The 6 Ways to Tell If an Avocado Is Bad

Published Categorized as Food
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Avocados are slow to ripen and quick to go bad. So here’s a surefire way to tell if your avocado is still good to eat or not.

There’s much to love about avocados. They’re good for you, you can pick them up at any decent grocery store, and they go well with all sorts of home-cooked dishes, from salads to toast to tacos.

But unless you’re a professional food buyer for a supermarket, which you’re probably not if you’re reading this blog, it can be pretty hard to tell the difference between avocados that are just ripe and ones that have… well, gone bad.

Good thing we figured out The Method™: A fool-proof, seven-step program to help you never let a handful of perfectly good avocados go to waste again.

The best part If you read on, you get it for free.

How to Tell If an Avocado Has Gone Bad

An avocado has gone bad when its skin has turned black, its flesh is too soft and mushy, and it gives when you squeeze it in your hand and press the narrow end with your thumb.

By far the easiest way to determine if an avocado is spoiled is to cut it open, remove the pit, and examine the flesh. If the color of the flesh is brown to black and the texture is somewhat streaky, the avocado is most likely spoiled.

When in doubt, the tests below will help you determine whether or not the avocados in your kitchen are still edible.

1. Take a Look at Its Color

An illustration of a ripe avocado and a spoiled avocado on the outside.

We call it a fruit, but the avocado is actually the berry of the tropical avocado tree, native to Mexico and Central America, and growing in abundance in the states of California, Florida, and Hawaii.

Avocados are harvested hard, from May to August in the United States and from November to April in Latin America. Curiously enough, they don’t begin to ripen until they are picked from the tree. At first, the color of their rough, leathery skin is bright green. But, as they ripen, their skin turns dark green to brown, with or without a purplish hue.

When avocados begin to go bad, large black spots with yellowish edges form on their skin. Soon after, the avocados turn pitch black and lose their brown or purple hue altogether.

2. Hold It in Your Hand and Squeeze It

To determine how ripe an avocado is, hold it in the palm of your hand and give it a gentle squeeze. If it’s firm, it’s underripe. If it yields slightly, it’s in the early stage of ripening and ready to eat. If it’s soft and mushy, it’s overripe.

An avocado in the early stage of ripening is ideal for slicing into a salad, dicing into salsa, or eating on toast. An overripe avocado can no longer hold its shape—and the extent to which this is the case can give you valuable clues about its freshness.

If holding the avocado in your hand and squeezing it leaves a small dent, then it’s probably still good. But, since it won’t be able to hold its shape, you should use it for avocado salsa verde or guacamole. If it leaves a large dent, then the avocado is probably spoiled.

3. Press the Narrow End With Your Thumb

Hold the avocado in your hand and gently press with your thumb on the narrow end (stem) of the fruit, where it is hardest.

If the narrow end of the avocado is hard and it refuses to give, then the fruit isn’t ripe at all. If it gives, but with some resistance, then the avocado is ripe enough to eat. If it gives and your thumb sinks into the avocado, it’s overripe and perhaps already spoiled.

4. Cut It and Examine the Flesh

An illustration of a ripe avocado and a spoiled avocado on the inside.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. The flesh should be yellow toward the pit and light green around the skin. Slight bruising and brown discoloration here and there are fine; you can cut these off and use the rest of the avocado.

But if the flesh is dark brown to pitch black and streaky all over, you can be almost certain that the avocado has gone bad.

5. Give It a Good Whiff

Take an avocado half in your hand and hold it to your nose. Now brace yourself and give it a good whiff. Does anything smell off to you?

A fresh avocado should smell sweet and nutty. It is a pleasant, appetite-arousing smell that’s grassy and vegetable, but also rich and buttery. If the avocado smells medicinal, musty, or sour, you should raise your eyebrows. This is a sign of rancid fats, mold in the flesh, and spoilage bacteria.

6. Taste It

If the avocado has passed all of the above checks, but for one reason or another you still suspect that it may be spoiled, you should taste it as a final (and concluding) check.

A fresh avocado should taste grassy, buttery, and delicious. It should have a creamy and luscious mouthfeel and melt in your mouth shortly after you bite into it. A spoiled avocado, on the other hand, tastes objectionable. It’s bitter, sour, and gross, in a way that you want to spit it out rather than swallowing it.

Can You Eat Spoiled Avocado?

Don’t eat an avocado if you suspect it is spoiled. By eating a spoiled avocado, you may ingest disease-causing bacteria, mold spores, or fungi that can lead to food poisoning.

Although the bacteria that spoil our food and give it a sour smell and taste are generally harmless, spoiled food can also be overgrown with pathogenic bacteria and the toxins they produce—and avocados are no exception.

This is especially true if the avocado has been bruised and the pathogenic bacteria that normally reside on the surface, such as Listeria monocytogenes, have found a way into the fruit.

In the U.S. alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people contract food poisoning each year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. To stay as far away from these statistics as possible, play it safe when it comes to the food you serve on the table.

How to Store Avocado

Most avocados in the store are sold unripe. So it is up to you, the home cook, to ripen them properly at home. The key to success is not to put the avocados in the refrigerator immediately after unpacking them from the grocery bags.

In his 2009 book, Keys to Good Cooking, American cookbook author Harold McGee recommends letting avocados ripen completely at room temperature before putting them in the fridge. The reason, he says, is that refrigerating avocados too soon would “damage their ripening systems.”

Store your avocados at room temperature until they ripen, which will take anywhere from 1 to 3 days depending on how green the avocados are, and then place them in the fridge, where they will keep for another 3 to 4 days.

Strapped on time, or short on patience? In The Basics: A Really Useful Cookbook, Australian chef-presenter Anthony Telford says that you can hasten avocados’ ripening by placing them in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple.

The apple, Telford writes, releases ethylene gas, also known as “ripening gas” for fruits and vegetables, which in turn causes the avocado to do the same.

In Conclusion

Avocados are one of those fruits that take a while to ripen. But when they ripen, they ripen quickly. There’s a fine line between an overripe avocado and a spoiled one. We hope we have been able to help you understand it with this illustrated guide.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.