You always give peaches a good squeeze before putting them in your cart at the supermarket. The softer the better, right? Think again. Here’s how to tell if a peach is ripe before you bring it home. Because nobody wants to sink their teeth into less-than-juicy, rock-hard stone fruit.
How to Tell If a Peach Is Ripe, Because the 'Squeeze Test' Doesn't Cut It
How to Pick a Ripe Peach Every Time
There are more ways to tell than just touch. Here are a few things to note about a peach before you make your pick.
Peaches should be dark yellow or deep gold on the outside—its red spots are shockingly not as important. Red spots can be caused by direct sun contact, and according to a New York Times interview with produce expert Karen Beverlin, red spots were bred into peaches by growers to make them look more appetizing. So, red skin doesn’t necessarily signal ripeness at all. If the skin is too light or has any green, the peach isn't ripe and was maybe even picked too early.
The stem end of a ripe peach is totally yellow without a single speck of green. Ripe peaches sometimes also have shriveled skin around their stems due to post-picking water evaporation. Wrinkly, fuzzy peach skin = intensely sweet flesh. Peaches also get rounder as they ripen, so look for a plump one instead of a pointy or oval-shaped one. Be sure to check for bruises before you buy.
The peach should smell sweet, floral and fragrant, basically the way you want them to taste. If you take a whiff and smell nothing, it isn’t ripe. This goes for plums and nectarines too.
OK, if you’re one of those people who squeezes or pinches a peach with all five fingers to check for ripeness, stop. Peaches are prone to bruising (that’s why they should always be stored in a single layer), so you shouldn’t be manhandling them in the first place. Just a delicate press of the thumb or a gentle closing of the hand around a peach in your palm will do the trick.
As for the ideal feel, pick peaches that are firm but not hard; that way, you have a little time before they’re prime to be eaten. The flesh should give a little when gently pressed, like a tennis ball. If it feels like a baseball, keep looking. Peaches also continue ripening after being picked, so don’t just buy the softest one on the shelf unless you’re going to eat it immediately or have a same-day baking project in mind. Just make it snappy—a soft peach can turn mushy and rotten fast.
So, you only had 10 minutes to spare at the farmers market, meaning you didn’t get to sniff, squeeze or examine any of the bajillion peaches you bought. Been there. At that point, feel free to take a nibble of one. If the peach is slightly crunchy or not sweet enough, the rest of the batch likely needs some time.
Tips for Ripening Peaches
- Leave peaches that aren’t yet at peak ripeness at room temperature in a dry place before enjoying. They'll be ready to devour in anywhere from two to seven days.
- Like avocados and apples, peaches give off ethylene gas, which aids in ripening. Putting hard peaches in a paper bag concentrates the ethylene gas, causing the peaches to soften faster than if they were sitting in a fruit basket. They should be ready to eat within two days. Throw another ethylene emitter like a banana or apple in the bag to speed ripening even more.
- No paper bag? No problem. Substitute linen napkins instead. Just put the peaches in the center of one napkin, cover them with a second napkin and tuck the sides under the fruit so air stays out. This method takes two or three days to work but works better than just plopping peaches on the counter.
- If your peaches are too ripe or reach peak ripeness before you'll have a chance to eat them, pop them in the fridge. Refrigeration pauses the ripening process, so the fruit will stay juicy and delicious for four to seven days without going bad.
- Freezing peaches means you can indulge in their juicy summer splendor all year long. Just peel and slice them before storing in an airtight bag or container. They’ll keep for months and work great in smoothies, desserts and jams.