Q: I’d like to eat avocados more often, but I have trouble getting them at the right stage of ripeness and using them before they turn mushy. What’s the secret?
A: Avocados, like most fruit, do have a distinct period in which they are best to use. Color may change with ripeness, but the best indicator of ripeness is by feel: a ripe avocado yields to gentle pressure, but is not mushy. If you happen to find a ripe avocado at the grocery store or farmers’ market and you are ready to use it in the next day or so, that’s great. However, don’t hesitate to buy too-firm avocados. To ripen avocados, store them at room temperature. Normally they will ripen in four to five days at about 65-75oF; in extra hot weather, they will likely ripen faster. Refrigerate to ripen more slowly, or to hold your avocados two or three days after they’ve reached desired softness. If you’d like to use your avocados sooner, put the unripe avocados in a brown paper bag with one of the following fruits: apple, banana, peach, pear, kiwi, plum or papaya. All these fruits produce and give off ethylene gas, a plant hormone that triggers the ripening process.
Once your avocado is ripe, if you use only half of it, sprinkle the remaining half with lemon or lime juice (or even orange juice in a pinch), then cover tightly with plastic wrap to reduce exposure to air, and refrigerate. It will still be good the next day; if there is a trace of browning, just scrape it off and enjoy the rest of the fruit. You can also mash or puree ripe avocado with lemon or lime juice (about one to two teaspoons per avocado half) and freeze for later use in guacamole or other dips or salad dressings.
As long as you watch your portion size to control calories, avocados make a great addition to many dishes. Although avocados contain fat, saturated fat is very low; the vast majority of the fat consists of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat (sometimes called MUFA and PUFA), both of which are healthful fats, and sodium content is zero.