It’s time to embrace ugly produce and fruit and veggies a little past their prime.
Americans waste a lot of food — around 220 pounds per person per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. All that landfilled organic material produces a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Curbing food waste begins both in the produce aisle and on the kitchen counter.
“We have to start talking about the fact we have really high expectations — beauty standards — for produce that aren’t necessarily realistic, nor impact the taste of produce,” Kayla Hickman, Sustainability Coordinator at Weber State University, said.
That means not skipping over less-than-perfect fruit and veggies at the store or farmers market and making sure food at home doesn’t get tossed when it looks a little wilted. Here are a few tips for common produce. (And remember: even if fruits and veggies are too far gone or rotted, they can always be composted and used in the garden.)
Hickman often only eats one half of an avocado at a time. The trick is making the leftover half last.
“It’s really important when you’re trying to keep it fresh to put lime juice on it. Keep the pit in middle of it, too,” she said, since the avocado pit helps prevent browning. If it browns on top, that part can be scraped away, revealing the rest as still green and good to eat.
For avocados that have gone too mushy, Hickman suggests using them in homemade beauty products. Websites like Lifehack.org and several beauty blogs have loads of recipes for hydrating face masks. Some include other fruits that can be rescued, too, like apricots.
Mushy apples still taste great cooked in cobblers or cakes or mashed into an applesauce.
Overripe bananas are great in quick breads, pancakes and muffins. Hickman likes to freeze them, too, and toss them in smoothies or turn them into dairy-free cold treat.
“Freeze them, put them in a blender and it gets to the consistency of ice cream,” she said.
Sprinkle with nutmeg, stir in a little vanilla or drizzle with chocolate and enjoy the banana’s soft-serve creaminess.
Berries and cherries
Soggy berries can also be popped into the freeze for smoothies later. They’re delicious in sweetened breads and pancakes, or they can be cooked down and mixed with a little sugar for a decadent dessert sauce.
Hickman suggests tossing berries in drinks like sangria or iced tea, too.
Supermarket chains sometimes deeply discount bags of limes and lemons when they start to harden or turn brown. Squeeze the juice from these citrus fruits into ice cube trays and freeze, then toss a cube into soups or sauces for a little zest. Hickman also likes turning old lemons into lemonade.
Come farmers market season, it’s easy to get over-excited about all the bushels full of giant Utah peaches. Hickman likes freezing these, too, both for smoothies and for snacks.
Wilting peppers can be revived with a little heat.
“When you sauté them, they don’t taste any different,” Hickman said. “Just cook them, they taste perfectly fine.”
Cook chopped peppers in stir-fries, toss in an omlete or roast them in the oven with other veggies.
Squishy tomatoes can still be cooked down into sauces or frozen for future pasta dishes, like lasagna.
“Salsa is a great thing to do with onions or tomates that maybe don’t look the best but taste good,” Hickmann added.