We put popular avocado-ripening methods to the test to determine which ones work and which don’t.
Avocados hold an intriguing position among commercially popular fruits. Avocados, unlike most other fruits, do not ripen on the tree; they begin ripening off the tree after reaching full maturity. But then the race to ripeness begins, and in the case of avocados, that race is quite short, with few options for long-term preservation.
These two facts place commercial avocado producers, shippers, and sellers’ concerns squarely opposite those of the home chef. Those in the avocado sector are looking for ways to postpone the ripening of the chosen fruit for as long as possible, giving them as much time as possible to get the avocados from the field to your kitchen counter in good shape. They’ve gotten pretty good at it after a lot of research—by lowering temperatures, reducing environmental oxygen and increasing carbon dioxide, shrink-wrapping or waxing the fruit, and other techniques. Despite significant shipping distances and other challenges, the avocado industry can keep the fruit in its mature-but-unripe state to the point of sale.
On the other hand, the average home cook wants to know how to speed up ripening so they can eat the damn thing. This can be a problem when shopping for and eating avocados because, to put it frankly, perfectly ripe avocados are difficult to come by. The window of time when they are perfectly cooked—soft and delicate with no brown spots or streaks—is notoriously limited. It can make throwing an avocado-themed party a terrifying experience.
Fortunately, there are a few techniques to slow the rate at which they ripen, as well as certain methods that other articles on this issue promote, but we do not.
How to Choose a Quality Avocado When Shopping
We’ve all seen avocados that appear flawless on the outside but reveal a succession of deep brown streaks and striations when cut open. What’s the deal with that?
Unfortunately, it is neither predictable nor preventable. It is caused by uneven enzymatic action within the avocado throughout development, aggravated by harsh weather and other seasonal, environmental, and agricultural factors.
For Hass avocados, the likelihood of this event increases beginning in December and peaking around February.
Woody filaments stretching through certain avocados’ flesh are another typical problem. These strings are part of the plant’s vascular strands, which carry nutrients into the fruit. They’re always present, but they only become woody and stringy later in the season when the avocado matures.
Unfortunately, as with brown spots, there is no way to forecast which avocados will have these threads until you cut into them other than to know that the risk of encountering them increases later in the growing season, with fruit picked in late summer and early fall.
How to Know If an Avocado Is Ripe
While the color of the avocado’s skin changes as it ripens, this is not a reliable method of determining ideal maturity because avocado skin color varies from variety to variety and fruit to fruit. It’s better to judge ripeness by touch: Gently press the avocado towards the stem end with your fingers. You want to feel tender and willing to give. If the avocado is very firm, it’s not done; if it’s soft and mushy, it’s overcooked.
The Best Ways to Ripen Avocados
A gas called ethylene regulates ripening in avocados and many other fruits. It is naturally produced by the fruit and is intended to ensure that all of the fruit in one area ripens at the same time. The higher the ethylene concentration, the faster your fruit ripens. That’s why it’s recommended to store underripe avocados or bananas in paper bags—it concentrates ethylene and speeds up ripening.
When stored in a paper bag at room temperature, an underripe avocado will usually last three to five days if left alone. If you need avocados right away, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
How to Ripen Avocados Quickly
According to side-by-side studies, avocados from the supermarket that exhibit no softness at all require three to five days to ripen in a brown paper bag. Throw in a banana, and you can reduce that range to two to three days. It isn’t instant, but it gives you more control over having a ripe avocado when you need it.
For example, you could buy multiple avocados and leave some out in the open kitchen air, some in a brown paper bag, and a few more in a brown paper bag with a banana added. By doing so, you’d stagger their ripening days, with banana-ripened avocados ready in a couple of days, paper bag avocados ready a day or two later, and open-air avocados ready right on the heels of those, provided they all started at the same degree of unripeness.
Can You Ripen an Avocado in the Microwave?
This is one of those well-known internet and social media advice that sounds so nice that we all want to believe it.
But, having tried it ourselves, we regret to inform you that it is a bad method.
The truth is that using the microwave to ripen an avocado cooks it. There are some parallels between cooking and ripening: In both circumstances, the flesh of the fruit softens as the cell walls weaken, resulting in a more sensitive feel. Furthermore, new flavors and fragrances emerge. However, the texture changes and the flavor and scent character are not comparable between ripening and (even very gently) cooking. A properly ripened avocado becomes buttery and creamy over time, whereas a microwaved avocado becomes slick and sweaty and soft as a lit candle—overly mushy in the hotter spots and yet too stiff in others.
The flavor of a microwaved avocado, on the other hand, is by far its most serious flaw. We’d describe it as reheated, undercooked chicken, a strange combo that manages to smell like raw fowl while also stinking like reheated poultry. Although a microwaved avocado is simpler to chew, it is not easier to swallow.
How to Store Ripe Avocados for Later
If an avocado is left at room temperature for two days after it has matured, it will begin to develop brown patches and streaks. Refrigerating a ripened avocado, on the other hand, can extend that window to roughly five days, though avocados are prone to chilling damage and will begin to brown if left too long.
What’s the best way to ensure flawless avocados for a Sunday night game? Purchase them on Monday, ripen them at room temperature in a brown paper bag, and refrigerate them as soon as they soften.
How to Prevent Avocados From Browning
What about the avocado that was left over? Is there any way to protect it from browning? Avocados despise oxygen, which causes them to turn that unattractive brown color. Plastic wrap works well on chopped avocado halves, however, even plastic wrap is permeable to oxygen. Avocados did not withstand more than eight hours wrapped in plastic before obvious browning occurred in our tests.
If you have a perfect half of an avocado with a smooth face, the classic rub-with-oil-and-place-face-down-on-an-oiled-plate method works perfectly, but it doesn’t work if you just have 3/4 or 1/4 of an avocado.
In such a case, what is the better short-term solution? Simply immerse the sucker in water. Simply place any unused avocado pieces in a jar filled with water in the fridge to prevent oxidation, but bear in mind that they won’t last long. After a few hours, a ripe avocado will become mushy where water has penetrated it.
For mashed avocados, such as guacamole, we believe that pressing a double layer of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the avocado mixture is the ideal approach, aside from preparing it shortly before serving. It’s not a perfect solution—the avocado will still brown eventually—but you can mix in just enough browning to fool guests, giving you at least a few hours before it becomes a problem.
Learn more: How to Prevent Grilling Flare-Ups