The rise and fall of the Fuerte avocado

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Let’s go back to the last time you ate an avocado, mashed up with chips as guacamole or sliced on a salad, taco or toast. It was probably of the Hass variety, that avocado with thick dark green pebbly skin. But the Hass wasn’t always the most common avocado on the market.

Avocados have been grown in the Central American tropics since at least 750 BC, according to the California Avocado Commission. California didn’t get its first avocado trees until the 1800s. Only one variety survived the severe frost of 1913 and was so named the strong, or fuerte in Spanish, avocado. By the 1950s, two thirds of all avocados grown and packed in the Golden State were of the Fuerte variety.

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Kevin Meehan picks up his earmarked boxes of Fuerte avocados from JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch.

As the avocado industry expanded in the 1970s to meet growing consumer demand, farmers looked for fruit to ship across the country in bulk that could easily hide blemishes picked up along the way. Since the Fuerte’s smooth thin green skin hides bruises poorly, the Hass avocado with its tougher bumpy skin gained ground. Now in many parts of the country, including in California, the Hass is what you’re most likely to find in the produce aisle.

Should you wish to break free and try lesser-known avocado varieties, JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch grows 20 varieties throughout the year. Laura Ramirez works on the farm and says the Fuerte’s season runs from fall to spring. Its rich, buttery flesh oxidizes more slowly than other varieties so the Fuerte will stay green longer in your favorite dishes.

Chef Kevin Meehan buys Fuerte avocados from JJ’s at varying stages of ripeness so he can use them throughout the week. At Kali near Larchmont Village, Meehan glazes the Fuerte fruit in avocado honey before searing it in avocado oil. He scoops out the caramelized flesh and serves it with a mix of greens and a house dressing. (You read that right: we’re talking about hot avocados here.) His charred avocado salad will be on the restaurant menu as long as Fuertes are in season. Try it yourself with the recipe below.

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Charred Avocado Salad. (Photo by Rachel Jacobson)