What's Tasty at Sigona's Farmers Market

January 12, 2010

California Hass Avocados Are Here!

Filed under: Farm Focus — Sigona's @ 6:22 pm

Farm Focus: California Hass Avocados

California’s star fruit is in season now, just in time to become guacamole for your Super Bowl party!

By Carmelo Sigona

California avocados are practically a staple for many homes in our state due to abundance, near year-round availability and versatility, but more and more due to their health benefits.

I eat a lot of avocado – it’s a habit that started when I was a kid when my dad had a second job selling produce at the San Jose flea market. He’d go up to the produce market to gather what he needed for the flea market so we always had a lot of boxes of produce at home. My favorite was the avocado – we’d put them in salads, sandwiches or just by themselves.

When I was older I learned about the health benefits of avocados. For example, avocados are a fantastic source of protein and monounsaturated fats, and provide all essential acids (18 in all) as well as more than seven fatty acids. I really do consider avocados to be a superfruit. In fact, we raised our daughter Monica on raw food when she was a baby and avocados were her favorite.

Though they’re high in calories, avocados can help you avoid weight gain by using them in place of another high-fat or -salt condiments like cheese or mayonnaise. Most people prefer the California avocado over its Florida counterpart, and the reason is plain: taste and creaminess. The Florida avocado has only half the fat content as the California avocado, so it’s not nearly as rich or creamy.

Of all varieties, the Hass contains the highest proportion of fat – “good fat,” that is! Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fat which helps raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower the LDL (bad) type. Additionally, alligator pears, as they’re sometimes called in the produce business, are also a great source of heart-protective compounds such as Vitamin E, potassium, folate and fiber.

The benefits don’t stop here!

A 2005 research project completed at Ohio State University found that eating avocado with salsa or with a salad increased absorption of carotenoids (powerful antioxidants, protecting the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals) from the vegetables in the dish by as much as 15 times. Researchers gave volunteers a salad with and without a sliced avocado and blood tests also showed that those who ate the avocado got five times as much lutein (a compound that can help prevent macular degeneration),

and seven times as much alpha-carotene than those who didn’t. Alpha-carotene is part of the cartenoid family; it’s a provitamin A compound that the body can convert into retinol, a vitamin that is important in vision and bone growth. You can also find it on the list of ingredients in most anti-aging creams!

Did you ever think you’d know so much about the avocado?

Here are a few more fun facts.

Did you know there are more than 500 varieties of avocado? Out of the 500, only a handful of varieties are grown commercially in California. The dark, nubby-skinned Hass variety was developed in 1930, patented in 1935 and quickly became the most popular avocado on the market. It now accounts for approximately 95 percent of the total California avocado crop. The Fuerte, what I refer to as the “old school” variety, has smooth thin green skin and was previously the most popular variety, but Hass took the lead in the 1970s.

The varieties prominent in California are laid out nicely on the California Avocado Commission Web site as shown in this image:

Left to right: Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, Hass, Lamb Hass, Pinkerton, Reed, Zutano.

Californians are lucky to have great avocados available nearly nine months out of the year. For the three months of the year when Californian avocados aren’t available, Chilean avocadoes are an acceptable substitute. Although they can be quite good, transportation logistics sometimes work against them, interfering with flavor, texture and color…perhaps we’re a bit biased, but nothing beats a California-grown avocado!

Southern California is optimally suited for growing avocados. Plus, California avocados have another advantage in that they are picked from the tree, packed immediately, and arrive in the stores within one to two days, unlike the imported varieties. Florida avocados, which are the domestic alternative, are larger but less flavorful than the Californian and can be less ripe than what comes from our own backyards.

Sigona’s always has ripe avocados available for our customers (look for the orange Ripe stickers!). We have natural atmosphere rooms that ripen our avocados to perfection. These fully ripe avocados have a dark green color when ripe, will be oval-shaped, and feel slightly heavy for their size.  Once ripe, the fruit can be refrigerated until it is eaten, but not for more than two or three days.

We’re happy to announce that California Hass avocados are in now – a bit earlier than normal – and just in time for the Super Bowl (Feb. 7). Super Bowl weekend causes a surge in avocado sales unmatched by any other holiday or event. We are lucky that the game this year coincides with the beginning of the California avocado season!

Click here for a few avocado recipes that branch out from the usual guacamole.

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