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6 Surprising Facts About the Produce Aisle

The typical American grocery store carries between 40,000 and 50,000 different items, including hundreds of products in the produce aisle. The inviting displays of dew-kissed leafy greens, pyramids of shiny apples, and baskets of sun-kissed lemons are carefully organized to entice consumers into purchasing; a lot of planning and research goes into each product and how it is displayed. Let’s investigate some secrets of the produce aisle.

Bananas Should Be Yellow, but Not Just Any Yellow

Closeup of yellow bananas.
Credit: Ilona Frey/ Unspalsh

The bananas you see at the grocery store are Cavendish bananas — a cultivar that the banana industry adopted in the 1950s after an earlier variety was wiped out by a tropical fungus. Growers produce more than 60.6 million tons of Cavendish bananas every year for export all over the world. They’re prized for their sweetness, creamy texture, and appealing bright yellow skin.

Stores will buy unripe green bananas from growers so that by the time the fruit hits grocery store shelves, they’ve ripened to their more well-known yellow shade. Marketing expert Martin Lindstrom wrote in Fast Company that bananas matching Pantone 12-0752 TPX Buttercup, a warm, inviting yellow, sold better than bananas in Pantone 13-0858 TCX Vibrant Yellow, one shade cooler.

Misting Produce Is a Clever Way To Make You Buy More

Close up of fresh lettuce getting washed on shelf.
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Many grocery stores display produce in open cases fitted with tiny jets to periodically bathe the veggies in a cool mist. The purpose behind misting is not to keep produce clean or extend their shelf life — it’s a clever way for grocers to make the fruits and vegetables look fresher and healthier so consumers purchase more. Water clinging to leafy greens also adds weight, which increases revenue for the store when vegetables are sold by the pound.

Ironically, misting actually shortens produce’s shelf life because water allows bacteria and mold to take hold. Misted veggies will likely not last as long in your fridge as those that weren’t misted in the produce aisle — which is another, and perhaps sneakier, way to get you to buy produce more often.

Shelf full of plastic containers of various seeds and nuts.
Credit: Kristi Blokhin/ Shutterstock

Botanically speaking, a nut is a fruit with a hard shell containing a single seed. The true nuts you might encounter in the produce aisle include hazelnuts and chestnuts. Many of the products sold as “culinary nuts” belong to other botanical classifications. Cashews, almonds, and pistachios are known as “drupes,” a type of fruit with thin skin and a pit containing the seed. (Peaches, mangos, cherries, and olives are also drupes.) And the jury is still out on whether walnuts and pecans fall into the nut or drupe category since they have characteristics of both. Some botanists call them drupaceous nuts.

Red Peppers Are Just Ripe Green Peppers

A close-up of red, yellow, and green peppers.
Credit: Sergey Goryachev/ Shutterstock

Bell peppers come in a variety of colors, from orange and yellow to deep purple. But surprisingly, they’re all from the same plant, just sold at different stages in the ripening process. Green peppers are the least ripe of the bunch and are usually cheaper than other colors because they don’t need as much time to grow. As green peppers ripen, they develop yellow, orange, red, or purple hues, and those varieties have different price points because they take additional time to reach peak flavor. Bell peppers offer the same beneficial nutrients, like vitamins C, A, and B6, no matter what color they are.

Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, and Kale Are All the Same Plant

Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale in wooden bowl.
Credit: ThitareeSarmkasat/ iStock

A surprising number of veggies in the produce aisle are the same plant, Brassica oleracea — but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, purple and green cabbage, and kohlrabi are all domesticated cultivars of wild cabbage, a plant native to western and southern Europe. For the last few thousand years, farmers have selectively bred the wild plant to augment some part of its form, such as the leaves, buds, or stems. Today, each cultivar is classified as a subspecies of B. oleracea.

The Produce Industry Has a Special Lingo

Produce section in grocery store.
Credit: Bill Oxford/ iStock

Like any business, the produce industry has its own slang, describing everything from a cosmetic flaw in a tomato (“catfacing”) to the practice of hiding some less-than-ideal specimens in a box of otherwise fresh fruit (“stovepiping”). In produce slang, veggies “with legs” are those that have a longer shelf life than those that require special handling and rotation on the display. A flawless fruit, whether it’s a peach, pear, or pineapple, is a “diamond.” A quality cantaloupe will exhibit a “full slip” on the blossom end, meaning it separated easily from the vine when it was picked, indicating the best flavor.

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