8 Delicious Uses for Ugly Fruit

Mutant bell pepper. Image credit: Moria

It’s no secret in the farming community that a lot of what they produce never sees the inside of a human digestive tract. Why? Because it’s ugly (or undersized, scarred, has a bruise, or is just on the wrong side of ripe).  As consumers, we want our produce to be both beautiful and tasty. And as organic peach farmer Nori Naylor points out, this attitude results in a lot of waste before we even leave the market. Even worse when consumers demand heirloom varieties and then refuse to buy them because they’re not as pretty!

I’d love to say that I slap on a blindfold and choose my peaches democratically, but the truth is that I’m that annoying person standing in front of the peaches who spends ten minutes looking for the perfect peach: round, beautifully blushed, fragrant, and practically glowing with its own inner light.

Food waste is a tremendous misuse of resources and how we choose our food — as well as whether we eat it once it comes home with us — makes a difference. Some of it is out of our hands (e.g. bird or insect-damaged fruit doesn’t meet safety standards), but some of it isn’t. Now that I think about it, most of what I love to do with fruit doesn’t require it to be beautiful. Here are some of my favorite ways to use ugly fruit. What about you?

(And the inevitable caveat: not all of these ideas are low energy, but they’re still more energy and water efficient than throwing it away. Probably.)

1. Salsa

This heirloom tomato kinda looks like an embryo. Image credit: ellenm1

Heirloom tomatoes are pretty gnarly looking compared to the perfectly uniform beefsteaks at the supermarket. Even if the shape doesn’t put you off, the splits might. Here’s a recipe from Jan at Slow Money Farm for salsa that’s awesome when you make it with ripe heirloom tomatoes (no matter how ugly).

about 1 lb of ripe tomatoes, chopped and seeded
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 oz green chilies, chopped (or another hot pepper)
1/3 c chopped red bell pepper
1/3 c chopped yellow bell pepper
1/2 c chopped green bell pepper
2 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
tortilla chips

Combine all, stirring thoroughly to mix. Can be done in a food processor and adjusted to be thinner / thicker as desired. Thanks, Jan!

2. Fruit leather

Paying .75 cents each for these highly plastic-wrapped bits of dried fruit is ridiculous.  When I was growing up (waaaay back when), we made fruit leather in big cookie-sheet-sized rectangles. We might not have saved any resources if we individually wrapped them for later — but that issue never came up. We ate it all right then and there. Here’s a basic fruit leather recipe. I remember that the stuff with raspberries and apples was especially good.

3. Applesauce (or other fruit sauces). 

Mottled organic apples. Image credit: Gudlyf

Here’s how I make applesauce. (I’m an imprecise cook. Sorry.)

  • Peel apples, cut roughly into fourths around the core.
  • Put as many as I have (at least 6) or will fit in my big 4 quart pot.
  • Add a little water to the bottom of the pot (dunno, 1/2 cup?)
  • Add a TB or two of sugar and a hefty dash of cinnamon
  • Simmer for about 30 minutes on medium with the lid on
  • Mash, and adjust sugar if necessary.

Need more precise directions? Here’s a basic applesauce recipe. I have it on the authority of a local heirloom apple grower that mixing apple varieties produces a richer, more complex apple flavor. (Read: whatever’s left in the produce drawer.) Applesauce can substitute for oil in some baked goods if you’re watching your weight; just store in the freezer.

4. Fruit crisp

Can’t use up those peaches in time? Image credit: orchidgalore

I make a kicky, zippy plum crisp every year when we’re inundated with plums from my mother’s tree. However, most stone fruits (and berries) make great crisps. Peach and strawberry, blackberry and apple…there are lots of possibilities here. You almost don’t need a recipe to make crisp, but I particularly like this one (I omit the bottom crust, which makes it both easier and healthier.)

5. Jams / conserves / jellies

I haven’t gotten into home canning yet. That’s why this section is blank. I’ve been told it’s fun.

