Culinary Arts

Complete Guide to Avocados and How to Pick a Ripe Avocado

Written by MasterClass

Apr 5, 2019 • 4 min read

Avocados have become incredibly popular in recent years, and you're more likely than ever to find avocado toast or a grain bowl topped with the green fruit at a local cafe. But it can be tricky to pick the perfect avocado in the store.

Read on to learn more about the stages of avocado ripeness, and how to pick perfect avocados at the grocery store.

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What Is an Avocado?

Avocados are a pear-shaped fruit with bumpy, dark green skin and light green flesh, with one large pit in the center. The fruit has a creamy texture, and a mild buttery or nutty flavor that compliments many different types of dishes.

Is Avocado a Fruit or Vegetable?

Avocados are technically a single-seed berry, which classifies them officially as a fruit. However, avocados are treated like culinary vegetables due to their flavor, which is more savory than sweet. Avocados are native to Central and South America and commonly associated with Mexican cuisine. While well known as the main ingredient in guacamole, avocados are used for many other savory dishes, and are also popular when eaten on their own. There are many different avocado varieties, but most avocados found in US grocery stores are Hass avocados.

How to Tell if an Avocado Is Ripe

Have you ever brought home an avocado and found it too hard to eat, or brown and mushy inside? There are some easy ways to pick a perfectly ripe avocado in the grocery store.

  • Pressure. Hold the avocado in the palm of your hand and give it a little squeeze, but be careful not to push the tips of your fingers into the fruit. Use your palm instead to avoid bruising. A ripe avocado will yield to gentle pressure. If you don’t feel any give at all when you squeeze an avocado, it will take several days before it reaches its peak stage of ripeness.
  • Color. Unripe avocados will have lighter skins, and as they ripen the skin will turn into a rich, green color, even sometimes appearing nearly black.
  • Stem. If you’re still not sure, pull off the little bit of the stem that remains at the top. If it’s brown underneath, the avocado is overripe. If it’s a rich green underneath, that may be your perfect avocado. A lighter shade of green indicates an underripe avocado, which will take longer to ripen.
  • Bruises and breaks. Never buy an avocado that has large bruises, very squishy spots, or any breaks in the skin.

How to Quickly Ripen an Avocado

You can trick avocado into ripening faster by placing it in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple, and leaving the bag out at room temperature. Both fruits give off ethylene gas as they ripen, so trapping the ethylene gas from the apple in the confined space of the bag causes the avocado to ripen faster. This process generally takes 1-2 days.

This trick will work with any fruit that gives off ethylene gas. These include:

  • ripe bananas
  • kiwis
  • apricots
  • mangoes

Can You Microwave an Unripe Avocado to Ripen It Faster?

Do not warm an avocado in the oven or microwave to ripen it faster. This will certainly soften the avocado and make it easier to slice and eat, but it will not be truly ripe, and will not have the buttery, rich flavor that avocados are prized for.

How to Preserve a Ripe Avocado in the Fridge

Slow the ripening process of an avocado by placing it, whole and unsliced, in the refrigerator. The cold temperature slows, but does not entirely stop, the ripening process. However, be mindful to not place the avocado near other produce that may suffer from the ethylene gas. For example, leafy greens and herbs like romaine, iceberg, spinach, and parsley, as well as other vegetables like squash, cauliflower, and eggplant, will turn brown and wilt when stored next to ethylene-producing fruits like avocados. The drawers in your refrigerator are a handy way to keep these two categories of produce separate, for maximum freshness of each type.

How to Stop an Avocado From Browning

The flesh of a perfectly green avocado will begin to brown when exposed to oxygen. There are several ways to mitigate this enzymatic browning.

  • Leave the pit. If you cut an avocado in half and only use one half, leave the pit in the half you do not use. The pit will cover up at least some of the surface area of the fruit, reducing the exposure to air.
  • Squeeze lemon juice. You can also spread lemon juice around to the rest of the exposed fruit, and wrap tightly in place plastic wrap. The citric acid will reduce browning.
  • Try olive oil. Olive oil can be used in the same way; the olive oil will act as a barrier between the fruit and the air to reduce browning.
  • Add an onion. Finally, try an onion: place the cut avocado in an airtight container with a wedge of sliced onion. Onions exude strong chemicals that delay browning.

Your culinary plans for the rest of the avocado may influence which of these methods you choose, since each will introduce some additional flavor to the avocado. (This is also why guacamole is a great use for avocados!)

Toast with avocado and egg

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What to Do With an Overripe Avocado

Avocados are too precious to waste. If you have let an avocado slip past its peak stage of ripeness, the simplest solution is to cut off any parts of the flesh that have turned brown and eat the parts that are still good. Thanks to the fruit’s creamy texture, even when it’s overripe it can be blended, whisked, or mashed into an endless array of sauces, dressings, and dips. Try making avocado toast with a soft-boiled egg.

The options go well beyond guacamole; recipes abound for dips and spreads that use avocado to thicken the texture with plant-based fat. Many vegan and health-food chefs swear by avocado as a magic ingredient in chocolate mousse or pudding, since it adds creaminess without relying on dairy products. The healthy fats in avocados can also be used as a beauty treatment; mixed with other ingredients, an overripe avocado can become a nourishing face or hair mask.

Watch Chef Wolfgang Puck create tuna sashimi with avocado puree here.