Avocados and limes – should we stop the hype?

Avocado toast…are all these avocados really good for us and for the environment? (I am thinking as I squash yet another avocado for my guacamole that I’ll smear onto a lovely slice of fresh brown soda bread.) We have come to expect to see them everywhere, certainly in every café or bistro and we don’t even think twice about consuming what must be a huge number of the rather unattractive fruit.

From a rather tasteless thing that nobody could classify properly (is it a fruit or is it a vegetable?), the avocado has become this super hip, super healthy superfood. And with it limes. Whatever happened to lemons? I know limes are easier to use as they have no pips and yes, limes may be better for certain cocktails but how comes we seem to choose limes over lemons these days, using them for other dishes also for which lemons would be perfectly fine?

Could any self-respecting café or bistro do without avocados on their menu? Probably not – we, the consumer, expect to see avocados on the menu. The other day while having a lovely brunch in Dingle town’s ‘The Pantri’ cafe’ , I chose a buckwheat pancake out of their delicious choice of breakfast options (really really yummy so check it out if you’re ever down that neck of the woods). As I wanted ‘something eggy’ ahead of a long outdoorsy day, the friendly staff quite naturally suggested to replace the meat that came with the savoury pancake with some avocado (I’m vegetarian). It seemed the most natural thing and quite frankly was what I had expected. Pause. It was this what made me think. How can I as a consumer so naturally expect avocado everywhere? It’s an exotic fruit (yes it is a fruit). I wouldn’t expect papaya everywhere I go.

Avocado saladSo how comes we have all fallen for this hype, including us critical consumers as well as cafes and restaurants that are otherwise happy to blaze their own trail? And do we really like avocados? Or do we eat them because we think they are good for us? And are they really good for us, I mean the unripe kind we can buy in our supermarkets? Personally, I find that the avocado I buy nowadays is less tasty and rather grainy than creamy, I’m not sure if this is due to the high demand and the fact that fruit are picked more and more unripe or there is there so much pressure on varieties and producers to have more efficient crops that taste is somewhat lost along the way?

Mexico is the biggest avocado producer with 1.8million tonnes in 2016/17 and  more than 203,000 hectares planted. With all problems this brings with it: deforestation, use of water for irrigation, and even drug cartels that control export. The US (California) and Peru, largest exporter to the EU, are also noteworthy. As far as I can see there are no Fairtrade avocados available.

So why is this oily, somewhat tasteless fruit so popular? Well, it looks pretty (once the flesh is revealed), is versatile as it can be used both for savoury dishes and for example used in sweet salads. Mainly though its popularity is attributed to its health benefits. Avocados are high in vitamin E & K, monounsaturated oils; and also rich in iron, copper and potassium.

Surely there are other options to reap the same nutritional benefits than exotic fruit? Of course. The humble sunflower seed or almonds are both rich in vitamin E and copper, vitamin K is found in leafy green vegetables, i.e. our native kale, broccoli, and yes, brussels sprouts too (any dark leafy green vegetable). As to the oils these can be found in nuts and seeds and by using olive oil (not for frying, the cold pressed kind to be used in salads rather). Is the avocado’s reputation then somewhat unmerited and due to some community hype that swept across the world? Can we not all come to our senses and reduce our consumption and thus pressure on crop production, import etc.?

What about the other exotic ingredient to my guacamole (and to many of my Friday evening cocktails), the lime? Mainly produced in Mexico too , the ‘lemons little sister’, is a lot more sensitive to cold weather than the lemon and is thus not grown e.g. in Spain from where most of our lemons are imported. It may be worth not to go down the easy route using limes everywhere but stick to lemons as the ‘more local fruit’ where possible? Yes, I know there are pips that fall into the cocktail or tagine if (same as me) you don’t use a juicer but prefer to press out the juice with your hand. It’s just a habit to adopt.

I won’t stop eating avocados entirely but will certainly think a lot more when buying the unassuming looking fruit. Whereas we often buy avocados same as bananas, often forgetting about them until they become brown and are thrown out or composted, I will certainly use them more consciously. And yes, I will reduce my use of guacamole, there are other quick and healthy snacks after all too (they may even taste better)!