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How to Ripen Avocados

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 09, 2022

Bringing home an overly firm avocado from the grocery store is a problem most of us are all too familiar with. Every avocado at the grocery store seems to be a few days shy of being ready for the perfect recipe. Avocados don't start to ripen until they're off the tree, so we often must wait for them to ripen before using them. Adding avocados to your diet is a great way to get your daily intake of healthy fats, vitamins, potassium, folate, and fiber.

Avocados have potential health benefits including lowering cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. The fresh flavor and creamy texture of avocados make them a versatile and popular fruit. You can add them to a delicious breakfast sandwich, whip them up into guacamole, or make them into a spread and add that to toast. But one of the trickiest things about avocados is knowing when to eat them. Read on to discover techniques for ripening avocados sooner and how to avoid picking a mushy, overripe one.

Are Unripe Avocados Safe to Eat?

There's nothing worse than returning from the grocery store with avocados only to find that they're unripe as soon as you cut into them. Unripe avocados often taste bitter, are hard on the outside, and are difficult to cut. 

Once you've let the feeling of disappointment wash over you, you may wonder, "Can you eat an unripe avocado?" The short answer is yes — unripe avocados have the same nutritional value, and if you're not allergic to avocados, eating an unripe one is perfectly safe. Note that, due to the large amount of dietary fiber found in avocados, eating too many may cause you to experience diarrhea.

Can You Eat an Overripe Avocado? 

Overripe avocados are unarguably worse than underripe ones, and remembering to check them for ripeness daily is a challenging task. Knowing when your avocado has spoiled can help you avoid buying bad fruit. Once avocado skin turns black or is mottled, it has officially gone past the point of no return.

Avocado skin that has dimples, is wrinkly, and feels mushy or soft is often another sign that the fruit is overripe. If you cut into the avocado and discover that it's brown on the inside or tastes bitter, it may have gone bad. While eating overripe avocados is safe, you should never eat a rotten avocado.

You should avoid anything with streaky flesh, a bad smell, taste, or mold growing on it. When you want to make a creamy avocado spread or guacamole for dipping tortillas chips, overripe avocados are great for making a puree, mashing, or slicing. Placing avocados in the fridge once you see them turn dark green can slow the ripening process by a few days.

How to Ripen Avocados Fast 

Avocados gradually ripen over a four-to-seven-day period. Leave them out on the counter at room temperature, and you'll start to notice their skins go from a bright to darker green. 

When you brought them home from the store, they probably felt heavy and hard in your hand. As avocados ripen, they soften, and the brown nub where the stem was can easily be torn off. If you have a bunch of rock-hard avocados but crave a sandwich with a creamy avocado spread, try putting unripe avocados in a brown paper bag for three days. Fruits release a gaseous plant hormone called ethylene that triggers the ripening process.

Trapping them inside a bag with its own ethylene will concentrate the exposure and prevent bacterial growth. Adding ripe bananas to the paper bag may increase the amount of ethylene gas in the bag and encourage faster ripening. Keep in mind that an unripe avocado won't go from hard to creamy in minutes. Using a paper bag, you can cut down the ripening process by up to four days.

How to Choose Ripe Avocados 

Picking the perfect avocado isn't easy, and you've probably come home from the store only to realize that you've picked up a bunch of unripe avocados. The skin color of ripe avocados is often dark green with a purple tint and has a bumpy texture. If you place the avocado in your hand and it yields to gentle pressure, this is another good indicator that you've found a ripe avocado. Avoid avocados that have brown spots or dents or are mushy. 

When choosing the right avocado, you should consider traits like color, firmness, and texture — but you should rely on more than these qualities. An avocado's color and softness can often be misleading and typically aren't the best indicators of ripeness. The key to checking whether an avocado is ripe is to see what's going on under the skin. 

Pull back the nubby stem at the top of the avocado to tell whether you should consider taking it home. A stem that comes away easily is a good sign, and if you find a green or yellow color underneath, you've likely found an avocado that's ready to eat. Overripe avocados will be brown underneath or have brown spots, and a stem that's difficult to pull off means the avocado is underripe.

How to Eat Avocados

Place underripe avocados in a paper bag to speed up the ripening process. Refrigerate overripe avocados to slow the process down. Putting lemon or lime juice on avocados can protect them from some oxidation and keep them from turning brown too quickly. Once your avocado is ready to eat, cut it in half and scoop out the inside with a spoon. You can slice the avocado, mash it, or eat it alone. 

You can eat avocados with meat, on bread, with eggs, or with tortilla chips. You can mash avocados into a spread, make a dip out of them, blend them with smoothies, slice them on a salad, or add them to baked goods to increase richness. Opt for fresh, ripe avocados to get the most out of eating this nutritious and delectable fruit.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Avocado: “Ripening Manual.” 
Cedars Sinai: “In Case You Need a Reason to Eat More Avocado.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Enjoy avocados? Eating one a week may lower heart disease risk.”
Harvard School of Public Health: “Avocados.”
Kadam, S., Salunkhe, D. Handbook of Fruit Science and Technology, “Avocado," CRC Press, 1995.
Kitchen Community: “How To Store Avocados: Can You Refrigerate Avocados?”
Michigan State University: “How to select a fresh avocado.”
MIT Medical: “Please squeeze the avocado!”
NPR: “Science Reveals How Fruit Keeps A Lid On Ripening Until The Time Is Right.”
UC Riverside College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences: “How to tell if an avocado is bad.”
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: “When to pick avocados.”
University of Maryland Extension: “Ethylene and the Regulation of Fruit Ripening.”
USDA: “Fresh Fruits.”

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