Avocados are versatile fruits that are delicious in salads, sandwiches, tacos, or transformed in guacamole. But avocados are tricky things. They make you wait until they decide to ripen, then quickly speed past the sweet spot into mushy, sad goo. They're also not cheap. So when the avocados are in, you really want to squeeze the most value out of them by storing them right.
How to Choose Avocados
Like most fruits, avocados do not ripen until picked, so fresh ones will be as hard as rocks. Look for an even, unblemished texture–uniformly hard or soft over its entire surface–and those that feel heavy for their size. Avoid any with bruises or soft spots, and those with a hollow between the flesh and skin. Shake the avocado to test; if the pit is loose, move on to the next one.
The flesh of ripe fruits will yield when pressed gently. However, ripe fruits bruise easily with excessive handling in the markets, so it is best to ripen your own at home. This means planning ahead and buying them two to five days in advance to ensure they ripen properly.
How to Store Avocados
Do not refrigerate your avocados, at least not initially. If they are fridged too early, they won't ripen completely. Once picked from the tree, avocados, much like bananas, produce ethylene, which triggers the ripening process. A cool, dark place is best for storage, with an ideal temperature of 68 F.
Fresh-picked avocados should ripen under these conditions within a few days. When ripe, the avocado should yield gently to pressure when you squeeze it but not be squishy.
If you want to accelerate the ripening process, place the avocados in a paper bag. This concentrates the ethylene gas. If you add other fruits such as bananas and apples, they will all ripen more quickly together. Be sure to keep an eye on your avocados if you use this method; they will ripen before you know it.
When to Refrigerate Avocados
Once ripe, uncut avocados can be stored in the refrigerator, unpeeled, for up to one or two weeks. Simply stash in your crisper drawer. The flesh of the avocado quickly begins to darken when exposed to the air, so it is important to work quickly with the meat once the avocado is cut. The addition of an acid (lemon is usually the acid of choice) retards the darkening process.
Cut avocados should be refrigerated. Just like apples, cut avocados oxidize quickly and turn brown. While this does not make them inedible, it is aesthetically unpleasant. To save a cut avocado, brush the exposed flesh with lemon juice, cover tightly with cling wrap, and refrigerate. The acidity of the lemon juice helps stop oxidation, as does limiting the amount of oxygen that comes into contact with the flesh of the fruit. Alternatively, you can use a store-bought avocado keeper. Regardless, use cut avocados as soon as possible.
Sometimes you end up with too many deliciously ripe avocados and you'd like to preserve them for a later date. For long-term storage, freezing is the only effective method.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recommends mashing ripe avocados into a puree prior to freezing because whole or sliced avocados do not freeze well. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice to every two avocados to preserve the color. Place in a plastic, zip-top bag and remove all of the air before sealing and freezing for up to three months. Defrost before using and use immediately to make guacamole or another dip, smoothie, avocado-based dressing, or simply use as a spread.
Another method of preserving avocados is to turn them into pickles. Pickling is best for avocados that are just barely ripe and still firm. They will keep in the fridge for a week.
To make avocado pickles, heat a mixture of one part water to one part vinegar along with salt, sugar, and whole spices like peppercorns or coriander. Bring to a boil, dissolve the salt and sugar, and let cool. Halve and slice the firm-ripe avocados, removing the peel and pit. Add to a jar and top with the vinegar mixture. Chill for at least a couple of hours before enjoying, but a day or more is better.
The color will fade over time. Make sure any avocado pickles stay submerged in the brine. Pickled avocados, unlike other fruits and vegetables, are not recommended for hot water or pressure canning.