A lot of food holidays are silly, sure, but National Avocado Day on July 31 is one that makes perfect sense. The avocado is a true superfood in our eyes—not just for its health benefits, but for its incredible versatility. Here’s everything we love about the fruit (yep), and everything you need to know about buying, storing, cutting, and using avocado.
All the Things Avocados Can Do
If you’re vegan and/or a Millennial, you’re probably familiar with the avocado’s secret-weapon power to lend dairy-free richness and plush texture to all sorts of foods, both sweet and savory, but if you haven’t yet explored these intriguing…avo-nues, you’re in for a revelation.
You can use avocados as a mayo substitute, an emulsifier in salad dressing, and a creamy ingredient in almost everything else: smoothies, truffles, vegan fudge, pudding, mousse, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce, and all manner of baked goods (try fudgy avocado brownies with a buttercream-style avocado chocolate frosting). They can enrich deviled eggs, or be deviled themselves. They can even serve as edible bowls, and be blended into boozy cocktails.
While we’re far from the first generation of American home cooks to use the beloved superfood with creative applications, it’s fairly safe to say that most of the new crop of recipes are more tempting than the verdant horrors of the 1950s, like this salmon-avocado mold monstrosity:
See also: “California style” chipped beef—but know that it wasn’t all dire. As proof, check out this simple yet prophetic, circa-1949 avocado toast from a vintage cookbook/avocado propaganda pamphlet:
See? Everything old is new again. So if you’ve been content to stick to guacamole, diced avocado in your chili, and sliced in your salad up until now, why not try branching out a bit? (Scroll down to the recipe section for even more ideas.)
There’s more to the fruit than its fabulous flesh, too. Avocado oil is a great cooking medium since it’s nutritious and has a high smoke point. And avocado leaves, although they can be a bit hard to find, lend a unique flavor to many Mexican dishes.
Avocado Health Benefits
The reason avocados are so good at adding richness and body to so many dishes, of course, is that they’re high in fat, which is unusual in the fruit world, and makes them similar to olives—but it’s heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which some studies suggest might reduce inflammation and cholesterol, and possibly even help prevent cancer. No need to bother with low-fat avocados, then (although in the interest of avoiding avocado hand, you may want to keep an eye out for the pitless variety).
Avocados are also high in potassium, yet notably low in carbs and sugar, so scarfing down a ton of guac isn’t really too bad for you, at least until you factor in the tortilla chips you probably used to scoop it up. It makes total sense that avocados are widely considered to be a superfood—in addition to being so nutritious (and versatile, and delicious), they might even help you get dates.
How to Pick an Avocado
It often seems like all you find at the store are rock-hard fruits or squishy, overripe specimens (more on what to do with those below), but what you’re looking for is the perfect middle ground: an avocado that’s firm with some give. Don’t squeeze too hard or you’ll bruise the flesh; just apply gentle pressure to the avocado in your hand. If it’s mushy, it’s past its prime, but if it’s unripe, you can still take it home and eat it later.
One other trick is to pop off the stem to check the spot beneath; if it’s brown, you’ll want to pass. But if it reveals a green shade, that’s a good sign. (If you don’t use your ripe avocados immediately, make sure to store them in the fridge so they don’t get any softer.)
Evriholder Avo Saver Avocado Holder, 2 for $14.95 from Amazon
Once it's ripe, keep it fresh with this nifty avocado case.
How to Ripen Avocado
It’s frustrating to not find ripe avocados when you want guacamole now, but unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to speed it up. There are various tricks you can try to to ripen avocados, but it’s mostly just a matter of time. Once they do reach peak perfection, stash them in the fridge for a few days if need be.
Related Reading: How to Ripen Avocado Faster (Maybe)
How to Cut Avocado
You can find avocado slicing tools that make the process safer than a sharp blade, but as long as you’re careful, your normal knife will suffice. Be sure to wash the avocado well first since cutting it can drive surface bacteria into the flesh.
Rather than holding it in your palm and courting injury, use one hand to hold the avocado on its side against a cutting board. With your knife perpendicular to the board, slice through the top of the avocado until you feel the pit; go slow. When you hit the pit, rotate the avocado against the board and continue slicing lengthwise around the entire outside, then twist the halves apart. This helps mitigate the risk of avocado hand:
If you only need half the avocado, save the side with the seed to help keep it from browning; otherwise, use a spoon to scoop out the pit*. From there, you can slice or dice your avocado, stopping your blade just shy of the skin, then use the spoon to scoop out the pieces (which is easier than peeling the avocado halves first, though that’s also an option).
OXO Good Grips 3-in-1 Avocado Slicer, $10 from Sur La Table
If you don't trust your knife skills, try this.
*You may have heard you can sprout an avocado seed, and that’s true—but unlike regrowing scallions, it won’t give you more avocados (at least not for several years, and that’s if you’re able to eventually plant it outside in the right climate). You will get a new, leafy houseplant to lend some green to your place. Here’s how to sprout an avocado pit.
What to Do with Overripe Avocado
If you miss that perfect window and end up with mushy avocados, don’t despair. If they’re not too far gone, you can still use super-soft specimens—especially good in recipes where they’ll be blended or pureed; just scrape away the really brown bits and mash or puree the rest to use in dishes where other flavors and ingredients will be paramount.
How to Store Leftover Avocado
If you don’t use the entire avocado at once, to keep it from browning, you can wrap the leftover portion tightly in plastic, maybe sprinkled with some lemon or lime juice, or even store it with some sliced onion (not the best choice, perhaps, if you plan to use it in a smoothie or dessert). Even if it oxidizes a little in the fridge, a tiny bit of brown won’t hurt. You can simply scrape it off if it bothers you, or eat it anyway.
Different Types of Avocado
Now for the best part: eating avocados. You can browse our avocado recipes to see them all at once, or check out one of our curated collections below:
- 15 Recipes That Prove You Can Use Avocado in Everything – And we mean everything, including drinks and desserts.
- 11 Ways to Gussy Up Your Guacamole – From simple tweaks to out-there add-ins, these all taste amazing. (While you’re at it, check out how to stop guac from browning, and five guacamole mistakes you’re making.)
- Avocado Hummus Makes Entirely Too Much Sense – Why choose between the two best plant-based dips of all time when you can have both at once? (Try this Avocado Tahini Dip recipe too.)
- Grilled Avocado Recipes to Try This Summer – You truly can grill almost anything, and avocados are no exception.
Header image courtesy of Estúdio Bloom / Unsplash