Market Matters: Choosing Seasonal Avocados

Avocados from Sippity Sup

Avocados are best when they’re local and seasonal. Of course not everyone lives in a place where it’s possible to get local avocados at the peak of their season. For you poor bastards, there’s Chile, and Mexico and Brazil. They can supply you with all the carbon-horrific avocados you can eat.

Now I’m not judging, just let me say. Because if I lived someplace where avocados didn’t literally grow on trees, I’d send my carbon footprint packing and buy all the artificially ripened fruit I could get my hands on. ‘Cuz avocados are that good!

But fortunately for my status as an official member of the “Friends of Al Gore” variety hour, I can get locally grown avocados pretty much all year long.

Which means I can get rich buttery Haas many, many months of the year. Haas are terrific, especially if you have never tasted anything but Haas. But Haas are not the be all and end all when it comes to avocados. Especially in Southern California.

Still, many Californians shove the other avocado varieties aside and spend their money on the carbon horrific Haas avocados that Costco carries all year long. Which makes them dumb people. Dumb people indeed ;-)

avocado from Sippity SupBecause come March, April and May Haas avocados are at their peak of perfection. All Californians should be happily rolling themselves in fresh guacamole at that time of year. But the dead of winter is a different story. Haas is not the best choice right now, they are usually picked early, shipped from afar and forced to ripen. They are good, sure. Yet still rather bland compared to their seasonal perfection. So I believe it’s better to choose one of the other dominant California varieties. The ones that mature on nature’s schedule just at this time of year. I’m talking about Bacon, Zutano and Fuerte. They’re pictured in the grid above in just that order, with Fuerte appearing as the cut fruit at the end.

Choosing the right avocado, ripe and in season can be a bit tricky, even at the Hollywood Farmers Market– even in California. But armed with the right information, you can make good choices all year long. Still, sadly most people automatically reach for the Haas.

I’m here to help you become a knowledgeable consumer of the fattiest of the fabulous fruits. Because there are several factors to consider. These include: variety, season, growing area and size. And because Mother Nature can be a tricky lady these factors flip-flop and become easily confusing all year long.

We love avocados for their rich, fatty oil content. In fact if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s why we love all foods. Our DNA makes us crave fatty foods to prepare for times of hardship. The fact that hardship today is a different sort of drama than it was tens of centuries ago accounts for our love-hate relationship with fat. But I digress.

Now just so you know. If David Karp didn’t exist. Neither would this post. I got all of the inspiration and most of the statistics from him.

So here we go with some Karpian fruit geek facts. Some are direct quotes, some are filtered thru Sup’s! lens. I trust you know what quotation marks indicate.

As you have guessed, fat from oil gives avocados their buttery texture and flavor. Early in the fruiting season, oil levels in most varieties are low. You can’t tell by looking. But it’s true. This phenomenon is exasperated with early picking. Commercial growers love early picking because the fruit can arrive half a world away still firm and beautiful. But the oil and fat will never properly develop. Some of these avocados won’t even ripen before rot sets in. If you have ever stolen fruit from a tree, at the earliest opportunity (when the neighbors weren’t looking) you know what I’m talking about. Because the fruit’s outward appearance does not reflect its oil levels.

This is why it helps to know a particular variety’s ripening schedule. In California there are set calendar dates that are considered the “official” ripening dates. Ask your farmer about these dates and he or she should be able to quote them. But these are dates set by the government. Mother nature has her own schedule. Which typically runs a few weeks behind the California Agriculture dates. Hmmm… bureaucracy in action.

Further complicating matters is the fact that contrary to common sense; larger avocados ripen quicker than the smaller fruits from the same tree! This is because the flowers that produced these avocados bloomed at the earliest moments of the season – grabbing many of the nutrients that are needed to grow big and strong. I have said the same thing about asparagus many, many times. Fat asparagus have more of what most people love about them because they received a lot more of the plants energy earlier in the season.

So (and this goes for both avocados and asparagus) you need to determine where the fruit was grown and its optimum growing season. Then you should choose large specimens if it’s early in their cycle and small specimens if it’s late in the season! Whew. That’s confusing. I know…

But I have more information to make your head explode! This time a direct quote from David Karp. “The varieties themselves differ considerably in maturity and intrinsic qualities. Hass, which dominates commercial production, is an excellent variety later in the season, in late winter and spring, but is not the best choice right now (in California December thru February), when even the largest fruits are still rather bland. It’s better to select one of the other major varieties that start maturing at this time, such as Bacon, Fuerte and Zutano.

These varieties, with their thin, green skins that readily show bruises, have been virtually abandoned by commercial avocado marketers, who find it more profitable during the fall and early winter to sell Hass imported from Chile and Mexico instead of less durable domestic varieties. But the more tender varieties, at their best now, are still readily available at farmers markets in Southern California.

Zutano is early and relatively cold-hardy compared with other avocados, but even at full maturity has relatively bland, watery flesh. Some people like that; in Florida all the avocados have lower oil content than Hass, but growers make the best of it by advertising them as ‘diet avocados.’ Even for those who prefer Hass, a lighter taste is a nice chance of pace once in a while.

avocado and sprouts sandwich from Sippity SupFuerte, the former mainstay of California’s avocado industry, at its best is arguably the finest of all commercially grown varieties, with an intense, nutty flavor. The larger sizes are getting pretty good right now, but will be richer in a month; the smaller sizes won’t be at their best until February.

Bacon, which originated in Buena Park in 1928, is one of the best choices in December and early January. It’s got a nice, sweet, nutty flavor, with adequate oil, although it will never be as rich as Hass and Fuerte at their peaks.”

I hope this helps. If not, let me just say this. I made a heck of a great sandwich using all three of these winter season avocados, with fresh bread, sprouts and kashkaval cheese. I’m not going to bother with a recipe today. Because I supsect your are suffering from information overload!

SERIOUS FUN FOOD

Greg Henry

SippitySup