Contributing Monkie GreenChef Staff Monkies
Published on June 19, 2008
Before the avocado traveled north and become the popular fruit we know today, it had quite the slanderous reputation and was banned by the priests. It was known and used as an aphrodisiac sexual stimulant. The original Aztec name for the fruit was “ahuacatl” and means “testicle”, in reference of the avocados shape.
Native to Central and South America and dating back to 8,000 B.C., the avocado (ahuacatl) fruit has become one of the most popular crops in California. Mexico is still the world’s leading producer of avocados, with Brazil and California as the second largest producers. Avocado trees from Mexico were first planted in the U.S. in 1871 in Santa Barbara. Today, with over 7,000 avocado groves in California, almost 90% of the avocados grown in the U.S. are harvested in Southern California, with San Diego County producing 60% of that. 1 avocado tree is capable of producing between 150-500 avocados per year. Despite there being over 500 varieties of avocados, only 8 of them are grown commercially in California. The most popular Hass variety is grown year-round in California and makes up for almost 95% of the avocados grown. The other varieties are Fuerte, Pinkerton, Zutano, Reed, Lamb Hass, Gwen and Bacon.
Avocados are ranked as one of the fruits with the lowest pesticide use, and the number of groves in California becoming certified organic is soaring to meet the growing demand for organic fruit.
Some interesting facts about the effect of avocado trees on the environment is that 1 single tree produces 260 lbs of oxygen a year and a one acre avocado orchard can remove 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide in a year. The avocado groves in Southern California remove up to 88 lbs of pollutants per acre, based on USC research. Avocado orchards also filter rain water, prevent flooding and provide shelter for wildlife.
Although the rich creamy avocado is often thought of as a fattening indulgence, it is actually a non-fattening health promoting fruit. Avocados are a rich source of monounsaturated oleic acid, a fat that helps lower cholesterol. Studies have shown that people eating a diet high in avocados decreased their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and had increases of about 11% in the good HDL cholesterol. Studies have also shown avocados to help protect against prostate cancer and breast cancer, according to the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
Avocados are also rich in potassium and folate, helping to promote healthy blood pressure and heart health. In fact they are higher in potassium then banana. Avocados are a a very good source of vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, copper, folate, potassium, and lutein.
How to Select and Ripen
When buying avocados you can tell if they are ripe and ready to eat if they are firm but yield when you gently squeeze the avocado. Sometimes you will need to pressure test in several areas of the avocado to make sure it is uniform. Opening an avocado at the right time will come to you with experience, as there is often a fine line between perfectly ripe and almost ripe. I’ve opened far too many avocados that would have been perfect with just another day of ripening, and they were too hard and starchy inside, despite feeling like they were ripe. You might also get avocados that are blemished or dark in certain areas once you open them. Cut those areas out and the rest of the fruit should be fine to eat, as long as the taste is good. You can tell when an avocado is ‘off’ and has gone past it’s prime when it tastes and smells slightly fermented. Sometimes you don’t even have to open an avocado to know it is too old, because when you squeeze it it will feel like liquid inside or even hallow inside. That’s when you know you’re not eating them fast enough! I like to buy my avocados in a variety of stages. I buy a few that are already ripe and ready to go, and then several that feel like they have a couple to a few days to go, and some that feel like they still have a week to go. That way I always have avocados perfectly ready to eat throughout the week. If they do happen to all ripen at the same time, I put them in the fridge to slow down the ripening and help them last longer. To help ripen your avocados faster, just put them in a brown paper bag with a ripe banana or apple and store it at room temperature. Those fruits release ethylene gas, that helps the avocados ripen faster.
How to Enjoy
Enjoying avocados is the easy part. I love to eat them plain with a little bit of lime juice and sea salt. I also love them spread on fresh breads or in salads, or made into a guacamole. You can use them as a healthy spread or filling alternative to other fats, like cream cheese, cheese, or even sour cream. Just puree the avocado with a little bit of lemon juice and it makes a great alternative to sour cream. You can even use it as a filling for sweet foods as I did with my chocolate mousse. One very odd sounding combination that I always get strange looks for is spreading avocado on my dates, but it is so good! I get the same looks when I wrap pieces of dark chocolate in rosemary bread or a tortilla, but hey it tastes good. Just one of those things that sounds weird, but the flavors perfectly compliment each other.
Here are some Greenchef recipes that use avocado in them: