There isn't any scientific research showing that people who eat avocados are happier. But at least one study has found that people who've eaten even a smidgen of avocado in the previous 24 hours consumed more fiber, vitamin K, vitamin E, and potassium during that period than the avocado abstainers. Admittedly, the avocado fans might have better overall diets, but the potential health benefits are one more reason to enjoy a fruit that's equally at home in salads, smoothies, sandwiches soup, salsa and sushi.

Avocados. Photo by Meredith
Photo by Meredith
| Credit: Meredith

Getting to Know the Avocado

What we call an avocado is actually one big berry from the avocado tree, which grows in tropical regions around the world. At the center of each avocado is a single seed. Because of the avocado's bumpy skin and ovoid shape, it was formerly known as an alligator pear.

Avocado on the tree. Photo by Meredith
Photo by Meredith

Avocados are best known for their creamy green pulp. While there are plenty of nutrients in the peel, that portion is typically discarded. Instead, when cooking and eating, we focus on the oily pulp, which tastes like butter grown in a garden.

Unlike other fruits, avocados don't exhibit a tremendous range of varietal diversity. There are dozens of avocado types, but they're nearly all green-to-dark purple on the outside, and green on the inside. Some are more elongated, and some are easier to peel, but it takes an avocado expert to distinguish a Gwen from a Fuerte, for example. If you buy a U.S.-grown avocado, you'll almost certainly get a Hass, the variety that accounts for 95 percent of the California crop.

Recently, Florida growers have started marketing the SlimCado as a low-fat alternative to Hass, but it's failed to impress critics with its flavor. Hass, by contrast, is generally hailed for its rich taste and long shelf life.

Nutritional Benefits of Avocados

Even though avocados pack a walloping 25 grams of fat, they remain popular with nutritionists for their nutrient density. Avocados also contain less sugar per serving than any other fresh fruit, and are sodium and cholesterol free. (And as for the fat, 75 percent of it is unsaturated.)

The upside of the fat content of avocados is a boost in nutrient absorption. Basically, if you eat an avocado with your meal, your body will have an easier time extracting the vitamins A, D, K, and E from other items on your plate.

Avocado - beauty shot
Photo by Meredith

How to Tell if an Avocado is Ripe

You can't judge an avocado by its color. The only proven way to determine if an avocado is ripe is to hold it in the palm of your hand and squeeze the fruit without using your fingers. The avocado should be firm, yet yield when pressed gently.

Unless, of course, you don't plan to serve the avocado immediately. It's fine to buy firm, unripe avocados if you're not planning to eat it for four or five days. You can even try to speed up the ripening process by placing the avocado in a closed brown paper bag; adding an apple or kiwi to the bag will further accelerate the process. Alternately, you can slow down ripening by keeping your avocados in the refrigerator.

Otherwise, it's fine to store uncut avocados at room temperature. Once cut, though, it's advisable to add acid, such as lemon or lime juice, and refrigerate the avocado in a tightly-sealed container. It should be consumed within one day.

Avocados are also suitable for freezing, although you have to puree them first.

Preparing Avocados

To cut into an avocado, first wash the fruit. Then place it lengthwise on a flat surface, making a deep lengthwise cut so your knife reaches the seed.

Avocodo - slicing step one. Photo by Meredith
Photo by Meredith

Rotate the avocado to complete the slice; and use the knife or your fingers to remove the pit.

Photo by Meredith

Make crosshatch cuts into the flesh, then scoop it out of the peel.

Avocado - slicing step three. Photo by Meredith
Photo by Meredith

Can You Freeze Avocados?

You can freeze avocado, although the texture will change. Frozen avocados work great in smoothies, where the altered texture doesn't matter much. Here's how to freeze avocados: Cut them in half, remove the pit, scoop out the good stuff, and mash it. Then place the mashed avocado in a Ziploc bag or a container with an air-tight lid; before you seal it up, sprinkle a little lemon juice over the top. Your smoothie-ready frozen mashed avocado will hang on in the freezer for several months. An alternate way to freeze avocados is to cut them in half, remove the peel and the pit, sprinkle with lemon juice, wrap them up tightly in plastic wrap, and store in a plastic freezer bag.

Some Favorite Avocado Recipes

Once the avocado is freed from the skin, you can just salt and eat it. But it's more fun to incorporate the avocado into a dip, dressing or dessert. Here are a few more great ways to use avocados.

Avocados aren't just for Mexican food: They're a great complement to Mediterranean flavors such as feta.

Avocado Feta Salsa. Photo by Molly
Photo by Molly

A farmer's market haul forms the basis of this refreshing condiment or chip dip.

Tomato, Corn and Avocado Salsa. Photo by Fatima
Photo by Fatima

This super smooth take on tuna fish features jalapenos for added heat.

Tuna and Avocado Salad. Photo by Sherri
Photo by Sherri

Avocados are indispensable on game day, especially when added to a hearty snack.

Browse our giant library o'avocado recipes,

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Read more food news and cooking how-to's on Allrecipes Dish.