There are many different varieties of avocado. The creamy flesh can be eaten raw, in salads and dips and is delicious added to Mexican dishes. Avocados are a good source of vitamins C and K and contain folate and dietary fibre.
What is an avocado?
Smooth, creamy avocado, fused with fragrant spices, adds flavour and texture to Mexican tacos and tortillas, a favourite in Australia. As well as being an excellent addition to fresh vegetables, avocados also complement seafood, chicken and other meats.
The avocado is native to Central America, where evidence found in a cave in Mexico shows that it was used 10,000 years ago. Avocados were introduced to the West Indies in the early 16th century and reached California in the 19th century.
Avocado seeds were brought to Australia from the West Indies in the early 1900s. Avocado trees eventually flourished and the fruit has been popular since the 1960s. Australia is now one of the biggest producers of avocados. Most are grown in Queensland but they are also produced in Western Australia, New South Wales and in areas along the Murray River in Victoria.
In Australia, avocados are sold by variety. The pear-shaped Hass is a common variety and has pebbly skin that turns dark purple when ripe. Shepard avocados are similar in size and shape to the Hass but have smoother green skin and pale flesh. The skin of the Shepard remains green even when it is ripe. The Fuerte is also pear-shaped and has a rich, buttery taste and smooth, dark-green skin.
Other varieties available include the Reed, Sharwil, Bacon, Gwen, Hazzard, Pinkerton, Rincon and Wurtz. The small cocktail avocado is an immature fruit and does not have a seed.
Why avocado is good to eat
- Avocados are a good source of vitamins C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and K (important for helping your blood to clot) and folate.
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Avocados contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of avocado supplies 820 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Depending on the variety, avocado trees either grow tall and upright or tend to spread. Some varieties grow up to 40 m tall. The trees are evergreen and do not lose their leaves. Avocado trees grow best in areas with cool winters and hot, humid summers. They also need protection from wind and frost.
Avocado trees self-pollinate, as both male and female flowers grow on the tree. Avocados take between six and 15 months to begin producing flowers. The fruit reaches full size on the tree but does not ripen.
Harvesting avocados triggers the ripening process. Rather than plucking the fruit from the tree, it is best to clip the avocado off and leave a little of the stem, as this helps to prevent mould entering the fruit while it ripens. A picked avocado takes between seven and 10 days to ripen.
Choose avocados depending on when you will use them. Select firm, unripe fruit if you are not going to be using them immediately, otherwise choose avocados that have a little ‘give’ at the stem. Avoid avocados with dark spots or other visible damage on the skin.
How to store and keep avocados
Store unripe avocados at room temperature. Avocados will ripen if you place them in a paper bag with a ripe banana or apple. Once ripe, avocados can be stored in the crisper section of your fridge for two to three days.
Cut avocados can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for one or two days. If you have halved the avocado, it is best to leave the seed in the stored half to reduce browning of the flesh. You can also sprinkle the cut surface with lemon juice to stop it from turning brown.
How to use
- Make a chunky guacamole – chop avocados and toss with lime juice, freshly chopped coriander leaves, chopped fresh chilli, chopped red onion (or spring onions) and tomatoes (if you prefer).
- Try a refreshing, light lunch – mix chunks of avocado with orange (or grapefruit) pieces, freshly chopped coriander leaves and tender pieces of grilled chicken, then drizzle with oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice before serving.
- Go retro with a prawn and avocado cocktail – arrange shredded lettuce, coarsely chopped avocado, cucumber and onion and prawns in a glass, then drizzle with a mixture of mayonnaise, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and Tabasco sauce.