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Perhaps it has something to do with the aphrodisiac qualities once assigned to this New World fruit by the Aztecs, but in some Latin American countries it is customary to give newlyweds gift-wrapped avocados.
Norman Van Aken describes three basic avocado groups - Mexican, Guatemalan and West Indian - in "The Great Exotic Fruit Book." These groups contain dozens of varieties. The pebbly-skinned Hass, a Guatemalan/Mexican hybrid, is the one most often available in our markets.
An avocado contains about 369 calories and 37 grams of fat (for 1 large avocado, about 10 ounces or 280 grams), but it has "earned its place in the health pantheon," writes Fran McCullough in "The Good Fat Cookbook." "They're high in fat but it's the healthy monounsaturated fat, which helps to lower cholesterol," she writes. "They have four times more beta-sitosterol, a nutrient that reduces the amount of cholesterol we absorb from our food, than any other fruit." The avocado also is rich in B vitamins and has twice the potassium of a banana, she adds.
Avoid fruit with soft spots. Select heavy fruit that yield under pressure when gently squeezed.
Store ripe avocados at room temperature for a day or two. Unripened avocados will ripen in a closed brown paper bag set aside for one to three days depending on desired ripeness: Firmer avocados slice better for recipes; softer ones are the top choice for mashing. Chilling will halt the ripening process; refrigerate avocados up to a week.
Halve lengthwise; twist the halves apart before removing the pit with a spoon or a knife blade struck into the pit and twisted.
Although we're more familiar with avocados as the prime ingredient in guacamole, the fruit's buttery texture and subtle nutty flavor suits many other applications. Avocados are best used fresh and are good candidates for salads, salsas and cold soups. Their subtle flavor offers a delightful complement to seafood. In Brazil, avocados are used to flavor ice cream.
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