While avocados are generally amazing, sometimes they have issues: brown strings (aka vascular bundles); dark, mushy spots; too-soft or too-firm flesh. Getting them when they’re perfectly ripe mitigates most problems. Still, some people just don’t like the texture, or the taste. The most common accusation when it comes to flavor is that there is none, but others find avocados fishy, soapy, or eggy.
Even an ideal avocado’s taste is hard to describe accurately. This is a pretty great post of various people’s opinions and attempts to do so. In their prime, I find avocados sometimes buttery (a perception intensified by the rich, smooth, creamy texture of the fruit), sometimes a little nutty, and usually faintly green-tasting without being pungently grassy. They’re somehow simultaneously fatty while still seeming light and fresh and fairly delicate in flavor, with almost watery notes that surface if they’re not quite there yet. And yes, even ripe ones sometimes taste a bit bland. Mashing them up into guacamole takes care of that, if you consider it a con in the first place, but if you’re just slicing some for a sandwich or eating it plain, all the flavor nuances matter more.
Occasionally, I’ll get an avocado that tastes pleasantly similar to eggs, and always wondered why—when I finally went to ask the Internet, I was surprised by some of the other things people seem to detect in avocados:
So why do these unexpected and even off-putting flavors occur?
Some sources imply that steaming or cooking avocados makes them taste like hard-boiled eggs, while others have noticed the eggy flavor in raw avocados (which has also been my own experience). A plausible explanation from Stack Exchange: “Avocados, like egg yolks, contain a decent amount of fats, carotenoids, and sulfurous compounds. Avocados are one of the most concentrated fruit sources of fats and fatty acids. Both egg yolks and avocados contain carotenoid phytochemicals like lutein, zeaxathanin, and a-carotene.”
I pretty much exclusively buy Hass avocados since that’s usually the only kind in our stores, so it’s not a certain exotic type that always tastes like this, just an occasional specimen. It probably has much to do with the precise level of ripeness. All I know for sure is that when someone finally figures out a way to tell 100% of the time when an avocado is at that exact sweet spot of just-ripe-enough, they’ll be lauded as an Einstein-level genius, and I’ll attend the parade in their honor.
Lots of people say cilantro tastes like soap, but apparently, some think avocados do too. Despite the Google search auto-suggestion, there’s not a ton of discussion about avocados imitating Ivory bars, but it might be that some people use “soapy” as a term to denote the bitterness often found in unripe avos. According to this scientific paper, that acrid flavor comes from three long-chain C17 aliphatic compounds in immature avocado seeds, skin, and flesh. There shouldn’t be any astringency in one that’s at its peak. If there is, the culprit could actually be something else, from sinus issues to medication side effects and even pregnancy, rather than the avocado (or other food) itself. That said, a 2010 study did find that heating avocados can cause or emphasize bitterness, so if you’re sensitive to that, you might want to skip the fried avocado tacos and stick with raw avocado-corn salsa instead.
Overripe avocados definitely don’t taste good, although pinpointing the exact tenor of their spoiled flavor is as difficult as neatly summarizing a ripe one’s savor. Since the fruit is so fatty, you could pick up a rancid oil note, which some people liken to the distinct smell of a box of old crayons. Others describe the “off” flavor of overripe avocados as musky, which could also be considered fishy (in the way that certain trees like the Callery pear or Bradford pear have strong-smelling blossoms that are variously categorized as musky and rotten-fishy). Smell, like taste, is highly subjective after all, but all of these are indicators that the fruit is past its prime.
This auto-suggestion was perplexing for a moment—what crazy, sweet avocados was I missing out on?—until I remembered the taste of green bananas (duh), which is definitely similar to avocados at a certain early stage of ripeness. The word “bitter” comes up again in discussions of unripe bananas, so the same compounds that cause the so-called soapy taste in avocados could be in play here too.
Other sources have suggested avocados can taste like pistachios, plastic, chemicals, and even bacon, although the variety called a Bacon avocado is just named after a farmer with the same last name as Kevin. In the end, each avocado experience is unique, and always influenced by the particular fruit you picked, how ripe it is, and the idiosyncrasies of your specific palate.
Next time you cut open an avocado—carefully, please—take the time to really taste it, and see if you pick up any of these odd flavors. If not (or if you’re a fan anyway), check out all our avocado recipes for lots of ways to enjoy the outstanding alligator pear.
Header image courtesy of Nordic Food & Living.