Grown for more than 7,000 years in Mexican highlands, avocados provided the fat in the diets of the populations of pre-Columbian civilizations.
When the Conquistadors discovered the New World, they were amazed by the "tender flesh" and the "delicate and creamy flavor" of avocados. In fact, Spanish missionaries forbade their consumption during Lent because their texture and flavor were too close to those of meat!
Known as aguacate, the fruit spread quickly throughout Latin America. It was first grown in the Antilles (since 1750), then in all the tropical and subtropical regions suited to its farming. It is now found around the world, particularly in Central and South America.
In Europe, it was introduced into Spain in 1519, but large-scale cultivation has only been developed recently. It was only in the 1950s that it began to appear on our tables, first as a rare and luxury item. As a result of globalization, it has become available to all and is now an everyday product.
Avocados are climacteric; in other words, the fruit is picked before maturity and ripens afterwards.
The flesh of a ripe avocado is soft to the touch: it is ready for eating straight away. Skin that is too dark near the stalk is the sign of over-ripe flesh with dark blemishes inside.
Avocados are sold fresh individually. They can also be found frozen, or made into guacamole.
Oil is extracted from the flesh and can be used either hot or cold.
Avocados ripen at room temperature. They can be wrapped in newspaper or stored in a paper bag with a banana or apple. These release ethylene and speed up the ripening process.
Once ripe, avocados are stored in the refrigerator. Care should be taken not to stack them, and they should be handled carefully, as this fruit is prone to bruising.
Avocado flesh oxidizes very quickly: it should be stored with lemon juice or ascorbic acid.
If blanched in boiling water and chilled immediately, it retains all its color.
The avocado is the only fruit that contains fat. It mainly comprises monosaturated fatty acids, which are comparable with those found in olive oil, and is beneficial for the cardiovascular system.
It is also high in vitamins and minerals.
The most common varieties are:
- Edranol: elongated pear shape, hard and thick skin, small pit (South Africa, June through October).
- Ettinger: elongated, thin and smooth skin, bright green. Very delicate flavor. 250–350 g in weight (South Africa, May through September; Israel, September through April).
- Fuerte : the most commonly grown variety. Shaped like a pear, thin and matte skin, dark green. Creamy flesh. 250–400 g in weight (Peru, Spain, Israel, October through April; South Africa, April through September).
- Hass: small, hard, and grainy skin, purplish brown, creamy and aromatic flesh. 250–300 g in weight (Peru, Chile, Spain, September through April; Mexico, September through December; Israel, February through April; South Africa, April through September).
- Lula: large, rounded base, glossy skin, yellowish green. 300–400 g in weight (Antilles, August through October).
- Nabal: large, spherical, smooth and dark skin. Lower fat content, can be cooked. 300–500 g in weight (Israel, January through March).