We all know that adding more fruits and vegetables to our diets is essential, but it can be difficult identifying ripe produce at the grocery store. Some of our favourite fruits and vegetables can be the toughest to figure out.

Here’s a quick guide to picking some popular summer fruits and vegetables from the grocery store or farmer’s market.

Smell is vital when picking a pineapple. A ripe pineapple smells sweet, an overripe pineapple has a vinegary smell and an unripe pineapple doesn’t smell like anything at all. You can also try pulling out one of the leaves from the top of the pineapple. If it comes free easily, the pineapple is likely ripe–if it’s challenging to yank free, you’ll want to choose another one.

It's the smell and feel that can identify a ripe cantaloupe. Living up to its name of muskmelon, it should smell musky and sweet, and you should be able to make a slight indent with your thumb when pressing on the bottom of the melon. Another telltale sign of a ripe cantaloupe is that it feels heavier than it looks.

As with lots of fresh produce, the most significant indicator of a ripe strawberry is the smell. Sure, you should look for red berries–green and white around the top indicate they are underripe–but don’t waste your time searching for a batch of perfectly conical and photo-worthy strawberries. Instead, put your berries through the sniff test–good strawberries will smell sweet and should never give off even a hint of mould or fermentation.

Watermelons might be the toughest fruit to determine ripeness without actually cutting it open and tasting it. Unlike apples and bananas, they don’t ripen once picked, so your choice matters more. Look for the following signs for a better chance at finding the right watermelon:

  • Find the ‘field spot,’ the part of the melon that rests on the ground while growing. Look for a creamy yellow colour–white field spots indicate an unripe melon
  • Ripe melons will feel relatively heavy to lift
  • It should sound hollow when you tap the outside
  • A marred (but not broken) surface from bug bites–insects typically try to eat ripe fruit

The best way to check for ripe corn is to peel back the husk and check for bright, plump yellow-and-white kernels, but you’re likely to catch some sideways glances at the store if you do this. Instead, look for a bright green husk that is wrapped tightly against the cob. The tassels sticking out the top of the husk should be brown and sticky, not dry or black. Ripe ears of corn will be nicely rounded and full of kernels, not pointed, at the blunt end.

If you’re buying more than one avocado, it’s best to buy a few at different stages of ripeness. Ripe avocadoes (ready to eat immediately) will have a darker, almost black colour and should yield to firm, gentle pressure. Overripe avocadoes will feel soft and mushy, and the area underneath the stem will be brown, rather than a healthy green colour. Unripe avocadoes will be greener in colour and will be firm to touch.

Fun fact: to ripen avocadoes quicker, place them on your countertop in a brown paper bag along with a banana and tomato. Check out this Kitchen Hacks: Avocado Edition video!

Zucchini is an excellent addition to almost any summer meal. When searching for this green member of the squash family, look for a uniform green colour along the entire zucchini. Look for a reasonably firm zucchini and try to avoid marring or bruising–once the skin is broken, squashes tend to spoil rapidly. Different sizes of zucchinis will taste different, so try multiple sizes to see what you prefer.

When buying tomatoes, you can start by looking for bruises or blemishes on the exterior–the best ones will be blemish-free and will be a deep, bright red colour with a bit of shine. Give the tomato a slight squeeze–it should withstand pressure but have a little bit of give. Ripe tomatoes will give off a strong, earthy smell near the stem and feel denser; unripe tomatoes will feel too light and have relatively little-to-no smell.