Researchers look at new avocado variety that could be grown in the Valley

Some people love avocado, so imagine getting paid ten bucks a session to rate avocado samples.

"Well that's your dream, right? To get paid for what you love to do," said tester Shirley Ito.

Avocado prices spiked this summer due in part to a smaller California crop and growing global demand. Researchers are tasked with tasting a newer avocado, one which could someday be grown in the Valley commercially.

Nine flavor panelists at the Kearney UC Ag Research Center in Parlier take their job seriously though some may have been drawn by the free snack.

"By the time the study started there were actually more people interested that we kind of put on a waiting list," said USDA flavor scientist, Bethany Hausch.

But they've become avocado connoisseurs since the study started in October. "You're getting into the texture, you're getting into a lot of different nuances of the flavor," said tester Shannon Aguilar.

Nutty, stringy, buttery. Panelists are comparing how a newer GEM variety stacks up with the popular Hass avocado. The GEM tends to be more tear-drop shaped. The Hass is more pear-shaped.

GEM avocados come from smaller trees and grow on the inside rather than outside of the tree. "We believe that it has a little more heat tolerance and a little more cold tolerance," said UC subtropical horticulturist, Mary Lu Arpaia.

If that turns out to be true, more local growers may start growing avocado. One has already planted a two-acre plot.

"It's something that we probably need in this area. Something we can do and we wouldn't have to import it from other parts of the country or the world," said Martin Flores.

The study is now coming to an end. The GEM variety is popular in Europe. That panel will help determine whether it is grown in the Valley.


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