How to Select the Best Fruit

I am a fruit grower in the subtropics where I grow over 200 fruit tree species, including bananas. I am aghast at the low level of knowledge about fruit that the vast majority of 30BaDer's have, especially since their quality of life effectively depends on fruit. Any one apple is definitely NOT the same as every other apple - applies to all fruits.

For the past 20 years at least, the quality of commercially available fruit has been in alarming decline so that much of it these days is not fit to eat. The most important criteria that ascertains fruit quality is that it be picked ripe off the tree. The second most important is that it be picked ripe off the tree. The third on through to the 5th or more, most important is that it be picked ripe off the tree. Are you getting the picture? In today’s world this crucially important feature NEVER happens unless you shop at roadside stalls or farmers markets and that doesn't guarantee it either.

This is obviously recognized by some 30BaDers as they post their helpful hints on how to make bought fruit tasty and edible. However there is no way that inedible immature fruit as it8191731285?profile=original is purchased can ever remotely match the quality of tree ripened fruit both for flavour and nutrition. A couple of recent posts describe how bananas need to be black going on grey or at least covered in black blotches before they are ready to eat. That is the rotting process not a ripening process, on my farm they would be composted at that stage. I am so so dismayed that anyone should find that this is the best that bananas can be.

Next important point after tree ripening is that the tree has been carefully nurtured by ensuring that all necessary soil minerals are available to it and its army of microbes. Only after that comes the choice between organic or conventional. Produce from regular organic growers comes with reasonable assurance that the fruit is chemical and poison free but that’s about it, its quality can be and often is, worse than supermarket fruit and certainly is never picked ripe off the tree. Biodynamic growers are a cut above ordinary organic and produce from them will reliably be found better than most though again, won’t be picked ripe off the tree.

The generalisations are as follows

1. The whole fruit should have an aroma which if you sniffed it blindfolded you should know from that what it is. If not the fruit will be poor quality.

2. Soft to the touch. Frowns galore if you work your way though a tray of fruit pressing hard and bruising them. A firm full hand grip is all it takes to see if there is some ‘give’ under the skin. Doesn't guarantee good fruit, some could be months old and only just now beginning to decompose – having skipped the ripening process. Apples are a bit confusing, you virtually never find tree ripened apples unless you live in an apple growing area, what you are most likely to get early in the season are some tending to almost ripe in with many picked too early. In this case it is OK to try and dint them with your thumb, if they do dint – buy those if they already pass the smell test, if they don’t they were picked too early.

3. Re the thickness of the skin, citrus in particular. If this is found to be thinner than normal, it indicates that the trees were irrigated, probably excessively, the fruit will be low on sodium, have a low shelf life and generally leave the consumer unsatisfied after eating them. With a thicker than normal skin the opposite can be expected.   What to look for  - and avoid.

4. Avoid shiny fruit, avocados, nectarines and plums to name a few. On a tree, smooth skin fruit is shiny before it ripens and turns dull as it becomes edible. With incredible stupidity some growers polish and wax their fruit, apples in particular, to make them look even shinier. Goes to show how many decades have passed since the general public could recognize top quality fruit. This is difficult with apples as some varieties feel waxy naturally but the artificially waxed ones would not smell like an apple.

5. Don’t be too concerned with rub marks or minor marks from insects, usually a good sign in that the fruit hasn't been sprayed to the maximum with poisons.

6. Avoid fruit where part of the stem is still attached. When picked ripe the stem in most cases will stay with the tree. Incredibly again, in their zeal to get fruit to the market early as possible, many growers will cut seriously immature fruit off the tree with secateurs. Extendible picking poles usually have secateurs built in but slightly bumping the fruit with the catching basket will cause it to fall in if it's ready.

7. Any stems that ordinarily are attached, grapes cherries etc should be reddish to brown, definitely not green and never bright green. Beware though in the case of cherries, the fruit must be soft as well. If not and the stems are brown, then the cherries were picked scandalously immature, were stored for a long time and will taste terrible.

8. In other than green fruit avoid those that have green skin next to where the stem attached. Definitely immature, in the same carton the ones with coloured skin at that area usually are too but there is a slight chance they could be OK.

9. Fruit that is naturally green should lose it’s intense green colour and tend toward paler green, gold or yellowish.

10. On cutting open the fruit the seed colour is a great indicator. Stone fruit seed should be very dark brown. Apple and pear pips too or black. The lighter it’s colour the more immature it was when picked. Most varieties of watermelon should have their seeds jet black. Seedless melons? Who in their right mind buys those genetically modified misfits to nature? Yeah, nearly everyone apparently.

