Food Waste 101: What To Do With Overripe Fruit
We'll say it: Food waste is lame. But here's the good part: Knowing how to store your fruit in the fridge (veggies too!), and having a few go-to zero waste recipes on hand, are a couple of super easy ways to do your part in reducing leftover food waste... and may even have you on your way to living a zero waste lifestyle (low waste is pretty cool, too).
Here are some easy tips to help you determine if your favorite fruits are ripe, plus a few of our easy ways to use fruit past its prime (there's always a way!):
An apple is ripe when it feels solid and firm with tight skin that doesn't wrinkle when touched. Bumps and bruises typically indicate an apple is past its peak.
When an apple is overripe, it becomes an excellent sweet ingredient in applesauce, cobblers, smoothies (ps: most overripe fruits are great in smoothies), and cookies. Another hot tip: Apples can be used to keep cakes (like pound cakes) fresh - just place a slice of apple besides the cake in its container. Like magic, the cake will absorb moisture from the apple.
An avocado is ripe when it's slightly soft but not mushy. Another test: Pluck off the stem and check the color. You want a vibrant green. If it's tinged with yellow, wait a few days. Tinged with brown, you may have a past-its-prime avo on your hands. But no worries there...
We all know overripe avocados are perfect for guacamole, but you can also add them to scrambled eggs or salad dressing for a richer texture. You can also sub for butter in vegan baking, or take a self-care route and slather on your face, hair, or body for a super moisturizing mask (more where that came from: check out 15 sustainable self-care hacks here). Ripe avocados can also be frozen and used at a later date.
Ripe bananas are pretty intuitive (and often depend on your preference), but a few telltale signs that a banana's at peak ripeness: Soft to squeeze, no green on the stem, snaps off from stem easily, and easy to peel with no resistance.
If 2020 taught us anything, it's how to make a good banana bread - and that overripe bananas are the exact ingredient you need. If you're ready to move to the next-level of banana expertise, try banana pancakes, ice cream, cookies, brownies - and of course, smoothies (pro tip: store them in the freezer for an easy smoothie base any time).
Ripe blueberries appear full and deep blue, with a gentle dusting of gray. Still firm but with a little bit of give is the sweet spot. A blueberry that's not quite ripe will be hard and tinged with red or pink.
Overripe blueberries are perfect for smoothies, made into jams, or for something to impress your guests: Roast with some sugar and spices until caramelized to use as a fancy cheese or ice cream topping. There is a limit, though: It's best to compost any overripe berries that have grown fuzz.
When a cantaloupe is ripe, the stem should smell sweet (watch out, though, a sickly sweet smell may mean overripe). The fruit should also give a bit when pressed gently. It will feel heavier than it looks, and sound hollow when tapped.
Our favorite use for overripe melon is in a cocktail or non-boozy beverage. Try this honeydew marg or coconut cantaloupe lassi if you want the taste without the hangover.
To determine a mango's ripeness, don't rely on the color. Instead, smell near the stem - a sweet smell is a good indication that your mango is ripe. Look for mangos that feel heavy and look plump (flatter ones tend to be stringy).
Overripe mangos are great in salsa, chutney, sorbet, margaritas, or (you guessed it) frozen and used in smoothies later. Another great low-waste cooking hack: Blend past-prime mangos into a puree with your favorite spices to use as a marinade for meat or fish.
Because 'tis the season for tropical fruits and pineapples are surprisingly easy to tell when ripe. When it smells sweet, it's ready (too vinegary is overripe, no smell is underripe). Leaves should be a healthy green, skin should be firm, and if you squeeze it, the fruit should give a little. If it's overripe, leaves may be droopy and dry feeling, and fruit may have soft and brown areas.
Pineapples past their prime can be used similarly to mangos: Fresh pineapple juice is great alone or in cocktails, and the fruit's also great in sauces, marinades, and salsas. This one's another great one to freeze for smoothies.
A ripe watermelon has a few telltale signs: A yellowish spot (aka a "field spot" where it was in contact with the ground while growing), a hollow sound when you knock it with your knuckles, and a dull rind (a sheen typically means it's immature). And when all else fails, a heavier melon is said to be riper than a light one.
Use an overripe watermelon to make homemade watermelon popsicles, cocktails, or freeze watermelon ice to give your water an upgrade. Or if you're feeling really crafty, grab a tap and make a watermelon keg.
Knowing what to do with overripe fruit can be a huge benefit for you, your taste buds, and your low waste kitchen.