5@5 - How to eat fruit at the peak of ripeness
August 15th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

In case you couldn't tell by our recent tomato sandwich and okra benders, the time is ripe to enjoy the waning days of the summer garden's bounty - and you can bet your (and Mario Batali's) bottom dollar we're going to take advantage of it.

So - how can you tell if that peach really is a perfect pick without taking a bite? Chris Mittelstaedt, founder and CEO of The FruitGuys, has squeezed his way into the 5@5 hot seat with a few produce pointers.

Five Tips on How to Eat Fruit at the Peak of Ripeness: Chris Mittelstaedt

Fruit ripening can be divided into two separate categories. Climacteric fruits are those that can ripen after being harvested (ex: pears, peaches, bananas). Non-climacteric fruits are those that need to stay on the plant to get their full dose of sugar (ex: citrus and some berries).

1. Wrinkly is the new black
"We need to get back to fruit fashion basics this fall and remember that for some fruits being wrinkly is the height of style. What I call the Shar-Peis of the fruit world are wonderful in their wrinkly garb: first, the Satsuma mandarin. This gorgeous and wrinkly citrus is perfect when it feels soft to the touch and full of air. The skin zips off cleanly, the fruit inside is sweet and refreshing, and it has no seeds.

The passionfruit is another often-misunderstood fruit. This egg-shaped purple wonder may look nice when it’s glossy and smooth, but it’s not ripe until it wrinkles up. When you can smell its unique bubblegum-like sweetness and the skin is really shriveled, then cut the hemisphere into two 'cups' and scoop out the seeds and juice inside with a spoon and enjoy."

2. Pears are introverts
"We all have friends that either derive their energy from inside, out or from the outside, in. Why should fruit be any different? The pear for example ripens from the inside out (an introvert if there was one).

While shy and astringent at first, if you leave it out at room temperature, it will soften and show you signs as to when it’s ripe. It is important to test the pear by gripping it and applying pressure with your thumb and finger. If it yields slightly to the touch on the outside then it will be perfect on the inside.

Some pears (like the green Bartlett for example) will show you a change in color from a green to a yellow tint as they ripen as well."

3. Peaches get cold feet: The best peaches of the year are usually Gemini or Cancers
"The height of their season being June to August, depending on location and latitude. That means that peaches are pure summer fruit and they don't like the cold. Peaches are affected badly by what is called the 'temperature killing zone' between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many people who buy fruit will put their peaches into the refrigerator not realizing that they are storing these delicate wonders in exactly the temperature that will turn them to brown mush.

It's best to buy peaches fresh and leave them in a shaded space at room temperature for proper ripening. When they give slightly to gentle pressure and smell delicious, they are ready to eat."

4. Dude, is your green grape my blue?
"In a world of differing taste buds and opinions, a fruit’s color can give hints to taste and ripeness. Table grapes are generally picked ready to eat - meaning that if you see them harvested they should be ripe and ready to go. That said, in the case of the green Thompson grapes, a few factors such as where you are in the season, how long the grape cluster has been allowed to hang on the vine and what kinds of storage conditions after harvest will affect its taste.

Here is a simple visual cue that will allow you to pick this green grape with greater confidence according to your preference: If the grape color is more of a spring green then the taste will have a fresh but slightly tart bite to it. The skin may also be thicker in this case.

Thompson grapes that have a straw colored or even slightly brown hue to them will be softer and have a flavor that is reminiscent of caramelized sugar. The grape in this form may not look pretty but it sure tastes great."

5. Gassy apples? That's ripe up a banana's alley!
"Climacteric fruits ripen faster when exposed to ethylene gas. This is because ethylene is a catalyst that helps the fruit convert its stored starches to sugars more quickly. Have you ever heard that green bananas will ripen faster if you put them in bag with fresh apples? It's true - fresh apples give off ethylene gas that hastens the ripening of the bananas.

Commercial banana growers expose their fruit to ethylene gas in ripening rooms to get them the right shade of yellow. Peaches, nectarines, and pears will also ripen faster when exposed to this gas.