11. When mature the sugars are fully formed and once the fruit is broken open oxygen from the air reacts with these sugars to make them turn brown. This is a good indicator as the less mature a fruit was when picked, the longer it takes for the brown to appear, in the worst cases the brown will never appear. A tree ripened apple for example will brown within 1 minute. This NOT decomposing but an enzyme action, this brownness is entirely edible without any change in taste. There will however be some loss in nutritional content which will get greater as the air exposure time increases.

The tree goes to great lengths to protect its fruit juice from exposure to the air. If you look closely at the flesh of an orange, it comprises a multitude of little sacs containing the juice. When these sacs are broken, as when juicing, the juice immediately starts deteriorating – if you eat the orange, the intact sacs go into your mouth so oxidization doesn't happen. It follows then that if making orange juice from actual oranges (not from dehydrated, rehydrated and fortified Brazilian extract) the drink should be consumed within 15 minutes from making it and not stored in a refrigerator for a week. Buying juice in a carton? That stuff bears little resemblance in taste or nutrition to real juice. A farmer will sell his best fruit to the fresh market and anything not good enough to make that grade gets sold to the juice market. All of the left over crop goes to the juicing bin, seriously green immature fruit, half grown, the lot and even oranges are juiced with the skin on. Nothing that a few synthetic vitamins and half a tonne of sugar can’t fix.

Why has fruit quality deteriorated to such a degree and who is to blame? Everyone - consumers,  shopkeepers, wholesalers and growers.  

Growers. They have to buy a farm at prices that often reflect subdivision potential. Usually they are heavily in debt therefore their main concern is producing the maximum number of cartons at the best possible price –  no concern at all for quality fruit that will contribute to your good health. As soon as the fruit is visually acceptable it is in a box and off to market, the earlier in the season the better to get the best price. Another factor is the earlier picking dramatically reduces the danger of vermin such as bats, taking the whole crop overnight. Of course if the fruit isn’t ripe enough for bats and birds to consider it edible why on earth do we think it will be edible for us? ‘Ripe off the tree’ - never going to happen. Our erstwhile scientists are continually developing new tree species and unfortunately this often results in fruit that is visually appealing earlier and earlier in the growing cycle, this tempts growers to pick even sooner when there isn’t the slightest hint of ripeness. This fruit is destined for ripening rooms where it will be gassed to make it become soft prior to offering it to the consumer. Two chronic examples are Calypso and R2E2 mangos. Calypso in particular with its red and yellow colouring looks so visually appealing it becomes mouth wateringly attractive – till you get it home. Then you find there is no smell and it tastes like cardboard. Don’t ever buy those mangos, particularly from supermarkets, they are not fit to eat. On the other hand an R2E2 ripened on the tree is absolutely gorgeous and more than a complete meal. A fruit tree is very considerate in that it spreads its flowering over a 4 week or so period, this translates to its fruit ripening over a similar extended period. Commercial growers would therefore pick fruit from every tree 2 or 3 times in the season. Picking costs ‘eat’ into the profits of course so now there is a new development, spray the entire orchard with ethanol. Within a few days all the fruit will begin to soften thus appearing to ripen but is better described as pre-rotting, now the entire crop can be picked just once. Dollars in the bank far far outweigh any consideration toward your well being.  

Wholesalers. They are just not geared to handling ripe or almost ripe fruit. In fact they won’t buy it even if the grower offered it to them at half price. They will buy it by the truckload if it is nowhere near ripe and yet visually appealing. They will put it into cold storage and slowly release it via a ripening room to shopkeepers. Case in point, a friend visiting the tropics emailed this about mangos, “I have got friendly with the lady at the farm where I get them and when I say I want a box, she piles them on until I have a pyramid of them. And then she charges me all of $10. I get approximately 3 mangoes or more sometimes for the $1 and they are good, just too ripe to send to the market.” City people are getting a ‘raw’ deal.

Shopkeepers. They don’t want to handle ripe fruit either; they don’t want to spend the time to gently put it on display. They prefer to tip it en mass from bin to display without the danger of bruising. As well, if the fruit isn't ripe then it can withstand the constant barrage of people squeezing it to see if it is. If ripe fruit were to be sold in a shop it would have to be via a specially designed vending machine so the fruit could be seen but not touched, squeezed, bruised, ruined – in that order.  

Consumers. The biggest culprit of all. If good fruit is offered at $6 / K and rubbish is offered at $2 /K, the majority will buy the rubbish every time. The grower of good fruit doesn't make a living and the rubbish grower thrives. The cost of growing good fruit is significantly higher than growing rubbish. It is amazing that so many housewives charge down the aisles with their shopping trolley, grabbing a range of fruit with nary a thought as to whether it might be good, bad or indifferent. It’s almost ritualistic, accepting that fruit needs to be part of one’s diet - there you go, I've filled that requirement, now where are the meat, milk and fast food sections.

