The mild-flavoured avocado pear – these days often shortened to simply ‘avocado’, and sometimes also known as the alligator pear or the butter pear – is technically the fruit of the avocado tree (and unrelated to true pears) but is commonly used as a vegetable. (Sainsburys, who in 1962 were the first supermarket chain to distribute them, soon dropped the ‘pear’ off the name after several customers tried to eat them with custard.)
There are four main varieties. Hass, which has a dark, knobbly skin, is often considered to be the best. Other varieties include: the pear-shaped, smooth-skinned Ettinger; Fuerte (of which a baby-sized variety is also available); and the more spherical Nabal.
It’s usually eaten raw although it can be cooked briefly without becoming too bitter. The fruit is native to central America. Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados but they are also grown in other places where the climate is suitable, eg in Mediterranean countries. Avocado forms the basis for the popular Mexican dip guacamole.
Avocados are highly nutritious, containing Vitamin E, potassium, iron and niacin. The avocado is unique among fruit in that it also contains oil – most of it monounsaturated.