6. Smoothies

Another obvious one. I tend to put in whatever fruit that needs using up with a splash of orange juice, sometimes some frozen fruit to round things out. It always ends up tasting fine. Then again, I avoid putting in vegetables. I can’t bring myself to drink anything dark green. (My lukewarm attitude towards kale and wheatgrass: yet another way in which I fail as a greenie.)

7. Fruity ice cream / sorbet

Imperfect plums. Image credit: bangli 1

My mother recently gave me a secondhand Donvier ice cream maker that had sat in her cupboard, unloved, for many years. Iffy as I was about yet another single-function kitchen gadget, I tried it and fell in love. Regular ice cream is too heavy and too sweet for me, but I’ve been mixing up tangy fruit ice creams using perfectly ripe summer fruit.  Slightly overripe or blemished would be fine as well. This recipe, for plum ice cream, is delightful (and easy!) and is a great base recipe to try other fruit ice creams.  (Go easy on the sugar if you’re using a really sweet fruit, like peaches — 1/2 cup is plenty.) Next up: coconut milk based ice creams.

8. Avert eyes. Proceed as usual.

I think my point is that very little of what we do with food requires it to be beautiful. I mean, it’s just going to end up being macerated, mixed with stomach acids and pancreatic juices, and dripped down as a whitish homogenized substance to our small intestines. (Just took a test on the digestive system and am full of details you don’t want to hear.)

Here’s my challenge to self: if I pick up a piece of fruit with a mild bruise or scar this week, I’m still going to get it as long as it passes the sniff test. If I don’t die, I’ll keep doing it.

What would you add to this list? Do you eat ugly fruit?

Finally, check out this ringspot virus infected watermelon. It’s perfectly safe to eat, but it takes the cake for bizarre looks.

18 responses to this post.

  1. A very timely post. Just the other day I happened to visit a grocery store that I don’t generally frequent (this one’s a mile or two down the road – and the same chain as one 5 blocks from here, so I generally choose the 5 block option.) BUT this new store is in a much fancier neighborhood and as a produce section about 5 times the size of my neighborhood store… AND to make it even better, they actually have a manager’s special area where they sell all of the blemished produce at a discounted price! It made my little green heart sooo happy! I actually got three organic red peppers for a dollar! They usually run $4-$5 each! It made me very happy. (Ok, ok… I read your last post, I know that “organic” doesn’t really mean much, but humor me here.)

    Anyhow, I was so jazzed about it that I actually went online and wrote an email to the corporate headquarters saying how impressed I was with the store and the fact that they had this blemished produce area (they also had manager discount sections in the meat and dairy aisles where they were selling off stuff near the expiration date instead of just tossing it.) Apparently positive feedback isn’t very common in the grocery industry because the manager of the store actually called me on the phone to thank me for praising his virtues to the corporate headquarters. Maybe that will ensure that they keep selling the blemished produce… and I can hope that maybe… just maybe the practice might spread to a few of their other stores.

    Your suggestions are all lovely, but I fear as a lazy person, I usually just cut it up and either make a vegetable or fruit salad.

    BTW – if you have a chance would you pop over to my blog for a second. I have a mystery weed growing in my garden and you’re the most knowledgeable person I “know” on the subject of plants and botany – maybe you can help me identify it?

    Reply

    • Hi Cat!

      The grocery stores in England usually have sections where they discount things that are close to their expiration date. It was my favorite way to try new cheeses…double gloucester? Don’t mind if I do. I think it’s a great idea. There’s one market near me that does that, which is actually run by a British supermarket company. Figures. American culture is definitely not centered around waste prevention. I wonder if that will change because we’re having such a lousy agricultural year, or if food prices will just skyrocket?

      I added my two cents to your mystery weed. I can dig around some more if it’s not either spurge or croton (we don’t seem to have either of those in my area).

      Reply

  2. Thanks for the mention! Another possibility for fruits or berries – ice cream toppings! You could also use it over pound cake.🙂

    Reply

  3. I totally agree with you.. People are just way too fussy about food, full stop. I’ve heard that supermarkets will throw away peppers that are like part green and part red, rather than one whole colour. And there are so many people that would love to eat those peppers. Outrageous.
    Anyway, I always eat ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables.. but I think of it more as they have more character🙂 As long as they’re not actually bad, it’s all good!

