One of the most common questions I am asked is how do you ripen avocados? The easiest way to ripen an avocado is to place it on your counter or in your fruit bowl for a few days until it gives slightly to gentle squeezing in the palm of your hand. See below for more detailed information on ripening avocados.
We hear it all the time on social media, at avocado festivals and from our families and friends: “what should I do with these hard avocados?” or “is there a way to ripen avocados faster?” or my personal favorite “can I microwave an avocado or place the avocado in the oven to ripen it faster?” (no you can’t – and shouldn't, see the Ripening an Avocado section below).
So I wanted to step back from the cooking tips, recipes and other things we’ve been sharing lately for a bit and focus on this fundamental (yet critical) part of enjoying avocados at home.
I’ll answer these questions and more below, with a little help (okay, a lot of help) from Mark Carroll, Senior Director of Produce/Floral Purchasing & Merchandising of Gelson’s Markets, a regional supermarket chain operating in Southern California.
But first, some product supply background.
When avocados arrive from the avocado shipper
California Avocados are harvested and then delivered to an avocado shipper who may or may not start the avocado ripening process, and then distributes them to grocery stores like Gelson’s.
“When buying California Avocados for all of our eighteen Gelson’s stores, we first inspect them to make sure they meet our high quality standards,” says Mark.
“They arrive at our distribution center and go out to the stores within 24 hours. When they arrive at the stores, the Produce Manager places them in a room temperature spot selected just for avocados (for ripening). The Produce Manager will then build a large display for customers with the ripe avocados on top.
At Gelson’s we want to always have California Avocados that are ready to eat on display and also avocados that are ready to eat in a day or so.”
How to select an avocado at the store
First, look for “California” on the avocado label from spring – fall to ensure that you’re getting avocados grown here in the California sunshine. We get a lot of questions about diagnosing problems with imported avocados. We’ll get to that topic at a later date.
“When selecting a Hass avocado, I like to look for a nice large size California grown avocado with the classic pear-shape,” says Mark. “I avoid the ones with bruises, loose skin or the ones where the stem end is showing decay.”
Mark raises a very good point. If there are pockets or portions of the fruit that seem softer than the rest of the avocado, choose a different avocado. These pockets are likely bruises related to transportation or other avocado shoppers in the store squeezing the avocados with their fingers. We call this “digitizing” – and recommend that when you choose your avocado, you squeeze it (gently!) in your palm instead of with your fingers.
Note: because the Hass avocado has a very thick skin, some small cosmetic blemishes, in general, are perfectly fine. Avocados often grown in bundles, and are surrounded by leaves, branches and tree limbs so they naturally can have a scuff here or there that will not affect the flesh of the fruit. See how they are in a bundle in our video below?
How to Ripen an Avocado
There are five stages that an avocado goes through as it is ripening.
See the chart below for an explanation of each avocado ripeness stage:
When I buy avocados at the store, if I need the avocado in 2-3 days, I try to select avocados that are in the third “breaking” stage so that they are ready to eat in time. If I’m shopping for serving the same day, I will look for a much softer stage five “ripe” avocado.
Like Gelson’s, many grocery stores sell avocados of varying ripeness. Choose what you need carefully.
What to do if you can’t find the stage of ripeness you are looking for
There is still hope if you can’t find the avocado you are looking for.
If the avocados you find in the store are too hard for when you plan to serve them, first, ask the store produce manager if they have any avocados in the back that are closer to ripeness. If not, purchase the softest ones you can, and place them in a paper bag on the counter top with a kiwifruit or apple (or both) to speed up the avocado ripening process.
Apples, kiwifruit and avocados all produce natural ethylene gas. Ethylene is a plant hormone that triggers the ripening process and is used commerciall to help ripen bananas, avocados and other fruit. When placed in a paper bag, you are containing the ethylene and encouraging the fruit to ripen faster. For best results, use red or golden delicious apples. These old varieties produce more ethylene than newer varieties (e.g. Gala or Fuji) that have been bred to ripen slowly to maintain their crisp texture, and will be the most effective when it comes to ripening avocados.
Do not microwave your avocados or put your avocados in the oven to try to ripen them faster. If you do, the microwave or oven may soften the flesh of the fruit a little which may make it ‘seem’ ripe, but it isn’t. The avocado will taste unripe and won't have the creaminess or buttery, nutty flavor we all know and love. Ripening avocados is a process best left to Mother Nature’s timeline. Patience is key (they took 14-18 months to grow, after all!).
If you find yourself in the opposite situation with only ripe avocados available at the store that you will not be using for a few more days, get them home and put them in the refrigerator right away to slow down the ripening process.
Note: do not put hard or firm avocados in the refrigerator as the temperature will slow down the ripening process and could result in an incompletely ripened avocado, or an avocado that never softens making it inedible. Just remember, cool temperatures slow down ripening. Room temperatures encourage it.
What to do if your avocados are not what you expected
If you are cutting into an avocado and there are black spots, vascular bundles (stringiness) or bruises, discard those areas. We’ll get into why these issues happen at a later date.
If the inside of your avocados smell sour or moldy, discard them. If your avocados are completely inedible because of quality issues, consider returning them to the store.
Returning your inedible avocados is a good practice because not only does it (hopefully) get you a refund or an exchange, but it also lets the store know that there could be issues with their avocado supply. Grocery stores like Gelson’s are great about monitoring their inventory though, so when avocados from California are in supply, buy with confidence.
Other helpful resources
Here are a few resources you might find helpful if you have questions about ripening an avocado, choosing an avocado or eating an avocado:
Big thanks to Mark at Gelson’s for helping us out – give Gelson's a like on Facebook for those of you in Southern California.
I know this information can be a lot to digest. If you have any questions about ripening an avocado, or any subject, feel free to ask below.