Woman eating avocado

How to tell when fruit is ripe

We pinch, punch and pluck fruits to determine whether they're ripe, but there are more accurate ways to tell when your favorite fruit is at its sweetest.

Nothing compares to the flavor and texture of a perfectly ripe piece of fruit. That's why it's worth the effort to learn how to tell when fruit is at its peak.

Two types of fruit

Chris Mittelstaedt, founder and CEO of The FruitGuys, explains that fruits fall into one of two categories:

  • Climacteric fruits: These are fruits that can ripen after being harvested. This category includes pears, peaches, apples and bananas, for example. You may have to ripen them at home.
  • Non-climacteric fruits: These fruits — such as citrus and some berries — need to stay on the plant to get their full dose of sugar. They should be ready to eat when you buy them.

Expert tip

Use your strong sense of smell first. Fresh fruits tend to be very fragrant, according to Jackie Keller, a nutrition and health expert from Los Angeles.


Buy avocados green and store them in the refrigerator until you're ready to ripen them. To ripen, set the fruit out at room temperature. The color will change from green to deep black. It's ripe and ready to eat when the skin is black and the flesh slightly yields to the touch.

Recipe: Avocado crabcakes >>


The navel (stem) end of the cantaloupe should give a bit when you press it with your thumb. If there's no give, it's not yet ready to eat. If your finger goes through, it's over-ripe. Look for a yellow-orange color and avoid the green cantaloupes.

Recipe: Savory cantaloupe soup >>


"Pears are introverts," says Mittelstaedt. "They ripen from the inside out."

Leave a pear out at room temperature — it will soften as it ripens. Grip the pear with your thumb and finger and apply pressure. When the outside yields slightly to the touch, the inside is ready to eat.

Recipe: Gluten-free fresh pear smoothie >>


"Peaches are pure summer fruit and they don’t like the cold," says Mittelstaedt. "Many people who buy fruit will put their peaches into the refrigerator, not realizing that they are storing these delicate wonders in exactly the temperature that will turn them to brown mush."

Mittelstaedt recommends buying peaches fresh and leaving them in a shaded space at room temperature for proper ripening. "When they give slightly to gentle pressure and smell delicious, they are ready to eat."

Recipe: Chicken and peach kabobs >>



Is your banana ripe? "Color is really the key," says Mittelstaedt, "but your taste buds hold the final say." There are six classified levels of banana ripening, Mittelstaedt adds:

  • Stages 1-4 (mostly green): "Too astringent to eat."
  • Stage 5 (yellow with green tips): "Yellow with green tips will provide the eater with a balance of both sugar and starch."
  • Stage 6 (all yellow): "Considered fully ripe."

"Once the banana starts to get brown spots, you'll notice that the skin thins as more starch is converted to sugar," Mittelstaedt adds. It's up to the eater to determine what color, texture and taste he or she likes best.

Recipe: Frozen banana bites >>

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Tags: food shopping tips produce

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Comments on "Picking fresh fruits"

Helen Tobin August 30, 2012 | 4:10 PM

How can you store fresh figs? Can they be frozen or wil they become mushy when thawed?

elwonda mercer August 29, 2012 | 5:20 PM

I am trying to find out ,how you can tell when a watermelon is ripe enough to pick.

Mary Fetzer July 21, 2012 | 12:07 PM

Carl: Look for a watermelon that is firm, symmetrical and free of strange lumps or bruises. A good watermelon will be heavy for its size since they are made of about 92% water. On the bottom of the watermelon, look for what is called a ground spot. This is where the watermelon sat on the patch while ripening in the sun. An ideal melon should have a creamy yellow ground spot, but if you can’t find one, a melon with a white ground spot is better than none at all. A few scratches on the rind are OK, but avoid melons that are leaky!

Mary Fetzer July 21, 2012 | 12:06 PM

Paul: If you want to buy a papaya that can be eaten right away, look for one with skin that is turning from green to yellow-orange. A few black spots are OK, but avoid papayas with bruises. You should be able to press your thumb into the flesh, but if it is too soft, mushy or has an overwhelmingly sweet smell, put it back. Firm papayas with green skin should ripen on your counter within 3 days of purchase. To speed up the ripening process, place papayas in a brown paper bag along with bananas. Ripe papayas should be stored in the refrigerator.

Paul Hays July 15, 2012 | 5:52 AM

How can In tell when it is time to pick papayas? Will they ripen off the tree after picking? Thanks!

Kate July 09, 2012 | 1:11 PM

Thank you for all of the great tips! I had previously thought it was all from touch not smell. I am recently on my own and hate to call home every time I buy fruit so I will keep these in mind next time I am grocery shopping. And, I will never make the mistake of putting my peaches in the refrigerator again.

Carl Koons July 04, 2012 | 10:09 PM

I'm trying to find out how to pick a ripe watermelon

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