15 Overripe Foods to Cook Instead of Throw Away, According to Chefs

You knew about brown bananas, but there are so many more foods to keep around after peak ripeness. Here's what to do with them.

Bowl of fruit including overripe bananas
Photo: Getty Images / iStockphoto

Bananas aren’t the only ingredient worth saving when they're past their prime. Before you toss out that mushy tomato or banged-up cantaloupe, consider throwing it into a new recipe instead. Not sure how? These chefs share their favorite recipes for transforming overripe foods into delicious dishes, including kimchi stir-fry, peach vinegar, and sofrito.

Citrus fruits

Valencia Orange Marmalade
© Christina Holmes

“Citrus are great and very versatile, but the shelf lives aren’t that long. Instead of trashing them when they become overripe, consider making a marmalade out of them. With a few simple ingredients (salt, sugar, water, favorite spices), you can have a nice marmalade to spread over your favorite snacks! This also extends its life for another two weeks or so.” — Randall Matthews, culinary director at Delivered

Stone fruit

Triple Ginger Nectarine Jam Recipe
© Young & Hungry

Well, like most people this year, I have a freezer full of rotting bananas so that I can always make a quick banana bread! But one of my favorite types of overripe foods to cook with is any stone fruit — overripe peaches or nectarines make the best jams. One thing to remember is that the riper the fruit, the more acidity it's lost, so I make sure to add champagne vinegar to give it a nice freshness.” — Stephanie Izard, 2011 F&W Best New Chef; Top Chef, Iron Chef, and James Beard Award winner


“If my cantaloupe sits for too long, I like to cook it. I first blend the melon until it’s smooth, then I cook it down in a non-stick pan. I reduce it until it has an almost apple butter-type consistency. I then add a little lemon juice for balance. I push it through a sieve or screen to remove any pulp and then you have a delicious condiment. You’ll be surprised at the flavor the melon takes on — very concentrated but not overpowering at all. Spread it on toast, or a warm bran muffin, or scones even.” — Lance Knowling, co-founder of Black Chef Series and Lance at Home


Fresh Cabbage Kimchi
© Line Klein

“It’s a fermented product, so it just gets funkier and stronger in flavor over time. In Korea, it is common to eat kimchi that’s years old. There are even restaurants that specialize in very old kimchi. Use it in soups, stews, or simply stir-fry it — the deep umami flavors come out brilliantly.” — Judy Joo, celebrity chef and cookbook author of Korean Soul Food


“Not to be confused with green plantains! Ripe ones need to be really ripe. I am talking about that black, almost-but-not rotten. Only these deliciously overripe plantains will produce a deliciously sweet and creamy puree or caramelized maduros as they're called in Spanish — sliced and cooked in butter until they're golden brown all over and slightly tangy and creamy sweet. Nothing compares to when a plantain is just right.” — Michelle Bernstein, celebrity chef and owner of Café La Trova and Michelle Bernstein Catering


Marcella Hazan Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter Recipe
Photo and Styling by Julia Gartland

“Tomatoes are a versatile ingredient but can be tricky. Not every tomato can be the star of a great caprese salad. This requires a beautiful, sun-ripened tomato. Most of the tomatoes that are in my grocery store are not that tomato. If you have tomatoes that are just past their peak or if they weren’t perfect to begin with, a simple pasta sauce is the perfect application. Shaved garlic, diced tomato, fresh basil leaves, good olive oil, and a little bit of starchy pasta water can get you to an amazing pasta sauce with no more time on the stove than it takes your pasta to cook.” — Steven Richard, executive chef at Paddlefish

Jalapeño peppers

“Mind you, there is a fine line between slightly overripe and rotten. Cut the fruit or vegetable and smell it. If there is a hint of musty or moldy aroma, it’s too late. Throw it away or compost. Pickling is a great use for leftover vegetables. Examples: cucumbers, okra, jalapeño peppers, or green beans.” — Scott Linquist, chef/partner of Coyo Taco


“When I lived in Boston, there was an outdoor market called the Haymarket. It was along the streets on the outskirts of the North End. At this market, the vendors would commonly sell overripe or distressed berries. We would buy them for practically nothing and sort through them and cut out the bad spots and then simmer them with a small amount of sugar and some lemon to make the best jellies and bases for ice cream. This is really easy to do at home.” — Bruce Moffett, chef/owner of Moffett Restaurant Group


“I save overripe peaches for making peach vinegar. We make a mash and let it ferment with saison yeast. When the vinegar is done, we season grilled peaches with it for a little flavor boost.” — Evan Gaudreau, chef of Post House


Traditional Chimichurri
© Abby Hocking

“Greens and/or herbs that are getting a little wilted are perfect to make a quick sauce for a steak or piece of fish. Turn those sad-looking greens into an arugula pesto, a bright chimichurri, or a kale pesto, which are full of flavor and healthy, too!” — Nick Leahy, chef/partner, Nick's Westside


“Instead of making something sweet, use bananas to make spicy banana ketchup. It has the flavor profile of a regular ketchup but some sweetness from bananas. It goes well with omelets, grilled pork, and fried chicken. Heat up a sauté pan on medium heat, add vegetable oil and onions, and cook until it is translucent for about three to four minutes. Then add allspice, paprika, ginger, garlic, and Thai chiles (you can substitute with serrano or jalapeño) and let it cook for two minutes. Once that's done, add overripe bananas and cook for another five minutes. Add water, vinegar, sugar, and salt, turn down heat to medium low, and simmer/let it reduce for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add red food coloring and mix well. Remove from pan and let it cool slightly, then transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.” — Jason Acoba, head chef of Tanuki Miami Beach

“They ripen so quickly and often people don’t like seeing the bruises on bananas. We make a caramelized banana jam for pancake toppings. Or, throw them in a blender with some yogurt, honey, and milk and make a smoothie.” — Paula DaSilva, director of culinary and beverage at Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale


“I take mushy and overripe strawberries (that aren’t rotten) and make a strawberry syrup to put on ice cream or use it to make strawberry lemonade.” — Glenn Rolnick, corporate chef of Alicart Restaurant Group

Sweet potatoes

Cinnamon-Spiced Candied Sweet Potatoes
Victor Protasio

I love to keep them in a dry, cool place and use them after a month or two. Somehow, they develop flavor and make for a creamier sweeter potato. The starches break down as the sugar develops. It’s an amazing thing. If you want to go a step further, wrap them in banana or tobacco leaves or hay for added flavor to the aging.” — Michelle Bernstein

Carrots and celery

“Anything that might be on its way out can be saved at the 11th hour by creating a sofrito. Sofrito is a super bomb of flavor that can be turned into a base and refrigerated. It's finely minced aromatics that are cooked down very slowly (sometimes with the addition of anchovy, tomato paste, or anything that may have an element of umami) to form a concentrate.” — Adam Sobel, executive chef of Michael Mina Group


“Persimmons are in season this time of year and I always end up buying more than my family can eat. When they start to feel a little too soft, I dry them out hoshigaki-style by peeling them and hanging them out to dry in a sunny spot for a few weeks. When they are done, you have a delicious, deeply sweet, autumnal treat.” — Camilla Marcus, chef/restaurateur of West~Bourne

Honestly, any fruit

“When I have overripe fruits, I like to process them into puree and freeze them in ice cube trays for a later use. Finding a way to use ingredients that are heading past their prime is always a responsible thing to do. Someone grew that and, as chefs, we should respect the work that went into that.” — Mike DeCamp, chef of Jester Concepts

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