As Californians, we have so many things to be thankful for when it comes to fresh food. Avocados are certainly one of those things, and at our farmers market, we have three vendors supplying us with these sublime fruits. Given that California produces 95% of the avocados in the USA, this is not surprising.
The Haas avocado is the most widely grown, as it is worldwide. Overall, the Haas accounts for 80% of avocados grown. At one time, there were about 100 varieties grown in California, with the majority of them in the Santa Barbara/Ventura area and further south. Things like ease of growing and shipping account for the diminishing numbers, but also some of the older varieties have been eclipsed because their flavor is simply not as tasty as the Haas, Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, and Reed varieties seen most commonly.
When it comes to avocados, flavors range from nutty to fruity, but the descriptor that almost always comes to mind is buttery. Oil content of avocados ranges from 3 to 30%, with the Haas at 19%. Sometimes an avocado can be wet or watery, where some are buttery. The great thing about getting avocados at the farmers market is that there will be several varieties from different areas so you can be assured of getting them at their peak. That is one of the keys to great flavor from avocados. Avocados have different seasons, although the Haas (again…) produces year round.
Avocados mature on the tree, but only ripen after picking. Some growers, like Old Creek Ranch, will “store” their avocados on the trees for several months, allowing them to continue maturing longer, while some farmers will harvest the avocados and store them at a chilly 40°F until they are needed and then move them out. Commercial farms will cold store the avocados hard, and then subject them to ethylene gas to start ripening them on the way to the store.
There is evidence of people eating avocados dating back to around 10,000 BC. To early humans, the buttery quality of avocados must have been a treat. Avocados hail from the same area as chilis, and the fat of the avocado is a great foil for the heat of the chili.
When thinking of ways to use avocados, remember that acids such as vinegar and citrus fruits like lime and pineapple bring out the richness, and salt brings out the buttery quality. Avocados are also a perfect foil for spicy chilis and earthy beets. The mild flavor of avocados couples well with seafood. Avocados are also delicious in milkshakes — in Morocco, avocados are blended with orange flower and rose water and cardamom. In Southeast Asia, avocado shakes are made with sweetened condensed milk and chocolate syrup.
How to Select the Perfect Avocado
When selecting avocados, a few things are key:
- Look for avocados that are not bruised or cut.
- It should feel heavy and the pit should not be rattling around inside.
- To check for ripeness, gently use the pad of the thumb or the palm to gently press on the avocado. It should have a little give to it when ripe.
- Checking the stem to see if it wiggles really doesn’t work as means to check for ripeness. It will only tell you that the stem area is ripe. However, it is a good idea to check that the stem stub is present as it prevents things from getting into the avocado which might start it on the path to rot.
Once cut and smashed, avocados are subject to enzymatic browning, which can be retarded by applying lemon or lime juice. Unfortunately, leaving the pits in the guacamole or avocado is an old wive’s tale and will not prevent browning. Should you have an avocado that does have the browning, simply skim it off. It will not hurt the avocado or you if this has happened. Patience and gentleness are good for avocados. Handle them gently, and if they are hard, you just have to be patient. Place them in a paper sack and leave on the counter to ripen. To speed the process, put them near an apple or banana which produce ethylene gas. Once ripe, you might let them go a day longer to be sure, then store in the refrigerator.
Where to Buy Avocados at the Farmers Markets
At the market, look for avocados from Brokaw Ranch Company and certified organic avocados from Four Sisters Farm and Old Creek Ranch. Old Creek Ranch brings Haas and Bacon varieties, with some Gwen’s as well. Four Sisters Farm offers Bacon avocados. Brokaw brings Haas, (of course!), Fuerte, Reeds, Gwen’s, and a new variety called the Gillogly. I say “of course” because it was Will’s great uncle who contracted with Rudolph Haas, the guy who developed the Haas, to propagate the trees so they could become commercially viable. Buying a Haas from Brokaw involves you in a little agricultural history. By the way, you pronounce “Haas” as in “glass” — not as in Hoss from Bonanza.
HEALTH RELATED: Avocado Study Finds Improved Cholesterol Ratios
RECIPES: Yolkless Deviled Eggs, Crispbreads with Smoked Salmon, Avocado, Lemon and Capers, California Club Sandwich, Avocado “Mayonnaise”, Shrimp Avocado and Mango Salad, Sweet Potato and Avocado Sandwich, Stacked Beet, Avocado, and Mixed Microgreens Salad, Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup, Sweet and Spicy Avocado Soup, Avocado Shake, Kale Salad with Mango, Avocado, and Hazelnuts