How to tell when an avocado has gone bad

When it comes to avocados, there’s a lot to love. The nutrient-dense fruit is a source of nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, plus good-for-you fats. And oh, that creamy, nutty, gorgeous green flesh.

But avocados do present one pretty big problem. Their "perfectly ripe" window always feels elusively short. As in: Not ripe, not ripe, still not ripe, nope not ripe. Eat me now! Too late.

To ease your frustration, here are a few tips to help you pick avocados at their peak freshness—and also know when they’re past their prime.

Notice the color

In order to tell if you have a ready-to-eat avocado, check the outer layer. The color of the skin can range from bright green to purple to black. Avocados that are glossy or bright are not ready for immediate use. (Skip those if you need of an avocado fix, stat.) For an avocado you can eat today, look for one that is matte in appearance and dark green, or has started to develop a purplish hue.

Spoiler alert: A few brown blemishes are fine, but avoid avocados that are completely brown or black with flaky spots. They are more than likely overripe—and maybe even be rotten.

Perform a squeeze test

The firmness of an avocado is a dead giveaway as to whether you should buy it or not. Perform a touch test by holding it in your hand and squeezing gently. If the avocado is ripe and ready, it will yield slightly when pressure is applied. An avocado that feels hard will still need a few more days to soften.

Spoiler alert: If it caves in, feels mushy, or yields too much your touch, that is one bad avocado.

Smell and shake

An avocado that is ripe and ready to be eaten will emit a slightly sweet, come-hither smell. You can also place the fruit right up to your ear and give it a gentle shake. What you want to hear is a hollow rattle.

Spoiler alert: When an avocado goes bad, it will smell musky, moldy, or literally, rotten. When shaken, there will only be a faint sound, if any.

Check under the stem

Checking beneath the stem is another good way to determine your avocado’s readiness. If you can easily peel back that cap at the top and you see green—bingo, that avocado is ripe. If you find it difficult to remove the stem, that means that it's still young and could use a few more days to mature.

Spoiler alert: If the skin beneath the stem is brown, that indicates the avocado is overripe. If you notice that it’s black or mushy, walk away because that bad boy is likely rotten.

Ripen it up fast (or slow)

Let’s say you’ve got a bright green and still slightly firm avocado, but you want to eat it sooner rather than later. The California Avocado Commission suggests you place it in a paper bag with a kiwi, apple, or banana. The ethylene gas released by these fruits will speed up the ripening of your avocado—maybe even overnight.

On the other hand, you can slow down the ripening process too. Have a batch of ripe and ready avocados you can't get to just yet? Pop them in the fridge to keep them fresh for up to five more days.

And if you do happen to miss that elusive perfectly ripe window (again), just remember, an overripe avocado isn’t always such a bad thing. If it passes the smell test, you can still use it to make smoothies, salad dressings, baked goods, and DIY hair and face masks.

What’s not to love about that?