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How to buy an avocado and tell when it’s ripe

(Stacy Zarin Goldberg)

We’ve all been there. Where, exactly? The place that exists where avocados are seemingly only either rock hard or discolored mush when we cut them open. You may have even seen the memes about how small the window is for peak ripeness. While such jokes are exaggerated for effect, many of us still struggle with the question of how to choose a good avocado and determine when it’s ready to eat.

Here’s what you need to know.

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The look: The first thing to check is the fruit’s appearance. Avocados should have a glossy skin that is free of cracks and dry spots. The vast majority of avocados sold in the United States are Hass avocados, which tend to darken as they ripen. For these, bright green avocados should be ready in a few days, while darker ones are more likely to be ready to eat.

Another sign of ripeness is the color under the stem. “Once the stem is removed, there will be a little dimple and that dimple should most resemble the color of the inside of the avocado,” Rebecca Angel Baer wrote in Southern Living. “So if that dimple is brown, chances are you’ll see a lot of brown spots when you slice it open. But if that little dimple is yellow-green in color, you probably have a winner!” However, if it’s still very yellow, it likely needs more time to ripen.

The feel: But the best indicator of avocado ripeness is firmness. Give it a gentle squeeze in the palm of your hand — the avocado industry prefers that shoppers don’t poke the fruit with their fingers — and if it yields to the pressure, the fruit is ready to eat. Firm avocados should be left at room temperature to continue to ripen.

You can speed up the ripening process by placing the avocados in a paper bag, and can make it go even faster by adding another ethylene producing fruit, such as an apple or banana, to the bag. (Similarly, keep avocados away from such fruit if you don’t want them to ripen so quickly.)

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The timing: Once the avocado is ripe, it is best consumed within the next day or so. If you don’t plan to eat the avocado that soon, you can place it in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process and give it a few extra days of life. Once an avocado is super soft, it’s probably due for the compost bin.

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With this in mind, it’s important to consider when you want to eat the avocados the next time you go grocery shopping. For example, if you want to eat avocado toast for breakfast every day for the following week, buy some that are ripe now and some that still have ripening to do.

If you happen to have a bunch of ripe avocados all at once that you need to make use of — not a bad a problem to have — you can always make a big batch of guacamole.