cream topper. They also make a sweet surprise in a fresh spinach salad. Strawberries should be bright red with a natural shine and fresh green cap. Berries should be plump, not mushy, with no sign of mold. Wash them in cold water with the cap on to keep the juice inside the berry.

At USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), we offer grading and verification services for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.  Visit our website to learn more about grading standards, Good Agricultural Handling Practices (GAP) and the many other ways we help ensure the quality of America’s food.

But most of all pick your favorite fruits and veggies and enjoy all the warmer weather has to offer!

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Krissy Young
May 22, 2013

Thank you for the great blog! I have been hoping to see this type of information for quite some time – either in a blog or perhaps some USDA YouTube segments from Farmers’ Markets! However the produce I really struggle with that I would appreciate to learn how to select are watermelons and avocados. Any tips that you can share would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

May 22, 2013

How about picking a good melon, both honeydew and cantaloupe? Any tips on selecting a juicy one?

Ben Weaver
May 24, 2013

@Krissy Young: Thank you for your feedback and questions on selecting seasonal produce. Watermelons are less exact when it comes to looking at the outside of the whole fruit, but we've put together some tips that may help:

<strong>Watermelons</strong> - Looking at a cut watermelon, the flesh should be firm and juicy with good red color that is free from white streaks with dark brown or black seeds. Seedless watermelons often contain small white, immature seeds—completely normal for this type. Here are a few appearance factors to look for on an uncut watermelon which may be helpful, but are not strict rules for selecting a good one to take home: the watermelon surface should be relatively smooth; the rind should have a slight dullness; the ends of the melon should be filled out and rounded; and the underside or "belly" of the melon should have a creamy color where it sat on the ground when it was grown.

<strong>Avocados</strong> - Avocados are available year round and vary greatly in color and appearance. They are best for eating when they are properly ripened, becoming slightly soft. An avocado ripens in 3 to 5 days at room temperature from a quite firm avocado, but ripening can be slowed by refrigeration. When looking for avocados to use immediately, or when checking for ripeness, look for slightly soft avocados which yield to gentle pressure on the skin. For use in a few days, buy firm fruits that do not yield to the squeeze test. Irregular light-brown markings are sometimes found on the outside skin, but have no effect on the flesh of the avocado.

@Aleksey: Great question! Here are some tips about both of the melons you are interested in:

<strong>Cantaloupes</strong> - A ripe cantaloupe will have a yellowish cast to the rind, a pleasant aroma, and yield slightly to light thumb pressure on the blossom end of the melon (the end not attached to the stem). Also the netting, or veining, should be thick, coarse, and corky, and should stand out in bold relief over some part of the surface. Then look for the skin color between the netting; yellowish-buff, yellowish-gray, or pale yellow are best.

<strong>Honeydew</strong> - The outstanding flavor characteristics of honeydews make them highly prized as a dessert fruit. Slight softening at the blossom end of the melon (the end not attached to the stem), a faint pleasant fruity aroma, and yellowish-white to creamy rind color indicates ideal ripeness.