How do you pick a good avocado?

Avocado cut in half

Tianna Nadalin

Posted March 05, 2020

Avocados Australia CEO shares his top tips for buying the best avocados.

There are few fruits that can be both as satisfying and disappointing as an avocado. That feeling when you twist one open to reveal two perfectly green, blemish-free halves – it must be like winning the lottery. But cutting open an avocado to find it is black, bruised or dead inside is one of life’s great frustrations.

Because few things are as harrowing as picking an avocado from a mountain of endless avo-tunities, nurturing it through its supermarket bagging phase then allowing it to reach its full potential in your fruit bowl, only to realise the $3 you spent on it was all for nothing. #avocadogate 

Legend has it that the cult Victorian brunch dish, which now features on cafe menus across the world, was discovered when a local chef became so enraged after cutting open a bad avocado that he smashed it against his kitchen bench, thus creating the first smashed avo. 

So, to save countless Victorians the heartache (and hip pickpocketry) that is a bad avocado, we caught up with avocado expert John Tyas, CEO of Avocados Australia, to find out everything you need to know about Australia’s national fruit, including how to pick a good one, how to ripen them properly and why Shepards aren’t the savoteurs we fear. 

Everything you need to know about avocados

Where do you buy the best avocados?

When it comes to choosing a good avocado, there a few things you need to think about. “The first thing you want to do is find a retailer that looks after their avocado display properly,” John says. “They’re not an easy product to handle.” When looking for avocados, John says the displays shouldn’t be piled in a big heap, as the fruit at the bottom is more likely to be bruised. 

How can you tell if an avocado is ripe?

If it’s Hass season, John says, you’re in luck. Hass avocados turn a darker colour as they ripen, so you can tell by looking at them whether they’re going to be ready. “But, right now, we have Shepards, which are available mainly during February to April,” he says. “These are called green skins as they don’t change colour when they’re ripe.”  

How do you pick a good avocado?

If the colour looks good and the shell is even and blemish free, the next thing to test is how ready it is for eating. To do this, there is no way other than to handle the fruit. “Gently press the avocado at the end that’s got the stem,” John advises. “If it yields a little bit, it’s good to eat. The key thing to remember is to be very gentle when testing for ripeness.” 

What about buying hard avocados?

If you’re playing the long game, consider buying avocados when they’re a little firmer so they’re ripe when you’re ready for them. “I actually buy avocados that are not quite ripe because, once they start to soften, that’s when they are more susceptible to bruising,” John says. “I leave them on the bench then, once they’re at the stage of ripeness I want, I put them in the fridge. By doing that you eliminate the risk of damage – whether on the shelf or in transit.”

Hass avocado perfection.
A rotten avocado is one of life's greatest disappointments.

Can you eat them firm?

John says, despite popular belief, you can eat a firm avocado. “You don’t have to wait ’til they’re really soft,” he says. “There’s still plenty of that nutty flavour when you eat them a bit firmer.” 

Is there a correct way to handle avocados?

John says proper trolley stacking and bagging order are imperative to protect your precious avos. That means top spot on the trolley and in carry bags. “People need to treat them like eggs and really look after them,” he says.

Hass vs. Shepard: Which is better?

Hass avothusiasts, rejoice. The popular avocado is the most common variety in Australia and is available pretty much year round. It has a more oval shape and distinctively textured skin.  

The Shepard, on the other hand, is green with envy over Hass’ status as the premier avocado. Somehow it has become the black sheep of the avocado family, with forums and Facebook groups dedicated to it being the inferior fruit. The Shepard is more pear shaped with a smooth, glossy green skin and a nuttier flavour.

But, looks aside, the key thing that separates the Shepard from its Hass avocabro is that it doesn’t brown as much when cut, which makes it great for adding to salads.

“Both varieties are suited to all uses,” John says, debunking the myth that Hass is better for smashing. “But Shepard does have that extra benefit of not browning as much.” 


Ripe bunch of avocados

The ripeness of an avocado is indicated by colour, skin texture and firmness.

Where should you store avocados?

Avocados, especially if they’re on the firm side, are best stored in ambient temperature, out of direct sunlight. “Once they’re at the stage you want, pop them in the fridge,” John says. “That’ll help them last longer. If they’re not ripe, don’t put them in the fridge until they’re ready, or they’ll never ripen.” 

Can you get an avocado to ripen quicker?

If you want to help a firm avocado ripen up, put it in a bowl with some bananas or other ethylene-producing fruit. “This won’t make it ripen faster, but it will trigger the ripening process,” John says.   

How do you precent an avocado from turning brown?

As soon as you cut an avocado, John explains, the tissues in the avocado start to oxidise. “What you need to do is exclude the air,” he says. “If you’re not using a whole avocado, wrap the remaining half in plastic wrap or put it in an airtight container, and store it in the fridge.”  

If you want to prep your avo in advance, John says squeezing lemon or lime juice over the flesh can interfere with the oxidisation and stop it turning brown.   

Why are avocados sometimes stringy?

Every now and again you’ll get an avocado that has a stringy texture. “That’s a sort of physiological disorder,” John says. “It occurs during the growing phase. If the trees are stressed – during particularly hot or dry weather, for example – it can cause the fruit to develop an interesting fibrous texture." Unfortunately this is not something you can pick from the outside.  

Why are some avocados black inside?

Like all fruits and vegetables, avocados are susceptible to rot and damage. “Rots start in the orchard, so growers have to manage their trees to minimise the amount of disease that gets onto the fruit,” John says. 

Why can we get avocados all year? Aren't they seasonal?

Avocados are grown from far north Queensland to the New South Wales Central Coast, the Mildura-Sunraysia region and the south-west, John explains, and a rolling harvest from region to region keeps supplies up virtually all year. 

How long are avocados stored for before they reach the consumer?

“Generally, avocados don’t get stored – they’re not like apples,” John says. “They have to be moved through the supply chain a lot more quickly.” 

Was the avocado industry impacted by the bushfires?

Fortunately not, but we might still see shortages later in the year. “One issue that has caused problems is that WA has had a fairly poor fruit set so we are expecting a much lower yield this year,” John explains.   

How many avocados do we eat per year?

Aussies are obsessed with avocados. “We have the highest consumption per capita in the English-speaking world,” John says. “We eat 3.8 kilograms per person, per year. That’s more than the US, UK and Europe.” And it’s not just cafes driving the demand. “Over the last 10 years we have doubled our avocado production and most of the fruit that is produced is sold through conventional retailers,” John says. “More people are buying more avocados more often.” 

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