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

     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.               

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This information is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those not mentioned. This information becomes public property upon publication and may be printed verbatim with credit to MSU Extension. Reprinting cannot be used to endorse or advertise a commercial product or company. This file was generated from data base 01 on 03/09/98. Data base 01 was last revised on 10/13/97. For more information about this data base or its contents please contact wrublec@msue.msu.edu . Please read our disclaimer for important information about using our site.