So how do you know when a banana is at the peak of its ripeness? Color is really key, but your taste buds hold the final say. There are six classified levels of banana ripening. Stages 1 through 4 are too astringent to eat but stage 5 (yellow with green tips) will provide the eater with a balance of both sugar and starch. Stage 6 (all yellow) is considered fully ripe.

Once the banana starts to get brown spots you'll notice that the skin thins as more starch is converted to sugar. Bottom line, be the banana and mind-meld the experience of color, texture and taste to know exactly what stage of ripening you like best."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Ingredients • Scorpacciata • Think

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. inninout

    I prefer very firm fruit. Banana's aren't just great for eating.

    November 28, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  2. Ani

    I prefer tart bananas, so I like them as green as possible. I would love to know a way of slowing the process down. Ha ha ha.

    August 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  3. RHCtraveler

    Bananas are the only fruit that I am aware of that ripen off the tree. Peaches just get soft and mushy. This article is just trying to justify the horrible practice of picking fruit green, because it doesn't damage as much, and then trying to pass it off as ripe. Best bet is to buy local and, ideally, pick your own.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Miss Demeanor

      In your 'ideal' world, only folks who can buy a home in Central America have a 'right' to eat bananas. I hope you learn, before you vote many more times, that simple solutions should remain in Glenda Beck's books. Go sit on a banana.

      November 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  4. mercedes


    August 16, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  5. mercedes

    Good hint

    August 16, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  6. expat5yrs

    I was hoping this article would give some hints about picking out melons.

    August 16, 2011 at 5:48 am |
    • soso

      Picking out melons... Go to any southeastern beach in the summer. It won't take long to find perfect melons if you don't get distracted by Georgia peaches...

      November 28, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  7. raiza r. agra

    I love all yellow banana. The taste excites my buds. I don't like sandy apples.But my favorite are citrus fruits.It perk my digestive system that keeps me going all day long.

    August 16, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  8. Biff

    I met a fruit in the restroom once. He was checking out my banana.

    August 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Inspector Gadget

      That was me. I prefer bananas that require batteries and are bigger than my pinky.

      August 16, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  9. KeithFL

    Other than actually tasting, you have to use your other senses. The closest to taste of the senses is smell. Your nose knows better than your eyes or fingers

    Smell the stem end of any fruit (especially melons) and compare to others in the bin and if the fruit smells ripe, it will taste ripe.

    August 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  10. Brandon

    The best way to tell if the fruit is ripe is to taste it. If it's grapes, then just pull one off and try it. If it's a pear or something bigger then ask the grocer to cut one up and let you try it, they almost always will do it if you ask. One thing I completely agree with in the article is that we have really traded flavor for looks. I haven't had one perfectly round red tomato from a grocery store that tastes anything close to the less perfect looking heirloom tomatoes that you can get at farmers markets. Strawberries are also generally a dud at the grocery store. They are so inferior to the heirloom varieties that you can get at farmers markets that they shouldn't even be considered the same fruit. And if you want the best tasting apples, then get pink ladies off the tree from an orchard. They are awesome.

    August 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  11. Apple

    Best fruit is at the Gay parade.

    August 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Carmen Miranda

      Wanna see my Banana ?

