Hello, friends! Today we are trying something a little new. I am introducing a series that I like to call “The Plant Diaries”, and we are starting out by talking about THE AVOCADO.
In this series I plan to pick a different plant for each entry and basically tell you ALL about it. I will cover information such as where it’s grown, when it’s in season, its potential nutritional benefits, how to store it, recipes to use it in, and more! Each post will focus on a specific fruit, vegetable, grain, or anything else made from a plant!
Avocados are one of my favorite food items of all time, so I decided this was a good one to start with. But before we jump in, I want to throw in a disclaimer that I am not claiming to be a doctor or dietician. I do have a background in health and nutrition, but you should always talk to your doctor if you have any personal concerns regarding nutrition. None of this information is intended to tell you exactly how to eat or live your life. It’s purpose is to provide education on the general background of the food that we put into our bodies! From there you can do what you want with it.
The information in this post is a combination of knowledge I already had AND some extra research that I did to be prepared for today’s post! I will be including links throughout the post with further information in case you want to take a look.
Now that that’s out of the way, AVOCADO TIME.
What is an Avocado?
Avocados are pretty popular these days. People love them for their taste, their creaminess, and their nutritional value. There are literally hundreds of different types of avocados out there with a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors; but the commonality among all avocados is a smooth, creamy texture and a unique nutty flavor.
Although we usually think of avocados as a vegetable, they’re technically a fruit! A fruit is defined as a “seed-bearing product that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant“, which fits the bill when it comes to an avocado. There seems to be a bit of debate over what subcategory of fruit avocados land in, but the general consensus appears to be that they are a single-seeded berry. Even though I understand the science behind this, this classification still bothers me. So I’m going to just keep thinking of it as a vegetable. Let’s just agree that this is okay.
The History of Avocados
Avocados are by no means a new discovery. In fact, they have supposedly been cultivated by humans as far back as 500 BC! These delicious, creamy fruits (or whatever you want to call them) originated in Mexico and tropical regions of Central and South America. However, they made their way to the US in the 1800s – starting with being domesticated in Florida in 1833, and then California in 1856. Currently, 90% of the US production of avocados comes from California.
The history of avocados in the US doesn’t stop there! In the 1920s, a man named Rudolph Hass tried growing a Fuerte avocado tree in California. However, he instead accidentally grew a brand new type of avocado tree instead! We later referred to these as Hass avocados, and they were pretty different than other avocados at the time. Most popular avocados prior to this had smooth green skin, but the Hass instead had a black pebbly skin. The Hass also had a richer taste due to a higher fat content. Although this discovery was an accident, Hass loved this new avocado for its richer flavor and the tree’s high yield. It took some time, but eventually Hass avocados gained popularity – they now account for 80% of the avocados consumed worldwide, and 95% of the avocados consumed in the US.
Although the US grows a lot more avocados than we used to, Mexico is still the largest avocado producer around! Avocado season tends to vary based on things such as soil quality and temperature. Because of this, different places are able to harvest avocados at different times of the year! This is actually pretty cool, because it means that the US is able to import avocados from various places and basically have access to them year-round. The peak season for avocados in the US tends to be around May-August, so if you want to go local, that’s your time to go avocado crazy!
The Life of an Avocado
Avocado trees are pretty cool because they never go dormant – meaning that they are always growing. Avocados are also unique in the fact that they ripen AFTER being picked. This means that the fruit can stay on the tree for a long time without being harvested since it isn’t actively ripening yet – so there’s a pretty large window in which they can be harvested!
Once an avocado is harvested from its tree, it is graded and sorted. In the US, there are 3 “grades” of avocados: US No 1, US No 2, and US No 3.
US No 1 avocados are the ones that you’re probably buying at your local grocery store. They are free of damage and living their best lives. US No 2 look mostly fine and don’t have any serious damage, but aren’t as pretty as US No 1. For this reason, they are often turned into guacamole in restaurants or grocery stores. Lastly, we have US No 3 avocados. These ones usually have more damage, which means they won’t ripen correctly. These are often used as animal feed since they don’t look as desirable and likely won’t survive being shipped very far.
We often refer to avocados as a “superfood”, which basically just means they have lots of potential health benefits. For starters, avocados contain natural monounsaturated oil. This is basically a fancy way of saying that they are a source of “good fat”! I won’t get into the scientific details of this here, but different types of fats affect our bodies in different ways – and this type is considered good because it positively impacts your heart, cholesterol levels, and more! Fat is an important macronutrient that our bodies need, and getting it from a whole plant food, such as an avocado, is a great way to do it.
On top of its healthy fat, avocados contain other nutrients too! One half of an avocado can contain up to 20% of our daily fiber, which helps us to feel full and also reduces our risk of many diseases. They also contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals – which our bodies need to operate properly! Some of these include B vitamins (helps our cells function properly), vitamin K (helps with blood clotting and bone health), and potassium (helps with nerve signals and muscle contractions). There are many others, but these are a few highlights!
How to Store
You should decide where to store your avocados based on how ripe they are and when you want to use them. They ripen faster at room temperature, and slower in the fridge. Therefore, if you have a firm (not-yet-ripe) avocado and you want to use it in the next few days, room temperature is your best bet so that it will ripen quickly. If you want it to last longer, you can keep it in the fridge and take it out a few days before you want to use it! If your avocado is already ripe but you aren’t ready to use it, you can put it in the fridge to slow down the ripening process and buy yourself some time.
It’s hard to say exactly how long an avocado will last in the fridge or at room temperature. It mostly depends on how ripe it is when you get it! A Hass avocado is ripe when it is somewhat soft and dark purple. If it becomes mushy and black, it’s probably past it’s prime!
Similarly to apples, avocados can oxidize quickly once they’ve been cut. This process is essentially inevitable, but can be more limited if you add acidity and limit the exposed surface area. You can do this by adding some lemon juice to the surface of your leftover avocado and wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap before storing it in the fridge.
In addition, you can technically freeze your avocados! This process does affect the texture – so you probably don’t want to use frozen avocado as a salad topping. However, it can still be used for guacamole, smoothies, or anything else where it’s going to be mashed up! There are a few ways to do this, but I personally recommend mashing up the avocado with a bit of lemon or lime juice, placing it in a freezer safe bag, removing the air, and freezing! I like to let it thaw in the fridge overnight the night before I’m going to use it.
How to Eat
There are so many great ways to enjoy avocado! Here are just a few ideas for you:
- Make guacamole, of course! Dip your chips and enjoy.
- Or, use your guacamole as a topping for quesadillas.
- Mash with some lime juice, spread on toasted bread, and add some fun toppings to make avocado toast
- Use as a topping on buddha bowls or tofu scramble
- Add to your green smoothies for some extra nutrition and creaminess
- Dice and add to salads or cowboy caviar
- Blend it into pesto or hummus for a fun twist
- Add to veggie burgers or sandwiches
I hope you enjoyed this first installment of the Plant Diaries! This type of post is fun for me because I love learning about the food that I choose to eat! If there is any specific vegetable/fruit/grain/etc that you’d like me to cover in the future, be sure to let me know in the comments!
Now, I’m off to make some avocado toast.