The Aztec Treasured Avocado
The avocado, a true Aztec treasure, originated in south-central Mexico around 7,000 to 5,000 B.C. and became domesticated thousands of years later. Archaeologists in Peru discovered domesticated avocado seeds buried with Incan mummies dating back to 750 B.C. The Aztecs called them ahuacatl, meaning "Fertility fruits" - but when the Spanish conquistadores arrived they called the fruit "aguacate", which eventually gave way to "avocado" in English.
Avocados are also known as "alligator pears" for their shape and reptilian skin -- and as "poor man's butter" (see below for a recipe) for their creaminess. Avocados are most colorfully known as the fruit of the "testicle tree." It's no mystery why. Fully fruited, these ovulate gems hang down from the trees in twos - and have a longstanding reputation as aphrodisiacs.
The avocado has a unique flavor and texture. All other tree fruits have either a tart, tart-sweet, or sweet flavor and a juicy texture. The avocado looks like a huge green olive and, like the olive, has a single hard pit. It is very firm when immature and is rich in oil when it reaches full ripeness.
Avocados are technically fruit - large berries with one big seed - in the same family as cinnamon and bay laurel. Like bananas, avocados are climacteric fruit, which means they can mature on the tree but won't ripen until they are removed.
Avocados have suffered a bad reputation for their high fat content, but one fourth of a medium avocado contains only 81 calories and contributes a wealth of nutrients (see below). Avocados are virtually the only fruit that has monounsaturated fat, plus it has a bonus of polyunsaturated fat. According to the American Heart Association, these fats help reduce blood cholesterol levels and decrease risk for heart disease.
Depending on the variety, the immature fruit comes in every possible shade of green. Some are smooth and shiny, others are dull and have pebble-grained skins. Some varieties retain their original green color as they ripen. In others, as the fruit ripens the green changes to bronze, reddish purple, or even jet-black. Some varieties are almost round, but for the most part avocados are pear- shaped. Hence they are often called avocado pears.
Ounce for ounce, avocados contain more blood pressure lowering potassium than bananas. Avocados are rich in good-for-you monounsaturated fats, and cholesterol-lowering beta-sitosterol and cancer-protective glutathione, along with vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6 and fiber.
- Calories (1/4 avocado): 81
- Monounsaturated fat: 5 grams
- Dietary Fiber: 3 grams (1 cup of avocado supplies 30 percent of the daily recommendation of fiber)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 55 milligrams
- Vitamin C: 5 milligrams
- Vitamin K: 10.6 micrograms
- Folate: 41 micrograms
- Beta-carotene: 31 micrograms
- Lutein and Xeaxanthin: 136 micrograms
- One cup of avocado has over 35 percent of one's daily allowance for vitamin K
To test an avocado for ripeness, cradle the avocado in the palm of your hand. If it yields to the slightest and gentlest pressure, it is ready to serve, it is a Florida avocado. If it is of the California variety, give it an extra day. Too many avocados are cut and served before they have reached full maturity and flavor. Once the fruit is cut, the ripening process is terminated. So make sure that it does have the slight yield before you cut it.
Avocados are not only flavorful and colorful, but are also blessed with versatility. They can be sliced, diced, pureed or served on the half-shell. They are flavorful enough to serve alone, but also blend well when served with fresh fruit, salad greens, cottage cheese, cold meats and especially seafood. A fully ripe avocado has the consistency of soft butter and makes a delicious and colorful sandwich spread.
A cut avocado, like a sliced peach or banana, will darken and discolor when exposed to air. Sprinkling the exposed surfaces with fresh lemon or lime juice will retard this discoloration. Try to use a cut avocado as soon as possible. In the interim, cover the exposed surfaces with plastic film. If you cut the avocado in half, don't remove the pit until ready to serve.
Avocados are tropical fruits and don't like cool temperatures. Never put a firm avocado in your refrigerator. At best it won't ripen properly, at worst its flesh will turn black.
A black-skinned avocado is a hallmark of quality. The California Hass variety is an ugly duckling that has a dull, pebble-grained green skin when it is immature. As it ripens. the color of the skin turns to jet-black. This least attractive variety is by far the finest-flavored avocado available. When you see this Hass variety, remember that its ugliness is only skin deep.
If buying an avocado to use immediately, select a fruit that yields gently to pressure. If planning to use later in the week, select one that is still firm. Handle ripe avocados carefully to avoid internal bruising.
Using Avocados in Your Foods
Peel and use avocados in salads, or as a basis for a delicious guacamole. Slice in half and fill with shrimp, tuna or chicken salad for a festive lunch. An easy way to slice a ripe, Haas avocado is to cut it in half length-wise around the seed, rotate the halves to separate, and then scoop out the seed and flesh with a spoon.
Avocados can turn brown when cut. To reduce the browning effect, immediately sprinkle with lime or lemon juice, or vinegar. Remember avocados can be cooked as a part of a main dish.
To ripen, keep avocados at room temperature for 3 to 10 days. To speed ripening, place avocados in a brown paper bag, or use a fruit ripening bowl. Ripe avocado can be stored in the warmest part of the refrigerator for several days.
Alternatively, ripen avocados in a brown bag or bowl of flour. You can test it for ripeness by saing a toothpick through the end in the stem.
The creamy, earthy texture and flavor of avocados pairs well with seafood, poultry, salads, Mexican food, sushi and eggs. Try avocados mashed as a spread on breads, slice them into sandwiches and salads, and fill avocado halves with your favorite foods, from crabmeat to curried chicken.
If you want your avocado NOW, soften it in a microwave at 50 percent power for 30 to 45 seconds -- and keep doing it until you can feel it's soft. It won't ripen, but it WILL soften.
