What's The Deal With Packaged, Store-Bought Guacamole?

The guacamole spectrum is wide, and you may have questions about the kind that comes in a tub. Let's address your biggest qualms.

No matter what your specific guacamole preferences are, this is a judgment-free zone. Though sometimes the internet freaks out about it (remember when The New York Times put peas in its guac? Or when Antoni Porowski made it with Greek yogurt on “Queer Eye”?), you have the right to feel however you want about guacamole.

Your homemade recipe with that one secret ingredient (we know it’s Worcestershire, by the way) is absolutely perfect. The spice mix you buy to make it taste “real” is also just fine, so go you. And that packaged pouch of pre-made stuff from the grocery store is entirely acceptable, so hold your head high in the checkout line.

Chances are, you’ve been doing guacamole “your way” for so long you’ve forgotten other options exist. Here’s an opportunity to learn from the pros, open your mind and find out exactly what’s going on in the big, wide world of your favorite dip.

For many, fresh is the ‘green standard.’

In a perfect world, everyone would be inclined and able to make their own guacamole and enjoy it right away. You’d have the right number of perfectly ripe avocados on hand. You’d have the time and space for a bit of cutting and mashing. And you’d be able to serve your creation immediately, before polyphenol oxidase causes browning.

How, exactly, does “perfect” guacamole come to be? There are just a few things to keep in mind, according to experts. “The first step to great guac is choosing an avocado that gives to a gentle touch,” chef Andrew Hunter told HuffPost. He’s head of culinary R&D for Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, executive chef for Niman Ranch and global development chef for Kikkoman. His rule: “You want the fruit to be about as soft as the soft side of your thumb.”

For many, nothing's better than guacamole that's freshly made right at the table.
For many, nothing's better than guacamole that's freshly made right at the table.

Next, there comes the matter of what to do with that perfectly ripe avocado. Most chefs will tell you this is a dish that doesn’t need to get overly complicated. “I love my guacamole chunky and I like to prepare it very simply,” Mexican chef Pati Jinich told HuffPost. Her new cookbook,Treasures of the Mexican Table,” will be published this fall. “I use ripe Mexican avocados, a little bit of chopped white onion or scallion, fresh cilantro, chopped jalapeño or serrano chile, a squeeze of lime juice and salt. That’s it. Of course, that being said, I sometimes like to play with toppings such as chipotles in adobo, fresh corn, mango or chiles toreados.” (Here are her recipes for chunky guacamole and smoky guacamole.)

With guacamole, as with most of life, timing is everything. Hunter is hard-core for the à la minute approach. “If you’re bringing guac to a picnic or party, bring whole avocados, a bowl and a potato masher with you. Your friends will appreciate your dedication,” he said.

Is that too much work for you? Find a shortcut that works for you and don’t apologize.

Even if you’re a die-hard “make it myself” type, you occasionally might want a boost from prepared, ready-to-go guacamole. There are pre-diced and pre-mashed products on the market, many of which position themselves as a way to reduce food waste. “Nearly 70% of avocado users throw away all or part of an avocado because it’s unusable,” Wholly Guacamole, which sells diced, halved and smashed avocados, notes on its website.

Wholly's smashed avocados come pre-smashed in little avocado-y containers.
Wholly's smashed avocados come pre-smashed in little avocado-y containers.

As easy as chefs make the process seem, some folks like a product that promises to give a boost of confidence, especially when it comes with the imprimatur of a chef like Rick Bayless, who founded Frontera Foods. That’s true for Sandra Wright, a retired customer insights researcher who lives in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. “Here’s my true confession,” she told HuffPost. “I used to make guacamole from scratch, but one day when I was in a hurry, I tried the Frontera Foods guacamole mix. My family loved it and I haven’t looked back since.” (Editor’s note: It’s a seasoning mix that you mash with your own fresh avocados.)

Let’s talk about mass-manufactured, pre-packaged guacamole.

