The Healthy, Yummy Avocado
The Avocado Pear is one of the most loved of Jamaica's indigenous fruits. A native of the Americas, it is found all over the Caribbean, Central and South America. In the pre-Columbian period, it was a staple of the Aztec and Inca diets. Europeans who came later also enjoyed it. On a visit to Jamaica in 1672, W. Hughes, physician to England's King Charles II, wrote that the Avocado was "One of the most rare and pleasant fruits of the island. It nourisheth and strengtheneth the body, corroborating the spirits and procuring lust exceedingly."
Hughes was unto something. Though most Jamaicans eat avocadoes sliced as a side dish or in sandwiches and dips (such as guacamole), the fruit actually has many more uses. Avocadoes can be used in a variety of dishes, from main course to dessert, as a skin moisturizer and even as an aphrodisiac (a belief since the time of the Maya). It decreases cholesterol and lowers blood pressure, and its high potassium content is a guard against circulatory problems such as heart disease and stroke. Studies show that adding avocadoes to a salad increases your body's ability to absorb the vitamins that vegetables provide.
Still, many people believe Avocadoes are too fattening to be a part of a weight management program. People see it as a sort of "guilty pleasure" because of its high fat content. In truth, it can be quite helpful when trying to lose weight.
The mono-unsaturated fat in avocadoes (known as good fat) is not the stuff of cheeseburgers; it actually speeds up the metabolic rate so that more calories are burnt. A recent Science Advisory from the American Heart Association recommends diets high in mono-unsaturated fats over low fat diets. The fat content of Avocadoes also tends to give a quicker feeling of fullness, preventing over-eating and curbing the urge to binge on high fat, sugary foods.
When shopping for Avocadoes you are likely to encounter one of the two more common types, the Hass and the Fuerte. The Hass has a rough, almost black skin and is more common in the U.S.A., while the Fuerte (known simply as "pear" in Jamaica) has a smooth green skin. The two are very similar in taste; the only difference is that the Hass has a slightly more buttery texture.
You needn't buy your avocadoes ripe. The fruit does not need to mature on the tree. A few days and you'll have a perfectly developed pear. Before it ripens it is firm, as it matures it gets softer and the skin gets darker. They can be ripened in a paper bag or at room temperature but should not be refrigerated until they are ripe. However, if sliced you should be sure to put a few drops of lime juice or vinegar on it, to prevent the flesh from turning brown.
Our recipe index lists an excellent "Avocado with Marinated Shrimp" recipe. For the more adventurous, a recipe for Avocado massage oil and a dessert dish using Avocadoes follows. Enjoy these unusual ways of using a Jamaican favourite.