Just in case anyone is wondering what difference there is between fruit ripened in a ripening room and fruit ripened by the tree – it’s sad that the thought even springs to mind. On one hand there is a room full of underdeveloped fruit - with sugars not fully formed, mineral 8191731294?profile=originalbalance not in place and will be sour no matter what – being subjected to a man made synthetic gas which doesn't really start a ripening process but rather it begins a decomposing process. On the other hand aided by sunshine, the tree, by processes not fully understood, completes the formation of all the sugars, enzymes, minerals etc in the fruit which then will taste sweet, fully flavoured and be nutritionally ideal for our well being, especially so if the consumer lives in the same area where the fruit is grown. It’s a no brainer pure and simple.  

The latest round of idiocy prompted by consumers is in response to their complaints that 'apples go brown after being peeled, bitten into or cut open' (hooray for that, indicates quality apples). So science is coming to the rescue by endeavouring to breed apple trees whose fruit doesn't go brown. So what happens to the enzymes that nature put there for our benefit? Are we to get enzyme and/or sugar free apples in future, why on earth eat an apple that doesn't supply us with our essential nutrients?  

In conclusion a word on irradiated fruit, don’t ever knowingly buy that. It’s purpose is to kill off all bacteria which prevents the spread of exotic diseases, totally ruining the fruit in the process.

The false economy to buying ‘cheap’ fruit – or any food that's cheap. So Mum buys 3 Kg of
green apricots for $6. Kids come home from school and are hungry. Have an apricot, they run outside, take a bite, it’s terrible, throw it into the rose garden, run back inside, need more to eat, get an apple this time, sour, same result. Mum in desperation gives them a packet of crisps and they are out of her hair for an hour. Ha, must buy more crisps next time – too bad the kids are getting obese, they’ll grow out of it. Oh Yeah?

Another true story, repeated often, Mum buys some quality mandarins, kids home from 8191731454?profile=originalschool, eat 2 mandarins and never saw them again for 3 hours. Mum reflects on when she bought supermarket mandarins, kids ate 4 each and were back in ½ an hour for more. No one teaches that in home economics.

Re bananas, because of the different fruit to skin percentage, paying $5/Kg for a good quality mature banana means the edible fruit costs $7.42/Kg whereas paying $3.50/Kg  for the immature works out dearer at $7.45/kg for it's edible part. Same applies to many other fruits. to view pictures of good fruit and what to look out for.

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  • This is an amazing post, thank you so much!

  • Great post, thank you for sharing!

  • Hi Malcolm:

    Thanks for the in-depth article on fruit.  In North America it is really difficult to find even half-decent fruit.  At least half of the year the fruit is crap - especially if it has been shipped large distances (Mexico, Guatamala, etc.)  I agree that the general consumer who is largely ignorant of why ripe fruit is important is often to blame for the demand of poor quality fruit.  I have often stopped to chat with a consumer who is buying green bananas or papayas, why they should be looking for spotted bananas at the very least, or papayas that are yellow or golden orange, but usually to no avail.  Most stores here are forced to throw out the ripe bananas (or greatly reduce them for sale) - meanwhile the general public gobbles up the green bananas, then complain that they don't eat many bananas because they give them a belly full.  Duh, that will happen if you try to eat raw starches that haven't been ripened properly to form largely simple sugars! 

    Thanks for the link to your website - really neat and useful information on there.

    • I always thought I didn't like apples all that much, until I moved north, where I live by some pick-your-own apple orchards.  Toooooootally different taste & texture!  I am not sensitive to chemicals, but the wax coating on store-bought apples always tasted nasty to me, so I avoided them, especially since I grew up around starfruit, which is like a better-tasting apple anyway!

  • Wow great article. I learned so much! Thank you for sharing

    • You're welcome. The article is overdue for an update especially in regard to Pawpaws, one of the truly most suited fruits for mankind - and one of the most ruined by commercialization.

  • :) thanks for posting!

    • You're welcome, hope it was useful in understanding our food situation. You may find this interesting too, it's about the 5 essentials of existence.

  • While rather depressing that this is the reality, thank you for the excellent, useful information.

    • Thanks for your comments. I read your profile and I understand the struggle you must be having in trying to do the best you can while farmers grow produce with less and less quality. You MUST give up dairy completely and forever including the 'just this once won't hurt' events.

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