Cooking Tips

The 8 Fruits and Vegetables You Really Should Smell Before Buying

Your nose knows.

Published Sept. 5, 2023.

Shopping for produce can be a game of chance. Who among us hasn’t picked up a seemingly ripe plum or watermelon at the market only to be disappointed upon cutting it open later?

The truth is, many fruits and vegetables don’t offer any easy visual indicators that they’re perfectly ripe. So it’s best to use your other senses to help you gather information. Listen to your watermelons; squeeze your plums—and while you’re at it, give them a sniff too. 

Many fruits and vegetables, especially climacteric fruits (that is, fruits that continue to ripen once harvested), produce aromas when they ripen that can be detected externally. Aroma can also provide hints that a food is past its prime or bruised or damaged. 

With some help from the produce experts at the Philadelphia wholesaler and distributor John Vena Inc. Specialty Produce, we’ve devised a list of eight foods you should be sure to smell before you buy. 

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Peaches, Plums, and Nectarines 

Anyone who has gone peach-picking knows that stone fruits produce a delightfully floral, sweet aroma. If you’re trying to pick a perfectly ripe stone fruit at your farmers’ market, look out for this aroma, combined with a slightly softened texture. 

“If a peach has a light give and feels ripe, but you can’t smell a thing, be wary,” Emily Kohlhas, John Vena’s director of marketing, wrote to us in an e-mail. “If it feels ripe and smells good—that’s a good sign.”


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When you’re shopping for pineapple, smell is a great indicator of ripeness. When you’ve found a specimen that looks promising, pick it up and sniff its base. It should smell noticeably bright, sweet, and tropical.


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If you’re looking for a cantaloupe to eat in the next day or two, you’ll want one that is producing a strong aroma. Kohlhas’s tip? Skip the supermarket and head to the farmers’ market.

“A small-scale market grower is much more likely to pick fruit closer to full maturity,” she explained. “That’s where you’ll find cantaloupes with that fruity-sweet scent that washes over you from yards away.” 


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Onions, Shallots, and Garlic

A good head of garlic should smell like . . . nothing. 

Alliums are one case in which aroma is a red flag. The pungent taste and aroma of onions, shallots, and garlic is created when cell walls are damaged. That allows an enzyme to act on a sulfur-containing compound and create a new compound called allicin. 

If a head of garlic at the store smells like garlic, that means it’s been damaged: perhaps dropped on the ground or smashed into another head. And damaged alliums are well on their way to spoiling. So if the onion in your cart smells oniony, swap it out for another if you want it to last. 


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