Add avocado to salsa for a bigger health payoff. A study from the Ohio State University found that people absorbed four-and-a-half times more of the cancer-fighter lycopene from the tomatoes when avocado was added; the healthy fats help you absorb more nutrients.
Weight Loss Tips
Healthier Fat. Skip the mayonnaise and choose creamy avocado on your sandwiches. It packs 4 grams of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat (which lowers cholesterol), 2 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein per ounce, making it a lower-fat, more filling substance for the mayonnaise.
Spice up your omelet. Love omelets? Try dicing up some avocado and tossing it into your omelet instead of cheese. It contains less fat and will add flavor and some creaminess to your omelet.
Avocado Health Benefits
Cancer Fighter. Extracts from avocados kill or stop the growth of precancerous cells that lead to oral cancer and may have a similar effect on other cancers, according to a study. Researchers credit the fruit's unique combination of nutrients - which include folate and vitamins C and E.
Vision Protection. Protect your vision with a few slices of avocado at lunch or dinner. Avocados are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants found in the retina that keep eyes healthy; they also may help prevent age-related problems, like cataracts and macular degeneration.
Avocados High in Vitamin E
Do not let the high calorie content of avocados put you off! Avocados are excellent sources of vitamin E and lutein, as well as other nutrients. New research suggests that avocados have nearly twice as much vitamin E, making them the highest fruit source of this nutrient.
For example, a 3-ounce serving of avocados contains 4.31 IU of Vitamin E, while grapes and peaches have only 1.04 IU each. Avocados also contain phytochemicals, which, like Vitamin E, are antioxidants that mop up free radicals, which can damage cells and have been associated with aging, heart disease, and cancer. Avocados also are high in monounsaturated fat, which lowers blood cholesterol.
Many avocado recipes in cookbooks and on the Internet include avocado as an ingredient in its raw, unheated form so as to preserve the health benefits. These health benefits are made possible by the avocado's unique and delicate fats. For example, in Mexico they add sliced avocado to chicken soup after it is cooked. The avocado warms and mingles well with the soup but retains its nutritional concentration since it is not cooked.
If opting to do a quick heat of your avocados in the microwave, approximately 40 seconds on medium heat is a heating method that won't significantly change the fatty acid profile of avocados.
Quick Ideas for Serving Avocados:
- Garnish black bean soup with chopped avocados.
- Tofu based dressings are complemented nicely by avocado, giving them extra richness along with a beautiful green color.
- Mix chopped avocados, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice and seasonings to give a twist to traditional guacamole.
- Replace mayonnaise on your sandwiches with avocado.
- For a healthful salad, combine sliced avocado with fennel, oranges and fresh mint.
- Top quartered avocado slices with corn relish and serve with a wedge of lime.
- Make your own baby food. Puree a ripe avocado and feed it to babies who are ready for smooth foods. They will love the texture and taste, plus it is packed with vitamins and healthy oils. You can add some instant cereal or a pureed banana for extra flavor if you wish.
- Fill them up! Avocados have tough shells that are perfect for filling. The next time you make chicken salad, tuna salad, or even guacamole (all using avocados of course) consider putting your mixture back into the avocado shell halve. It is the perfect little serving dish.
- Avocado Mango Salad. Mix 1 cubed mango with 1/4 cup diced avocado and 2 tablespoons minced cilantro. Squeeze with juice of 1/2 lime and sprinkle with ground red pepper. Serve with wedges of toasted large whole wheat tortillas. Total calories are 367.
- Avocado Bruschetta. Spread two slices toasted whole wheat bread with 1/4 cup sliced avocado, mashed. Top with two sliced cherry tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Have with one medium apple. Total calories are 374.
Edible Energizer. One-half an avocado contains fatty acids that can help lower inflammation linked to fatigue causing conditions.
Avocado Butter (AKA Poor Man's Butter)
1 medium avocado, ripe, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
Cut avocado in half; remove pit and any membrane. Scoop flesh out into a food processor or blender with a spoon. Add the other ingredients and process for about a minute until light and fluffy.
Add in suggestions: Finely chopped onion with some olive oil, and a dash of vinegar, marinated in the fridge for a few hours, and added to the avocado butter when served.
Serve with crackers, bread, toast, or tortilla chips. Will keep, covered, about 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Avocado 'n Chia Guacamole
Brain-benefiting, heart-healthy guacamole is an irresistible way to get the good fats your body needs to thrive. Here, chia seed makes this wonderful food even more super. Serve it with veggie sas, tortilla chips, quesadillas, or any other side dish that strikes your fancy.
1 avocado, preferably Hass, pitted and peeled
1/8 cup organic chia seeds
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
Salt, to taste
Optional: 1 tablespoon minced red onion or scallions
Optional: A dash of hot sauce
In a small bowl, mash the avocado, chia seed, lemon juice, salt, and (if using) onion and hot sauce, until smooth. Serve immediately.
Truly Easy Guacamole
1 ripe avocado
1/2 sweet onion
5 to 6 drops Jalapeno green sauce
3 packets True Lemon
Blend all ingredients together and enjoy with lime flavored chips.
Individuals with latex allergies should limit their avocado consumption or avoid it completely. Unfortunately, the fruit contains high amounts of chitinase enzymes, which are associated with latex allergies. Lightly cooking the food slightly deactivates these enzymes.
Guacamole Recipe on Printable Card
Resources: Fulgoni V, Dreher M, Davenport A. Avocado consumption associated with better nutrient intake and better health indices in U.S. adults (19+ years): NHANES California Hass avocado: profiling of carotenoids, tocopherol, fatty acid, and fat content during maturation and from different growing areas. J Agric Food Chem.
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