Food Safety

Why You Should Stop Tossing Imperfect Avocados

March 24, 2016

Avocados are all about compromise. One moment they’re green and barely edible—then we blink and they’re overripe.

Photo by James Ransom

While we try to outwit Mother Nature and her too-darn-short window for a perfect avocado—by putting them into a variety of contraptions like the oven, brown paper bags, or the fridge)—the majority of the avocados we eat have some sort of imperfection. Here’s what the brown spots, bruises, and stringy black lines on your avocado flesh mean—and whether it’s still okay to eat:

Oxidation

Like apples left out too long and some orange wines, browned avocado flesh is the result of oxidization. And like other fruits that brown, avocados contain an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase. This enzyme catalyzes phenols, a class of compounds found in avocados, into quinones, which are capable of joining smaller molecules together into long chains. (Otherwise known by their less technical name: gross, browned avocado bits.) This process actually enables avocados to last longer, as quinones are toxic to the bacteria that cause rot, but it shortens the window of time they can be actually enjoyed.

In short, it’s best to eat avocados as soon as possible once cut, or keep them in airtight containers so that they don’t suffer from damage from oxygen.

Damage and Immaturity

The black, stringy lines you sometimes see in avocado flesh are from damage to the fibers that run longitudinally through the fruit. As Lindsay-Jean put it in the article above, “Stringy avocados are either from young trees (they’ll start to produce better fruit as the tree matures) or were improperly stored.

While it can be difficult to avoid avocados with stringy fibers—especially as the increasing demand for avocados forces more farmers to harvest from immature trees—purchasing fruit from older avocado farms with established trees is a good place to start. Either look online for information on your sellers or ask farmers at your local market how old their trees are—while avocado trees start bearing fruit at three to five years, they don’t reach full maturity until five to seven years.

Too Ripe

When avocados are overripe, they take on the similar brown color of avocados that have had a bit too much air—and like the oxidized fruit, they may have a funky flavor. But they're still completely safe to eat, just like the over-ripe banana you put into your banana bread. (Try them in a salad dressing or a smoothie.)

11 Comments

Joni H. November 1, 2017
Yeah, but, at some point over-ripe becomes rotten, right? What is the cut-off point?
 
Beehive A. March 26, 2016
I have noticed that some seem to be all pit. I feel a bit cheated, especially if the flesh is super yummy. Is the pit size a function of age, picking time, or maybe just what a particular tree puts out? Is there any way to see from the outside, what size pit is on the inside?
 
Trena H. March 24, 2016
I make guacamole with avocados that are past their prime.
 
lilroseglow March 24, 2016
Look online for information on the seller? Really?? Should I try to visit the tree too?
 
Smaug March 24, 2016
That did seem a bit impractical- perhaps for a wholesale buyer or a large restaurant. But yes, visiting the tree would be a fine idea- trees are nice.
 
Vicki B. March 24, 2016
I disagree with the stringiness of certain avocados being caused by immature trees. Avocados are ready to be harvested at about 9 months when the oil content is up. They can stay on the tree longer, but wait too long and the strings appear, and there is a possibility of the oil going rancid. Fruit from immature trees is just as great as fruit from mature trees. It is more important that the oil level has developed for the rich, buttery taste. Most avocados are sold to broker/packing houses so it would be pretty hard to determine the age of the trees, or what ranch they came from exactly. I am biased towards CA avocados since my husband manages many ranches. Do I need to say that I am never out of avocados...and I only get the ones that drop off the trees.
 
Smaug March 24, 2016
Even careful shoppers in California will often have to deal with some degree of bruising and overripeness at stem ends; as Chef June says, just cut (or scoop) around them. Avocados aren't so very cheap here, either. In fact, while it somehow fails to make an impression on federal inflation figures dominated by housing and transportation, food inflation has been horrendous in this state over the last decade.
 
ChefJune March 24, 2016
Toss them? Not unless they've gotten too old and icky. Just cut away the parts you don't like and forge ahead. They're way too expensive (especially here in New York) to toss them.
 
M March 24, 2016
Any tips for dealing with the strings for those who can't connect with a local source or specific sellers?
 
Author Comment
Leslie S. March 24, 2016
I'd suggest taking note of where the avocados from your grocery store come from, then researching the farm to see how hold it is. You can either look online but if the information isn't there—send them an email and ask! This list is just of California growers (and many avocados come from Mexico or Chile) but you may find the grower you're looking for here: http://www.californiaavocado.com/the-california-difference/our-growers
 
M March 24, 2016
Unfortunately, the preventative measure is not really an option for many reasons (small sellers, mixed sources, lack of online presence, language barriers, etc). Just figured that since the hed is "why you should stop tossing imperfect avocados" you might have tips to deal with them too.