Chow Town

The avocado just might be the perfect food

With their flavor, texture, nutritional value and culinary versatility, avocados might be one of nature’s highest achievements.

It seems like avocados already get a bad rap about high fat content. The truth is, avocados have nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Avocados are sodium-free, cholesterol-free and have only five grams of fat per serving, most of which is monounsaturated fat — the “good” cholesterol-lowering fat.

Avocados have more than 1,000 different named varieties. However, only a small number of avocados are actually grown and sold commercially. These varieties are put into three main groups: Mexican, Guatemalan and West Indian.

• Guatemalan: The Hass variety of avocado is a member of the Guatemalan group, which accounts for 95 percent of the total crop produced in California. This group is native to the highlands of Central America, Ecuador and Mexico. They are a winter cultivar and mature within nine to 14 months. A large fruit with a rough skin, Guatemalan avocados have the most hybrids that are used for commercial selling. They grow to roughly 5 pounds and have small seeds that are tightly placed within the avocado.

• Mexican: These avocados are native to the highlands of Mexico, the Andes Mountains and Chile. They develop quickly and ripen within six to eight months. These are a small fruits, weighing in at only 1 pound or less. Fuerte is an example of this variety of avocado. They are typically grown in higher altitudes and are able to withstand cold temperatures. The fruit is dark green in color and has a smooth skin. The seeds are large compared to the relative size of the fruit and has a high fat content compared to the other varieties.

• West Indian: Despite its name, the West Indian avocados are not native to the West Indies, but to the lowlands of Central and South America. General Bureau and Lewis are common varieties. They have a light green color and smooth skins. They grow in warm climates and they mature in the summer months after six to nine months. These are one of the larger varieties, reaching up to 5 pounds and are the lowest in fat content.

The best way to test 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. Color alone may not tell the whole story. The Hass avocado will turn dark green or black as it ripens but other varieties retain their light-green skin even when ripe.

To ripen an avocado, place the fruit in a plain brown paper bag and store at room temperature, about 65-75 degrees, until ready to eat. Including an apple or banana in the bag accelerates the process because these fruits give off ethylene gas, a ripening agent. The oil content in an avocado is actually a measure of how ripe it is. Sometimes it seems they just won’t ripen. One reason is avocados are quickly damaged by cold and will not ripen properly when damaged by cold. Therefore, don’t store avocados in the refrigerator. Another reason is they were just picked too soon by the grower.

Here are some more interesting facts:

• Brazilians add avocados to ice cream.

• Avocados are also known as the Alligator Pear.

• In one year, a single avocado tree can absorb as much carbon as is produced by a car driven 26,000 miles.

• Avocado is a corruption of the Spanish word aguacate, which is in turn a corruption of the Aztec word ahuacatl, meaning testicle. (I’m ending it here by not even commenting on that.)

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.