When you have an abundance of fresh fruit in your fridge, time's a tickin'. That beautiful bushel of bananas can quickly turn into a mound of mush in the blink of an eye.
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But don't fret about overripe fruit — just because it gets a little soft and squishy, doesn't mean you can't enjoy it.
Unless fruits are overly mushy, molding, leaking or foul-smelling, most are perfectly palatable and safe to eat when they are overripe, dietitian and chef Julie Harrington, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
In fact, in addition to tasting sweeter, overripe fruits also offer some sweet health benefits.
"Compared to their underripe counterparts, ripened fruits tend to have higher levels of antioxidants, which help strengthen our immune systems and ward off viruses and the common cold," Harrington says.
So, when your fruits have passed their prime, try these eight creative ways to put them to good use that don't involve baking cobbler or tired banana bread.
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1. Jazz Up Jam
Who hasn't been to a farmers' market and fawned over those cute containers of homemade jam? Now you can make your own with the overripe fruit in your fridge.
To whip up a quick, jaw-droppingly tasty jam, combine sugar, lemon juice and your choice of fruit (strawberries, raspberries or blackberries would work nicely) in a saucepan and cook until thickened, then store in the refrigerator, Harrington says.
2. Pop Them Into Ice Pops
There's nothing like a cool, refreshing ice pop to help you beat the heat during warm weather. Making ice pops from scratch is a great way to use up overripe fruits that might otherwise go to waste.
Juicy peaches are perfect for ice pops, Harrington says. Just blend them with yogurt, milk and honey, pour into ice pop molds and freeze. Alternatively, you can substitute milk with plant-based alternatives and honey with fresh juice.
If you prefer little pieces of peach to nibble on, don't purée until entirely smooth.
Big bonus: Unlike the store-bought kind, your homemade ice lolly won't contain high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors.
3. Dream Up a Salad Dressing
When your fruit gets overmatured and a little mushy, try mixing it into a subtly sweet salad dressing. For a quick, no-fuss dressing, blend overripe fruit with olive oil, an acid (citrus or vinegar), herbs and seasoning, Harrington says.
To balance out the natural sweetness, toss your greens with some salty nuts or throw a handful of cheese on top.
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4. Go for a Glaze
A great-tasting glaze can gussy up just about any dish. Whipping together a sweet sauce is simple when you have overripe fruit in your fridge.
For a nice strawberry glaze over ice cream, yogurt or even a chicken dish, roast overripe strawberries and mix with brown sugar, vanilla and balsamic in a saucepan, Harrington says.
In the mood for more tropical fruit flavors? "Purée overripe pineapple or mangos, combine with sugar and citrus juice in a saucepan, then strain for a nice glaze that can be used on grilled meats, vegetables or desserts," she says.
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5. Sweeten Your Smoothies
When in doubt, dump overripe fruit into your smoothies for an extra dose of sweetnes and nutrients.
"Chop up fruits and place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper in the freezer," Harrington says. "Freeze individually first, then, once frozen, place them in a Ziploc baggie in the freezer to prevent the fruit from clumping together."
This helpful trick will make mixing in the blender a breeze.
6. Just Juice It
So, you bought a big bag of oranges weeks ago (it seemed like a good idea at the time) and now they're fading away in your fridge. "Juicing is perfect for overripe oranges that are almost at the end of their life," Harrington says.
Use a juicer to mix overripe fruits and veggies into a delicious juice blend. If you don't have a juicer, purée your fruit in a blender and strain.
"You could also squeeze the citrus and store its juice in ice trays for future cooking," according to Harrington.
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7. Craft a Cocktail
Beef up your alcoholic beverage's health benefits by incorporating your overripe fruit. By puréeing super-ripe fruit like strawberries or peaches for a Bellini or mojito, you can add more vital vitamins and essential fiber to your mixed drinks.
Ripened berries are particularly beneficial for your alcoholic brew. When they ripen and darken in color, they gain more of the pigment anthocyanin, which is linked to antioxidant properties, Harrington says.
The plus: Your healthier homemade concoction comes without the hefty price tag of your standard specialty cocktail.
8. Incorporate Into Ice Cream
Overripe bananas make fantastic vegan ice cream, Harrington says. "As they brown, their starches break down, so they become sweeter and contain higher levels of antioxidants."
To make a simple soft-serve ice cream, slice the bananas and freeze them on parchment paper for a half hour or so. Once fully frozen, toss bananas and cocoa powder in a food processor or blender. That's it.
You could also add a hint of honey for extra sweetness or a tablespoon of peanut butter for a bit of protein.
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