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How can I Tell When Fruit is Ripe?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Picking out ripe fruit is an art form, and one which you can perfect with practice. Once you've tasted perfectly ripe fruit, you can understand why seeking it out is worth the effort. The rich flavor, superior texture, and intoxicating aroma when it is perfectly ripe can elevate a meal from ordinary to delicious, whether it is being eaten plain, used in a salad, or incorporated into a dessert. Depending on the fruit, there are a few general rules to help pick a ripe piece, but if you run into trouble, talk with your produce seller to get recommendations.

Fruit undergoes a series of changes as it ripens which have a profound impact on the flavor. If allowed to ripen all the way, fruit will grow sweet, losing acidity, and it will also get juicy, deepen in color, and start to emit a rich aroma: this is why it is important to examine it in room temperature conditions. Chilled produce prevents you from smelling the fruit for ripeness. In general, you should look for pieces that are even in color and texture and have a delicious odor. The color should be bright and full, with no hints of green or white unless the fruit naturally has these colors. With varieties like melons, a discolored area indicates where it rested on the ground, which also happens to be the sweetest and most delicious part of the fruit.

Fruit can be divided into two basic categories. Some types are able to ripen off the parent plant, especially when stored with bananas, which emit ripening agents. Other types cannot ripen off the parent plant, meaning that they must be vine or tree ripened. These fruits tend to be much more costly, as transporting delicate ripe pieces without damaging them is difficult.

Berries, citrus, cherries, dates, and grapes are all considered non-climacteric fruits. This means that once they are picked, they will not ripen any further, because the parent tree provides the ripening agents and sugars that sweeten them. When selecting these types in the market, look for plump, juicy, well scented specimens, because what you see is what you will get. Store them with care, and plan on eating them within a few days.

Climacteric fruits will ripen off the parent plant, and in the case of the avocado, they must be picked in order to ripen. Peaches, bananas, apples, melons, plums, persimmons, and tropical fruits will all ripen off the vine. Tropical species like mangoes, papayas, cherimoyas, and kiwis will also grow sweeter off the plant, but be aware that the aroma may never fully develop, because the scent compounds come from the plant it grows on. These fruits can be picked with less care than non-climacteric fruits, although you should select mature, evenly textured, firm specimens. They are ripe when the color is even, and the texture is yielding but not mushy. In the case of melons, look for those that are firm but not hard, with a rich aroma.

In the case of the avocado, buying green fruits is actually advised, because you can store them under refrigeration and ripen them as needed. Set an avocado out at room temperature to ripen, watching the color change from green to deep black. It is ripe when the knobbly skin is black and the flesh is slightly yielding to the touch.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Kristee — On Oct 22, 2012

My husband says that when a pineapple is ripe, you can pull the center leaf spike out of the top easily. Personally, I go by the smell, though.

Some ripe pineapples that we've picked out using his method have been too ripe. I didn't know this until I cut them open and saw all the brown spots and smelled the aroma of spoiled fruit.

I always sniff the bottom of the pineapple before buying it. If the smell is sweet and strong without being overpowering or smelling rotten, then the pineapple is perfect. If it smells a bit green, I leave it alone.

By wavy58 — On Oct 21, 2012

Bananas let you know when they are ripe, and it is more obvious than with any other fruit. All the green leaves the peel, and it becomes covered in brown freckles.

Once a banana has a few freckles, it will taste sweet. If it has more than a few, it will taste extremely sweet, and if some of the freckles have started to merge to form big brown spots, it might just be too sweet.

I always buy a few bananas that are really green, a few that are partially green, and some that are totally yellow. This way, I can eat the ripe ones right away and let the others ripen slowly so that I can have a banana every day.

By healthy4life — On Oct 21, 2012

@orangey03 – It's definitely easy to tell when a peach is ripe. It will be soft but not mushy. If it's still firm, don't pick it yet.

Apples are ripe when they turn red, but in the case of apples grown at home on your own tree, it can be a bit more challenging to tell. Many homegrown apples are streaked with green, yellow, and red, so the only real way to tell if they are ready is to bite into them.

By orangey03 — On Oct 20, 2012

I am considering growing a fruit tree in my yard. My neighbor has some apple trees and peach trees, and she has offered to give me some seed to start my own tree.

I only have room for one tree, though. Which kind of fruit can you tell has reach ripeness easier? I have no experience picking out apples or peaches, so I don't know what to do here.

By GardenTurtle — On Aug 27, 2010

@cmsmith10: It is often very hard to tell when a watermelon is ripe. Besides the thump, there are other ways to tell when a watermelon is ripe.

Pay attention to the color on the top of the melon. When there is little contrast between the stripes, the watermelon is usually ripe.

Also, look at the spot on the melon where it was rested on the ground. If the color is a yellow, yellow-white, or cream-yellow, it should be ripe. If the color is a white or pale-green, it is probably not ripe.

By SnowyWinter — On Aug 27, 2010

@cmsmith10: From what I understand, the watermelon, if ripe, will sound hollow when thumped. You really have to have a good ear to hear the difference in the sound of the melon.

An unripe melon will have a tighter sound. I have never been able to distinguish a ripe melon that way. I guess it is an acquired skill.

By cmsmith10 — On Aug 27, 2010

Often, when I am shopping for fruits and vegetables, I see people thumping watermelons. I asked a man why he did that and he said that's how you tell if it's ripe. Why is that?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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