Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Produce Tips and Tricks

Ahhh, produce.  People have lots of questions about shopping at Aldi, and usually some of them involve the produce.  This is probably the main area of the store that takes a little knowledge to navigate successfully.  Personally, I have had positive and negative experiences, but overall, the positive has far exceeded the negative.

Over the years, I have collected a few tips and tricks for getting the best produce at Aldi.  If you talk with other seasoned Aldi shoppers, you'll find that most of us do these things and have generally had the same experiences.  Are you ready?  Here we go!

#1.  Pay attention to what's on sale for the week.  These items are obviously priced very reasonably (CHEAP!!!!) and are usually pretty close to being in season! :)  These really are the best buys.  If you're sticking close to a budget, that may mean that you end up eating a lot of the same things (especially fruit) week after week because that's what's on sale, but, that's just the way it is sometimes. Currently, the best fruit buy is oranges.  Aldi has had bags of oranges for $1.49 for weeks now.  Well, guess what fresh fruit we've been eating since Christmas? Yep, you got it.  But, they're good!  They're juicy, no seeds, and have thin skin with lots of flavor.  By the way, this time of year, when cost effective fresh fruit is basically apples, oranges, and bananas, supplement your fruit diet with canned fruit (Aldi even has fruit cocktail packed in juice and peaches in light syrup if you're watching added sugar), applesauce (we love the cinnamon flavor), frozen fruit (lots of variety at Aldi, again, no added sugar), and dried fruit (you'll find raisins, dried cranberries, blueberries, all kinds, really).

#2.  There are several vegetables that are always in season and always at a good price.  I've tried all of these and they're all good.  These are your "home runs."  Buy them.  You won't be disappointed.  Lettuce, romaine hearts, celery, carrots (regular and baby), mushrooms, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli.

#3.  Carefully check any produce that comes packaged on a tray, in a bag, or in a plastic container.  Some of the vegetables on trays are zucchini, corn (in season), bell peppers, etc.  Usually, they're FINE.  Every once in awhile, you'll find a moldy, overripe, or spoiled item mixed in with the fresh ones.  Also check fruits in plastic containers, such as strawberries, blueberries, and grapes.  While they look fine on the outside, they can be spoiled in the middle.  Bags of potatoes and onions are the same way.  I never have to look through more than two or three bags, trays, containers to find a good one, though.  (Want a free tip for cooking with bell peppers?  When using only half a bell pepper, cut it in half horizontally, not vertically, and use the bottom half.  You know, the one where there are no seeds.  Save the top half to use for later.  Want to know why?  Because the top half, the half that still has the seeds in it, will absorb moisture from the fridge in the seeds, keeping it from spoiling faster.  Try it.  It really works!)

#4.  Ask the staff what the best produce buys are.  I have had more than one of the staff at my local Aldi tell me this.  They handle it everyday, they eat it themselves, they know what's good and what's not good, and they'll gladly tell you.  Some shipments of the same produce are better than others.  This past summer, that's how it was with watermelons.  Some people got really good ones, some people got mushy ones...just ask them!  That really goes for other products, too.  If you're wondering if that pasta salad mix is good (it is! ;) ), ask whoever's stocking, chances are they can offer an opinion or suggestion.

#5.  Bananas!  Oh, those green bananas!  They deserve their own special tip!  I have had pretty good luck with Aldi bananas.  I find that the bigger bananas get more ripe than the smaller ones.  No scientific proof or reasoning to that, just my experience.  The complaint I hear the most about the bananas is that they don't ripen.  Sometimes that can be true, if so, just take them back!  They'll refund your money, no questions asked.  BUT, before you take them back, try one first.  Many times I've had bananas that ripened to this weird shade of gray-green and tasted perfectly fine once peeled.  Everyone probably knows this, but in case you don't, if you want to speed up the ripening process with bananas, put them in a brown paper sack to ripen, or put them with apples.  The second complaint I hear is that they are sold in too large of bunches and that they all ripen at the same time.  Well, you people just can't be happy, now can you?  First they don't ripen, then they all ripen too quickly!  Just kidding....:)  I can't really help much on that one, maybe make banana muffins or smoothies???  I don't know....but I do know that if they get too ripe and they're going to spoil anyway, just put the entire banana in the freezer.  No, you don't have to bother with mashing it up and adding lemon juice to keep it from getting brown, none of that mess....just put the whole banana, peel and all, in the freezer.  Then when you want to use it, put it in a bowl on your counter to thaw.  Squeeze the whole thing right out of the peel and there you go.  Banana mush, perfect for recipes!  Three whole bananas equals about 1 cup banana mush...oh, sorry..."banana puree."

#6.  If fruit smells good, it will probably taste good.  If it feels ripe, it probably is ripe.  Smell it and squeeze it!  Here's a tip for ripening pineapple: just turn it upside down on your counter to ripen.   Leave it for 3-5 days.  Again, no scientific reason for this, it just works.  In fact, here's a picture I took of our last pineapple:

You still may not have the sweetest pineapple you've ever eaten, but just remind yourself that it IS winter, in Missouri, and you only paid 99 cents for it, when the exact same DOLE pineapple is selling for $3.99 at the grocery store.  Right????  (Usually at Aldi they're $1.99, but a week ago they were on sale for .99)  

Okay, so there are some produce tips for Aldi.  I really, really hope you find this helpful.  Let me know what you found/tried on your next trip!  

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