Friday, June 1, 2007

In Praise of the 'Alligator Pear'

The Dade/Monroe County Grower Newspaper

Florida avocado season is here. With their luscious, buttery texture and delicate, sweet nutty flavor, Florida avocados might seem just a little too good to be good for you.

But not to worry -this is one delicious indulgence you don't need to feel guilty about.

The 'alligator pear' is a treasure trove of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and health fats.

"Avocados are something you can enjoy on a regular basis, especially SlimCados," said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals of Homestead, the nation's largest producer of tropical fruits and vegetables."

"SlimCados are considered very health. No need to reserve them for parties and special occasions for Florida avocados are actually lower in fat than other well-known varieties. The fat they do contain is mostly the good kind of fat - monounsatuarated. It's the kind that lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and contributes to heart health."

"Brooks' SlimCados have half the fat and about 35% fewer calories than the leading Californian avocado," said Ms. Ostlund. "SlimCados are lighter, a quarter-cup is about 70 calories and six grams of fat. "

Florida avocados are rich in vitamins C and # - two powerful antioxidants- and folate, which may play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease. Ounce for ounce, avocados have 50% more potassium than bananas.

Studies show a potassium-rich diet may help maintain normal blood pressure. Avocados are high in fiber, which can help with weight control and lower your risk for certain cancers, and they are cholesterol-and sodium-free.

The avocado probably originated in Mexico and Central America, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. It was prized by the Aztecs and the Toltecs.

The avocado was introduced to Florida in 1833 by Dr. Henry Perrine, a noted horticulturist and pioneer of tropical agriculture in Florida: he planted avocados, mangoes, agave and other tropical crops on Indian Key before being killed during the Second Seminole War.

Today, Florida is the nation's second-largest producer of avocados (California is the largest). Most of the state's commercial avocado acreage is found in Miami-Dade County, in the agricultural communities of Homestead and the Redland, the hub of Florida's tropical fruit industry.

Florida's avocado season runs from June through January and is at its peak from June through September.

When shopping for Florida avocados, don't be shy about picking them up: you're looking for fruits that are heavy for their size. The skin should be taut, shiny and free of cuts and bruises.

"The skin should be bright green," Ostlund said.

"That surprises people. The Hass avocado from California turns dark, almost black, when it's ripe. But Florida avocados are a beautiful green."

A ripe avocado should yield slightly to gentle pressure, but if a soft squeeze leaves a dent in the fruit, the avocado is overripe.

"If you want tot eat the avocado right away, look for the fruit that gives just a little," Ostlund said. "But if you don't want to serve it for a day or two, choose a firm avocado and let it ripen on your counter. Avocados mature on the tree, but they won't ripen until you pick them. Once a mature avocado is picked, it will ripen pretty quickly."

You can speed up the ripening process by placing the avocado in a paper bag with a banana or an apple. When storing avocados keep in mind that they are topical fruits and re susceptible to chilling injury.

"You don't want to keep them too cold," Ostlund said. "The ideal temperature for storage is between 42 and 48 degrees. We don't recommend storing them at temperatures lower than 40 degrees".

Avocados are versatile and taste terrific in everything from salads and dips to main dishes.
Add avocado chunks to curries or fold them into omelets. Use them to stuff tacos and burritos or to dress up a burger.
You can even spread mashed avocado on a bagel in place of the usual cream cheese.
"Avocados are great on top of sandwiches, or in fruit salad with melon and papaya." Ostlund said.

"To make my favorite avocado salad, I buy coleslaw mix at the market and add chopped firm avocado, some sesame oil and a little hot sauce. It's a great, healthy alternative to traditional coleslaw and kids really love it."

Avocados work well in desserts too. You can make moist, cinnamon-spiked avocado bread and creamy avocado ice cream. There are recipes for avocado milkshakes, sorbets and cheesecakes.
"I know an avocado grower who swears the very best key lime pie you've ever could taste has avocado in it," Ostlund said.

"You make the key lime pie just as you normally would but then you fold in mashed avocado at the very end. I've tasted it and it's great."

For more "Fresh from Floridia" cooking ideas, visit