What’s the difference between soft fruits and hard fruits? Hint: it isn’t really their hardness.
If you’re just learning how to grow your own fruit, you will inevitably come across the terms “soft fruit” and “hard fruit”. And when you do, it’s only natural to conclude that farmers use these terms to describe the hardness of the fruit.
But they really don’t. In fact, whether a fruit is soft or firm has almost nothing to do with its hardness. If you want to find out why, read on; we have it all for you.
Fruits generally fall into one of two categories when it comes to the way they are handled and stored: Some fruits are considered soft fruit, while others are considered hard fruit.
Contrary to what some home cooks and gardeners think, the terms “soft fruit” and “hard fruit” don’t describe the firmness of the fruit, but its shelf life. As a general rule of thumb, soft fruits keep poorly and spoil within days, whereas hard fruits keep well and for weeks on end, sometimes months.
What Are Soft Fruits?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines soft fruits as small fruits, such as berries, that have no seeds or stones.
Berries and grapes are soft fruit. This includes blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, currants, goji berries, gooseberries, grapes, raspberries, mulberries, wineberries, and others.
These fruits usually grow on bushes and are sold ripened, in plastic clamshell containers in the fresh produce section of the grocery store. Soft fruits can be stored at room temperature, but they will also keep much longer if stored in the fridge.
To make a batch of berries or grapes last longer, Allrecipes’ Vanessa Greaves recommends washing the clamshell container that they came in with soapy water, lining that container with a paper towel, then putting the berries or grapes back inside, closing the lid, and refrigerating them.
What Are Hard Fruits?
Hard fruits are big fruits, such as apples and pears, that typically grow on trees and have seeds or stones.
Apples, apricots, bananas, cherries, citrus fruits, kiwi, mangos, papayas, peaches, pears, pineapples, plums, pomegranates, and quince are all considered hard fruits.
Hard fruits tend to grow on trees. They can be found in large buckets or large bags in the fresh produce section of the supermarket and usually need to be ripened at home.
Generally speaking, hard fruits don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator. Most, as a matter of fact, will keep for a few weeks, some even months, provided they are stored properly.
The key to keeping hard fruits longer is to keep them in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight. So don’t leave them on the windowsill or dining table, but instead put them in a wicker basket on your pantry shelf.
Soft Fruits vs. Hard Fruits
From the home gardener’s point of view, soft fruit shrubs are best for planting in small gardens and narrow yards, while hard fruit trees are best for planting on large plots of land.
Berry plants bear fruit in 1-2 years, whereas grapevines produce grapes in 2-3 years. In contrast, a standard-size apple tree can take 7-8 years to yield its first fruit, and so do most trees that produce hard fruit.
Another way in which the bushes that produce soft fruits differ from the trees that produce hard fruits is their lifespan. Fruit-bearing bushes live 10-20 years, whereas fruit-bearing trees can live for centuries, especially if looked after properly.
According to Almanac, berry bushes should be planted in patches in sunny—but not windy—places in the garden in spring. They can be planted on raised beds near trees, but not too close to or under them because then they will not get enough sunlight.
Not all grapevines are the same. American vines are great for eating and handle cold weather well, whereas European vines need warm, dry weather and make for formidable wine. All of them need large, open gardens with plenty of sun and fertile soil.
Fruit trees ought to be planted in a sunny patch with free-draining and nutrient-rich soil. Put them in an area protected from the wind, if possible, and water them well, especially in the dog days of summer.
The terms “soft fruits” and “hard fruits” describe the shelf life and storage method for fruits, not necessarily their hardness.
Soft fruits grow on bushes, benefit from refrigeration, and spoil in a matter of days from picking. Hard fruits grow on trees and can be stored for weeks, sometimes months, in a cool and dry place such as the pantry.