Avocado 101 – Benefits, Types, and Nutrition

There’s no other fruit, quite like it. Meet the noble avocado and learn about all its nutritional superpowers; the delicious benefits of avocados just don’t stop. Learn the different types, how to select, keep them green, and store avocados.

Avocado benefits and ways to use it

Avocado or Persea Americana is a pear-shaped fruit that has a rough, pebbly skin and tender, silky flesh. They come from a genus of evergreen trees in the Lauraceae family, where the fruit of the tree yields these delicious plants.

Once described as an “alligator pear” the name seems fitting because of the shiny, deep green skin. Most all of the many varieties of avocado have the same taste characteristics: smooth, silky flesh with an irresistible, almost nutty vegetal creaminess.

It’s used as a topping to make dishes more exciting. Its richness makes sauces, dips, and smoothies shine. Plus, baked treats can also incorporate the pulp as a stealthy fat substitute. The oil from the fruit has also been prized for its high smoke point for cooking. Let’s take a deeper dive into what makes this popular ingredient so versatile and healthy, and how to use them at their peak in recipes.

How it’s grown and the season

While avocados are largely available year-round, the California avocado season starts in the fall and lasts until spring. Grown on trees, these emerald beauties grow large in just the right warm climate, but a small avocado tree can be cultivated as a beautiful houseplant, too, if the seed, or pit, is allowed to germinate.

Types of avocado

  • Haas: Definitely the major player in the world of avocados. The Haas avocado accounts for 95% of the avocados grown in California. Creamy, velvety in texture. Pebbly skin that’s easy to peel.
  • Bacon: A medium-sized fruit, Bacon avocados are light green and easy to peel.
  • Fuerte: Fuertes are pear-shaped avocados, medium to large in size, and have smooth green skin.
  • Gwen: This type of avocado is similar in taste and texture to a Haas, but slightly larger.
  • Lamb Hass: Smooth and nutty in flavor, Lamb Hass is a huge avocado that loves summer sun.
  • Pinkerton: This high-yielding variety is long and pear-shaped, with small seeds.
  • Reed: Reed avocados are round, large fruits and round seeds.
  • Zultano: One of the earliest avocados available in the season. Zultanos have light green skin, pale flesh, and a very mild taste.

Avocado oil- what is it?

avocado oil being poured into a glass jar

The benefits of avocados certainly don’t stop with the flesh. Avocado oil is pressed from the fleshy pulp surrounding the avocado pit, rather than the seed, like other edible oils. This pulp produces an oil full of healthy fats, including oleic acid and other monounsaturated essential fatty acids.

Furthermore, avocado oil is a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that support eye health. Even better, you can cook with it, due to its high burning point that keeps its fatty acids stable at high heat, unlike olive oil. It has a neutral flavor and can be added to many recipes. Look for cold pressed avocado oil for best quality.

Ways to use avocado oil

  • Finishing oil over hot or cold soups
  • In a smoothie for an added dose of healthy fats
  • As the base for a homemade mayonnaise
  • On the skin as a moisturizer
  • Marinade for roasted vegetables or grilled meats
  • As a salad dressing

Recipe suggestions

  • Butter alternative: Avocado is a great substitute for butter or fat in spreads, dips, and of course, on toast.
  • Sandwiches: Fresh slices of ripe avocado as the main ingredient inside a sandwich makes for a totally satisfying lunch.
  • Guacamole: Perhaps of the most popular things to do with an avocado, and for good reason. Grab some chips and get dipping into a bowl of the best guacamole you can find.
  • Chocolate mousse: Avocado has been used in place of whipped cream in a vegan and paleo-friendly version of chocolate mousse.
  • Baking: That’s right, avocados with their healthy fats can be used in some baking recipes as a fat replacement.
  • Babies: Avocado makes excellent first food for babies.
  • Salads: Adding slices of ripe avocado to a green salad, maybe even with poached shrimp.

Selecting and storing

The best way to tell if an avocado you see at the store is ripe and ready for use is to gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand and with your fingertips. Ripe, ready-to-eat fruit will be firm yet will yield to your gentle pressure. Also take a peek at the stem, if it’s easy to remove and still green, it’s ripe. If you can’t flick it off, it’s not ripe, or if it’s too easy to remove and brown underneath, it’s overripe.

Look for fruit that is unblemished, without dark spots, and avoid overly soft avocados. If you’re planning on using the avocados in a few days, buy firm, unripe fruit and store at room temperature until ripe.

How to ripen avocados

how to ripen avocados

Usually, avocados get softer to the touch when ripe, but some varieties such as Haas avocados turn dark, or even black, when ripe. Not all avocados change color, though. If you’d like to accelerate the ripening of your avocados, place them in a paper bag with an apple, banana, or kiwi fruit, which give off ethylene gas and speed up the ripening.

They will last about two days at room temperature at their peak ripeness, up to five days stored in the middle section of the refrigerator. When you’re ready to eat, it’s easy to master the technique for how to cut an avocado, may it be cut in half for guacamole, sliced for poke bowls, or diced for tacos. Just make sure to cut it right before eating.

How to keep avocados from turning brown

In order to keep your leftover avocado looking fresh, you need white vinegar, lemon, or lime juice. Brush or sprinkle the remaining flesh with the juice or vinegar, then wrap in plastic wrap and store the leftovers in the refrigerator. All of these methods provide ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to interact with oxygen instead of the natural enzymes in the flesh that causes it to turn brown. There are other ways to prevent the avocados from turning brown, like using some oil or water over the exposed areas.

Nutrition

The standard serving size for avocados is 1/3 of a medium-sized fruit. It contains roughly 80 calories, 8 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 250 mg of potassium, and as many as 20 other vitamins and minerals, including 11 mcg of vitamin K, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and copper. It also a good source of fiber, providing 11% RDV.

And bonus: avocados contain no sugar, added sugar, sodium, cholesterol, or trans fats.

Health benefits of eating avocados

Avocados top the charts with their many health benefits, especially in the healthy fats department. They provide 5 grams of monounsaturated fats per serving and 1 gram of polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fatty acids help lower LDL cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease.

Eating a diet full of processed foods and that’s high in saturated and trans fats increases your risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. If you have high cholesterol or struggle with high blood pressure, adding avocado to your diet in place of saturated fat like butter might be a good idea.

Avocados are a good source of antioxidants like beta-carotene. Beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are examples of antioxidants that protect your cells from the effects of free radicals and can prevent the growth of cancer cells.

Avocados can act as a “nutrient booster” by helping increase the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, K and E. Avocados, when eaten with a diet rich in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables, can support a weight loss regimen and make eating well infinitely more delicious. When you eat healthy reduced risk foods like avocados, you’re definitely on the right track.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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2 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Dwaine says

    Hi Jessica. I’ve been enjoying the recipes and extra information. I learn something new most posts.

    Do you know if unripe hard avocados have the same nutritional benefits as ripe ones?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Dwayne- I’ve read that the majority of the macronutrients don’t change much, however as the fruit ripens some antioxidant activities may increase to handle the stress of the process. Also, the low amount of starches converts to sugar to make it softer, but avocados are a low carb fruit.

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