Fresh fruit always seems to go soft and moldy or dry and tasteless before we can fully enjoy it. And as it starts to decay, it loses nutrients. To avoid that, we rounded up the best ways to keep fruit healthy and fresh for as long as possible.
First, look for locally grown fruit at the farmers’ market or grocery store–it hasn't traveled hundreds of miles, so it will have more disease–fighting antioxidants (which can easily be damaged by heat and light). Second, wait to wash your fruit until just before serving (this helps prevent mold growth), and third, buy and store fruit carefully with these tips:
- How to buy: Red-fleshed watermelons are richest in lycopene (currently being studied for its anticancer properties), and yellow ones have the most beta-carotene, says Shelley McGuire, Ph.D., of the American Society for Nutrition.
- How to check freshness: A ripe watermelon has a creamy white or yellow spot where the melon rested on the ground while it was growing, says Russ Parsons, author of How to Pick a Peach (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).
- How to store: Leave the watermelon whole on your countertop for up to five days after you buy it—its lycopene and beta-carotene levels can increase by 179 percent during this time, according to a 2006 Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry study. Cube and refrigerate leftovers for up to a week in a covered container.
- How to buy: "The darker the grape, the richer it is in resveratrol [the same heart–protective compound in red wine] and the potent antioxidant quercetin," says McGuire.
- How to check freshness: Inspect the stem (the area that decays first) for mold and soft spots, says Cathy Thomas, author of Melissa's Great Book of Produce (Wiley, 2006).
- How to store: Keep the bunch intact: Loose grapes shrivel and lose antioxidants much faster. Wrap in a small kitchen towel, says Parsons, then return it to the plastic bag the grapes came in (if it's not perforated, punch holes in the bag with a fork), and store in the crisper for up to ten days.
- How to buy: Look for deep-blue berries with a silvery bloom (a blueberry’s natural protective coating)—they contain the highest levels of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that can help fight heart disease.
- How to check freshness: Tilt the container back and forth. "If the berries move freely, they're fresh," says Thomas.
- How to store: Remove bruised or moldy berries and store the rest in the crisper in the clamshell container they came in. "Air circulates through the holes at the top, which helps prevent decay," says Amy Howell, Ph.D., of the Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research at Rutgers University. Blueberries will last for up to a week.
- How to buy: Choose yellow peaches, which have more beta-carotene than white ones, says McGuire.
- How to check freshness: "A ripe peach will perfume the air around it and will yield to a gentle squeeze," says Parsons.
- How to store: To add three to five days to their lifespan, chill peaches loose in the crisper drawer, but keep them separate from the rest of your produce—they release ethylene gas, a ripening agent that may speed the decay of other fruits and veggies. Bring them back to room temperature before eating so they’re as juicy as possible, says Thomas.
- How to buy: Select dark red [almost black] Bings, which McGuire says have the most resveratrol and anthocyanins.
- How to check freshness: You should be able to bend the vibrant green stems without them breaking, says Parsons.
- How to store: Wrap cherries snugly in a small kitchen towel or paper towel and refrigerate them in the crisper drawer for up to three weeks, says Parsons.