While sifting through the pyramid of familiar nubby-skinned avocados at the store, you may have noticed them stacked nearby. Large, bright green and smooth-skinned, they resemble the avocados you know and love, but they’re different. Take a closer look, and you may spot a branded sticker on them saying “SlimCado,” prompting you to wonder whether this is a less-fattening avocado or some kind of new Franken-fruit (yes, an avocado is a fruit).
It’s neither. Although this variety is indeed lower in fat and calories, it is not necessarily healthier or more slimming than a “regular” avocado. And it’s far from new; the variety has been cultivated for centuries.
Ninety-five percent of the avocados we buy are Hass avocados from California and Mexico, which in the U.S. Agriculture Department’s National Nutrient Database are called “California” avocados. SlimCado is a brand name for the other variety in the database, “Florida” avocados. You can think of California and Florida avocados the same way you would red and green apples. They are different varieties of the same fruit, with different flavors, textures and culinary applications. They are two broad categories that cover a much more diverse group than meets the eye; there are actually more than 1,000 varieties of avocado.
Avocado mania is going strong: Sales of the fruit increased nearly sevenfold between 1989 and 2014, and they continue to grow exponentially. A search of #avocado yields more than 7 million posts on Instagram, and avocado toast has become a staple food seemingly overnight. You can buy avocado yogurt, avocado ice cream, and avocado salad dressing and baby food.
Hass avocados have dominated this boom for several reasons: There is a plentiful, year-round supply thanks to imports from Mexico; the variety is relatively easy to ship and sell because it ripens slowly and its thick skin prevents bruising; and the most popular avocado dishes, such as avocado toast and guacamole, have their roots in Californian and Mexican cuisine, so they are best suited to the variety from those regions. But the Florida fruit that has been all but ignored in this boom also has a lot to offer.
Florida avocados, which are from a West Indian variety that grows best in more humid climates, are larger than the Hass variety and have a smoother, brighter green skin. Their flesh is lighter in flavor and texture, more water-rich and less buttery. Nutritionally, as per the USDA data, Florida avocados have about 25 percent fewer calories and 30 percent less fat per cup than their California cousins. For both, the fat is primarily healthy monounsaturated fat. Although similarly packed with essential nutrients such as potassium and folate, Florida avocados have more vitamin C and E than California avocados, but they have less fiber and are slightly less nutrient-dense overall.
The fact that Florida avocados have less fat and calories may sound compelling to those watching their weight — something the SlimCado branding clearly hopes to harness — but that rationale doesn’t hold up scientifically. Many studies involving eating patterns such as those of the Mediterranean diet show that enjoying plenty of good fats benefits health and can help with weight management, especially if those fats replace refined carbohydrates and/or saturated fats in the diet. (Ironically, in one Mediterranean country, Spain, a variety dubbed “Aguacate (Avocado) Light” was launched last year under the brand Isla Bonita.) Actually, the fat content of the Hass avocado is one of its considerable health assets, as the nutritious fruit can replace less beneficial, more calorie-concentrated fats such as butter, mayonnaise and cream.
But misguided marketing aside, the often-neglected Florida avocado deserves some love. After reading several negative comments by bloggers on its taste, I was apprehensive about trying one, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I found the Florida avocado to be lovely and light and more refreshing than the Hass (which I have long adored). It would be perfect, I thought, for salads and smoothies and for recipes from the more tropical regions where it grows, such as in a cooling salsa to accompany a spicy jerk chicken.
Where those bloggers went wrong was in using it for avocado toast or guacamole; it’s too watery and not creamy enough for those dishes. The bottom line? California and Florida avocados have different assets and applications; neither is better than the other at helping with weight loss, but both are bountifully nutritious. I see no reason not to put both kinds in your shopping cart.