Avocado: The Delectable Fruit
The avocado has been grown in North America since the 1900s. It is also known as the alligator pear, avocado pear, custard apple or vegetable pear. The avocado was awarded its celebrity status via the popular Mexican dip called guacamole that often accompanies tortilla chips and fajitas. The colour of the avocado’s tough skin can vary from greenish-brown to purple, while the flesh is similar in colour to acid-green or butter-yellow. The two common varieties of the avocado are the Fuerte and the Hass. While the Fuerte is a pear shaped winter variety that has a green thin pebbled skin, the Hass is ovoid shaped summer variety that ranges from an emerald green colour at maturity to black as it ripens and is ready to eat. The Hass variety has a thicker skin to protect it from the hot sun and is available from May until November.
The avocado is a nutrient dense fruit being only 60 % water. It contains 8 essential vitamins and is especially high in vitamins A, C and E, folic acid and niacin. A 100g serving of avocado contains 5g fibre, 2g protein, 634mg potassium, 65mcg folate, 612IU vitamin A and about 17g fat for a total of 177 kcal. Vitamins A, C and E are known for their antioxidant properties which help to slow the aging process and protect against heart disease and common forms of cancer by reducing oxidative stress. It is also an excellent source of pyridoxine, thiamin and riboflavin. Avocado’s flesh colour is derived from the phytochemical lutein, a carotenoid that may help reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
While the fat content of the avocado is high, it is predominantly monounsaturated fat, which is known for its cholesterol lowering effect. It is also low in sodium and the potassium content is twice the amount in a banana. One avocado is approximately 180 calories.
While the avocado contains a variety of important nutrients, one also must be aware that a serving size is approximately 1/4 of the avocado. Enjoy it in moderation and savor the delicious flavour and texture it adds to your dishes!
Avocados are difficult to find perfectly ripe in the market. However, by purchasing it ahead of time one can speed up the ripening process by simply placing it in a paper bag at room temperature. The paper bag induces softening as a result of confining and concentrating the gases that the avocado emits.
When choosing an avocado in the store avoid the rock-hard avocado, which has most likely been picked too early and may rot before it ripens. One should look for firm avocados that smell fresh and are free from bruises or cuts. A ripe avocado will yield to gentle pressure and the button at the top where the fruit was connected to the tree comes off with a gentle nudge. If you cut open an avocado before it is ripe, simply put the two halves back together and wrap them in saran wrap and let it sit on the counter for another day or two.
Ripe avocados can be refrigerated for up to one week. If the avocado has already been cut, sprinkle with lemon or lime juice, place in a freezer container and freeze for up to 6 months. To use, simply thaw in the refrigerator and consume within 3 days.
To access the flesh of the avocado, slice it lengthwise and around the pit at the center of the fruit and rotate the halves in opposite directions. To remove the pit from the one half, slide the tip of the spoon gently underneath and lift it out. To remove the skin, place the cut side down and peel with a knife. Alternatively you can cut the flesh of the avocado while till in the skin and then use a spoon to spoon it out. Lemon or lime juice can be sprinkled on all cut surfaces in order to reduce discolouration of the exposed flesh. Ascorbic acid in the lemon and lime juice slows down the undesirable browning process.
Before using the avocado, test for whether it is sufficiently ripe by inserting a wooden pick at the stem end of the avocado. If the pick can be inserted and removed with ease it is ready for consumption. Avocados are an extremely versatile fruit as they can be used in salads, sandwiches, desserts and main dishes. However, avocados are seldom seen in hot dishes or canned due to a chemical reaction that takes place when heated, producing bitter-tasting compounds.
For salads, simply combine with a variety of greens, chilies, herbs, onions, garlic, lemon, tomatoes, nuts, shellfish, chicken and vinaigrette or mayonnaise. For a creative appetizer stuff the avocado halves with shrimp, crab, chicken curry or tuna. Avocados can also be used as a garnish for a main course by slicing it and fanning it on the plate.
There are also many sandwich possibilities such as puréeing the flesh and spreading it on toast and adding your favourite vegetables or slicing it into a meat and vegetable sandwich. Avocados are an easy addition to dips such as the infamous guacamole that can be served with tortilla chips.
Lastly, in Mexico avocados are commonly incorporated into desserts by mashing them with sugar and rum.
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. chili powder
pinch sea salt
Blend until creamy and place in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour for the flavours to combine.