Produce Department

Today's supermarkets offer a great variety of fresh fruits and vegetables—about three hundred different types of produce in the average store. See chapter 9 for

Leeks: clean, white bottoms and crisp, fresh-looking green tops.

Mushrooms: blemish-free mushrooms without slimy spots or signs of decay. Okra: small to medium pods that are deep green and free of blemishes. Pods should snap or puncture easily with slight pressure. Onions: green onions with crisp, bright green tops and clean white bottoms. Choose firm, dry onions with brittle outer skin, avoiding those with sprouting green shoots or dark spots. Parsnips: small to medium, smooth, firm, and well shaped. Avoid large roots because they may have a woody core. Peas: small, plump, bright green pods that are firm, crisp, and well filled. Peppers: bright, glossy, firm, and well shaped. Avoid those with soft spots or gashes. Potatoes: firm, smooth, with no wrinkles, sprouts, cracks, bruises, decay, or bitter green areas (caused by exposure to light). Rutabagas: small to medium, smooth, firm, and heavy for their size.

Salad greens: crisp, deeply colored leaves free of brown spots, yellowed leaves, and decay. Sprouts: crisp buds still attached. Summer squash: yellow squash and zucchini of medium size with firm, smooth, glossy, tender skin. Squash should be heavy for their size. Sweet potatoes and yams: firm, well shaped, with bright, uniformly colored skin. Tomatoes: smooth, well formed, firm, not hard. Turnips: firm, smooth, small to medium size, that are heavy for their size. Winter squash: hard, thick-shelled.

Source: Adapted from M. J. Smith, The Miracle Foods Cookbook (Minneapolis: Chronimed Publishing, 1995). This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

new fruits and vegetables you might try. Because fruit and vegetables are most nutritious and best-tasting at their peak quality, shop with savvy.

  • Check the produce department. Besides being clean, organized, and appealing, fresh fruits and vegetables should be held at a proper temperature. Most are chilled; a fine mist helps keep greens crisp; being soggy promotes growth of mold or rot.
  • For fresh fruits, consider ripeness. Some fruits— for example, avocados, bananas, pears, peaches, pineapples—can ripen after picking. If you're buying fruits to eat today, buy ripe. If you don't plan to eat them until later in the week, buy fruits that aren't yet ripe. Tip: To hasten the ripening of some fruits such as pears and peaches, put them in a loosely closed paper bag at room temperature.
  • Buy the amount you need. Even when properly stored, produce is perishable. Produce at peak quality contains the most nutrients.
  • Look for nutrition information. If packaged, the label on produce may carry Nutrition Facts. If not, check for a poster or a pamphlet with this information nearby. Ask the store manager to provide this information if it's not available. For fruits and vegetables that are good sources of beta carotene (which forms vitamin A), vitamin C, potassium, folate, and fiber, see "Produce 'Package'" in the Appendices.
  • Go for a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. Rather than just the old standbys, add a new fruit or vegetable to your shopping cart each week or two; try some that are locally grown. The store may have preparation and handling tips for unfamiliar produce.

Explore different varieties of a familiar food. For example, try different apples: perhaps Cortland, Granny Smith, Newtown Pippin, and Rome Beauty. Or choose one of each variety of plums: perhaps Laroda, Queen Ann, Santa Rosa, and Wickson.

• Look for signs of quality. Bruised or wilted produce suggests that it hasn't been handled properly or that it's past its peak. Some nutrients may be lost as a result.

Refer to the chart "Shopping for Freshness!" earlier in this chapter for signs of quality in commonly eaten fruits and vegetables.

  • For flavor, buy small. Small fruit is often sweeter than larger pieces of the same fruit.
  • Handle fresh fruits and vegetables gently. Damage and bruising hasten spoilage. Place produce in the shopping cart where it won't get bruised. At the checkout, make sure produce is packed on top or in separate bags.
  • Pick up prewashed bags of salad greens, sliced stir-fry veggies, precut fruit, and packaged baby carrots and celery sticks for quick vegetables and fruit. Choose packaged fruit, such as melon and pineapple, without added sugars.
  • Consider choosing your own produce rather than buying it prepackaged. In that way you can examine and pick out items at their peak of quality.
  • Look for other items in the produce department, such as fresh herbs, herbs in jars, and sun-dried tomatoes. Fresh herbs are often prepackaged; choose those that look fresh, not wilted. Dried fruits are a non-perishable option, often sold in the produce department; they supply the same nutrients as fresh fruit. If you're sensitive to sulfites, check the label; sulfites prevent browning in many dried fruits.
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