Where’ve all the avocados gone?

Nice Hass.

Nice Hass.

Before the days of Super Bowl guac pots and California rolls, avocados were known as “poor man’s butter.”

Times have changed. Avocados are now a $400 million crop in California and a fruit so coveted that San Diego County keeps a district attorney on the payroll who specializes in prosecuting avocado thieves.

The industry is also dramatically homogenized. Though scores of varieties of this New World jungle native exist, the ubiquitous Hass rules. Perhaps you’ve heard of bacon, Lula, Pinkerton, Reed, and Zutano avocados, but these varieties may be on their way toward commercial extinction, according to farmer Randy Shoup. Shoup owns the West Pak Avocado farm in Temecula and has long supplied the Davis Farmers Market with his fruit. Though his website product list still describes several oddball avocados, he says he’s eliminated nearly all non-Hass trees from his property.

Is it a tragedy? Perhaps not.

“Without doubt, Hass is the best avocado,” said Shoup, who adds he doesn’t look twice at any non-Hass variety if he can get his hands on a Hass, which Shoup—who tends to 300 acres of trees—usually can.

But Kona Coast farmer Ken Love, who has collaborated with UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in experimental cultivation of many fruits on his Big Island farm, grows multiple varieties of avocados and says California avocado growers “need to get out more.” He once ran a blind taste test of estate and imported avocados on local chefs. Winning varieties included the rich and buttery Kahalu’u and the islands’ favorite, Sharwil. Californian Hass flunked.

Love once told a visiting journalist that he won’t even let his horses eat Hass, which perhaps leaves more for us. A recent call to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op found only Hass in stock. The Davis Food Co-op, though, usually carries something unique. Here, assistant produce buyer Adam Filgas occasionally slices open unusual avocados for inquisitive customers. Filgas appreciates the virtues of many varieties, but his favorite, he admits, are those that Hawaiian horses don’t eat.