For peak nutritional value and freshness, choose vegetables that are at their peak ripeness. Once a vegetable becomes overripe, it begins to lose its healthful benefits, ultimately decaying to a mushy science experiment in the back of your refrigerator. Different vegetables have different ripeness characteristics. To learn five general rules of thumb, as well as some specifics of popular veggies, follow these tips.
Check out the color of the vegetable. Fresh veggies should be brightly colored, and literally look mouth-watering. Dullness of color usually indicates old and overripe.
Test for limpness. On such vegetables as carrots, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, and celery, the vegetable should stand stiff with little to no flexibility as this denotes crispness. The same goes for lettuce leaves. If they look wilted, bend, or droop, they've dried out and are definitely past their prime.
Look for tight tops and heads. As some vegetables age, or if they are picked later than they should be, they continue to mature. You will see such signs of over-ripeness in broccoli and cauliflower if the florets have started to open. In asparagus, the tip will start to fan out. For cabbage and Brussels sprouts, the leaves will seem loose, not tight fitting.
Check for moisture and firmness. The skin of a vegetable should be firm and have an almost moist, even glossy appearance to it. Your touch should not leave an indentation in the skin. The words "plump" and "firm" are often used to describe a vegetable in its prime. Squashy or dry skin means the vegetable is going downhill.
Look for age spots and soft spots. Discolorations on vegetables show both bruising and areas that are starting to decay. For example, broccoli will show yellowish spots, cauliflower brown spots.
Some popular veggies "past prime" characteristics include: Bell peppers: seeds rattle when you shakeCorn: the husk looks dry or brownish, and the kernels are no longer plumpCucumbers: soft, sunken or shriveled spotsPotatoes: brown discolorations, wrinkles in skinGarlic: shriveled and soft
Tips & Warnings
- Double bag a cut onion to reduce the smell permeating your refrigerator.
- Place the ends of freshly bought asparagus in cold water to keep them crisp.
- Blanch fresh vegetables and freeze them to preserve freshness and nutritional value.
- Add overripe veggies to your compost pile or your yard waste container so they're recycled.
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