A buttery energy-booster
Avocado is probably one of the most popular fruits around, but just 40 years ago it was practically unknown in Europe. Since then, however, avocado has become such a hit that it can justifiably be described as a trend food. It is easy to see why it has earned soubriquets such as ‘green gold’, ‘butter fruit’ and ‘butter pear’: the tender, buttery green flesh truly melts in the mouth. It is almost universally beloved thanks to its relatively neutral taste and its affinity with spicy and sweet foods alike. Although it looks and tastes like a vegetable, botanists class it as a fruit. There are thought to be around 400 different avocado varieties worldwide, which differ greatly in shape and size, and range from 200 g to 2 kg in weight.
But what is this miracle fruit exactly, what should we be mindful of when buying it, and why should we eat it in moderation? We’ve put together everything you need to know here.
1. ... is good for your muscles.
2. ... can lower your cholesterol levels.
3. ... strengthens your gums.
4. ... protects your body’s cells against free radicals.
5. ... ensures good eyesight.
6. ... strengthens your nerves.
7. … doesn't have a good carbon footprint.
8. ... does not agree with everyone.
9. ... does NOT have a good environmental footprint!
If your nervous system needs a boost, then it’s best to reach for an avocado rather than a bar of chocolate. Avocados are packed with fantastic nutrients and nutritional properties. They contain vitamin B and lecithin, which are perfect fuel for your brain and nerves. In addition, 100 g avocado contains 550 mg potassium, which is particularly important for our muscles and nerves because our cells need it to function properly. Besides potassium, lecithin and vitamin B, avocado is also a source of other important nutrients, such as folic acid, vitamin K and vitamin E.
On top of all these nutrients, this powerful fruit contains a huge amount of healthy unsaturated fatty acids. These are vital for an anti-inflammatory diet and thus good for the heart. Avocados are very high in fat for a plant-based food and are packed with calories (138 kcal per 100 g), but the fact is that they wouldn’t be nearly as healthy without this fat. For one thing, unsaturated fatty acids are incredibly important for a healthy heart. What’s more, lipase, the enzyme contained in the unsaturated fatty acids, actually accelerates the breakdown of fat within the body, as it regulates this process during digestion. As a result, your body doesn’t store the fat from the avocado. In other words, anyone thinking that you need to go easy on avocados due to their fat content would be quite wrong. ;-)
Avocados are also great for combining with vegetables. All sorts of veggies contain fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K. When eaten with avocado, our bodies can properly absorb and make use of these valuable substances. Avocado-based dishes can be used to pair fruit and vegetables to great effect. :-)
From unripe to over-ripe
These days, you can find avocados everywhere, all year round, whether at farmers’ markets, health food stores, supermarkets or cut-price shops. The most common issue when buying avocados is that it’s difficult to know whether what you’re buying is the real deal. An avocado might sport a sticker declaring it to be ‘Ready to eat’, but you can’t be sure that it is actually perfectly ripe. You will only know for certain when you cut into the fruit. This makes it all the more important to look carefully at the stem end. If, when the stalk is removed, you see beautiful green pulp showing through, this is an indication that the fruit is likely to be delicious. If instead you see mould, it’s best not to waste your money. Yet even if the flesh looks fine at the stem end, you might be surprised to discover brown spots once you cut open the avocado. These spots indicate that the avocado is already starting to spoil. Another indication of an over-ripe fruit is skin that becomes indented very easily when pressed. Like apples and bananas, avocados go on ripening after they have been picked, so it’s best to buy a firm avocado and keep it at home to ripen, alongside other such fruits. Placing an avocado in the fridge will halt the ripening process. Avocados that have not yet been sliced open should be stored at room temperature.
Washing is a must! Before you begin preparing your avocado, be sure to wash it, as pesticides may adhere to its skin and make their way into the flesh when cut. After washing, slice the avocado lengthways and cut around the stone in the usual way. You can now simply spoon out the flesh. If you only need one half, keep the stone in the other half and drizzle the cut side with lemon or lime juice. The acid ensures that the green flesh won’t go brown.
The avocado pulp can be puréed, mashed with a fork or simply cut into dice. When seasoned to taste, it works brilliantly in salads, as a topping on bread, as a dip for crisps and crudités, or even as a pasta sauce. But go easy: never heat avocado up too much, as it will lose its delicious flavour and can even start to taste bitter. When serving an avocado sauce with pasta, use it in the same way as pesto.
Avocados and the environment
The avocado is native to Central America, where it has been grown and eaten for over 10,000 years. Avocados are now also cultivated in other regions and countries, including northern Mexico, the USA, Israel and Spain. In other words, the avocado has a long way to go before it ends up on our supermarket shelves. People sometimes assume that avocados from Spain or Israel are bound to have a better environmental footprint, as they have not travelled as far. Often, however, this is not the case, as the journey from Israel or Spain is generally made by aeroplane, which is worse in environmental terms than refrigerated container ships coming from places like Mexico.
In addition to their poor environmental credentials due to their distribution routes, avocados also require an incredible amount of water to grow: up to 1,500 litres of water per kilogram. In a desert country like Israel, this means that drinking water reserves need to be used to cultivate avocados. The large-scale growing of avocados can thus result in shortages of drinking water and dried-up riverbeds.
As the demand for avocados is still growing steadily, more avocado plantations are being created, which will mean clearing more forest areas. Natural species diversity is thus replaced by a monoculture, which is invariably detrimental to the native flora and fauna. Another downside of monocultures is that plants often become more vulnerable to fungal infestation. This leads to the use of chemical pesticides, which can be harmful to humans and animals.
The avocado also scores poorly on green issues due to the ripening processes used. The fruits are harvested before they are ripe so that they can survive transportation as unscathed as possible. This means that the ripening process has to be triggered artificially. To this end, unripe avocados are stored in colossal air-conditioned warehouses. The air conditioning system fast-tracks the ripening process, but requires enormous amounts of energy.
When taken together, the long supply journeys, very high (drinking) water consumption and artificial treatment all combine to give the avocado a very poor environmental rating.
You can still enjoy this ‘green gold’, but it’s worth being mindful of a few things.
- Things to remember when buying avocados
- You don’t need to have avocado toast every day – enjoy it in moderation!
- Pay attention to where your avocados come from.
- Look for organic and Fair-Trade labels.
- Avoid avocados marked “Ready to eat”: these have been artificially ripened.
- Opt for locally grown fruit and vegetables instead.
- You’ll enjoy avocados all the more if you make them a rare treat!