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How To Tell If Cherries Are Ripe

There’s nothing quite like the fresh, juicy burst of flavor from a perfectly ripe cherry. When the sun is shining and the trees are full of these ruby-like fruits, it’s time to reach out and pick your own.

But how can you tell if cherries are ripe and ready to be enjoyed? This guide will provide clear indicators to ensure you’re picking and buying the most delicious cherries at their peak ripeness.

Colander full of freshly picked ripe cherries.

Determine if cherries are ripe by their color, size, texture, stem, and smell. Sweet cherries turn deep red to black, while tart cherries become bright red when ripe. Ripe cherries should be plump, firm with a slight give, have fresh green stems, and emit a slightly sweet aroma.

Types of Cherries

Before getting into how to tell if a cherry is ripe, it’s important to understand that there are two main types of cherries: sweet and tart (also known as sour cherries). Each type has its unique characteristics and indicators of ripeness.

Sweet Cherries

These cherries are best for eating fresh. Varieties like Bing, Rainier, and Lambert fall under this category. Ripe sweet cherries have a dark color (mostly deep red to nearly black), a firm feel with a slight give, and a sweet smell.

Tart Cherries

Tart cherries, like the Montmorency variety, are usually cooked or used in baking. They are smaller than sweet cherries, bright red when ripe, and slightly softer to the touch.

How To Tell If Cherries Are Ripe


Cherries should be a vibrant color indicative of their type. Sweet cherries such as Bing or Lambert varieties often darken as they ripen, transitioning from a light red to a deep red or nearly black color.

Tart cherries, on the other hand, display a bright, eye-catching red when they’re at their peak ripeness. The key here is to remember the color transformation each type undergoes to ensure you’re choosing the ripest fruit.


The size of the cherry is a helpful indicator of its ripeness. Ripe cherries appear plump and full. They have a robust roundness that sets them apart on the branch or in the box.

If the cherries look shriveled or unusually small, they may not be ripe. The size signifies not only the fruit’s maturity but also its juiciness.


The texture of a ripe cherry should be firm but not hard. When you hold it, there should be a slight give, a delicate balance that hints at the juicy fruit beneath the skin.

A cherry that feels soft or mushy, on the other hand, is likely overripe and might not offer the best taste or texture.


The stem of a ripe cherry serves as a reliable freshness gauge. A ripe cherry’s stem is green and fresh-looking, often standing out against the dark fruit.

A brown or shriveled stem, however, can be a sign of overripeness or improper storage, signaling that the cherry might not be the best choice.


Lastly, a ripe cherry will have a slightly sweet smell. This subtle aroma is often overlooked but can provide a clear signal of the fruit’s readiness to be enjoyed.

If there’s no smell, the fruit is probably not ripe yet. Trust your senses, let the scent of ripeness guide you to the best cherries.

Cherry VarietyColor When RipeFeel When Ripe
BingDeep red to blackFirm, slight give
RainierYellow with a red blushFirm, slight give
LambertDark redFirm, slight give
Montmorency (Tart)Bright redSlightly soft

How To Store Cherries

Storing cherries properly can extend their freshness, allowing you to enjoy them longer. Here are a few steps on how to store cherries:

  1. Do Not Wash: Do not wash the cherries immediately after buying or picking them. Water can cause the cherries to become moldy.
  2. Keep the Stems On: Keeping the stems on can help cherries stay fresh longer.
  3. Refrigerate: Place the unwashed cherries in a plastic bag or container, ideally with air holes for ventilation, then store them in the refrigerator. Cherries can last up to a week when refrigerated.
  4. Freezing: If you want to store cherries for a longer period, consider freezing them. First, wash and dry them thoroughly. Remove the stems and pits. Then, lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to a sealable plastic bag or container. This way, the cherries won’t stick together and can be used individually as needed.

Remember to wash cherries just before you’re ready to eat them or use them in a recipe. It’s worth noting that different fruits have different storage methods.

For example, the best ways to store cherries are not the same as for berries. If you love berries as much as cherries, we’ve got you covered! Check out our comprehensive guide on how to store berries for maximum freshness.

How To Tell If Cherries Are Bad

Determining if cherries are bad involves looking for a few key signs:

  1. Mold or Fungus: If you see any mold or fungus on the cherry, it’s best to discard it. This is often a sign that the cherry has begun to rot.
  2. Soft or Mushy Texture: While cherries should have a slight give when squeezed, they should not be overly soft or mushy. If they are, it’s likely the cherry is overripe or possibly even rotten.
  3. Off Smell: Fresh cherries should have a pleasant, subtly sweet aroma. If the cherries smell foul or fermented, they’re probably bad.
  4. Shriveled Appearance or Brown Spots: Cherries that are shriveled or have brown spots may be rotten or overripe. A shriveled appearance can also indicate dehydration if the cherry has been left out for too long.
  5. Leaking Juice: If a cherry is leaking juice while still on the stem, it could be a sign that it’s overripe or damaged.

If you’re unsure about the freshness of a cherry, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not consume it.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Tell If Cherries Are Ripe

You know cherries are ready to eat when they have a vibrant color (dark red to black for sweet cherries, bright red for tart cherries), are plump, firm but with a slight give, and give off a slightly sweet aroma.

Cherries should be firm but not hard when ready to eat; they should have a slight give when touched, indicating juiciness without being overripe or mushy.

You know cherries are ready to eat when they have a vibrant color (dark red to black for sweet cherries, bright red for tart cherries), are plump, firm but with a slight give, and give off a slightly sweet aroma.


By following these tips, you should be able to find the ripest, most flavorful cherries around. However, remember that just as it’s important to know how to identify ripe fruit, it’s also essential to know how to tell if fruit, including cherries, has gone bad.

Learn more about this topic in our comprehensive guide on recognizing the signs of spoiled fruit. This knowledge will ensure that you always enjoy fresh, delicious cherries and stay safe while doing so.

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