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News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

How Hass avocados grew on California (and the next 'Gem' to look for)

by Lori Galarreta | Take Two®

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Hass avocados in Los Angeles, California on January 22, 2015. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

The vast majority of avocados grown in the U.S. come from California. Almost all of them are one variety — Hass (and for the curious, it's pronounced Hass, like "pass.")

The Hass is so iconic, I'd bet you can't even name another type of avocado. Here's something else you might not know: the Hass was first grown right here in Southern California.

Mary Lu Arpaia is a subtropical horticulturist at the University of California, Riverside. She spoke with A Martinez to recount the history of the Hass.

The Hass's history is in SoCal

Around 1920, we had a big boom in avocado planning acreage, especially in La Habra, Fullerton, Hollywood... and there was a postal worker by the name of Rudolph Hass, and he had a small home orchard. 

The story goes that he planted seedlings, because at that time we would plant seedling avocados and then you would graft the variety on top of the seedling as the seedling grew. At that time, popular varieties were things like the Puebla, the Fuerte, Taft... there were a lot of different varieties.

What happened was there was this particular seedling in this grove he was planting where the graft would never take. His children started bringing in the fruit, and he recognized the fruit was very good to eat, so the seedling was planted around 1925, 1926 and then in 1935, he actually patented the variety called Hass.

What sets Hass apart? 

It's nutty, it's creamy, it leaves no bitter aftertaste in your mouth. It's a wonderful eating experience. What makes it also very attractive is that it peels very easily, comes out of the shell. Easy to tell when it's ripe because the skin is not so thick that you're guessing whether the fruit is ripe or not.

The Hass eventually gained popularity because it was less "alternate bearing" than the No. 1 variety, Fuerte...

NOTE: "Alternate bearing" means that you have a lot of fruit one year and virtually nothing the next year.

It took a LONG time for the Hass to claim its spot as the most beloved avocado

If you go back into like 1945, 1946... there's an article in the California Avocado Society Yearbook where it talks about this newfangled variety called the Hass and how it was different, and that it's perfect in many, many different respects except, gosh darn, it's a black-skinned fruit, not a green-skinned fruit...

It was recognized for being a very good eating fruit. It was recognized by the fact that it was less "alternate bearing." It was recognized for the fact that at the time it was a much later-season fruit than the Fuerte or many of the other varieties that were being grown. So it was valued for those characteristics, except that the market supposedly wanted a green-skinned fruit.

Is the Hass here to stay?

It's a very good standard to try to achieve something better, but we can do better than the Hass...

We have fruits that are just as good to eat. I can guarantee you we have things that eat just as good or better than Hass...

We have a variety that was patented in 2003. It's just now finally gaining hold in California — the Gem variety. It has the same season as the Hass. It's a smaller tree so that we can cut down on our labor costs, because labor is a big expense for our growers (the Hass makes a big tree; it's very expensive to harvest)... It tastes very, very good. And it has a post-harvest life equal to the Hass."

Interview answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

A box full of different avocado varieties grown at UCR. Among them, the Gem, which subtropical horticulturist Mary Lu Arpaia predicts will overtake the Hass.
A box full of different avocado varieties grown at UCR. Among them, the Gem, which subtropical horticulturist Mary Lu Arpaia predicts will overtake the Hass. KPCC/Lori Galarreta


What do you think? Can any other avocado possibly overtake the Hass? Let us know in the comments below.

To listen to the full interview, click the blue play button above.

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