SOURCE: Lisa Marie Corso, ABC
Netball, cricket and soccer are all on-field sports we love, but there’s also an off-field sport we take just as seriously: the search for the perfect avocado.
We take our avocados home. We wait for them to ripen. We smear them on toast, put them in tacos, toss them in salads and even use them in desserts.
Just like the best sporting superstars, the avocado is a team player. It’s versatile, low maintenance and rarely disappoints.
We spoke to CEO of Avocados Australia John Tyas, and cookbook author Clementine Day about how to select the best avocado on the shelf and what to do with them when you bring them home.
A year-round fruit
The largest yielding growing regions are in Far North Queensland, Central Queensland and South-West Western Australia but the fruit is grown nationally, starting north and working its way around the coast of Australia, making it available all year round.
“Avocados are grown in lots of different regions around Australia and that’s why we can have them available all year round because the tree blooms at different times of year,” John says.
Two main varieties on offer
Australia’s avocado industry is largely populated by two varieties: Hass and Shepard.
“The Hass make up about 80 per cent and the Shepards about 15 per cent, and the smaller varieties make up the remaining 5 per cent,” explains John.
At the grocer, you’re most likely to come across the Hass as it’s grown year-round, whereas the Shepard is only in season for a limited time.
Grown in Far North Queensland and Central Queensland, the Shepard generally hits the shelves in February and March.
How to tell the difference between a Hass and a Shepard avocado
First up, if it’s not February or March, you’re probably looking at a Hass avocado.
While John says both varieties can be used interchangeably in the kitchen, there are some key differences in taste, texture and colour.
“The Hass has more pebbly skin and it starts off green but as it ripens its skin gradually turns into a dark olive colour,” he says.
“The Shepard is generally a shiny green colour and stays this colour as it ripens. It also tends to be a bit of a pear shape.”
Another key difference between them, John explains, is the Hass is more likely to oxidise or discolour once it’s cut open, compared to the Shepard.
“This is because the Hass doesn’t have the same enzymes as the Shepard, so it will discolour, and why the Shepard is really good for salads because you can cut it, throw it in and you won’t get nearly as much discolouration.”
Tips for picking the right avocado
No-one likes cracking into an avocado only to find it bruised on the inside. But John tells us there are ways to avoid this kitchen-related let down.
The trick? Buy unripe avocados if possible.
“If you need an avocado tonight, sure, buy a ripe one. But if you’re buying for the week choose some that aren’t ripe because when they ripen at home they will be much better quality and you’re almost guaranteed of no bruising,” John says.
“A lot of the bruising happens on the shelf by people testing them and giving them a squeeze, thinking that one’s not right, then putting it back.”
Firm, unripe avocados are less susceptible to bruising.
John also wants us to treat our avocados with the same care we do when buying and storing eggs.
“Bruising not only happens on the shelf but when avocados get banged around in the trolley, at the checkout and in the boot of the car when things are rolling around. All of that is doing incredible damage to the fruit.”
How to tell when an avocado is ripe and storing it
Avocados ripen once they are harvested.
“With Hass it’s a bit easier to tell because they change colour as they ripen; the darker they are the more likely they’ll be ripe,” says John.
If it’s a Shepard which retains the same colour as it ripens, John recommends gently squeezing the stem end of the fruit. If it’s firm with a little give, it’s ready to eat.
The Victorian Government’s Better Health site suggests storing unripe avocados at room temperature, then once ripe refrigerating them.
If you’ve only use half an avocado, make sure to store in an airtight container or squeeze some fresh lemon juice on the fruit to prevent discolouration.
A world beyond smashed avo on toast
Cookbook author Clementine Day embraces both ripe and unripe avocados in the kitchen depending on what she’s cooking.
“If I’m going to blitz them or smash them I will use ripe ones, but if I’m making a salad I go for firmer ones because I want them to retain their shape,” she says.
When using ripe avocados, Clementine makes chocolate mousse or dips.
“If people haven’t ever made a chocolate mousse with avocado they need to try it because it’s amazing and can be healthy for you, which is a strange thing for chocolate mousse,” she says.
When making the mousse, Clementine blitzes avocado, cocoa, maple syrup and some warm spices to cut through the fruit’s earthy flavour (such as a cinnamon, cloves or vanilla) in a food processor.
“The trick is to keep blending until the mixture goes from the initial thick chocolate consistency until it looks almost whipped,” she explains.
For a fuss-free snack or appetiser, she makes an avocado and butter bean dip, where she similarly blitzes the following into a food processor: a can of drained butter beans, one avocado, lemon, tahini, chilli, salt and pepper, then tops with fresh green herbs.
Clementine also recommends pairing avocado with smoked trout or salmon, mango and tossing in a grain salad.