    Reply

    • You know… those peppers that are part green and part red are just not fully ripe. If you put them in a paper sack for a day or two they’ll turn fully red and ripen nicely.

      Reply

    • Hi Tegan,

      Good for you for always eating ugly produce!🙂 It sounds like I’m behind the curve on this one. I have to say that I’d love a bi-colored pepper — what an easy way to get some extra color and flavor in whatever I’m making!

      Reply

  4. Posted by Rosa on 07/20/2012 at 21:32

    I mostly eat ugly fruit – it’s cheaper. Our coop has a “buddy bin” for stuff with flaws that is sold at a flat per pound rate.

    Bruises/cuts in the skin do mean the fruit will go bad faster, though. It’s only worth buying bruised/broken fruits that are already ripe, you’re not going to get to let them sit and ripen.

    Reply

    • Hi Rosa,

      Your co-op sounds awesome. Sadly, I’m pretty sure my local greengrocer throws away the ugly stuff, although on some days, they do discount spotted organic bananas to .20 cents a pound. I’m not usually a big banana fan, but I freeze them for future banana bread.

      Good tip about the ripening. I’ll have to keep that in mind!

      Reply

  5. Great post! I grew up eating the ugly fruits that people didn’t want to buy from our family farm market. I tend not to trust “perfect” looking fruit, I always think it will taste like a supermarket tomato!

    Reply

    • Posted by Rosa on 07/21/2012 at 13:26

      oh, Abbie, that reminds me how my mom would crank out baked goods for gifts/fundraisers/church and we would eat the broken or funny looking ones at home.

      I just bought a big bucket of apple seconds this morning, so I’m taking a break from washing and processing them. We were out of dried apple slices as of 2 weeks ago, so these early apples are perfect timing. And there will be apple crisp for dinner.

      Reply

    • Hi Abbie,

      I think it’s hilarious that perfection looks suspicious to you! My mom has a couple fruit trees, so I certainly eat plenty of imperfect (occasionally bird-pecked, often scarred) fruit, but never connected that with my supermarket habits. I’m learning… Thanks for adding me to your carnival!

      Reply

  6. […] 8 Delicious Uses for Ugly Fruit, Jennifer of It’s Not Easy To Be Green offers ideas like salsa, fruit leather, smoothies and […]

    Reply

  7. Posted by Andrea on 07/23/2012 at 07:48

    Bruised fruit makes great coulis/sauce for desserts, my personal fave being as a topping for pancakes or crepes. Yum.

    Reply

  8. I’m definitely going to bookmark this post for future use, and next time I’m shopping for veggies or fruits, I’ll try to be less judgmental about appearances and select ones that perhaps others won’t… maybe it will keep that poor piece of produce from ending up as food waste.

    Just came across your blog after perusing Reduce Footprints, and I love it! I’ve added you to my blog list, so I’ll check back again soon for more reading. Keep up the great work!

    Reply

  9. […] Some nay-sayers have questioned whether our fruit is organic because it looks so pretty.  We are very particular about the fruit that goes in the box.  We train our pickers to handle the fruit gently and to cull (remove) any fruit that shows signs of damage or disease.  This means that a lot of fruit doesn’t make the box.  Some of the culls go to Farmer’s Markets, but there is still a lot of fruit that ends up being thrown away.  The majority of that fruit is just as tasty as what ends up in the stores, but consumers insist on perfect looking fruit, so buyers won’t accept scared or misshapen fruit.  For ideas on what to do with “ugly” fruit see Jennifer’s blog. […]

    Reply

  10. Posted by Anna on 08/11/2016 at 12:32

    Love this!! I just recently made a post on my company’s blog about the Food Recovery Act. In my research I learned about so many amazing companies that are helping redistribute “ugly food.” So amazing.

    Reply

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