What Is an Avocado?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Slices of fresh avocado sprinkled with seasoning and resting on a cutting board

Sharon Mccutcheon / Getty Images

The avocado is a popular pear-shaped, green fruit that grows on the avocado tree (Persea americana). It is notable for its dark green outer shell that looks like alligator skin that protects a creamy pale green flesh surrounding a single seed. Mexico grows the majority of the world's avocados. It's most common in Latin American foods, including the very popular guacamole. The fruit can also be added to a variety of dishes, from salads and smoothies to sauces and even sweets. Avocados are packed with nutrition, easy to prepare—most often raw or pureed—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.

The avocado grows 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 ones of the year. At other times of the year and during shortages, a single avocado can be expensive. The avocado can also vary in size, ranging from the small, 1-ounce "avocadito" to the massive, 5-pound queen avocado. The majority, however, are palm-sized and, like the popular Hass variety, weigh about 6 ounces.

How to Cook With Avocado

Avocado 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 pureed 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 pureed or mashed avocado.

Extreme close up of sliced Pinkerton avocado with pit
Adam Gault / Getty Images
Whole and sliced avocado
 Westend61 / Getty Images
Bowl of guacamole with a halved avocado in the background
Westend61 / Getty Images 
Vegetarian sandwiches with poached egg and sliced avocado
Istetiana / Getty Images 
Homemade ice cream with avocado
Istetiana / Getty Images

What Does It Taste Like?

The taste of avocado will depend on its ripeness and 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.

Avocado Recipes

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 avocado. The tricky part is selecting a good avocado 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 a perfect avocado 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. Rather than discard the seed, it can be used to grow an avocado tree at home. It thrives in tropical climates and will be an indoor plant in cold regions. Propagation is not always successful, and you should not expect a lot of fruit.

Avocado is very hard when fresh and soften as they ripen. If you want to use them right away, select fruit that is 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 avocado 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.

Storage

Don't store unripened avocado in the refrigerator as it won't ripen properly. Instead, store avocado in paper bags out of direct sunlight until ripe. After that, store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Avoid cutting an avocado until you're ready to eat it.

The best way to preserve avocado long-term is by freezing a puree. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for every 2 avocados, then freeze for three to six months in an airtight container. Avocado 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

Avocado is often touted as a superfood because it's 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. A medium avocado has no cholesterol, 11 milligrams of sodium, and 13 grams of total carbohydrates. It comes in at 3 grams of protein and 10 grams of dietary fiber.

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, avocado is nearly off the charts. It has more potassium than a banana. An avocado has a significant amount of vitamins C (promotes a healthy immune system) and vitamin K (promotes bone health), as well as folate (helps maintain healthy cell function). Avocado also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help in maintaining good eye health. Plus, this fruit contains a lot of fiber, which may benefit digestion, metabolism, and weight loss.

Varieties

Though all avocado generally looks 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.