Choosing and Buying Vegetables

Choosing Vegetables

Artichokes (Globe)

Artichokes can be green or purplish, and should have a good bloom on their leaves. Their centres should be well closed; avoid those about to burst into flower.

Artichokes (Jerusalem)

Jerusalem artichokes are at their best during the winter and spring. When buying them, look for neat specimens with the minimum of knobs; this will make them easier to peel.


The tips are the best part of asparagus and as a result should be inspected carefully before buying. They should be tightly furled, with the scales close together, and should not be discoloured or moist.


Good aubergines should feel heavy for their size; these are more likely to have smaller seed channels and more flesh. Look out for specimens with smooth, unblemished skins without brown spots or rough, spongy patches.


There are two main types of avocado: those that appear in the summer and those that appear in the winter. The summer variety has a rough, pebbly skin that is green when unripe and purple-black when ripe, and golden-yellow flesh.

Winter avocados are more pear shaped, usually larger, with smooth green skin and pale green to yellow flesh. As the skin colour of winter avocados is no indication of ripeness, test them by applying gentle pressure at the thin end; if there is some give, the avocado is ripe.

Bean Sprouts

Look for crisp, pale sprouts; those exuding any amount of brown juice are past their prime.


When buying beetroot, try to make sure that their whiskers are intact they have at least 5 cm (2 in) of stalk at the top. Beetroot that have been too closely trimmed will bleed when cooked, and loose all their vibrant colour to the cooking water.


When buying, look for thick heads of compact, tiny bud clusters that are evenly coloured. Avoid heads that have a strong smell, yellowing florets or open buds. You should also avoid broccoli that shows signs of wilting either in the florets or the stalk.

Brussels Sprouts

Ideally, a Brussels sprout should be just a little larger than a hazelnut. Look for compact green heads and uniform size so that they will cook evenly. Never store sprouts for too long after buying; they soon turn yellow.


Cabbage leaves should be sound and unblemished, not wilted or puffy. The core should not be woody and slimy, nor should it be dry and split.


Avoid carrots that are blemished, rubbery or sprouting small roots.


A fresh head of cauliflower should feel heavy for its size and have a compact cluster of florets. Loose or spreading florets indicate that the cauliflower is over-mature.


Celery stalks should be thick and crisp, the base sound and the leaves green and full of vitality.


Fresh chillies should look bright with no brown patches or black spots. Specimens that are dull are almost always over-mature.


Cucumbers are at their best when they are young and tender. They should be firm and free from blemishes.


Buy fennel as fresh as possible; it should be firm and white - any yellowness is a sign of age, whereas dark green bulbs will tend to taste bitter. Choose rounded, fat bulbs rather than long, thin ones, as thin ones tend to be less succulent.


Garlic can be sold tied in strings or bunches, in little nets or loose, with a colour ranging from snow-white to purple. However you buy it, always make sure you choose bulbs that are fat, round and hard.


Always try to examine leeks at both ends; the green part should look fresh and lively, whilst the white part should be firm and unblemished. Leeks sold without their greenery may be old and over-mature, and so are best avoided.


Look for specimens that have a fresh colour and show no sign of brown. Check to make sure that they leaves are neither soggy nor wilting.


Onions should be dry, with no trace of moisture at the neck or the base. There should be no growth of light greenery at the top; this is a sign that they have begun to sprout at the expense of the soundness of their core.


Available from early autumn until spring, parsnips are at their best in mid-winter. Avoid any that look dry or wizened or that have any brown patches.


Bought fresh, large sweet peppers are quite light in weight. Red peppers are sweeter than the green ones, and the orange and yellow ones are closer in flavour to red peppers than to green. Choose firm, evenly coloured fruit and avoid any that have soft patches or that look wrinkled.


New potatoes should be small and faintly translucent; if they are ready-washed, they should be taut and shiny. If they have skin that is tender and a little ragged, this indicates that the potatoes are fresh and will be easy to scrape.

When buying old potatoes, choose those that are free of sprouts and without any green patches (these contain poisonous alkaloids). You should also avoid potatoes that have rotting or scaly patches.


When choosing a pumpkin, choose those that are bright orange in colour, with a thick, smooth skin without blemishes. They should be firm to the touch, heavy for their size and have an attached stem. Smaller pumpkins contain more flesh and are best for eating.


Look for clean dark green leaves and avoid any that are yellow, wilting or damaged. It's worth remembering that spinach reduces dramatically when cooked - 450g (1 lb) of spinach will cook down to just 2 servings.

Swedes and Turnips

Both turnips and swedes should be heavy for their size, with no worm holes, spongy patches or large blemishes. Avoid any that have side roots.

Sweetcorn (Corn on the Cob)

Choose cobs that have clean and green husks, with bright silk tassels that have no sign of dampness or matting. The kernels should be pale cream, plump and full, with no space between the rows. When fresh, the kernels exude a milky liquid when cut. Avoid cobs with dark yellow kernels or older large ones that look tough and dry.


The best tomatoes are those that have been allowed to ripen slowly on the vine, developing their flavour in the warm sun. If you're buying tomatoes for immediate use, choose varieties that are bright red in colour. If you're planning to use them in the near future instead, select those that are a paler red, and then leave them in a cool spot to develop their vivid red colour.

Tomatoes that are picked green and mature (called mature green tomatoes) may be ripened by keeping them on a light (but not sunny) windowsill, or in a drawer or brown paper bag. However, those that were picked green and unripe will never turn red naturally, and are best used for making pickles and chutneys.


Look for fresh green leaves with no signs of yellowing or wilting - the darker and the larger the leaves, the better.

Winter Squashes

Look for firm, unbruised whole specimens, or for wedges that do not show any signs of softening around the edges.