As a guest of the California Avocado Commission, I recently had an opportunity to attend an all-day media event learning about how California avocados get to be the super fruits they are: from seed to store.
Along with about 20 journalists, food bloggers, and restaurant representatives, our team toured an avocado nursery, a grove, and a really impressive avocado packing operation all located just north of San Diego in Fallbrook and Temecula, CA.
The first stop was Persea Tree Nursery, located in Fallbrook and the home to 50,000 square feet of greenhouses and 13 different varieties of California Avocados. The owner Alex Gonzalez gave us a great overview of the history of Hass avocados in California, and how they can produce fruit up to 3 times per year.
Once planted in the ground, the baby fruit is called a BB – and can go from BB to full blown fruit in about 22 months.
After the nursery, we headed to Sierra Pacific Farms, a gorgeous avocado grove owned and operated by Scott and Debbie McIntyre in Temecula, CA. The McIntyres showed us around their impressive family-run operation and gave us some insight into the sustainability issues facing avocado growers in California today.
The McIntyres informed us that in 2013, California Avocado growers grew 500 million pounds of high quality fruit from April-October. We learned that one mature California avocado tree can start over 2 million blooms that will eventually become about 150 pieces of 8oz fruit!
The California Avocado Commission and the McIntyres hosted our group to a beautiful avocado-inspired lunch, during which I had the opportunity to speak about the nutritional benefits of California Avocados, and to demonstrate my California Avocado Cucumber Cups recipe for the attendees.
The final stop of the day was at West Pak Avocado, Inc., a 40,000 square foot avocado packing operation located in Temecula, CA. This is the last frontier on the premium fruit line before California Avocados hit your stores and markets.
Every one of the millions of avocados that roll through West Pak each week is put through a rigorous test to ensure only the highest quality fruit is packed out of the facility. The operation houses a number of ripening rooms, which utilize ethylene gas to produce fruit that stages at 1-5 degrees of ripeness:
- Stage 1 is a very hard fruit and green in color
- Stage 2 is called Pre-Conditioned and ready to eat in approximately 3 days if held at room temperature
- Stage 3 is Breaking, or pre-ripened with a slight give to the fruit and ready to eat in 2 days
- Stage 4 is Firm Ripe and yields to gentle pressure, this stage is good for slicing and fully ripe the next day
- Stage 5 is Ripe and easily yields to gentle pressure, eat this fruit soon and will stay for 2-3 days if held at room temperature
One of the most impressive things about West Pak is their technology-enhanced imaging system that takes over 20 pictures of EVERY piece of fruit passing through the facility. This enables the operation to pass along only the highest-quality, blemish-free product possible.
An interesting fact I learned at West Pak is that Japanese consumers prefer California avocados that are oval in shape, and without the typical peaked top you see on our fruit in the US. Part of West Pak’s imaging system is designed to select out this perfectly oval-shaped fruit that only gets shipped to Japan in order to satisfy their unique tastes and requirements.
Our West Pak tour guide also taught us to speak up to your store’s produce manager. If you are getting sub-par avocados in store, say something! They have the ability to purchase and pass along high quality California avocados during peak season, which this year runs from April-October.
All in all it was a fantastic day spent learning about the benefits of premium California avocados. It was amazing to see all of the inputs along the lines of getting avocados from seed to store, which I have to say, now makes me appreciate the fruit even more!