The avocado enjoys a racy past belied by its seemingly innocent and rather chubby appearance. Considered a fertility food as well as an aphrodisiac in its earlier days, the avocado was considered too improper to be enjoyed by image-concerned consumers until producers launched a massive campaign to change public opinion.
The perception of the avocado as a fertility fruit may have stemmed from its Aztec name, “ahuacatl,” which means testicle and came about because of its shape. Spanish explorers mispronounced the Aztec name and called it instead aguacate. Through the years, the avocado has also been called “alligator pear” due to its shape and skin, and “butter fruit” due to its texture.
Historical evidence (pottery in the shape of an avocado) dates the fruit as far back as 900 A.D. They are native to Central America and favor subtropical climates. Mexico is the top avocado producer, and the second largest producer is the United States, especially in Florida, California, Texas, and Hawaii.
Although there are many varieties of avocadoes throughout the world, the two most popular types in commercial production are California and Florida strains.
California avocados, with their higher fat content, are the most flavorful. The Hass is the most popular, owning 80 percent of the market; postman Rudolph Hass planted the first of its kind in the 1920s in California. The Hass features dark green or black pebbly skin, and its flesh is creamy pale green.
Florida avocados tend to be larger, rounder, smoother, and greener. Their flesh is firmer and less creamy.
The avocado has a high content of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, and 60 percent more potassium than bananas. Many consider its creamy nutrition to extend to beauty products, and the avocado is a valued ingredient in facial treatments.
Avocados should never be fed to pets, as they contain persin, which is toxic to them.
When shopping for avocadoes, look for fruit that is heavy for its size, indicating a good amount of moisture. The flesh should be soft enough to yield slightly to gentle thumb pressure – but if it yields too much, then it is overripe. Its skin should not exhibit any tears or bruising.
Avocadoes are shipped unripe so that they won’t bruise so easily, so you may need to plan ahead to allow for ripening at home. If the avocado is hard when you buy it, you can ripen it by placing it in a paper bag with an apple; the apple emits ethylene gas, which hastens ripening. Other fruits that give off ethylene, and can be used in place of the apple, include bananas, pears, and tomatoes.
Once ripened, the avocado will keep in the refrigerator up to one week.
Preparing an avocado is not as difficult as it might seem to the uninitiated. First, wash the skin gently. Next, cut it in half lengthwise all the way around down to the pit. Grasp both halves firmly, twist, and pull to separate. Remove the pit either with your fingers or a spoon; many chefs prefer the knife method – thwacking the pit so that the blade lodges firmly in the pit, then rotating the knife to remove the pit – but this can be dangerous and requires practice for finesse. Once you’ve removed the pit, separate the flesh from the skin using your fingers, a spoon, or a paring knife. You can sprinkle the cut avocado with lime or lemon juice to prevent the browning caused by oxidation.
One favorite avocado recipe is guacamole. Originally from Mexico, guacamole’s name comes from two Aztec words that mean avocado sauce. This dip has many variations and is delicious with tortilla chips or as a side with many dishes. Once you’ve mastered the basics, feel free to experiment with ingredients until you have it just the way you like it.
2 ripe avocados
½ cup red onion, minced
1 serrano chili pepper, minced with seeds removed
½ clove garlic, minced
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper
Cut avocados in half, remove, pit, scoop out flesh, and mash it on a plate, using a fork.
Add the onion, chili pepper, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Mash together until well blended.
Add more salt or lime juice if needed for taste.
Transfer to serving bowl.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.