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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Florida Avocados: More than Guacamole

Dec 06, 2010 10:59PM ● By Beth Davis

With its dense, creamy texture and sweet, buttery, slightly nutty taste, it’s no wonder the Florida avocado is often considered a luxurious, indulgent treat. Don’t be fooled by the richness of this tropical fruit, though—it is a healthy food that can be enjoyed often.

Avocados have no cholesterol and are a good source of protein, B-vitamins, folic acid and vitamins C and E, which are powerful antioxidants. Ounce-for-ounce, they offer 60 percent more potassium than bananas—a mineral helpful for maintaining normal blood pressure—and they’re high in fiber, which can help with weight control and may lower the risk of certain cancers.

According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension, more than 56 different varieties of Florida avocados grow in the Sunshine State, many with a lower fat content than those from other states and countries. In general, Florida varieties have 50 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than their California cousins.

Here in Southwest Florida, this delectable fruit is readily available and can be easily grown in backyards with minimal effort, a fact attested to by local tropical fruit grower and nursery owner Frank DeNardis. Nearly 20 years ago, DeNardis began growing and selling tropical fruit as a hobby. Now, at 88, he tends to more than 80 organically grown trees on his 1.25-acre lot in North Naples, including 12 varieties of avocados that he enjoys from Thanksgiving until March or April.

“Growing avocado trees is very easy,” says DeNardis, who has a wholesale license to sell his trees. “The main thing is, you have to water them. You can’t just rely on your sprinkler system.” He explains that, because the roots of the trees go down at least a foot, a sprinkler will not provide enough water to reach them.

Trevor Parks, vice president of the Bonita Springs Tropical Fruit Club, agrees. “Lack of water is one of the things most people do wrong when caring for fruit trees,” he advises. “The others are planting too deeply and overfertilizing.”

Parks pursued growing fruit trees as a hobby after he retired and now shares his bounty with more than 200 members of his club, including DeNardis. He has 250 trees on his 1.5-acre homesite, including 10 species of avocados. The two best things about growing fruit, says Parks, are eating it and the minimal effort it takes to cultivate

“It’s a shame more people don’t grow tropical fruit,” DeNardis muses. “It may not look as pretty as what you see in the store, but you don’t have to worry about harsh chemicals, and the taste is so much better.”

Avocados come in a wide assortment of shapes, with flesh that ranges from bright yellow and yellow-green to pale yellow. The peel of most varieties stays green when ripe, but some may be red or purple.

DeNardis notes that avocados will not ripen on the tree, but three to four days after being picked. Florida avocados ripen best at 60 to 75 degrees; at warmer temperatures, they can ripen unevenly and develop an off-flavor. Ripe avocados will yield slightly to gentle pressure; if a soft touch leaves a dent, the fruit is overripe.

To serve an avocado, cut lengthwise around the seed, turning the halves in opposite directions to separate them. Gently remove the seed with a finger or spoon, and then peel off the skin. Avocados quickly discolor when cut and exposed to air, but sprinkling the cut surface with lime or lemon juice can reduce the browning.

Although best known as the main ingredient in guacamole, avocados are also a healthy addition to any meal. Their versatility extends from dips, salads and soups to sandwiches, main dishes and even breakfast.

DeNardis, for one, adds the fruit to his cereal each morning. “Everyone should do this,” he says. “There’s nothing better than enjoying fresh fruit year-round, all from your own yard.”

For more information or to make an appointment to visit Frank DeNardis’s nursery, located at 108 Viking Way, in Naples, call 239-597-8359.