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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