20 January 2011

10 lean mean green facts about avocado that will make you a believer

With its taste bud tantalizing flavor and seemingly countless bod-boosting properties, Persea Americana -- known more commonly to you and me as the alligator pear or avocado -- is a mean green dream that we should all probably eat by the bushelful. Going gaga for the Mexican native’s most common incarnation, guacamole, is understandable, but its culinary diversity is well-worth exploring (beyond mere dip) due to the appealing silky texture and nutty nuance that it bestows to countless dishes.

Calorie counters may be somewhat hesitant, and with good reason, because let’s face it – baby got fat. More than one gram of the saturated variety per slice, in fact. The good news is that it’s not at all like the type that you’d find in a Twinkie. Avocado fat – 75% of which is monosaturated -- positively impacts blood serum cholesterol levels by ramping up HDL numbers while conveniently decreasing LDL and triglycerides in the process. What that means is that your heart will breathe a sigh of relief when you chow down on the green stuff and you’ll get an extra-added bonus: more protein per serving than cow’s milk. (That's a good thing especially in light of the casein-cancer connection.)

Interested in learning more than you ever dreamed was possible about the surprisingly potassium-rich, succulent green treat? Oh good! A smorgasbord of delectable avocado tidbits await...

1) Technically, an avocado is a fruit rather than a vegetable, but if you really want to get specific, it’s actually a ginormous single-seeded, fleshy berry that thrives in frost-free climates such as those typically found in Chile, Central America, Ecuador, Indonesia, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. Back in the time of dinosaurs, it is believed that – at least in California – the prehistoric creatures happily dined on the fruit, which would explain why they rocked such lustrous…um…scales.

2) It’s hard to resist judging a book by its cover, and in the case of this curvaceous green fruit, it has long been regarded as an aphrodisiac due to obvious visual cues. Beyond its Marilyn Monroesque figure, Aztecs famously noted that while on the tree, avocados typically hang in cozy little pairs, not unlike…well…the family jewels of the male persuasion. That is why they dubbed the green dream “ahuacate”, the direct translation which just so happens to be “testicle”. Okee-dokey. Calling it like it is.

3) So…just how many avocado trees does it take to produce 200 pounds of the cholesterol-free fruit? Quite impressively, one little ol’ self-pollinating plant typically yields 500 avocados throughout the year, with California earning honors as the top U.S. producer at roughly 90% of the total crop yield and Mexico, Chile and Peru picking up the slack.

4) Avocado newbies -- craving a few basic tips to get you going? How about the best way to cut and peel one so you don’t waste any of the green goodness inside…or how to prevent oxidation (a.k.a. that unappealing brown color)…or how to tell when it’s perfectly ripe? (Psst….when it yields like chilled butter under gentle pressure, that’s probably the best time to chow down.) What if you have rock-hard fruit that you want to eat, stat? Amazingly, you can microwave ‘em if you’re really in a hurry, but the ideal scenario would be to plunk one in a brown paper bag with an ethylene-gas-producing fruit (like an apple, for example) and wait a mere 24 hours for the magic to occur.

5) If you’re ever tempted to try your hand at sprouting your own avocado seed in a glass of water, go right ahead – just don’t expect your tenderly nurtured plant to bear fruit for at least a half a decade or so. Enjoy the glossy deep green foliage and early winter blooms that emerge, but be prepared to spit out any avocados that you may successfully yield because – when propagated by seed rather than by rootstock – most if not all of the fruit is notoriously poor in quality.

6) Ladies in the house – want an emollient-rich eye makeup remover with absolutely no chemicals in sight? Then dip a cotton swab in a small bit of very ripe avocado flesh, or if you’re like me, dispense with the lady-like behavior altogether by liberally gunking it all over your face. In addition to possessing a very high oil content, the fruit contains super-duper levels of 18 amino acids, iron, niacin, Vitamin A, Vitamin E and Vitamin C, all of which contribute to youthful looking skin as well as lustrous locks. If you’re interested in trying out a few homemade beauty-bestowing recipes that are almost good enough to eat, consider whipping up an avocado-based hair or skin conditioning mask -- just remember that all the homemade preparations that you make will be highly perishable, so use them pronto!

7) Did you know that you can incorporate the flesh of an avocado into a vegan-friendly layer cake, seemingly decadent fudge or use it as the basis for an unusual dessert-worthy pudding? If sweets aren’t your thing, you might want to cook up some flax and chili breaded avocado fries instead or sample sumptuous artichoke bottoms stuffed with pureed eggplant and avocado. Additionally, avocado morphs into a simply fab butter replacement whether you fully embrace a meat-free based lifestyle or are dipping your big toe into the plant-based pond.

8) My geriatric 17 year old cat Snagglepuss goes positively bonkers for really ripe avocado, often snorkeling with delight the moment that I cut into one, and one popular brand of cat and dog food, Avoderm, actually contains avocado oil. Nevertheless, it was a complete surprise to me that many resources caution against exposing felines, canines, birds and various other wet-nosed critters to its fruit, pit, skin, leaves or bark due to toxic effects. Better safe than sorry. No more green goo for you, Snagglepoo.

9) You can certainly recycle avocado pits well beyond the scope of sprouting your own personal orchard. Wash the seeds thoroughly and get your crafty juices flowing by whittling them into earthy candle holders, necklace pendants or mini sculptures as German artist ‘Marcus’ has done with his enviable Celtic-inspired avocado pit masterpieces. Right brained artists shouldn’t neglect the skin of an avocado, either, since it’s a perfectly ripe canvas for the imagination ;)

10) If the previous artsy suggestions put too much pressure on you to create a veritable masterpiece, there’s always an easy-breezy yet entirely green alternative. Simply incorporate crushed avocado seeds into a DIY exfoliating facial scrub or make your own avocado pit fabric dye. Good golly, is there ANYTHING that avocados can't do?!?!

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/evanblaser