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What’s Fresh: The best winter fruit for your buck

By Hilary Meyer, December 9, 2010 - 5:02pm

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What’s Fresh: The best winter fruit for your buck

It's slim pickings in the fresh fruit aisle at this time of year. It appears to be well stocked—you can find berries and melons just like you did in the summer. But now that it's winter, I find summer-season fruits to be a sad and lifeless representation of what they were during the warmer months. Even if I have a hankering for my warm-weather favorites, I'd rather spend my money on fruit that actually tastes good now.

Related: Fresh & Light Winter Fruit Desserts
Our 10 Most Popular Winter Recipes

Below are my 5 favorite winter fruits, which are all good on their own as snacks and are delightful in desserts and savory recipes too. Here's how to choose the best fruit, why it's good for you and how to save money buying it at the grocery store.

Oranges
How to buy: In general, look for plump oranges that are free of blemishes or bruises. As the season wears on, you may find different varieties of oranges popping up, such as Cara Cara and blood oranges. Try them! Both of these varieties are very sweet and have a darker flesh, ranging from pink in the Cara Cara to dark red in the blood orange.
Why it's good: Oranges are loaded with vitamin C (a large orange has more than the daily recommended value of vitamin C), which may help smooth your skin. If you bite into a blood orange, you'll also be getting anthocyanins, a compound that turns the flesh red and is associated with helping to keep the heart healthy and the brain sharp.
How to save: Buy them in bulk (they may be cheaper in a bag than when sold individually) and store them in the refrigerator to extend their life by a couple of weeks. If you stumble across a few fruits with a grainy texture, use them for juicing!
Recipes to Try: Chicken with Honey-Orange Sauce and More Sweet & Savory Recipes for Oranges

Bananas
How to buy: Though there are hundreds of varieties of bananas, the Cavendish is the variety most familiar to North Americans.  Bananas are in season year-round and are different from other fruits because they can be picked while they are still far from ripe.  If you do buy green bananas, wait until the skin ripens to a yellow and the starches convert to sugars. 
Why it's good: Bananas are one of the best sources of potassium, which is associated with healthy blood pressure.  Also, a medium banana is an excellent source of cell-building vitamin B6 and is a good source of vitamin C and fiber. 
How to save: Though bananas are relatively economical—ripening bananas cost about 90¢ per pound—overripe bananas are often on sale for less. Even if banana peels have started to brown, the insides often remain sweet and ripe. Buy a bunch or two and peel the extras before sticking them in the freezer.  They will keep for several months and are excellent in banana bread and smoothies.
Recipes to try: Banana-Nut Chocolate Chip Quick Bread and More Easy Recipes Using Bananas

Pineapple
How to buy: Avoid green pineapples—they are not ripe. A ripe pineapple should smell like a pineapple. There should be a golden color present—starting at the base—and the more yellow a pineapple is, the better it will taste throughout. Some people claim that pulling leaves easily from the top of a pineapple is an indication of ripeness, but this has not been proven. Your best bet is to go with color.
Why it's good: Pineapple is loaded with vitamin C, delivers a healthy dose of fiber and is an excellent source of manganese, a nutrient involved in bone formation.
How to save: Cutting into a pineapple for the first time can be downright scary. But where your wallet is concerned, it may be worth learning how to do. Prepared pineapple chunks in the produce section cost more per pound—about 50 cents an ounce more—than a whole pineapple.
Recipes to try: Pineapple-Raspberry Parfaits and More Fresh Pineapple Recipes
Photos: How to cut a fresh pineapple.

Pomegranates
How to buy: Color is not a good indicator of a ripe pomegranate. Instead, choose a fruit that feels heavy in your hand.
Why it's good: Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants, natural compounds found in plants that help protect the body from harmful free radicals (compounds in the body that damage tissues and may contribute to a variety of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer's and cancer). Although you don't get as many antioxidants eating the seeds as drinking the juice, you will get a bit of fiber and abundant punicic acid, a polyunsaturated heart-healthy oil.
How to save: Pomegranates aren't the cheapest fruit in the produce bin (about $2.50 each), but the good news is that one fruit goes a long way. Your best bet is to compare prices at competing stores, and buy the cheapest you can find.
Recipes to try: Vanilla-Pomegranate Parfaits and More Delicious Pomegranate Recipes
Related: How to cut and use a fresh pomegranate.

Grapefruit
How to buy: Like oranges, select fruits that are free of blemishes and bruises. Buying grapefruit can be tricky—the skin color of the fruit is not always a reliable way to tell if the fruit is sweet inside. If the fruit is heavy in your hand, that may be a good indication of its juiciness.
Why it's good: Like oranges, grapefruits are high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber. Studies have shown that the soluble fiber in grapefruit may even be beneficial in lowering cholesterol. Half a medium grapefruit has only 60 calories.
How to save: If you regularly buy organic, you may make an exception for grapefruit. According to the Environmental Working Group (a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization) it is a fruit that is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides.

Recipes to try: Grapefruit Brulee and More Refreshing Ways to Eat Grapefruit
15 Foods You Don’t Need to Buy Organic

What is your favorite winter fruit, and how do you use it? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Hilary Meyer, Healthy Cooking Blog, What's in season

Hilary Meyer
EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

Hilary asks: What is your favorite winter fruit, and how do you use it?

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