Next time you take an avocado for granted, consider this: the farmer who harvested the fruit likely spent hours balanced precariously atop a 20-foot ladder, one hand clasping on for balance, the other reaching out with a ten-foot clipper pole, carefully cutting individual fruit from a tree that can reach up to 65 feet high. Avocados, although grown by over 6,000 farmers in California, are not the easiest fruit to harvest.
But they sure are worth it. The plump, creamy flesh is completely unique in the produce world, offering a voluptuous, heady flavor that borrows notes from rich butter, fragrant nuts and mild greens. Avocados are treasured in Southern California cuisine—you’ll find them offered on dishes from haute to hastily served, complimenting flavors as diverse as tuna tartare, chilled gazpacho and arugula salads. “Tableside” guacamole, where a server slices avocados, adds limes, onions, garlic, and a few secret ingredients while patrons watch, is a prime example of how much we prize the flavor of this friut.
Avocados are native to the Central and South America—the name avocado comes from the Aztec word “ahuacatl”—and have been grown for centuries. Yet they were only introduced to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, when they were brought to Southern California from Mexico.
Avocado trees don’t fare well in cold climates, which is why San Diego is so well suited to the crop. The most popular variety is Hass, a variety you’ll likely recognize from its coarse, dark skin and round, plump shape. Hass are a cross breed that originated in Southern California in the 1920s and are prized for their ability to grow year-round. They have become near ubiquitous in supermarkets—their thick skin doesn’t bruise easily and their short, round shape is well-suited to shipping.
But during the height of the avocado season in San Diego, another variety rivals for popularity—the Fuerte. With a thin, green skin and a pear-like shape, the Fuerte avocado must be handled more carefully than the Hass. In fact, its delicate nature has landed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a list of foods that were once prized for their flavor but have become overshadowed by more shipping-friendly varieties. Yet those in the know prefer the Fuerte’s subtly nutty flavor and rich, creamy texture; finding Fuerte avocados at a farmers market is a real treat. Keep an eye out for the pear-shaped, bright green fruit, and know that when buying one, you will be enjoying a variety that few in the world get to experience.
The key to picking out avocados is to know when you want to eat them and to plan ahead. Many avocados are sold before they are ripe (there’s less damage during travel when they are hard). Avocados gently soften when they become ripe – you can buy hard avocados if you don’t’ plan to eat them for a few days or softer ones if you want to eat them sooner. The best way to tell if an avocado is ready to eat is to squeeze gently—it should give slightly but not too much (if you can create an indentation, it’s too ripe). Haas avocados turn dark green, almost black when ripe. However many other varieties, like Fuerte and Bacon, stay the same shade of green as they ripen.
Store whole avocados at room temperature until ripe. (To hasten ripening, place in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple or banana ). Once ripe, use immediately, as they will continue to ripen and can become over-ripe. Once sliced, keep the pit with the avocado, wrap tightly in aluminum foil, and store in the fridge. Avocados will keep sliced for a few days but not longer. Some avocados develop a brown discoloring when exposed to air-simply slice or scoop off the brown layer and use the rest of the avocado.
Avocados are versatile and can be incorporated into any meal of the day. Try chopping roughly and serving atop eggs or in an omelet, slice to top salads and sandwiches, and dice to serve alongside Mexican, Asian, or American dishes. To open an avocado, slice gently into one side until the knife hits the pit, then pull the knife around the entire avocado, until it makes a round slit. Gently twist and pull the two halves apart—the pit will stay in one half and the other half will be pit-free. To remove pit, gently tap a knife blade into the pit until the pit comes out when you lift the knife. Then tap the knife handle on a hard surface such as a sink edge or bowl edge—the pit will drop.
Avocados have a very high oil content, so they are not a low-calorie food. One medium avocado has 21 grams of fat and 225 calories. They are, however, an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, including oleic acid, which may play a protective role. Avocados are high in many other nutrients as well. One medium avocado has nine grams of dietary fiber and 30 percent of the recommended daily intake of folate. One avocado also has 20 percent of the recommended daily intake each for Vitamin C, pantothenic acid and potassium—that’s more potassium than a medium banana.
Lauren Duffy is a freelance writer and the managing editor of Edible San Diego. She can be reached at email@example.com.