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Seven Ways to Enjoy Overripe Fruit

When it comes to fruit, I’m a texture girl—it has to be a certain level of ripeness or I want no part of it. Even slightly mushy fruit makes me gag, to the point where I’d eat a green banana over a dark brown one. Unfortunately, in my excitement over delicious and plentiful fruit at the farmers' market, I often buy more than I can finish before it rots and becomes inedible. But thanks to having a variety of techniques for dealing with overripe fruit at my disposal, I no longer have to toss it out and feel the subsequent wave of wasteful guilt. 

How Long Does It Last?
Fruits have varying lengths of shelf life, depending on the season and storage environment. If it’s warmer outside, fruit tends to ripen faster; cold temperatures stretch out the process. For example, if apples are put in the fridge or in a similarly cool place, they can last for over a month. If bananas have a greenish tint when purchased (which means they’re under ripe), they can last about a week before turning black. 

Berries don’t last as long as their fruit friends. Even when refrigerated, strawberries last a week at the most; three days is usually more common. Refrigerated blueberries stay fresh for about one to two weeks. Stone fruit like peaches, nectarines, and plums lasts a few days at room temperature. They soften as they ripen, so one that gives a little under slight pressure from the thumb is at the perfect stage. 

Tasty Ideas for Overripe Fruit
Overripe fruit isn’t for everybody, but according to a 2007 study conducted at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, the amount of antioxidants in fruits grows as they get closer to spoiling. So while mushy fruits might not be palatable eaten straight, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by throwing out these nutrient powerhouses. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to use up the fruit without having to gag it down. 

1. Freeze it for later.
Freezing fruit stops it from ripening any more and provides a great base for making smoothies or popsicles later. All you need is a bunch of fruit, liquid (juice, water, milk, or non-dairy beverages work), and a blender. If you don’t have a blender, don’t worry—some fruit, like blueberries and grapes, makes a delicious treat when eaten frozen. Stick a popsicle stick into a banana, cover it with chocolate, pop it in the freezer, and in a few hours, a refreshing, simple dessert will be waiting for you. Since the fruit can always be thawed for non-icy purposes later, the possibilities are endless. 

2. Make delectable jams and chutneys.
Spreading jam on a piece of toast or topping naan bread with chutney is even more satisfying knowing you made it yourself. There are lots of recipes online for preserving fruits, but basically, you boil the mashed-up fruit of your choice, add pectin (the amount depends on the recipe), ladle the mixture into clean mason jars, and put a lid on them. 

3. Up the tastiness quotient of baked goods.
Fruit’s sweetness increases as it ripens, making overripe fruits a terrific addition to baked goods. Bananas with black peels are essential for truly great banana bread; mashed-up bananas also make a good one-to-one substitution for oil in recipes if you’d like a lower-fat product. Really, you can add pretty much any fruit into a quick bread, muffin, or pancake recipe, but bananas and blueberries are probably the most versatile. A blend of overripe fruits also makes for a great pie filling. 

4. Create your own fruit roll ups.
I like to think of it as “fruit jerky,” but whatever you call it, dried fruit is yummy and fun to eat. A food dehydrator makes quick work of drying out fruit mixtures, but using an oven is a viable option, too. Puree the fruit, add whatever liquids or spices you prefer, roll it onto a baking sheet, and bake until it’s to the desired texture. Do a search online for more specific recipes. 

5. Make a sweet topping for savory main dishes.
Simply combine the fruit of your choice with various herbs, seasonings, oils, and vinegars and you’ve got a perfect topping for meats, tofu, seitan, and so forth. This also makes a fine salad dressing. 

You Don’t Always Have to Eat It
If the thought of eating overripe fruit is too distasteful, there are non-edible methods of using it up, too. 

6. Put it on your face.
Mixing fruits with ingredients like oatmeal, honey, egg yolks, avocado, and milk creates facial masks that work wonders for your skin. (Just try not to eat the batter!) 

7. Add it to plants for fertilizing purposes.
Rotting fruit provides lots of important nutrients for plants, so mix it with the soil for a less stinky fertilizer. 

Regardless of which method you utilize, it’s clear that there’s no reason to throw fruit away just because it’s too soft for eating. On the contrary, it only enhances your taste buds’ experience in certain cases, such as when making smoothies or baked goodies. So the next time you’re left with a bowl of rotten strawberries or spotted bananas, remember that fruit is an all-around winner—even when it’s gone bad, it’s still good!

Updated September 21, 2010