The Avocado : The Fruit That Wants To Be A Vegetable

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The term 'good fat' may seem strange, but nutritionists know the facts; our body needs it to function properly. One source of this 'good fat' is avocados. Avocados are a staple food for many reasons in many different cultures. Let's learn about this smooth, creamy fruit... or is it a vegetable?

What is it?

First of all, the avocado is a fruit, even though it may taste like a vegetable. The avocado or 'alligator pear' refers to the fruit of the avocado tree. Avocados may be pear-shaped, egg-shaped, or spherical. Strange as it seems, the avocado is actually a large berry containing a large seed. Avocados are an economically and nutritionally valuable fruit cultivated in tropical climates throughout the world.

As anyone who has ever bought an avocado knows, the avocado is often pretty firm, even hard, when you buy it. Then, in a few days on your countertop, it gets softer. That is because avocados ripen after harvesting, when the fruit begins releasing a chemical similar to that of a banana.

History

Originally found in Puebla, Mexico, the avocado we see in stores in the United States is quite different from the avocado found in other regions. The oldest avocado found dates back to almost 10,000 BC. It was found in a cave in Coxcatlan, Mexico where Puebla is today. To promote the propagation of avocados around the world, the plant was introduced to the Indonesian culture in the mid 1700's, Brazil in the early 1800's, Levant in the 1900's, and South Africa and Australia in the late 19th century.

Health Benefits

Avocados provide nearly twenty essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folic acid. They also act as a 'nutrient booster' by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, like beta-carotene and lutein. The avocado has a higher 'good fat' content than most other fruits. This is the reason avocados serve as an important staple in the diet where access to other foods that supply good fats, like lean meats, fish, and dairy, may be limited.

The American Heart Association (AHA) Dietary Guidelines recommend a diet that has at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, contains up to 30% of calories from fats (primarily unsaturated) and is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fats, and sodium while being rich in potassium. Avocados are a nutrient dense food that can help you meet these AHA dietary guidelines.

A generous helping of avocado on a regular basis has all sorts of health benefits, including those little things we love like shiny strong hair and nails, and younger looking and feeling skin. Of course, there are those big things, too, like lowering cholesterol.

Fun Facts

Avocados were known by the Aztecs as 'the fertility fruit' because of its supposed aphrodisiac qualities. In Nahuatl avocado is called ahuacatl and is found compounded with other words, as in ahuacamolli, meaning avocado soup or sauce, from which the word guacamole is derived. It is also known as Butter Fruit in parts of India due to its butter-like texture.

The average avocado tree produces about 1,200 avocados annually. Commercial orchards produce, on average, seven tons per hectare (about 2.5 acres) each year with some orchards reaching upwards of 20 tons per hectare.

How to eat

To tell if an avocado is ripe, hold it in the palm of your hand and squeeze gently. It should yield to a gentle pressure. A ripe avocado is easy to peel if you cut down lengthwise and twist the avocado slightly to split it in half. The pit can be popped out by inserting the blade of a knife into the pit and giving a nudge. Then, use the knife tip to slice through the flesh of the avocado, but not the outside peel, in sections and turn the nubby peeling inside-out and the ripe flesh will pop out.

The flesh of an avocado is prone to enzymatic browning, meaning it turns brown quickly after exposure to air. To prevent this, lemon juice or lime juice can be sprinkled on the avocado after the peeling is removed. Not only does the citrus juice slow the browning process, but it compliments the flavor of the avocado. In fact, avocado dishes often call for the addition of fresh lime or lemon juice.

Generally, avocado is served raw because many varieties cannot be cooked without turning bitter. However, there are a few dishes that call for brief heating in the oven just until the avocado is warmed through. Some of the more popular uses of avocado is in guacamole or other types of salsas, atop a bright green salad, or even on hamburgers and sandwiches. Avocados are found in many varieties of sushi, too.

Due to the high fat content, many countries blend the avocado with other fruits and vegetables to make smoothie-like drinks. You may also find avocados used as an additive or filler for ice cream since the flavor profile is extremely subtle, the texture is creamy, and the flesh of the avocado can take on just about any flavor you subject it to.

Whether you are trying avocados for the first time, or are a big fan already, you may be surprised just how much of a super-food avocados are. Besides being healthy, avocados are a delicious treat. Give avocados a try today and find out how easy it is to incorporate this powerhouse fruit into your diet.