Avocados are characteristically buttery yet subtly flavorful pear-shaped fruits of Central American origin. Unlike most other fruits, they feature high-fat content and carry more calories. Nonetheless, they are among the popular fruits having good nutrition profile and health benefiting properties.
Botanically, the fruit belongs to the family of Lauraceae, the family that also includes some special members like bay laurel, cinnamon, etc. The scientific name is Persea americana.
Some of the common names are alligator pear, aguacate, butter pear, etc.
Avocado is a medium-sized, evergreen tree that reaches about 20-30 feet in height, and feature large, green foliage cover. It prefers fertile soil with high moisture to flourish. Small light green flowers appear during winter. In about 8-10 months time from bloom, hundreds of pear-shaped green fruits cover all over the tree.
Avocados mature on the tree but ripen only after their harvest. Once Ripen, their complexion turns from light green to deep green or purple, and yield to gentle thumb pressure. Inside, its creamy flesh has a buttery texture with bland taste yet pleasant aroma. The fruit features centrally placed single brown color seed. On an average, each fruit weighs about 300-700 g, although the sight of heavier avocados is not rare in the markets.
Health benefits of avocado
Avocados, like olives, are high in mono-unsaturated fats and calories. However, they are very rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals and packed with numerous health benefiting plant nutrients.
Its creamy pulp is an excellent source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids like oleic and palmitoleic acids as well as omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, linoleic acid. Research studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet which is rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids help lower LDL or bad cholesterol and increase HDL or good cholesterol, and thereby, help prevent coronary artery disease as well as stroke risk through favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
They are an excellent source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. 100 grams of fruit provides 6.7 g or about 18% of recommended daily intake of fiber. Dietary fiber helps lower blood cholesterol levels and prevent constipation.
Moreover, it composes high concentrations of tannin akin to persimmons. Tannin, a polyphenolic compound which once labeled as an antinutritional agent, in fact, has beneficial anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, and antioxidant properties.
The creamy flesh holds many health promoting flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants such as cryptoxanthin, lutein, zea-xanthin, beta and alpha carotenes, albeit in small amounts. Together, these compounds work as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
Total antioxidant strength (ORAC) of avocados (raw, Hass variety) is 1933 µmol TE/100 g.
They are also good in many health-benefiting vitamins. Vitamins A, E, and K primarily concentrated in its creamy pulp.
Avocados are also excellent sources of minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese. Magnesium is essential for bone strengthening and has a cardiac-protective role as well. Manganese used by the human body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron and copper required for the production of red blood cells.
Fresh avocado pear is a very rich source of potassium. 100 g of fruit provides 485 mg or about 10% of required daily levels. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids where it helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure, countering harmful effects of sodium.
Selection and storage
Avocados can be readily available in the market year round. Buy medium-sized, completely ripe fruit with a pleasant aroma. Gently press the fruit to check its readiness for consumption.
Avoid very hard fruits as they may take quite some time to ripe. On the other hand, avoid buying excessively soft, ripe fruits as they tend to be mushy and out of flavor. Look carefully for any surface cuts, blemishes, and bruising and if so, avoid them.
Once at home, keep them in a fruit basket, stored in cool, dark place. Unripe fruits usually placed in a paper wrap with a ripe banana or apple to speed up their ripening.
Preparation and Serving methods
Avocado has delicate nutty flavor, buttery texture, and neutral taste. To eat, cut the fruit lengthwise through its center all the way around the seed. Then rotate or twist the halves in opposite directions and gently pull apart. Scoop the seed using a spoon. Gently peel the skin with your fingers, beginning at its stem end. Cut the flesh into desired cubes using a knife.
Sprinkle or rinse cut sections of the fruit in lemon juice to prevent enzymatic brown discoloration.
Here are some serving tips:
In many parts of Central America, the avocado enjoyed “as it is” with some added pepper, lime juice, and salt.
Its sections or cubes can be added to vegetable/fruit salads, salsa, etc.
Mashed avocado employed in the preparation of Mexican polenta and pancakes. Guacamole is a favorite avocado based Mexican dip.
Similarly, guasacaca is a Venezuelan variant of guacamole salsa prepared using vinegar instead of lemon juice.
Pureed, it may be mixed with ice-cream, shakes, and fruit juices.
Raw unripe avocados rather highly concentrated with tannins. High tannin content makes them bitter and unappetizing. Very high levels of tannins in the food inhibit vitamins and minerals absorption in the gut.
Although very rare, eating avocados may result in allergic symptoms in some latex-sensitive persons. The symptoms may include itching in the throat, hives, runny nose, breathlessness, etc. Often, these symptoms are mild and self-limiting.