How to buy and store avocados

Avocados have been trendy for a while now. This makes me happy because, now that they’re mainstream, I can always find some at the grocery store! I love them in dips, savory dishes, and even sweets (puddings and cookies) — in other words, everything from appetizers through desserts. Oh, and not only are avocados creamily delicious, they’re terrifically good for you, too. Avocados provide nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, other antioxidants, and carotenoids to boot. 

There are over a hundred varieties of avocados, but the ones you’re most likely to find at the grocery store are the bumpy-skinned Hass avocadoes. (Did you know these avocados are also known as “alligator pears?”) There are other avocados with bumpy skin, and many avocadoes with smooth skin, such as Fuerte and Ettinger. If you come across them —most likely at different times of the year — give them a try for comparison. They do taste different. Some are nuttier tasting, some are creamier, some are lighter, and some are firmer, for example. 

Despite the availability, it can sometimes be a little tricky to get an avocado that’s just perfect when you’re ready to eat it. Here are some tips to help make that happen:

How do I choose a good avocado at the grocers?

whole hass avocados

Did you know that avocados don’t ripen until they’ve been picked? That’s why — unlike with most fruit — you want to pick a nice hard one when shopping, if you can, and let it ripen at home (unless, of course, you want to eat it right away!).

Besides being hard, choose one that:

  • Is heavy for its size
  • Is the same softness/hardness all over
  • Has no space between the flesh and the skin
  • Does not have a loose pit (give it a little shake)

How should I store avocados?

How you store your avocado depends a bit on its ripeness. If you brought home a hard one (which is preferable, when you have the time), leave it on the counter at room temperature until it’s ripe. It won’t continue to ripen uncut if you put it in the refrigerator! Ideal conditions are a cool (around 68 degree F), dark place. 

If you want to hurry the avocado along, put it in a brown paper bag. The ethylene gas produced by the avocado will concentrate in the bag and speed ripening. Once ripened, place in the refrigerator veggie drawer.

In either case, don’t forget about it! Check it every day (with a gentle squeeze, see below) to see if it’s ready to go in the refrigerator. Otherwise, it may well go bad sitting on the counter. 

If your avocado is already ripe when you get it home, you’ll want to either eat it right away or pop it in the refrigerator crisper drawer to keep it from overripening. It should keep for one to two weeks in the fridge, as long as you don’t cut it. 

So how can I tell if my avocado is ripe?

Color isn’t always a dependable way to tell. Some avocados stay green when they’re ripe and others (like Hass) turn very dark, almost but not quite black when they’re ready. Instead of judging by color, give the avocado a gentle squeeze. If it gives a little, it’s ready. If it’s very soft, with dark spots, you missed your chance. 

Here’s an interesting method for testing ripeness by peeking under the dried stem.

a person holds a halved avocado in their hands

What’s the easiest way to cut an avocado? 

My son Zak taught me this method, and it’s much better than what I’d been doing (peeling the avocado, then slicing it around the pit — what a mess!). Simply cut the avocado in half lengthwise. Then hold each side of the avocado, twist in opposite directions, and pull apart. Use a spoon to scoop the pit out, then scoop out the avocado flesh or peel away the skin, depending on your serving plans. 

Why does avocado flesh turn brown once sliced?

Like apples, avocados begin to oxidize once they’re exposed to air. A squirt of lemon juice helps slow the browning, which won’t hurt you by the way. It’s just not very appetizing!

How can I store an avocado once it’s been cut?

If you cut open an avocado and discover that it’s not at all ripe, here’s what to do: Sprinkle the exposed flesh with lemon juice. Then put the two sides back together, wrap tightly in plastic (or other) wrap, and place in the refrigerator. If cut, it will ripen in the refrigerator (quickly— check it often!)

If you have ripe avocado leftover that you’d like to refrigerate, sprinkle it with lemon juice and cover with plastic or other wrap (you’re creating a seal to prevent oxidation), then place in the refrigerator. Either way, once an avocado is cut, you’ll want to use it up asap.

Can I freeze avocado?

Yes! In fact, this is a great way to save leftover avocado (which I never seem to have any of, but maybe you have more self-control than I!). Just mash the flesh up nicely with some lemon juice (about 1 ½ teaspoons per avocado), then place in a freezer bag. Remove all of the air in the bag and freeze. Use up in a few months. 

This California Avocado page shows you how to freeze avocado halves as well as mashed avocado.

What’s your favorite way to eat avocado? Straight from the skin with a spoon? On toast? In guacamole or a grilled sandwich? In chocolate desserts, soups or atop tacos? Have you made pickled avocados? Yes, it’s a thing! 

You might also enjoy:

Salad greens — How to make them last

Storing wine at home — Wine storage tips for the non-connoisseur

Better berries longer — How to keep your berries from going bad

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