"Just five or six years ago we would have been excited to see a single avocado recipe appear in a newspaper or magazine article," confirms Matthew Churchill of Greencell Ltd, the largest supplier of avocados to the UK market.
"More recently, however, there's been a plethora of information on avocados appearing in the media on a daily basis, as this fruit becomes increasingly pivotal in the daily diet."
Avocados have even overtaken oranges in the retail category – fast becoming a ‘celebrity’ in the world of fresh produce.
They’re also the focus of pioneering research and development. One of the most significant technological innovations in recent years involves mastering the control of the ripening process. This development has enabled avocados to be widely sold in a ‘Ripe and Ready to Eat’ condition, providing not only consistency but also confidence in this complex fruit.
"Before, when you had to ripen them yourself, you would always get a certain amount of waste," explains Justin Denyer, salesman at wholesaler Covent Garden Supply. "Now it's ready to go. It takes the risk out of it."
- The avocado originates from Mesoamerica, perhaps as early as 10,000 BC. The Aztecs called avocados the ‘fertility fruit’ – this referring to the shape of the avocado (the Aztec word for avocado translates to testicle) as well as the fruit’s perceived aphrodisiac properties.
- The tree is from the Lauraceae plant family, the same as the laurel and bay. Avocados are classified as being 'climacteric', meaning that they increase in maturity on the tree but do not begin to ripen until they are harvested.
- There are three distinct races of avocado: Mexican, Guatemalan and West Indian. The Mexican avos are generally small with thin, smooth skins; Guatemalan have skins that are thick, hard, brittle and warty. The West Indian avocados have skin that is thin to medium in thickness. From these types, hundreds of varieties exist with some of the most important varieties available today being ‘crosses’ between these three main races.
- In the UK, the main commercial variety is Hass, which accounts for approximately 90% of supply. Hass is distinctive on account of its rough skin, which tends to darken as the fruit ripens, and its more ‘egg-like’ shape.
Varieties that are known as ‘green-skinned’ are also seen throughout the year, where, unlike Hass, the skin does not change in colour as the fruit ripens, and they tend to have a smoother skin texture. Such varieties include Fuerte, Pinkerton, Ryan and Ettinger.
- Avocados are available all year round and imported from countries whose appropriate climates enable them to grow in peak condition – such as South Africa, Spain, Israel, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Morocco and Mexico.
- The fruits contain over 20 vitamins, mineral and phytonutrients, including five B vitamins and good levels of vitamins E, C and potassium. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats make up more than 70% of the oil content in avocados. (Source: Greencell Westfalia).
Growing and harvesting
These photos come from Greencell, a global leader in avocado growing, breeding, marketing and distribution, and recognised as ‘The Avocado Experts’.
The avocado is a subtropical species that requires a climate with no frost, little wind and well-aerated soils.
High winds can reduce humidity and dehydrate the flowers, which affects pollination.
The trees will typically begin to bear fruit in the third year after planting. Each tree produces up to a million flowers each year, but only around 0.1% eventually develop into fruit. This photo shows the breeding process.
Westfalia’s research division focuses on activities such as avocado breeding to promote pest and disease resistance.
Patented plant material is then made available to Westfalia farms and partner growers around the world.
After pollination and fertilisation, avocados hang on the trees for approximately eight months before they reach a suitable maturity to be harvested.
The fruits are harvested by hand, using long ‘picking poles’ to reach and catch fruit on higher branches.
After harvesting, the avocados are cleaned, sorted for size and quality, packed and then shipped in refrigerated containers to the UK, where they are carefully ripened prior to sale.
In the Market
"Avocados are probably everyone's biggest bulk line," says Justin Denyer at Covent Garden Supply. This ingredient is available from a wide variety of wholesalers.
Our huge appetite for avocados has inspired restaurants solely dedicated to the fruit.
For example, in Covent Garden the Avobar offers dishes such as smashed chilli avocado on sweet potato ‘toast’ with coconut labneh. But the pioneer of creative avocado cuisine is The Avocado Show in Amsterdam, a small chain with a cookbook.
Here's one of their famous 'avogardens'.
And their avocado fries - served with truffle mayo.
You'll find avocados on pizza, such as in this creation captured by Avocados Barcelona:
Avocados are used as butters and whizzed into smoothies, such as this creation posted online.
Here's a beautiful arrangement by Toasts for All.
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