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The avocado, also called the alligator pear, is grown from the fast-growing Persea americana tree. Despite the dozens of varieties, avocados are divided into three main categories. There are the West Indian, Guatemalan, and the Mexican types. West Indian varieties thrive in humid, tropical climates, and the Guatemalan types are native to cool, high-altitude tropics and are more hearty. Mexican types are native to dry subtropical plateaus and thrive in a Mediterranean climate. Hybrid types exist among all three forms.
Depending on variety, avocados vary in weight from 8 ounces to 3 pounds. When harvested, the flesh is hard, but with time it softens to a buttery texture. For example, the Haas avocado (Guatemalan) is the most popular avocado in the United States. The Haas avocado is purple-brown, pebbled, thick-skinned, and oval in shape. In contrast, the Mexican fuerte avocado has a thin, smooth, dark green skin, is pear-shaped, and has less oil content.
Avocados are native to Central and South America and have been cultivated in these regions since 8000 BCE. In the mid 17th century, they were introduced to Jamaica and spread through the Asian tropical regions in the mid-1800s.
Cultivation in the United States, specifically in Florida and California, began in the early 20th century. While avocados are now grown in most of tropical and subtropical countries, the major commercial producers include the United States (Florida and California - California produces about 80% of the US avocado crop), Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Columbia.
Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acids, as well as potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and fiber. In fact, one avocado has the potassium content of 2 to 3 bananas.
High in monounsaturated fatty acids, the unsaturated oil content of avocados is second only to olives among fruits and sometimes greater. The fat content of an avocado is roughly 20%, approximately 20 times that of other fruit. The oil is provided by an avocado include oleic acid and linoleic acid. This profile may help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol.
SELECTION & SAFETY
Ripe avocados should give slightly to gentle pressure. Avoid over ripe, dented avocados with brown meat. These will be mushy to the touch.
A firm avocado will ripen in a paper bag or in a fruit basket at room temperature within a few days. As the fruit ripens, the skin will turn darker. Avocados should not be refrigerated until they are ripe. Once ripe they can be refrigerated for up to a week if they have not been sliced.
Once sliced or mashed, avocado will keep refrigerated for one day, particularly if the pit is stored in contact with the flesh. You can prevent the natural darkening of the avocado flesh that occurs with exposure to air by sprinkling it with a little lemon juice or vinegar.
Avocados contain enzymes called chitinases that can cause allergic reactions in people with sensitivity to latex. Therefore, individuals with latex sensitivity should avoid touching or eating avocados. The treatment of avocados with ethylene gas to induce ripening can increase the presence of these allergic enzymes; therefore we recommend selecting organic avocados not treated with ethylene gas, as they have fewer allergy causing compounds.
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