It’s the darling of hipster cafés around the world, but the avocado is so much more than just an Instagram trend. Packed with vitamins and good fats, and delicious in a huge variety of dishes, avocado more than deserves its place on your plate.
Avo’ It Your Way
Our love affair with avocados seems never- ending. Smashed ‘avo’ on toast is a staple of brunch menus everywhere, and no party is complete without guacamole on the dips plate. We just can’t get enough – and in some areas, avocados are so sought after that black markets have popped up. With its delicious taste and incredible versatility, it’s no wonder this fruit is so popular.
Did You Know?
- Once called a butter pear – which makes perfect sense, given its creamy texture – the avocado is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. It is a fruit, strictly speaking, as it bears one seed in a fleshy pod. But we still tend to categorise it as a vegetable, simply because we use it more with savoury dishes than sweet. The perplexing taste of an avocado means we don’t typically pair it with too many other flavours. It works with the sour, the salty and the spicy (think a sprinkle of chilli flakes or a spritz of lime juice) – but the almost umami mouth feel of the avocado betrays its relationship to other umami flavours.
- Throughout history, the avocado has been considered a food for only the privileged few. Renowned English food writer Jane Grigson stated in her Vegetable Book in 1998 that avocados needed to be more reasonably priced, so more experimentation could be done with them. They have always been in short supply, though the global market is relatively strong.
- There are two main types of avocados – those that appear in the summer and those that appear in the winter. The Hass variety is the summer mainstay. It is identified by a thick, greenish, knobbly skin, which turns to purple and black as it ripens. On the other hand, winter avocados tend to have thinner, waxier, greener skins, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Thanks to global shipping, however, you can often find summer avocados on supermarket shelves in winter, and vice versa.
Nutrition Factor of Avocado
Rich in protein, fibre, and vitamins A and E, the avocado has been used for both food and skincare purposes since the times of the Ancient Mayans, Incas and Aztecs. Avocados have a high fat content – but much of it is the ‘good’, monounsaturated type of fat, which resists oxidation and helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants.
How to Buy Avocado
Finding the perfect avocado can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, but you don’t need to go through the entire avocado pile and squeeze every single fruit to find the right one. Just look for plump and glossy fruit, with a hard pear smell. A simple test to find a ripe avocado is to apply gentle pressure to the thin end of the fruit. If it gives, the fruit is ripe – and it will smell like a ripening banana. A fruit that has gone past its best will feel rather hollow, and the end will give very quickly if pressed. Just remember that avocados are a fruit with soft flesh. Squeezing or dropping them, or resting them on other fruit, will all make them turn brown on the inside sooner.
How to Grow Avocado
Avocados grow on large trees, which can get to as tall as 10m if they aren’t pruned. They tend to grow rampant in ideal conditions during the warm growing season, and are not usually a tree for the average small garden. If you are growing a plant from a seed it will take between eight and 20 years for the plant to fully fruit. Otherwise, grafted trees can fruit within five years in good, fertile soil.
How to Store Avocado
Avocado fruit does not soften on the tree. When the tree is left to its own devices the fruit will naturally fall to the ground before softening, or when being harvested for sale the fruit needs to be picked and stored in controlled conditions. To store hard, unripened avocados, keep them in a cool, dark place, or place them in a chiller – as soon as an avocado discovers a warm environment it will start to ripen. If the avocado is too hard and you want it to ripen faster, simply place it in a paper bag with a banana or pear.
Reduce the Waste of Avocado
As we’ve all experienced at some point, the green flesh of an avocado starts to turn brown as soon as it is exposed to the air – so don’t cut into your avocado until you’re just about to eat it. If you have any leftover avocado to store, drizzle it with some lemon juice or vinegar, then wrap it in wax paper or place in a reusable container. It is possible to freeze the flesh if you have a real abundance of avocados, but unfortunately it breaks down at sub-zero temperatures so would only be useful for dips or Caribbean stews once defrosted.
Cooking with Avocado
Avocado flesh isn’t great for heating or cooking, as it can become quite bitter. Avocados are best eaten raw – puréed, mashed, smashed, sliced, or diced. The flesh is also well suited to serve with any vinaigrettes, seafoods, and chilli spices. There are exceptions to the ‘no cooking’ rule, however, and avocado can be added to baking recipes in the place of butter. It will give your cakes, muffins and scones a lovely texture – as well as a great health boost.
Shave pieces of the avocado stone using a potato peeler. Place in a moderate oven and cook for 20 minutes. Roughly chop and use a nutritious sprinkle on soups or salads.