A ripe avocado yields to gentle pressure when held in the palm of the hand and squeezed. The flesh is prone to enzymatic browning; it turns brown quickly after exposure to air. To prevent this, lime or lemon juice can be added to avocados after they are peeled.
The fruit is not sweet, but rich, and distinctly yet subtly flavoured, and of smooth, almost creamy texture. It is used in both savoury and sweet dishes, though in many countries not for both. The avocado is very popular in vegetarian cuisine, as substitute for meats in sandwiches and salads because of its high fat content.
Generally, avocado is served raw, though some cultivars, including the common Hass, can be cooked for a short time without becoming bitter. Caution should be used when cooking with untested cultivars; the flesh of some avocados may be rendered inedible by heat. Prolonged cooking induces this chemical reaction in all cultivars.
How to Choose and Use Avocados
- The best way to tell if an avocado is ripe and ready for immediate use is to gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand. Ripe, ready-to-eat fruit will be firm yet will yield to gentle pressure
- Colour alone may not tell the whole story. The Hass avocado will turn dark green or black as it ripens, but some other avocado varieties retain their light-green skin even when ripe
- If you plan to serve the fruit in a few days, stock up on hard, unripened fruit and review our section on how to ripen avocados
- Avoid fruit with dark blemishes on the skin or over-soft fruit
How to Ripen Avocados
- To speed up the process of ripening avocados, place the fruit in a plain brown paper bag and store at room temperature 65-75° until ready to eat (usually two to five days)
- Including an apple or banana in the bag accelerates the process because these fruits give off natural ethylene gas,which will help ripen your avocados organically
Tip: The more apples or bananas you add, the quicker your avocados will ripen
- Soft ripe fruit can be refrigerated until it is eaten, and should last for at least two more days. Refrigerate only ripe or soft avocados
- Microwaving avocados is not recommend using a microwave to accelerate the ripening process
How to Handle Avocados
- As with any food preparation, begin by washing your hands in hot, soapy water and dry them with a clean paper towel.
- To avoid cross-contamination from raw meat, poultry or eggs, always disinfect your cutting surfaces and utensils.
- Thoroughly wash the fruit before you slice it.
How to Cut Avocados
Use this simple process when cutting avocados:
- Start with a ripe avocado on a cutting board and cut it lengthwise around the seed. We recommend cutting into the avocado until the knife hits the seed, then rotating the avocado with one hand while holding the knife horizontally in the other hand
- Turn the avocado by a quarter, and cut it in half lengthwise again
- Rotate the avocado halves in your hands and separate the quarters
- Remove the seed by pulling it out gently with your fingertips
Tip: Using this cutting method eliminates the other common seed-extraction method (striking the seed with a knife and twisting) which requires some skill and is not recommended.
- Peel the fruit by sliding your thumb under the skin and peeling the skin back. Learn more about the nutritional benefits of peeling an avocado.
Tip: If you are not using the avocado immediately sprinkle all cut surfaces with lemon or lime juice or white vinegar and cover with plastic wrap against the surface of the avocado to prevent discolouration.
Video – How to Cut and Peel an Avocado
How to Store Avocados
Ripe fruit can be stored in the refrigerator uncut for at least two to three days.
To store cut fruit, sprinkle it with lemon or lime juice or white vinegar and wrap in plastic wrap or place in an air-tight container, then refrigerate. This will prevent it from discolouring.
If refrigerated avocados or guacamole turn brown or black during storage, discard the top or outer layer
If you buy hard, unripened fruit and want to speed up the ripening process, read our section above on how to ripen avocados.
Avocado Usage in Ethnic Cuisines
- It is used as the base for the Mexican dip known as Guacamole, as well as a spread on corn tortillas or toast, served with spices.
- In the Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam, and southern India (especially the coastal Kerala and Karnataka region), avocados are frequently used for milkshakes and occasionally added to ice cream and other desserts. In Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, a dessert drink is made with sugar, milk or water, and pureed avocado. Chocolate syrup is sometimes added.
- In Morocco, there is a similar chilled avocado and milk drink, that is sweetened with icing sugar and hinted with orange flower water.
- In Ethiopia, avocados are made into juice by mixing them with sugar and milk or water, usually served with Vimto and a slice of lemon. It is also very common to serve layered multiple fruit juices in a glass (locally called spreece) made of avocados, mangoes, bananas, guavas and papayas. Avocados are also used to make salads.
- Avocados in savoury dishes, often seen as exotic, are a relative novelty in Portuguese-speaking countries, such as Brazil, where the traditional preparation is mashed with sugar and lime, and eaten as a dessert or snack. This contrasts with Spanish speaking countries, such as Mexico or Argentina, where the opposite is true and sweet preparations are often unheard of.
- In Australia and New Zealand, it is commonly served in sandwiches, sushis, on toast, or with chicken.
- In Ghana, it is often eaten alone in sliced bread as a sandwich.
- In Sri Lanka, well ripened flesh, thoroughly mashed with sugar and milk, or treacle (a syrup made from the nectar of a particular palm flower) was once a popular dessert.
- In Haiti it is often consumed with cassava or regular bread for breakfast.
- In Mexico and Central America, avocados are served mixed with white rice, in soups (Sopa Fría de Aguacate), salads, or on the side of chicken and meat.
- In Peru, they are consumed with tequeños as mayonnaise, served as a side dish with parrillas, used in salads and sandwiches, or as a whole dish when filled with tuna, shrimp, or chicken.
