All About Avocados, Nature's Butter

June 27, 2013

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

We can't get enough of avocados around here, and if you can't either, we've got ideas for enjoying them from now till next week.

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Full disclosure: we're totally biased when it comes to avocados' smooth, buttery flesh -- to remind you, we’re card-carrying members of The Avocado Toast Fan Club. We can't take credit for starting the club, though; that goes to European sailors all way back in the 1700s. They used to spread their mashed avocados on biscuits, and it became known as “midshipman’s butter.”

The fruit (and berry, actually, if we're being specific) has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac, probably thanks to the Aztecs and their name for it: ahuacatl. (Avocados often hang in pairs on trees, and resemble a male body part. We’ll let you work that out.) Over time, the avocado became known by a number of different names (like alligator pear and avocado pear), so when the fruit became popular in the US, there was considerable debate as to which name to go with. Eventually avocado was agreed upon, and dictionary publishers were informed of the correct spelling, as well as that the plural would be "avocados" rather than "avocadoes."

What to Look For
Although there are over a thousand varieties of avocados -- a very small percentage of which are grown in the US -- the vast majority are Hass (rhymes with "pass") avocados. Hass avocados turn a deep green-black when they ripen (this never happens on the tree), but color isn’t the best cue to use, as other varieties stay lighter green. Choose avocados that have a uniform feel -- gently squeeze them with your palm, not your fingers (as that will bruise the fruit). If they feel firm, but give a little, they're ready to eat. The fun way to tell if your avocado is ripe is to pop off the stem (1). If you see a yellow-green patch (2), you’ve probably got a perfectly ripe avocado, but a brown patch means it’s past its prime. Discretely set it back on the pile.

Have you ever opened up what seemed like a perfectly ripe avocado only to find dark spots or stringy flesh? Your avocado picking skills aren’t to blame, there’s no way you could have known. Stringy avocados are either from young trees (they’ll start to produce better fruit as the tree matures) or were improperly stored. Discolored flesh could be due to excessive handling or a bumpy ride to get to your plate.

More: Ready to visit a farmers market to stock up on summer fruits? Find one near you on Real Time Farms.

How to Store and Prep
Avocados can be stored on your counter, or in a paper bag to hasten their ripening. (Add an apple or a banana to the bag to speed it up even more.) Once they’re ripe, they can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

If you’re confident with your knife skills, cut the avocado in half around the seed (3), twist it apart, and strike the knife blade into the seed (don’t get crazy -- watch your fingers and start from only a couple of inches above the seed). Then just twist the knife to release the seed. Or use a spoon to safely dig it out instead; we’ve had our fair share of kitchen mishaps. Another less-finger-threatening option is to cut the avocado in quarters around the pit, twist to separate, and then use your fingers to pry the seed out. As an added bonus, once quartered, the peel comes off easily.


How to Use
We put avocado on and in everything, so it might be easier to discuss ways we don’t recommend using avocados. (Give us a minute. We’ll come up with something.) Branch out from basic avocado toast and pair them with radishes or sweet potatoes and arugula. Tuck them into a crab roll or a taco. And don’t forget about salads; pair avocado with charred corn, grilled peaches, roasted carrots, or broiled pineapple. Dip everything in sight into a giant bowl of guacamole -- classic, grilled, or with a Southeast Asian twist. (Unfortunately it's a myth that putting the seed in the dip will prevent it from browning, so stick with lemon or lime juice.)

Avocados even shine in desserts. Try them in gelato, chocolate mousse, or a shake. Needless to say, pick up a bag of avocados, and you’re well on your well to at least five delicious dinners. Still not satisfied? We’ve got a whole week’s worth of ideas for you, and we can’t wait to hear how you’ll be eating avocados in the days ahead.

Friday: Full Belly Stuffed and Baked Avocado 
Saturday: Fried Avocado Tacos with Sesame and Lime 
Sunday: Avocado y Huevos Caliente 
Monday: Patricia Wells’ Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado and Pistachios 
Tuesday: Plum Avocado Summer Salad 
Wednesday: Avocado Lassi 
Thursday: Avocado Caesar Salad 

Photos by James Ransom 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • christinab
  • Michael P. Thourot
    Michael P. Thourot
  • HalfPint
  • Marian Bull
    Marian Bull
  • Joerf48
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


christinab June 29, 2013
Love this article and love avocados so much I created a Facebook page in honor of my favorite berry. You are all welcome :). ~ I love avocados
Michael P. June 28, 2013
They are awesome for everything with one exception. Never ever let your pet Parrot have a taste. Oddly enough, Avocado's are very toxic to parrots. Live and learn eh?
HalfPint June 28, 2013
Avocados mashed with milk and a little sugar is one of the best 'desserts' around.
Side note: one of the saddests things that I've ever seen was the destruction of an avocado tree. Someone had bought the house next to my apartment. The new owners leveled the house and chopped down the avocado tree to build a tacky McMansion with barely a patio, that just seemed out of place in the neighborhood.
Marian B. June 27, 2013
I can now confidently say that berries are my favorite fruit. Thanks for this great information, Lindsay-Jean!
Joerf48 June 27, 2013
The avocado tacos sound amazing. I never fry things but I may have to break my own rule. Yummy.
TaoistCowgirl June 27, 2013
Apropos of avocados in desserts, check out the raw vegan brownie recipe on this site. The frosting is made with avocado and cocoa powder. Excellent recipe.
Nomnomnom June 28, 2013
Thanks for the tip!
Nicoleds June 27, 2013
I love avocados too, but what is this article doing on a page called local healthy sustainability? They are grown only in CA and FL in the states in any quantity, so for the other 48 states they would be neither local or sustainable.
Erinn June 27, 2013
Uh, isn't butter nature's butter? Maybe "the butter of the vegetable world" is more apt.
chrisd June 27, 2013
You can't pick butter off a tree, it has to be made by man. Plus an avocado is a fruit not a vegetable, if you actually read the article you would have noticed that. Nice try though.
Becca @. June 27, 2013
I can't get enough of avocados these days. They seem to taste even more decadent than butter, even though they're far healthier. I use them on sandwiches and grilled cheese instead of butter, like this: http://www.amuse-your-bouche.com/brie-and-avocado-toasts/
Lindsay-Jean H. June 27, 2013
That looks fantastic!