Growing up in Bombay [now Mumbai], I had never seen avocados till we moved lock stock and barrel to Bangalore [now Bengaluru] and was introduced to, among other things, something called a ‘Butterfruit’ [thankfully still called butterfruit]… You guessed it right—the butterfruit turned out to be avocado or Persea Americana!
Also called makhanphal in Hindi, the butterfruit was not a common local fruit and was grown exclusively in Coorg at that time. The fruit by itself was pretty bland like plain butter but my curiosity led me to start gathering more information about it from my friends—this was a time before the internet era. I was vaguely told that the best way to eat them was to cut them when they were ripe, scoop and mash the pulp in some milk and sugar. The resulting concoction was absolutely divine—it had a buttery feel in the mouth and a subtle, delicate flavour, something that reminded me of tender coconut. We were hooked on this dessert for a long time. That it could also be made into savory preparations was something I realised only when I was in the US where I tasted guacamole.
Though avocados are now grown in various parts of India—mostly Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and some parts of Maharashtra—they are believed to have originated in Mexico and Central America. Once shunned by health enthusiasts because of their high fat content [around 21g in a medium sized fruit], they are now being revered as one the healthiest fruits. This change came about when researchers found that the mono-unsaturated fat [MUFA] in avocados are good for keeping the heart healthy and may also help in controlling blood sugar levels. A recent study suggests that people who eat about half an avocado at lunch tend to snack less later in the day and hence it can be a great food for weight watchers.
Besides the MUFA, the avocado is also a good source of polyunsaturated fats [PUFA], fibre, protein, the antioxidant lutein and around 20 different vitamins and minerals including potassium and manganese, making it one of the most nutrient dense fruits. It offers myriad of health benefits like lowering cholesterol, controlling blood pressure, preventing cancer and relieving constipation.
In India, butterfruit is mainly used in milkshakes or ice-creams, but it can also be used as:
- Dips: Guacamole is made by mashing the pulp and adding freshly chopped onions, tomatoes, coriander leaves, lime juice, salt and a dash of pepper [or chopped green chillies].
- Spreads: Use it in lieu of butter, cheese, jam or mayonnaise on your toast, in your sandwiches, wraps or rolls and you’ll have a healthy, cholesterol-free, better-than-butter spread.
- Salads: Dice the pulp and add it to salads or mash it and use it as a creamy dressing for your salads.
- Topping: Use it as a topping on soups, pizzas or even as frosting on cakes!
- Sauces and soups: Make your pasta healthier by using an avocado sauce instead of the creamy white sauce or make a cold soup with it.
- Baby food: Its creamy consistency and rich nutrients make it a great addition to a baby’s diet.
Avocados can also be used for non-culinary purposes. Their natural oils make them an excellent choice for face packs to moisturise the skin, treat sunburns, under eye bags and wrinkles. It can also used as a hair conditioner and a skin cleanser. Avocado oil can be used for cooking, as a dressing for salads and also for cosmetic purposes and as a massage oil.
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Tips for buying, storing and using avocados
Though it isn’t a very popular fruit in India due to its bland taste, you can occasionally find locally grown avocados some time between August – October. Imported varieties may be available throughout the year. Here are some tips for those who are new to the fruit and would like to try it:
- Indian avocados are pear shaped and usually have a smooth, shiny exterior. Over the years I’ve learnt this the hard way that buying the hard, unripe ones are a hit and miss affair, which may or may not ripen using traditional methods such as keeping them with other fruits, wrapped in a newspaper or buried in raw rice. To be on the safer side, I now buy them when they are slightly soft to touch. But do make sure that they are not too soft and don’t have brown sunken spots.
- You can store the ripe one in the refrigerator for a day or two—but do keep checking it as they tend to go from ripe to overripe pretty fast.
- Cut it lengthwise in half [around the centre seed]. Remove the seed, and then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. The pulp should be light green.
- You can slice, dice or mash the pulp depending on how you want to eat it.
- Avocados, like apples and bananas, tend to get oxidised on exposure to air. This can be prevented by adding some lime juice to them after they are cut.
With so many benefits, it’s only a matter of time before the Indian consumer will become aware of it and be able to develop a taste for this healthy fruit. Once the demand for it increases, I’m sure it’ll be found more easily in the market. Until then, keep a watch for this superfood and do give it a try.
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