- In Chile, it is used as a puree with chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs; and in slices for celery or lettuce salads. The Chilean version of Caesar salad contains large slices of mature avocado.
- In Kenya and Nigeria, the avocado is often eaten as a fruit, and is eaten alone, or mixed with other fruits in a fruit salad, or as part of a vegetable salad.
- In Iran, it is used as a rejuvenating facial cream.
- A puree of the fruit was used to thicken and flavour the liqueur Advocaat in its original recipe, made by the Dutch population of Suriname and Recife, with the name deriving from the same source.
- Avocado slices are frequently added to hamburgers, tortas, hot dogs, and carne asada. Avocado can be combined with eggs (in scrambled eggs, tortillas or omelettes), and is a key ingredient in California rolls and other makizushi (“maki”, or rolled sushi).
- In southern Africa, Avocado Ritz is a common dish.
- In the United Kingdom, the avocado became widely available in the 1960s when it was introduced by Marks and Spencer under the name ‘avocado pear’. However, many customers tried to use it as a dessert ingredient like other pears (e.g. with custard), and complained to the store that it was inedible. As a result, Marks and Spencer dropped the word ‘pear’ and labelled it simply “avocado”.
Avocado Nutritional Information
Avocado Nutrient Density
Avocados are a wonderful fruit containing a range of vital nutrients needed for a healthy body. Just like other fruits avocados are high in water (75%) but remain nutrient dense. They are rich in fibre and healthy fats while naturally low in sugar and sodium. To name a few nutrients half an avocado can give the average adult:
- 5g of fibre (17% of adult fibre needs)
- 36% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for folate
- 31% of RDI for vitamin K
- 24% of RDI for vitamin E
- 15% of RDI for potassium
Vitamin C in Avocado
Avocados are a rich source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is an amazing antioxidant contributing to cell protection from free radical damage. Vitamin C is also needed for your skin, helping to build collagen which keeps your skin strong and elastic. If you are vegetarian then vitamin C is needed to absorb iron from plant foods. Half an avocado contains 13mg of vitamin C (32% of an adult’s RDI).
Avocado during Pregnancy
Women of child bearing age need to consume at least 400 micrograms of folate per day at least the month before and three months after conception. A diet rich in folate including avocado may reduce the risk of foetal neural tube defects. Folate helps cells divide and is necessary for blood formation. Half an avocado contains 144 micrograms of folate (36% of the RDI for folate).
Avocado and a Healthy Appetite
The body needs fats as they are vital for good health. The low fat mantra of the 80s and 90s is a thing of the past and everyone is returning to healthy plant sources of fats such as avocado. Wherever you find fat – all three types of fat will be present: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated but just in different amounts. In plant foods such as avocado the majority of fat is the healthy kind: 60% monounsaturated fat and 12% polyunsaturated fat.
Half an avocado contains 18g of the beneficial monounsaturated fat. Healthy fats help carry fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and K and colourful carotenoid pigments such as beta carotene. But for those watching their waist healthy fats also help released hormones in the intestine which may signal fullness, controlling appetite. This does mean you can follow a high fat diet but it does mean you can enjoy avocado in place of other fats. For instance swapping butter for avocado next time you’re spreading your bread.
Fibre in Avocado
Avocados are a good source of dietary fibre. Fibre plays a vital role in maintaining good health and there are two types: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre can help reduce cholesterol re-absorption in the intestine, while insoluble fibre helps maintain bowel function. Eating ½ an avocado will give you around 5g of dietary fibre which is 17% of adult fibre needs, and around 2g of soluble fibre.
Avocado – Antioxidant Capacity
Nature gave avocados a strong antioxidant capacity to help prevent the healthy fats in avocados going rancid too quickly. Avocados contain not only antioxidant vitamins and minerals but also other natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds called phenolics. Antioxidant capacity can be measured using ORAC and avocado has a capacity of 1922 umol TE/100g.201 ½ an avocado contains the following antioxidant nutrients
- 13mg of vitamin C (29% of an adult’s RDI)
- 2.3mg of vitamin E (24% of an adult’s RDI)
- 0.32mg of copper (18% of an adult’s RDI)
- 170 mg GAE of total phenolic antioxidants
Avocado and Vitamin E
Eating ½ an avocado gives you 2.3mg of Vitamin E and the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for an adult is 10mg so avocados provide 24% of an adult’s RDI of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant vitamin that contributes to cell protection from free radical damage. It seems taking vitamin E in a natural form may be better than taking it as a supplement. Vitamin E supplements have been linked to increase in premature death.
Avocado and Eye Health
Like other fruits and vegetables avocados contain a range of colourful carotenoid pigments that give avocado their green colour. These pigments include:
- Beta carotene – orange colours
- Lutein/zeaxanthin – yellow colours
- Chlorophyll a and b – green colours
- Plus many others
A study has found that adding avocado to salads or salsa can increase the absorption of these carotenoids from other colourful vegetables. Carotenoids are fat soluble and may dissolve in the fat of the avocado during absorption into the body. Carotenoids are natural antioxidants that protect plants from the effects of the sun’s harmful rays. Similarly they may play a function protecting our eyes. A study in women found that those with the highest dietary intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin had greater amounts of pigments in the macula – the part of the eye responsible for central vision that can deteriorate with age. While the researchers found no link with the amount of fruits and vegetable eaten and this effect it is an interesting area of study where more research is needed. There may even be a role of these carotenoids in the development of vision. In the mean time enjoying avocado with your salads or guacamole and nachos and using avocado as a first food for baby will do no harm and may even help.