What is an Avocado?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The fruit of the avocado tree is the duck-billed platypus of the plant world. It is considered a fruit but is closer to a berry in botanical terms. Avocados are primarily used as a vegetable, yet they contains enough fat to pass as a meat substitute in sandwiches and other dishes. In some respects, it's a tropical fruit akin to a banana, but its oily content and nutty flavor are reminiscent of an olive.

Avocados come from tropical regions and contain healthy monounsaturated fat.
Avocados come from tropical regions and contain healthy monounsaturated fat.

The avocado is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America, although it can be grown in warmer North American states like California and Florida. Most domestic varieties are grown in California, including the most popular variety, Hass (often misspelled as Haas). The type grown in Florida is called either a Florida or a Fuerte, and is characterized by its watery texture and lower fat content. The Hass is usually considered the superior choice for recipes.

Guacamole is made with raw avocados.
Guacamole is made with raw avocados.

The skin can vary from a bright green to a very dark purple reminiscent of eggplant. Much like a banana, an avocado is usually picked from the tree in an unripened stage. Consumers are urged to select fruit with a dark color and a slight "give" when pressed.

Avocados are native to the subtropical regions of Central and South America.
Avocados are native to the subtropical regions of Central and South America.

An avocado should be stored in the open air or with bananas until it is fully ripe. The ripe flesh should be greenish-yellow to a deep yellow. Since the flesh may turn brown quickly, an application of lime or lemon juice may be in order, and it can be treated like a cut apple.

Most domestic varieties of avocado are grown in California.
Most domestic varieties of avocado are grown in California.

The fruit's extremely large pit is mildly toxic, so it should be removed and discarded out of any animals' reach. Despite this, some people do grind up avocado pits and consume them: although they are bitter, a person would have to eat a large amount of them before the toxicity would cause serious effects. A sharp blow with a large kitchen knife should provide enough leverage to twist the pit out of the flesh. Some food experts suggest replacing the pit if only a portion of the avocado is actually used. This is said to reduce the effects of oxidation on the remaining flesh.

To remove the flesh of an avocado for processing, cooks can use a knife to slash several vertical and horizontal lines on each side. The skin side can then be pressed inward to reveal the individual sections, and the inner skin scraped carefully to release them. The flesh may also be removed with a melon baller or by running a spoon along the inside skin beneath the flesh.

Avocado is almost always served raw, especially in Mexican dishes such as guacamole. In fact, the word guacamole comes from the Indian words for "avocado sauce." Although the fruit contains an inordinate amount of fat, most of it is of the healthy monounsaturated variety. Avocados also have significantly more potassium than bananas, and the oil is an extremely popular skin care ingredient, high in vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E.

People should consume healthy fats and lean sources of protein, such as avocado and low-fat cottage cheese.
People should consume healthy fats and lean sources of protein, such as avocado and low-fat cottage cheese.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Can avocados help to cleanse my system for possible pregnancy?


what happens if you eat six avocados in 30 minutes?


Dear Anon 31884: I can't imagine peeling and storing an avocado for four days. You probably learned this already, but the peel is left on until ready to eat, and when it starts to 'give' a little when gently squeezed, it's usually ready to eat. They're a bit tricky to gauge, and should be bright green with a bit of yellow when opened. Any brown bits are 'bad'.


I keep wondering if an avocado is in the same group as a banana, because they sort of smell the same. I wonder if they're somehow related?

Can you help me on figuring out if they are? Thanks.


Reed avocados are the ones that are as big as grapefruit. Growing season is between June and October, maybe into November. I find the taste to be exquisite and the color is gorgeous. The flavor is smooth, buttery, and creamy, too good to mash up in guacamole. You will most likely find them in farmers' markets.


Avocado is very good.


Obviously you're not too concerned about the possible food poisoning if you're discussing it in an internet forum. Go see a doctor!


I bought avocados a few days ago, peeled the skin off and placed them in the fridge. I was wondering how they might taste and decided to taste it after four days placed in the fridge. I found that the taste is bitter and after eating it i found my throat with an uncomfortable feeling. I'm just afraid i have eaten a rotten avocado. Can I get food poisoning from it?


I would recommend against storing an avocado in any sealed bag. The respiration rate is very high and keeping them in a sealed bag will result in the fruit developing an 'off taste'. Keep the fruit in a cupboard, with apples or bananas. Very little ethylene is needed to trigger ripening, and if they are imported fruit, you shouldn't have a problem anyway.

And as for avocados as big as grapefruit. Most definitely, but they taste terrible. The variety we have in South Africa is called a Natal Butterpear.

May I ask why do you want to know the oil content of avocado peel?


what is the oil content of the avocado peel?


When you use a banana for "paper bag" ripening your target fruit for ripening will develop an "off" flavor. Bananas give off about 65 different volitals as they ripen. A better method is take an apple and bang it on the counter as to bruise the apple. The bruise site will produce up to ten times the amount of ethylene (a fruit ripening hormone found in the climactric fuit group) that it normally would. Leave the bag at room temp for a couple of days and the avocado will ripen. Without ethylene an avocado would never ripen! Same with pears, bananas, Kiwi fruit, mangoes, papayas, and most of the other fruit that needs to convert starch to sugar. Posted by the "gasman" a consultant to the produce industry.


To store hard avocados, the best way is to put them in a brown paper bag, on the counter. They will be ready to go in 3 to 5 days.

However, if they are needed sooner, adding an apple or banana to the bag should shave of a day or two. After that keeping them in refrigerator for another few days will still keep them from spoiling.


avocados the size of grapefruits?! i must've died and gone to heaven! i'll be looking for them at my local supermarket!


I wonder if there is a new variety of avocados. A few days ago I have seen these huge fruits, must have been larger than a grapefruit. I did not buy it since to make good use of it I would have needed to throw a party, so that many people would enjoy my guacamole. But whatever the size, in addition to their creamy, nutty taste, avocados contain monounsaturated fat that keep us young and healthy.

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