I’ve been buying avocados the last couple weeks. This is embarrassing because I have more than a dozen avocado trees growing in my yard.
We have no fruit off our own trees at the moment, however, due to a combination of some trees having an “off” year, plus the damaging heat this summer, plus the reality of late September through October always being a period of paucity in the avocado year of Southern California.
But I’ve been finding some good avocados to buy, drawing on these strategies that I used years ago when I had no trees of my own.
If buying from a grocery store . . .
Buy avocados from California
The first thing I look for is where the avocado was grown, and if it’s not from California I almost never buy it. Here in 2018 we get imports from Mexico, Chile, and Peru. None of these imports ever taste as good as California avocados. None, ever. There are myriad reasons, including transportation distance, time in cold storage, excessive and poor handling, and growing climate. It’s not that good avocados are not grown in these other countries, but that in the U.S. we rarely get good avocados from these places.
Look for stickers on the fruit that say USA or California.
Just because an avocado was grown in California does not mean it will be high quality and great tasting. But all other circumstances being equal (see below), California-grown avocados have a far higher likelihood of being superior. Over the years, I’ve found many good California avocados to buy but very few good imports.
Buy avocados that are green and hard
Secondly, I look for fruit that is unripe. It should be green and hard. You know what people do to avocados on the store shelf. I’m sure you don’t do it, but you’ve seen people do it. Mr. and Mrs. Squeezy Fingers: “Hmmm, is this one ripe?” Squeeze, squeeze. “Is that one ripe?” Squeeze, squeeze.
Every poke of their finger tips causes bruising and rotting. Only you can’t tell because the skin of Hass avocado fruit usually turns black as it ripens, the same color as the bruising they’re causing.
But Mr. and Mrs. Squeezy Fingers don’t usually assault green and hard fruit. They go after black fruit, which is also easier to damage since it’s softening. So I buy only the greenest, hardest, most unripe fruit I can find.
Buy avocados that are bagged
Even more reliable than individual green and hard avocado fruit is buying green and hard avocados that are sold in bags. Around me, the stores that most commonly do this are Trader Joe’s and Costco. These bagged avocados are even less likely to have been beaten up by Mr. and Mrs. Squeezy Fingers. Rarely have I bought a bag of four little green California Hass from Trader Joe’s and cut them open to find bruising and rotting inside; they’re almost always of high quality, much more often than any other store-bought avocados.
Even if you can’t find California Hass avocados in a bag, buying bagged avocados grown in a far off country is usually a safe bet in terms of avoiding the bruising and rotting caused by fellow shoppers. For example, I just visited my brother and sister-in-law in Reno, Nevada who bought bagged Hass avocados at Costco that were grown in Peru. The avocados were nowhere near the prime flavor of California fruit, but they were all without interior rot. That’s worth a lot.
Buy other varieties when Hass is out of season
I also just visited some friends in Corvallis, Oregon who buy their avocados at First Alternative, a food co-op. On September 12, this store still had California Hass available. I bought this one:
An irony here is that if you go to the website of the California Avocado Commission, a marketing organization, you’ll find at the top of the page: “season has ended.”
This is misleading. The truth in it comes from the fact that almost all California avocados grown for commercial purposes are of the Hass variety, and the Hass season is winding down. But in September there is still excellent Hass fruit coming off trees in the northern areas of the southern part of California (Santa Barbara County, for example).
More importantly, there are varieties other than Hass that have a later season, and if you can find them, consider yourself lucky. My wife found some Lamb avocados at a Sprouts store the other day. You may have unknowingly seen these too: they’re usually labelled “Jumbo Hass.” (That’s a nonsense marketing name. They’re not Hass although they do look similar to Hass.) Lamb is a California variety that tastes great from the middle of summer into fall.
There is also the Reed avocado, which has almost the same season as Lamb: summer into fall. I’ve bought many Reed avocados at Whole Foods Markets in years past.
I asked my friends in Corvallis if they ever got avocados other than Hass at the co-op, and they remembered getting Bacon. Besides Lamb, Reed, and Bacon, I’ve seen some Fuerte avocados sold in select stores, for example at Bristol Farms. But I’ve never seen them in typical supermarket chain stores.
The seasons to find Bacon and Fuerte avocados are from about November through the end of winter.
Now, if you really want to find the best avocados to buy you’ll have to look beyond the grocery store . . .
Buy avocados at farmers markets
The advantage of buying avocados at a farmers market is that you can buy varieties other than Hass and that are in season, such as the ones mentioned above. But there are even more varieties to be found at farmers markets. I’ve bought Pinkerton, Edranol, Nabal, MacArthur, Corona, and other uncommon varieties at farmers markets throughout California over the years.
Buy avocados at farmstands
Farmstands are another great place to find less common varieties. A couple that I have bought avocados from and can recommend include Farmstand 67 in Ramona, San Diego County, which carries Reeds and Lambs during summer, and Eli’s Farmstand in Fallbrook, San Diego County, which carries those varieties in addition to GEM, Gwen, and more.
Buy avocados at farms
Also, a few avocado farms sell to the public right there at the farm — and sometimes the farm isn’t as far away as you might imagine. If Azusa in Los Angeles County is close enough to you, visit Rancho Vasquez.
The Vasquez family grows and sells Fuerte and Lamb, in addition to Hass. If you grew up in Southern California and remember eating Fuertes as a kid, Rancho Vasquez is the place to still get some of those exceptional winter avocados. The trees on this hillside grove are among the oldest Fuertes still alive — and I can vouch for the continuing high quality of the avocados they bear.
The short of it
In summary, if possible, buy California-grown, green and hard, maybe bagged avocados. Find good Hass avocados at some chain grocery stores like Trader Joe’s, but other varieties are most likely found only at smaller, specialty food stores or farmers markets outside the season for California Hass (which is approximately March through August).
As a final note, a few California avocado growers have started selling their fruit directly through their own website or on Amazon. I’ve yet to try avocados from any of them. But if I lived outside the western states of the U.S., with no other access to California fruit, I’d order some. It seems highly likely that the fruit will be good since it’s grown relatively close in California, shipped straight to you without being touched by Mr. and Mrs. Squeezy Fingers, and the farmers sometimes offer different varieties in the peak of their season.
(Find these growers by doing a web search of “buy California avocados.”)
Also, I’ve mailed avocados from my trees to family who live out of state and the fruit has arrived in top shape so I know the method is feasible.
You pay a lot for such second best fruit, but if the best avocados in the world — those off your own trees — aren’t available, then you do what you have to.
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