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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.