When selecting produce for purchase, whether at a farmers’ market, roadside stand or the supermarket, one of the first things I look at is the stems. Stems reveal a lot about freshness, remaining shelf/refrigerator life and sometimes ripeness.. A vegetable or fruit may appear perfect in every other respect yet a browned withered stem or a stem trimmed too short or sometimes even trimmed at all indicates a diminished remaining shelf life.
I am fortunate to be able to patronize retailers that display most of their produce in bulk and one can pick and choose each item individually. When prepackaged in bundles of 3, 4 or 5 items wrapped in cellophane there is a chance that one or more may be in less than optimal condition.
With peppers of all kinds I look for thick green stems. I look right past the ones with browned withered stems and don’t give them a second glance. If all the peppers in the bin have dark withered stems I may or may not pick out a few, but only a few, that might otherwise look good, depending on how badly I want peppers. Withered stems indicate that it has been a long while since the peppers were harvested.
The stems on these jalapeños are drying out on the ends but still pretty good. Compare them to the ones freshly harvested from my garden.
I purchased these chili peppers even though the stems were dark and thin just because they are a variety harder to come by.
Regarding headed vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, head lettuce etc. the longer the stem the better, and preferably without discoloration. Refrigerator life can be lengthened by occasionally trimming the stem when the end begins to discolor. If the stems are already trimmed right up to the base of the head either it has already undergone repeated trimmings or the produce person doesn’t know what they are doing. Of course there are always other considerations such as the condition of the leaves etc.
Celery should have enough stem that small roots can grow below the lowest stalks (photo not mine). Same applies to fennel.
Radishes, if the leaves have been trimmed off, should still have some stem left and the root. A radish with stem and root intact is still alive and the stem will continue to grow. They will keep for a very long time.
I look for cilantro with nice long stems which include the lowest pair of leaves. The entire plant is edible, and I almost always use both leaves and stems. I feel cheated when bundles of cilantro are tiny, consisting of short skinny stems and only the very top leaves.
Mushrooms are often packaged in cellophane wrapped punnets with the stems pointed down, so it can be difficult to inspect the underside of the mushrooms. I look for mushrooms with the veil membrane still attached to the stem and covering the gills.
You may have seen those packages of pre-washed green beans with stems and ends trimmed to save you time. It doesn’t save me any time. The cut ends are pathways for pathogens and quickly dry out or spoil. According to the date printed on the package these trimmed green beans had another ten days of salability yet the cut ends were already dried out and in my opinion needed to be trimmed all over again. I have seen worse.
Leeks and green onions should not have the roots completely trimmed off. With roots they are still alive and will keep longer.
Speaking of stems, I have seen it said that to determine the suitability of avocados one should break off the stubby stem end to reveal a green color underneath. NO! Do this at home (if you must) but please, NEVER do this at the market! Avocado aficionados will hate you. The practice reveals nothing that isn’t otherwise obvious, and it opens a doorway to pathogens which will cause the fruit spoil sooner.
Much more could be said about stems. These are just a few of my observations. Of course, the conditions of stems is just one criteria of many for determining the freshness of fruits and vegetables.