Michigan State University Extension
Preserving Food Safely - 01600686
The avocado is a tropical fruit native to Central America. Early in the sixteenth century it was introduced to Europe by the returning Spanish explorers. Today, avocados are grown in all areas of the world that have frost-free climates similar to that of their original habitat.
The United States is the world's number one commercial producer of avocados. It is a major cash crop in Southern California and southern Florida, and to a much lesser degree in Texas. California has about 80 percent of the United States' market and their avocados are available twelve months of the year. Florida avocados have an eight-month season and are not available during the months of March, April, May and June. Whether your local supermarket offers California or Florida avocados depends on the time of year and your geographical location.
The avocado has a unique flavor and texture. All other tree fruits have either a tart, tart-sweet, or sweet flavor and a juicy texture. The avocado looks like a huge green olive and, like the olive, has a single hard pit. It is very firm when immature and is rich in oil when it reaches full ripeness.
There are at least two dozen varieties of avocados grown commercially in the United States. Avocados come in assorted sizes and shapes. One California avocado is petite, weighing only a few ounces, while some Florida varieties can weigh as much as three pounds.
Depending on the variety, the immature fruit comes in every possible shade of green. Some are smooth and shiny, others are dull and have pebble-grained skins. Some varieties retain their original green color as they ripen. In others, as the fruit ripens the green changes to bronze, reddish purple, or even jet-black. Some varieties are almost round, but for the most part avocados are pear- shaped. Hence they are often called avocado pears.
Nearly all other tree fruits have to be harvested at a certain point of maturity lest they get too ripe to ship to market or even for immediate consumption. However, the avocado never reaches full maturity unless it is severed from the tree. In some California varieties the harvest can be delayed for months on end without affecting the flavor or the quality of the fruit. This ability to warehouse the fruit right on the tree is a boon to the growers because it provides for an orderly flow to market and extends the length of the season.
There are two distinct strains of avocados. The varieties grown in California are offshoots of the original Mexican and Guatemalan avocados. Those grown in Florida are derived from the West Indies avocados. Since the soil, amount of moisture, and climate of Southern California differ from that of southern Florida, the varieties that thrive on the West Coast don't do nearly as well on the East Coast, and vice versa.
While the avocado from either area is a quality product, there are significant differences in size, texture, and flavor. The Florida avocados offer advantages in size and often in price. They are usually at least twice as large as those from California and often less costly. The smaller, most expensive California avocados have more of the desired nutlike flavor and a richer, creamier texture than the more watery Florida fruit. A California avocado is to a Florida avocado as ice cream is to ice milk. However, the Florida avocado has fewer calories.
At full ripeness, the California avocado is not quite as perishable as the fully ripened Florida fruit. A very ripe, unbruised California avocado usually cuts fine and shows no discoloration. A very ripe, unbruised Florida avocado sometimes cuts dark.
To test for ripeness, cradle the avocado in the palm of your hand. If it yields to the slightest and gentlest pressure, it is ready to serve, it is a Florida avocado. If it is of the California variety, give it an extra day. Too many avocados are cut and served before they have reached full maturity and flavor. Once the fruit is cut, the ripening process is terminated. So make sure that it does have the slight yield before you cut it.
Avocados are not only flavorful and colorful, but are also blessed with versatility. They can be sliced, diced, pureed or served on the half-shell. They are flavorful enough to serve alone, but also blend well when served with fresh fruit, salad greens, cottage cheese, cold meats and especially seafood. A fully ripe avocado has the consistency of soft butter and makes a delicious and colorful sandwich spread. The increase in the popularity of Mexican foods has increased the usage of avocados. Their bland flavor helps take the sting out of fiery dishes.
A cut avocado, like a sliced peach or banana, will darken and discolor when exposed to air. Sprinkling the exposed surfaces with fresh lemon or lime juice will retard this discoloration. Try to use a cut avocado as soon as possible. In the interim, cover the exposed surfaces with plastic film. If you cut the avocado in half, don't remove the pit until ready to serve. Avocados are tropical fruits and don't like cool temperatures. Never put a firm avocado in your refrigerator. At best it won't ripen properly, at worst its flesh will turn black.
A black-skinned avocado is a hallmark of quality. The California Hass variety is an ugly duckling that has a dull, pebble-grained green skin when it is immature. As it ripens. the color of the skin turns to jet-black. This least attractive variety is by far the finest-flavored avocado available. When you see this Hass variety, remember that its ugliness is only skin deep.