Unfortunately, not all fruits and vegetables offer easily visible signs that they’re ripe and ready for tonight’s dinner.
Sometimes a squeeze yields an answer. Other times—such as with pumpkins, watermelons and corn—it’s harder to tell if they’re ripe or not.
We asked around among our ATK test cook colleagues, as well as other reputable sources, to tell us what to look for when choosing produce that’s ready for consumption.
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1. Avocados: Firmly squeezing an avocado isn’t the best way to judge ripeness as they don’t ripen uniformly. Since avocados ripen first at the stem end down to the bottom of the fruit, gently press the larger round end, opposite the nub, to tell if it’s fully ripe.
2. Corn: Look for plump ears with green, pliable husks that are closely wrapped around the ear. Also look for clean pale golden or white silk extending from the tops (the more silk, the better, since it is an indicator of the number of kernels). Gently press on the kernels through the husk; they should feel tightly packed, plump, and firm, with no spots where it feels like there’s an absence of kernels.
Cast-Iron Skillet Corn DipA party hit inspired by a classic Mexican dish.
3. Eggplant: Look for eggplants that are firm, glossy, and without blemishes. The purple varieties should be a deep, rich color, and other varieties should be bright in whatever color they happen to be. A ripe eggplant will feel heavy for its size.
4. Figs: Tom Conway of Tall Clover Farm on Vashon Island, Washington, notes that unlike many fruits, the color of a fig isn’t a reliable indicator of ripeness. To tell if a fig is ripe, it will be fairly heavy for its size, and the skin will appear “dewy, perhaps even with slight tears in the outer layers,” Conway told America’s Test Kitchen. “[This shows] it can barely hold its sugary contents!”
5. Garlic: Look for garlic heads with no signs of sprouting or black spots and not much garlic aroma. Squeeze the head in your hand. It should be firm and solid; if you feel hollow skins where cloves should be or if the head feels spongy or rubbery, pass it up. (Even if the garlic has sprouted, you can still eat it.)
6. Mangos: According to the National Mango Board, “a ripe mango will give slightly, a medium-ripe mango will be somewhat firm, and an unripe mango will be very firm to the touch.” Mangoes can be enjoyed at all levels of ripeness, though, as the flavor ranges from sour-tart for unripe mangos to naturally sweet for ripe mangos.
7. Potatoes: Look for firm spuds that are free of green spots, sprouts, cracks, and other blemishes. We generally prefer to buy loose potatoes (instead of in bulk packaging) so that we can see what we are getting. Stay away from potatoes sold in plastic bags as those storage conditions can cause them to sprout and rot.
Air-Fryer Crispy Baked Potato FansThis impressive potato dish—believed to have originated in Sweden at the Hasselbacken restaurant—is surprisingly easy to prepare.
8. Pumpkins: According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a ripe pumpkin’s skin will be a “deep, solid color (orange for most varieties),” and have a firm stem. “Thump the pumpkin with a finger; the rind will feel hard and sound hollow,” it suggests. “Press a fingernail into the pumpkin’s skin; if it resists puncture, it is ripe.”
9. Squash: No matter the variety, winter squash should feel very hard; any soft spots are an indication that the squash has been mishandled. Squash should also feel heavy for its size, a sign that the flesh inside is moist and ripe.
10. Watermelon: As watermelons grow, the side of the fruit that sits on the ground sometimes develops a yellowish patch, which is a good indicator of ripeness. If you’re able to, hold the melon in one hand, take the other hand and knock on the side of it (like you’re knocking on a door); if you feel reverberant, hollow vibrations, it’s likely ripe.