First, you should realize there’s a difference between the freshly packed containers of guacamole that you find at the prepared foods section of, say, Whole Foods, and the vacuum-sealed containers that you’ll find in the refrigerated aisle. First, let’s start with the more processed of the two options.

High pressure technology (HPT) is the manufacturing process that allows those mass-produced green pouches and tubs of guacamole to find their way to grocery stores nationwide. Also known as high pressure processing (HPP), it’s an all-natural, U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved process that uses high water pressure to extend product life without added preservatives. “It applies pressure that makes microorganisms and enzymes inactive,” Hunter explained. “The idea dates back to our old friend Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French scientist responsible for Pascal’s principle of pressure, but I think even Pascal would marvel at the technology we use today. The high pressure deactivates bad guys like listeria, salmonella and E. coli, and nutritional and sensory benefits remain intact.” Here’s a video from an HPP manufacturer, showing the process in action.

Wholly Guacamole, processed with HPT, has been America’s top-selling branded guacamole for 10 consecutive years. It’s the brand of choice for Houston-based yoga teacher Myra Rucker, who is generally open to the idea of guacamole that’s been made for her. “It’s nice to have options,” she told HuffPost. “First, I like my guacamole with a certain level of spice, and I know I’ll get a consistent taste every time. Then there’s the fact that I don’t always have a ripe avocado on hand, and I might not be up for making a mess in the kitchen, either.”

If you’re a ride-or-die proponent of freshly made guac, you might turn up your nose at the idea of pressure pounding away at your beloved avocados. But it’s a solution that works for many folks. Case in point: Sales of refrigerated guacamole dips totaled about $585 million in the United States last year.

For a fresher pre-made guac, check out locally made options.

Your local market probably has several choices of pre-made guacamole that come from local vendors. In some areas, those products have become so popular that locals are happy to abandon their own homemade recipes. In Toronto, Mad Mexican, founded by chef Jose “Pepe” Hadad, has achieved legendary status in its 17-year history. Born in Mexico City, Hadad moved to Toronto for culinary school and never left. His empire began with a card table for guacamole sales outside a store in the St. Lawrence Market. Now, he owns a restaurant and has expanded his product lineup to include fresh guacamole, salsa, pico de gallo, artisan nacho chips and organic tortillas.

“Every day we are making what we’re going to sell tomorrow,” Hadad told HuffPost. “I know we aren’t converting people who will always want to make it themselves, but we are converting people who might be buying another brand and convincing them to buy from us. It’s OK to buy a package of guacamole, because sometimes you just cannot deal with another thing in your life.”

How does his product avoid browning? He says there are some secrets he won’t reveal, but did say this: “We use lots and lots of fresh lemon juice — not from bottles, but from lemons we squeeze ourselves. And our packaging seals out all the air, so it will stay fresh for about two weeks.”

The message here: Relax. It’s a big green world, and there are plenty of ways to switch up your guacamole game. Here are some products to get you started.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Prices and availability subject to change.

1
Spice Packets
Frontera
Frontera Foods offers two versions of spice packets for a “just add avocado” experience. "Original" is made with tomatillo, green chile and garlic. The spicy version includes roasted tomatillos, habanero and garlic.

Get Frontera guacamole mix for $4.67.
2
Prepped And Diced Avocado
Wholly
Ready-to-go Hass avocado, no preservatives added.

Get Wholly Guacamole diced avocado for $4.88.
3
Single-Serve Guacamole Cups
Wholly Guacamole
Ready-made guacamole cups are an option for smaller portions.

Get Wholly Guacamole minis for $5.99.
4
OXO Good Grips 3-in-1 Avocado Slicer
OXO
If you’re worried about your knife skills as you slice and pit, you might be wise to be wary, since there are thousands of what are known as “avocado hand” injuries that land people in emergency departments each year, according to a recent report. There are tools that promise to help you safely wrestle the wily avocado, including the Oxo Good Grips 3-in-1 avocado slicer, recently rated No. 1 in GadgetReview.com.

Get the Oxo Good Grips 3-in-1 Avocado Slicer for $9.99.
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