A friend of mine told me that the top quality produce is sold to restaurants and that the produce found in supermarkets is B-grade. That is why, for example, you might see a bin of oranges at the supermarket and every single orange has a slight blemish--because it is a Grade B orange.

So, if this is true, how can I get high quality produce? By "high quality" produce, takes apples, for example. There are 4 different standard USDA grades:

  • Extra Fancy
  • Fancy
  • No. 1
  • Utility

Most supermarkets sell either Fancy or No. 1 apples, not extra fancy. By high quality, I mean the highest quality of produce, no ripeness problems, no blemishes.

In Boston where I am located I heard that there is an open market in Haymarket where you can get good quality produce. Is that the only way? Find large commercial open markets?

  • 1
    Note that often, produce grading includes factors that are really just cosmetic (e.g. fruits losing points for not being the right perfect round shape), so top-grade produce isn't always the same thing as high-quality produce. Is your goal just quality, regardless of issues like that? Or do you really want to make sure you're getting the best grade, as the title of your question suggests?
    – Cascabel
    Jan 25 '16 at 23:57
  • @Jefromi I have added to my question to make it more explanatory. Jan 26 '16 at 0:21
  • Okay, so quality to you means appearance and not flavor? If that's what you mean, it might be helpful if you just said so, since it's not what most people mean by good quality. And while blemishes are a big deal, I'm not sure that ripeness is really part of the grading. For example, in the standards for peaches, all grades say "not soft or overripe", so all grades can be underripe, and U.S. Fancy is no more likely to be ripe (or overripe) than U.S. No. 2.
    – Cascabel
    Jan 26 '16 at 0:37
  • To try to get more in-depth posts addressing the points I raised, I asked a related question: cooking.stackexchange.com/q/65874/1672
    – Cascabel
    Jan 26 '16 at 0:42
  • The related question I posted got an answer, which I think does an excellent job of explaining why grade is probably not what you care about (assuming you plan to eat your food, not just look at it) and why it's hard to shop by grade even if you want to
    – Cascabel
    Feb 4 '16 at 21:44

Given that US produce grading is voluntary (see:http://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/vegetables), I think your task of sourcing the highest quality produce would be one of searching, asking around...basically trial and error. It, of course, depends on how you define quality (as the comments above suggest). If it is perfect cosmetic appearance, then yes, large commercial farms are the way to go. If perfect is flavor, then perhaps small producers specializing in specific crops might be the way to go.


Buy from farmers if what you need is locally grown - either you can choose yourself what you need, or if they are themselves binning produce for different markets, tell them you want produce from that and that class for an agreed markup.

I would suspect that professionals want the "perfect" produce not because it makes for a better end result, but involves less time wasted on having to deal with individually paring produce with faults.

That can take more time than actually cutting it to shape in a home kitchen too, very annoying if you have to turn the @!!! fridge upside down again after stacking everything back in, maybe even re-fill a washing bowl or re-clean/re-dry a colander, because half a fruit or vegetable turned out unusable but you need the amount you originally retrieved. Tidying up lots of salad greens or herbs where half the leaves are great and the other half is unusable also tends to take an unholy time.

Annoying at home - probably disastrous in a busy pro kitchen.

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