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How to Pick the Perfect Produce

Before we get into the actual produce selecting specifics, I wanted to talk a little about the different types of Names that are out there for produce because it’s important to know what you are talking about with the different types of names for produce. First off, when I say “produce”, I am talking about all fruit and vegetables in one category. This is just easier than saying “fruit and vegetables” each time, so from here forward, know that I’m referring to both fruits and vegetables when I say produce.

There are 4 types of Names for Produce: Scientific Names, Varietal Names, Common Names, and Trade Names.

- Scientific Names are the Latin names that denote a type of produce’s botanical family and specific botanical name (i.e. Potato’s scientific name is Solanum Tuberosum)

- Varietal Names are different sub categories (varietals) within a single botanical family. (Russet Burbank Potatoes are a specific type (variety) of Russet Potatoes, a family of potatoes)

- Common Names are what people typically call a fruit or vegetable. (Russet Potatoes (of any variety) are commonly referred to as “Idahoes” or “Russets”)

- Trade Names are made up by the food industry to sell produce but have no real meaning or relation to the produce at all. (“Cuties” are an example of a trade name for marketing grape tomatoes or mandarin oranges but have no connection to either fruit)

Being aware of the different types of names that are out there, and their differences, will help you to think about the various types of produce that you’ll come across in the market or grocery store. You don’t need to know all the different names of each fruit or vegetable, just that there are different names for the same thing. Knowing that Lacinato Kale is the variety of Kale and that “Dino Kale” is a trade name made up to sell it will help with confusion when you see both names in the market referring to the same vegetable. Plus knowing that it is simply a variety of Kale, will help you know what to do with it regardless of what it’s called.

At the end of the day, you don’t need to get lost trying to understand all the different names that are out there for every fruit or vegetable, only how to select, think about, and ultimately use the produce! Names are helpful to know what you are looking at and maybe help with how to utilize it if it’s something new for you, but at the end of the day, if you know how to cook it, who cares what it’s called as long as it’s tasty, right? :D



Peak Varietal Characteristics are the properties that all produce exhibit that show they are at their best for eating. Each type of produce will have their own specific PVC’s, but there are some general PVCs that are common across many types of produce that show they are at their peak of ripeness and most tastiest.

The most common PVC’s that you want to look for across pretty much all produce are:

  • Being Heavy for their Size and

  • Show Fully Developed Color.

All produce is just different varieties of crunchy water so looking for ones that are heavy for their size simply means that they have as much juice/sugar/starch/flavor/etc as possible. All produce is a natural product that ripens. So picking produce that shows fully developed color will be an indicator that you have something that is at the peak of ripening, has ripened evenly, and is ready to eat. Just starting with these two will help you on the right track to get the best of what’s out there!

There are also some common PVCs to avoid in pretty much all produce. You want to avoid any produce that has:

  • Field Scars

  • Bruising

  • Spots, Mold, or Blemishes.

These may be obvious to many, but they are always a sign that the produce was either mishandled or has not grown evenly or pest-free. When looking at any leafy veggies, avoid any Wilted or Yellowing Leaves as that is a sign that they either got too hot or are old (overripe/rotting).

As I said, there are lots of individual PVCs for each type of produce that I cover much more extensively in my Essential Class 1 (as well as knife skills for each type and much more). But if you just start with these common PVCs when selecting your produce, you’ll be on the right track for starting your cooking with great produce!


“Based Upon Intended Usage”

When picking out produce, don’t forget to think about what you plan to use your produce for because that will also vary your selection process. If you are making a green mango salad, a beautifully ripe mango will not give you what you are looking for, despite showing Peak Varietal Characteristics for a mango. I also often use this when selecting tomatoes because if you plan to use some tomatoes today and some in a few days, you don’t want to select only tomatoes that are perfectly ripe today. Or if you are making tomato sauce or gazpacho, you might want to take a look at the “seconds” or “blemished” box at the market because if it is going to be cooked down or pureed, you don’t need perfect tomatoes (and you might end up with some that are even riper than the “pretty” ones). But if you are making a caprese salad and really care about the aesthetic of your presentation, only beautiful tomatoes will do! These are perfect examples of how your Peak Varietal Characteristics will vary Based Upon Intended Usage! So don’t forget to think about that as well!! :D


The last little tidbit is to remember that you have most of human history’s knowledge in your pocket at all times! My wife will often search - (Insert Produce Name Here) + “Peak Varietal Characteristics” if she is looking for something that is outside of her usual routine and she wants to get the best of what’s available. There is no substitute for knowing much of these as many of them are relatively common sense-ical (is that a word?? ;) and become second nature once you begin to get more familiar with them and with your produce. But as you begin to look for PVCs in your produce, don’t be afraid to get a little help from the internet! Our goal is for you to select, cook, and eat the best possible food, not think we are the only source for food information and knowledge! Google fourth and be free young Padawan… :D

Happy Cooking, Y’all!!

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