Aguacate. Palta. Alligator Pear. What do all these words have in common? The first two are Spanish and all of them mean AVACADO.
This fruit tree (Persea americana) is thought to trace its origins to southern Mexico. Avocados were widely cultivated from central Peru to the Rio Grande river by the time the fair-skinned Europeans showed up.
In the United States, avocado trees flourish in places with mild winters such as California, Florida, and Hawaii. Although they will grow in shady areas, the only bear fruit in full sun. The most popular variety is the Hass avocado.
Places too cold to grow their own avocados fly, train, and truck them in. Their popularity is due to their subtle taste and rich, creamy texture, but these lovely green fruits are good for you, too.
A friend once called the avocado “the pork product of the fruit family.” He meant that the edible part is “meaty” and fills you up. In fact, avocados are high in both carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Indeed, avocados are favored by health-seekers who call it a superfood. They are, of course, the main ingredient in guacamole, a favorite chip dip south (and north) of the border.
For those unfamiliar with delightful, pear-shaped avocados, here are some general tips to keep in mind when shopping:
- The skin of an unripened avocado is a dark green and relatively smooth. As the fruit inside matures, the skin turns darker until it is pretty much black with a coarser, bumpy texture.
- The fruit of an unripe avocado is yellow, firm to hard when you press it with your thumb, and tastes rather yucky. The pulp softens and turns green with age. But don’t wait too long to cut into a ripe avocado or it will spoil. Brown and black spots will spoil the fruit, which shrivels inside its skin after peaking.
- Ripen avocados by placing them in a brown paper bag.
How to cut open an avocado and prepare the fruit is a subject of much debate. Everyone seems to have their preferred method. One way is to use a sharp vegetable knife to slice the fruit lengthwise until the knife reaches the pit. Rotate the avocado with the other hand and continue slicing around the pit. Then twist the two halves apart.
To remove the pit, place the avocado on a cutting board, take aim at the pit, and whack it with the knife so that it embeds itself in the pit. Then, remove the pit by twisting the knife. Separate the knife from the pit by using your thumb or the side of a bowl to flick it off.
Dicing an avocado calls for a variation on the basic technique. Slice the whole fruit lengthwise and separate the two halves. Score the flesh without cutting into the skin. Use the tip of the knife to score the flesh into squares before scooping it out with a spoon.
To slice the avocado fruit, begin as before, slicing and separating the whole into two pear-shaped parts. Work a spoon around the fruit to loosen the skin completely before scooping out the entire half. Place the naked half-avocado on a cutting board, flat side down, and use the tip of your knife to make neat slices.
If this seems like a lot of trouble just to get at some creamy green goodness, consider these nutritional benefits from a single 3.5 ounce alligator pear:
- Calories – 160
- Protein – 2 grams
- Healthy fats – 15 grams
- Carbohydrate – 9 grams (7 from fiber)
- Vitamin K – 26% of the daily value (DV)
- Folate – 20% of the DV
- Vitamin C – 17% of the DV
- Potassium – 14% of the DV
- Vitamin B5 – 14% of the DV
- Vitamin B6 – 13% of the DV
- Vitamin E – 10% of the DV
Small amounts of magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorous and vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin)
A fresh avocado contains neither sodium (salt) nor cholesterol and is low in saturated (“bad”) fats.
In the kitchen, use avocados for baby food; add to salads, desserts, burgers, and other sandwiches; make a spread or dip; add to sauces, smoothies, and salad dressings; and substitute for fat in baking by replacing the oil, butter, or shortening with an equal amount of avocado.
Avocados are also used as a beauty aid to:
- Nourish and moisturize the skin
- Act as a natural sunscreen
- Use as a hair conditioner or mask to rejuvenate the scalp and hair
- Make a facial mask or exfoliating skin scrub
Some people discover they are allergic to avocados. Allergies are either oral or latex. What’s the difference?
“An oral avocado allergy is triggered when you eat avocado and your body treats the food as an invader, alerting your immune system. Your body reacts with mild to severe allergy symptoms, such as itching of your lips, mouth, and throat,” according to a Healthline. People allergic to birch pollen are more likely to have an avocado allergy as well.
Those with known latex sensitivities may also be allergic to avocados because they contain similar proteins. Such persons may also have reactions to bananas, kiwis, chestnuts, and papayas. Symptoms include swelling of the lips, sneezing, itchy eyes, stomach discomfort, and vomiting.
Always call 911 if you or someone you see is experiencing an allergic reaction to something they ate, a bee sting, or other agent.
To sum it all up, avocados are one of nature’s true treasures: high in fiber and other vitamins and minerals, with more potassium than bananas, full of good fat, cholesterol-balancing – and delicious!