Ladies and gentlemen this week’s key ingredient is the avocado. This single seeded berry is a versatile food. You can stick it in a salad, mash it into guacamole, and slice it in sandwiches with chicken and bacon. You can even have it on crumpets according to one of my friends, although I’m not too convinced about that one after all this came from the same person who told me to put banana on pizza. In the Philippines you’ll find it pureed with milk and sugar to make an avocado shake and in Indonesia you may be served it mixed with milk, coffee and rum to make ‘es apokat’.
Avocados are also popular ingredients in beauty products such as facials, creams and massage butter.
The avocado has the skin of a Harryhausen dinosaur, it could be the egg of a lizard alien from science fiction or the minds of certain conspiracy theorists. The reptile-like outer probably led to its alternative name of the alligator pear and gives it the appearance of something ancient and mysterious.
But where do they come from? Well, trees. Tall ones that grow in groves in hot places such as Mexico, Hawaii and Florida.
It’s been knocking around in the human diet for millennia, much like last week’s star the potato, and like the spud was first munched on in the Americas. Archaeologists unearthed a pre-Incan pot in the shape of an avocado dated to around 900 BC. The Aztecs loved them, probably almost as much as they loved a spot of ritual human sacrifice to ensure the rising of the sun – which is one of those old traditions that seems to have been neglected of late. One of the main reasons the Aztecs enjoyed avocados was because of their reputed aphrodisiac qualities. This reputation for giving one a helping hand with the ahem you know was commented upon by King Charles II’s physician W Hughes who tried it for the first in Jamaica, avocado that is, in 1672. “It is one of the most rare and pleasant fruits of the island. It nourisheth and strengtheneth the body, corroborating the spirits and procuring lust exceedingly.” I bet it does, you dirty seventeenth century so-and-so.
The avocado was also known as midshipman’s butter, named for low ranking naval crew, and spread on sailor’s biscuits during long sea voyages. In fact this use of avocado is also prevalent in Mexico where it is sometimes known as poor man’s butter. There was a time in Britain though when the avocado was an exclusive food enjoyed by the wealthy. In the early 1900s the fruit became a mainstay of aristocratic dinner parties but it wasn’t until 1962 that they first appeared on the shelves on British supermarkets, another exotic food emerging from the shadow of rationing.
They really became popular in the 70s, something that probably helped link it to naffness and dodgy evenings with the neighbours. It has also suffered from the misconception that it is unhealthy due to its admittedly high fat content. This fat is monounsaturated, one of those good fats that seem to get trumpeted as helping against heart disease.
They’re high in fibre, will leave you feeling fuller for longer and contain other such goodies as carotenoids, which are linked to protection against eye disease. They have a folate content which has been said to help in pregnancy and also to help keep your heart healthy.
The avocado is also high in protein, making it the most protein-rich fruit you’ll find. And they contain almost double the amount of potassium as bananas.
One of my favourite ways to eat avocados is to make guacamole, mainly to stick in fajitas but also to enjoy with some tortilla chips. You’ll need a ripe avocado for this, so maybe stick one with your bananas for a couple of days or do some careful squeezing in the supermarket to find one whose flesh yields slightly under the skin.
Take your avocado and cut carefully lengthways all around the fruit, using the stone to steady your knife. Twist and halve the fruit then remove the stone. Scoop out the light green flesh and put it in a bowl. Add in some finely chopped red onion, about half a small one for this recipe. Then a small, de-seeded and finely chopped tomato, a mild de-seeded and chopped chilli, a pinch of salt, some chopped coriander leaf, and the juice of half a lime. Mash that all together with a fork, adding more water or limejuice as necessary. Serve straight away but if you do need to keep it fresh for a bit cover it in cling and place in the fridge. That old chestnut about the avocado stone preventing discolouration is nothing but a myth. All that Aztec stuff about avocados’ special properties perhaps needs more research.
So, slice, scoop, mix and mash and there you have guacamole perfect for a King’s physician or suspect 70s dinner party.