Fresh avocados are way too versatile to simply grace your table in the form of guacamole. This popular pear-shaped, green fruit is a wonderful addition to a variety of dishes, from salads to smoothies to sauces and even sweets. Avocados are packed with nutrition, easy to prepare, and offer a creamy texture and mellow flavor that's irresistible.
What Is an Avocado?
The avocado (or alligator pear) is a fruit with green flesh that gets softer as it ripens. It surrounds a large pit (the seed), which must be cut around and removed. The pebble-textured outer skin changes from a lighter yellow-green to dark green (almost black) as it ripens. This can vary by variety, however, so firmness rather than skin color is the best way to judge ripeness.
Avocados grow in tropical climates on tall trees. Most come from Mexico, California, Florida, and Hawaii and the peak season is late winter into early spring. This is when you'll find the cheapest and best avocados of the year. Avocados can also vary in size, ranging from small, one-ounce avocaditos to massive, five-pound queen avocados. The majority, however, are palm-sized and, like the popular Hass variety, weigh about six ounces.
How to Cook With Avocado
Avocados can be eaten raw and scooped straight out of the skin with a spoon. The fresh fruit is often diced or sliced and included in salads, wraps, and as a sandwich topping. Avocado is also puréed for use in dips, smoothies, and soups, and it's easy to mash by hand. Additionally, avocado can help transform favorite desserts like brownies into vegan-friendly treats.
Since the skin is generally bitter-tasting, most of the time it is discarded, though it is edible. In order to get to the flesh inside, work the knife lengthwise all the way around the pit, cutting the fruit into two equal halves. With gentle pressure, twist the two halves in opposite directions to pull them apart. The pit should stay firmly in one side and can easily be removed with a spoon. Use the spoon to separate the avocado meat from the skin, then cut it up as needed.
Like apples and pears, avocado meat will turn brown once it's exposed to oxygen. This doesn't affect the taste. To preserve the green color, squeeze a little lemon juice over the avocado as soon as you cut it open. You can also mix 2 teaspoons of lemon juice into puréed or mashed avocado.
What Does It Taste Like?
The taste of avocado will depend on its ripeness and the variety. In general, avocado has a rich, buttery taste that is simultaneously mellow and uniquely avocado. It's the creamy texture that makes it a favorite for many people.
If you thought guacamole and avocado toast were fun ways to eat avocado, you'll really enjoy the more unique recipes to feature the fruit. Avocado lovers have devised creative ways to incorporate it into favorite foods of all kinds.
Where to Buy Avocado
It is hard to find a grocery store that does not carry avocados. The tricky part is selecting good avocados and paying attention to the price. They're almost always sold by the individual fruit, rather than by the pound. During peak avocado season, they're inexpensive and it's easy to find perfect avocados in various stages of ripeness. During the rest of the year, the cost may double or triple and you will have to be more selective to ensure you get quality fruits.
Avocados are very hard when fresh and soften as they ripen. If you want to use them right away, select avocados that are slightly soft when gently squeezed. Since they do bruise easily, it's often best to choose harder fruits and ripen them at home. This can take anywhere from two to five days at room temperature. Avoid bruised avocados and any with soft spots or loose skin. You can also give it a quick shake; pass on any that feel like the pit is loose.
Don't store unripened avocados in the refrigerator as they won't ripen properly. Instead, store the avocados in paper bags out of direct sunlight until ripe. After that, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Avoid cutting an avocado until you're ready to eat it.
The best way to preserve avocados long-term is by freezing a puree. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for every two avocados, then freeze for three to six months in an air-tight container. Avocados can also be pickled in a vinegar brine. Canning them is not recommended, but you can store the jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Nutrition and Benefits
Avocados are often touted as a superfood because they're packed with nutrients. The cubed flesh of one medium avocado has a total of 240 calories and 22 grams of fat. That is significant, but the rest of its benefits make up for it. Medium avocados have no cholesterol, 11 milligrams of sodium, and 13 grams of total carbohydrates. They come in at 3 grams of protein and 10 grams of dietary fiber.
When it comes to vitamins and minerals, an avocado is nearly off the charts. It has more potassium than a banana and a significant amount of vitamins C (healthy immune system) and K (bone health), as well as folate (cell function). Avocados also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which improve eye health and a lot of fiber, which assists in digestion, metabolism, and weight loss.
Though avocados generally look the same, there are many varieties of the fruit available. Hass is the most common and popular, the epitome of an average avocado. Other avocado varieties include Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, Pinkerton, and Zutano. Lamb Hass and Reed avocados are good varieties to look for during the summer.