      August 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  12. Minorkle

    Si desea que las manzanas mejor degustación, se adhieren a compras de junio a octubre (en general). Dependiendo de la variedad, esto es el rango de la cosecha en Estados Unidos. La mejor apuesta es producir siempre compras en los mercados de los agricultores locales o a la tienda de los carniceros que específicamente indican que está llevando local. Estas manzanas son los más frescos y no son objeto de ceras u otros métodos de preservar y proteger los frutos que, en mi opinión, afectan negativamente el sabor de la fruta. Además, estas manzanas (en los mercados de los agricultores sólo) es más probable que han madurado en su totalidad en el árbol y por lo tanto tienen un mayor contenido de azúcar. Para los amantes de manzanas azucaradas dulces, a menudo es consecuencia de 'núcleo de agua' o ' azúcar '. Esto es ideal para comer, pero horrible para almacenamiento a largo plazo de manzanas como aumenta su madurez y como resultado sobremaduración. Por ello, nunca tendrá como dulce una manzana en las principales tiendas de comestibles como será en los mercados de los agricultores locales o directamente de la explotación si eres tan afortunado. Para cualquier manzana de Washington que encontrar en las estanterías en el invierno o primavera, estas manzanas son de la más reciente cosecha que literalmente puede ser desde muchos meses antes. Estas manzanas se han mantenido tan frescas como la posible utilización de las instalaciones de almacenamiento en frío que literalmente quitar casi el 100% del oxígeno de las unidades de almacenamiento. Efectivamente esto prolonga la vida de apple. Lo malo es que con la edad y con la posterior visualización de estas manzanas en bandejas de temperatura en el centro de tiendas de abarrotes, nunca son como cuando recién elegido. Si compra estas manzanas fuera de temporada, compruebe que elegir a los que se han mantenido frías, si es posible y sin duda ponerlos de nuevo en la nevera lo antes posible.
    Es lamentable, pero con el tiempo el consumidor ha convertido en tan intensamente con la manzana busca 'perfecta', que hemos agotado las manzanas con sabor increíble para los que son perfectamente en color o en forma. Todavía hay un montón de grandes manzanas por ahí, pero hasta que haya había no madurado la posibilidad de comer una manzana hasta tarde en la temporada directamente desde el árbol, probablemente nunca has experimentado cómo fantástico un apple, incluso una red delicious, puede ser!

    August 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • T-Luv

      I see you didnt get the memo, we speak english

      August 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
      • Tengo

        Grammatically correct English, on the other hand, appears to be optional.

        August 16, 2011 at 1:04 am |
      • ja

        Do as I say, not as I do? I doubt you know that, at one time, our fearless politicians considered making German our official language... which is surprising, considering you sound like a member of the Grammar Gestapo.

        November 28, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  13. WashingtonAppleFarmChic

    If you want the best tasting apples, stick to purchasing them from June-October (in general). Depending on the variety, this is the range of harvest in the US. The best bet is to always shop at local farmer's markets or to shop at those grocers who specifically indicate that they're carrying local produce. These apples are the freshest and are not subjected to waxes or other methods of preserving/protecting the fruits that, in my opinion, negatively affect the flavor of the fruit. Also, these apples (at farmer's markets only) are more likely to have ripened in full on the tree and therefore have a higher sugar content. For those who love sugary-sweet apples, this is often a result of 'water core' or 'sugar core'. This is great for eating, but horrible for long-term storage of apples as it increases its maturity and results in over-ripening. For that reason, you will never have as sweet an apple in the major grocery stores as you will in local farmer's markets or directly from the farm if you're so lucky. For any Washington apple you find on the shelves in the winter or spring, these apples are from the most recent harvest which can literally be from many months before. These apples have been kept as fresh as possible using cold storage facilities that literally remove almost 100% of the oxygen from the storage units. This effectively prolongs the apple's shelf life. The downside is that with age, and with the subsequent displaying of these apples in room temperature bins in the middle of grocery stores, they are never as good as when freshly picked. If you do purchase these apples out of season, make sure to choose those that have been kept cool, if possible, and definitely put them back into your fridge as quickly as possible.
    It's unfortunate, but over time the consumer has become so enamoured with the 'perfect' looking apple, that we've sold out those apples with amazing flavor for ones that are perfectly colored or shaped. There are still plenty of great apples out there, but until you've had the chance to eat an apple ripened late into the season directly from the tree, you've probably never experienced how fantastic an apple, even a red delicious, can be!

    August 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • NORMAJEAN123


      August 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
      • Then you'll really be impressed to see it in Russian!--Bing Translator

        Если вы хотите быть лучше дегустации яблоки, придерживаться покупки с июня по октябрь (в целом). В зависимости от разновидности это диапазон урожай в Соединенных Штатах Америки. Лучше всего всегда производят покупки в местных фермеров рынки или в хранилище мясников, кто конкретно указать это время местные. Эти яблоки являются более фрески и не являются предметом парафинами или другие методы сохранения и защиты плодов, которые, по моему мнению, негативно сказываются на вкус плода. Кроме того, эти яблоки (только рынки фермеров), скорее всего, достигли в их совокупности в дереве и поэтому имеют более высокое содержание сахара. Для любителей приторный сладкие яблоки это часто из-за «воды сердце» или «сахара». Это идеально подходит для еды, но ужасно для хранения в долгосрочной перспективе блоков как это повышает его зрелости и в результате over-ripening. По этой причине он никогда не будет иметь как сладкий, Apple на крупных продуктовых магазинах будет на рынках местных фермеров или непосредственно из операции, если ты так повезло. На любой блок Вашингтон найти на полках в зимой или весной, эти яблоки являются последний урожай, который может быть в буквальном смысле много месяцев до. Эти яблоки остались как прохладно, как возможного использования холодных складов, буквально удалены почти 100% кислорода единиц хранения. Это эффективно продлевает жизнь apple. Проблема заключается в том, что с возрастом и с последующим просмотром эти яблоки в лотки температуры в центре продуктовых магазинов, они никогда не как вновь избранный. Если вы покупаете эти яблоки некстати, флажок выбрать, которые оставались здорово, если это возможно и конечно же положить их обратно в холодильник как можно скорее.
        Это прискорбно, но со временем потребитель переоборудован в столь интенсивно с Apple ищет 'отлично', что мы исчерпали яблоки вкус невероятные для которых они составляют идеально в цвет или форму. Есть еще много большой яблоки вне там, но до этого момента вы не созрел возможность съесть яблоко до тех пор пока в конце сезона непосредственно из дерева, вероятно, никогда не вы испытывали как фантастический яблоко, включая красный, вкусно, вы можете быть!

        August 16, 2011 at 7:20 am |
        • thanks for sharing

          I must spend too much time looking at Bing's gorgeous pictures.... didn't know Bing translates. Cool... But I'm betting your text isn't something the censors would like...

          November 28, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Kim

      I always found there's a serious difference between "eating apples" and "pie apples". Pie apples aren't as sweet and often look like crud - who cares how bruised they are? Eating apples don't have to look perfect, but you want to avoid bruises.

      I agree that people are fascinated by "perfect-looking" apples too much - the same goes for other fruit and veggies - that we often miss the best-tasting stuff.

      Since I've moved to Asia, I've noted with annoyance that most apples here are VERY sweet and not so good for pies. I have to massively cut down the sugar in any recipe to get a pie that doesn't kill me with sweetness. Sometimes the apples are so potently sweet I can't eat them. And people complain that American sweets are too sweet!!! I suppose some of my tastes come from the fact that I grew up in a region that grew lots of apples and was used to farmer's market apples that varied wildly in sweetness - and made really good pies. I also miss cheap apples :( Even in China the apples were often more expensive than they were stateside in August!

      August 16, 2011 at 7:47 am |
      • WashingtonAppleFarmChic

        Depending where in Asia you're located, there's a good chance that the apples you're seeing in the markets are from the US (Washington being the top exporter of apples). Our apple farming operation is fairly large and that's a significant market for us. Though they are shipped looking and tasting great; distance, time, and heat don't do apples any favors. China is also a large producer and it appears their apple produce is far inferior to the quality you will find here. Perhaps that's what you're experiencing. For a time, and maybe they still are, they were trying to export apples with the 'Made in Washington' label.
        The major difference between the best eating and pie applies tends to be the texture and general flavor. The best apples for pies are ones like Jonagold, Jonathan, Fuji, and Granny Smith. Mixing them together is even better as it's a good mix of sweet/tart. They also manage to hold up to the cooking and don't turn to mush.

        August 16, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  14. Dewarsonrx

    Not a bad primer on fruit purchase.

    I'll add that several fruits ripen at the stem end first. So if you feel the stem end of an avocado or canteloupe, it should yeild to pressure if it is ripe.

    Also as some fruit ripen, such as citrus, they feel 'heavy for their weight'. When starches convert to sugar and a fruit ripens, it becomes more dense. So a ripe fruit will feel heavier than an unripe one assuming that they are the same volume.

    August 15, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
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