Avocados are much like bananas in that they aren’t harvested when they are fully ripe, but are picked when they are still green. The avocado ripens afterward, sometimes during transport and sometimes in the sellers’ warehouses.

However, it’s not uncommon to come along ridiculously green and rock-hard avocados in markets all over the United States. It’s understandable since you really need to sell the product before it gets too ripe and mushy. As much as nobody likes waiting for their green avocados to become fully ripe, overripe avocados are simply unusable.

how to pick an avocado
Photo by: Valeria Burdyka

So, to make sure that you don’t waste your hard-earned money on bad avocado, we compiled a set of tips and tricks on how to get the best one – every time.

If you are short on time, here’s a quick rundown on how to pick an avocado:

Avocados ripen gradually from the point of time they are harvested to the moment they get into your shopping bag. The most obvious characteristic when determining the ripeness of fresh avocados is, of course, their color. The avocado will change from a relatively light green color to a very dark, somewhat purplish color.

However, looks can be deceiving and you should rather rely on the consistency of the fruit. This means that you should gently push the avocado between your hands before buying it, even if the color seems alright. If the avocado feels soft but not mushy, it is ready to be eaten that same day.

If you are still curious about the particulars, then let’s explore the matter a little further!

Picking the Right Avocado for You

Avocado ripeness can be seen in several different qualities of the fruit. The most obvious one is the color. Fresh avocados will have a light green color, while fully ripe ones will be dark and purplish. Although this is a quick and easy way to tell which fruit is closer to being perfect for consumption, the looks might be deceiving sometimes.

The reason for that is that it isn’t uncommon for the fruit to change color first, and the consistency of the flesh only later. To make sure you’re grabbing neither unripe nor overripe avocados we have a couple of aces up our sleeves to share with you.

The first one is consistency or hardness/softness. The perfect avocado, ready to be eaten on the spot, will always be relatively soft and tender, but won’t give in to gentle pressure. If the avocado seems too mushy in your palms it’s probably been there for too long and is overripe.

Firm avocados that seem rock-hard and not tender at all are almost certainly fresh from the orchard and will need a few days to become fully ripe. This can take from 4 to 5 days. Slightly less firm avocados are described as “breaking,” and at this point, they vary wildly in color so the best way to tell is to press them gently between the palms of your hands. If there is still some firmness to them, but they don’t feel rock-hard, they’ll probably take a day or two to fully ripen.

How to Pick an Avocado
Image from Fit Bottomed Girls

The second tip is to check the skin of the avocado. Most ripe avocados will have a slightly bumpy texture, but you should stay away from those that seem to have deeper indentations. The reasoning here is that those bigger bumps might be from people poking the avocado with their fingers while checking the ripeness, or the fruit being damaged during transport. Both of those can cause bruising of the avocado flesh itself, and might even change the way the fruit ripens if any cuts have been made on the skin.

So far, so good. You have picked a dark avocado, its skin is slightly pebbled, it feels soft in your palm but doesn’t seem to be mushy when you put a bit of pressure on it. Surely that’s the end of the ordeal. Well, yes – but in case you want to be completely sure, there is one method to tell if an avocado is ripe that never fails.

The trick is to peel off the stem of the avocado. It should give fairly easily if the fruit is ripe. Once you look beneath it, the fruit there should still be green. If it is brown, then the avocado is sadly overripe. And if the stem or cap won’t come off, then you’ve got yourself a fresh avocado that’s not ripe at all.

We purposefully left this tip as the last one, since we don’t condone going to your local market and peeling off every stem on every avocado, especially because the buyer after you might not appreciate damaged goods. So, save this method as a way to make sure that the avocados you have already bought or intend to buy are ripe.

Some Extra Tricks

When you are choosing which avocado to buy, a good idea is to try some of the different varieties. Oftentimes the slight differences in taste, say between the popular Hass avocado (which has a slightly nutty taste) and the Zutano (which has a noticeably lighter taste), can make or break a recipe that relies mostly on avocado.

And besides, you might just prefer one of them over the others, so why not buy those just for eating them raw or as a toast spread. In addition to experimenting with varieties, we suggest you come up with a plan on when you intend to use the avocados you are buying. It can be a good idea to pick avocados at different stages of ripeness, especially if you buy more than you will eat that particular day.

You can buy one or two really dark and soft ones for that day, and then select a few lighter, harder ones, which you can leave to ripen and use them later on in the week. Keep in mind that the fresh ones with a bright green color can take anywhere between 4 and 5 days to reach that perfect measure of ripeness, so plan accordingly.

To ripen the avocados at home you should just place them in a paper bag and leave them out at room temperature. You don’t want the bag sitting in direct sunlight because the heat might speed up the process too much and your avocados could go bad.

Also, don’t put them into the fridge, since the colder temperature slows down the process. In case you want to speed things up a little bit, you can place an apple or a banana with the avocados inside the paper bag. This is actually common practice with bananas, because the various compounds that are released from a ripe banana also trigger the receptors in the unripe ones, jumpstarting the process.

As a side note, you can keep fully ripe avocados in the fridge for at least 3 days without them getting overripe or mushy. What can be a problem is when you have already eaten half of an avocado and want to preserve the rest for later.

In that case, the avocado usually gets brown (but you can prevent it from happening) and too mushy inside the fridge, which makes it simply unenjoyable. Worry not, because we have a fix for that too. Before you put the avocado half in the fridge, sprinkle it with some lemon or lime juice. The citric acid prevents this discoloration and helps keep your avocado nice and buttery for a longer period.

Recap

There are roughly four stages of ripeness for avocados:

Fresh – Unripe

At this stage the fruit is completely green, it feels firm and does not give in to gentle pressure from your palms at all. Its stem won’t come off easily and it will take another 4-5 days at room temperature to become fully ripe.

Breaking – Almost Ripe

The avocado is described as “breaking” when it still has some firmness to it, but it does “give” a little when pressure is applied. The color of these avocados can vary substantially, so it’s a little harder to tell for sure if they are ripe or not. Again, the stem will be much harder to remove than on ripe avocado. They will take another day or two to fully ripen.

Ripe – Ready to Eat

At this point, the avocado is perfect for consumption. Its skin has a dark color and has slight bumps, it is very soft when you press it between your palms but doesn’t feel mushy. The stems on these avocados come off easily and they are green beneath that spot.

Overripe – Unusable

Overripe avocados are dark in color, they give in even under slight pressure and feel extremely mushy. Their insides are past their due and you are likely to find a slimy brown mess when you open them. Their stems come off easily and they are brown underneath them.

Conclusion

We hope that a few of our tips will be helpful the next time you are buying avocados and want to get the best bang for your buck. Good luck on your hunt and enjoy your avocados!