August 08, 2003

Avocado. If you have a good one, it will be firm to the touch. But not too firm. It will yield to the little pressure of your fingers. But not be too yielding. Don't you hate it when chefs talk that way? "Firm, but not too firm." "Soft but not too --" you start to wonder if they're trying to Lewis Carroll you. I'll put it this way: when you pick up an avocado at the store, it shouldn't feel like a Biblical murder weapon for one caught touching Mt. Sinai if you have designs on using it that night. And it feels like a piece of rotten fruit in places, that's not good either. Other than that, I can't tell you. I still bring bad ones home. Avocados ripen only when off their birth tree, so the upside of this guessing game is that if you have a rock hard one and don't need to use it right away, you can leave it out on the counter and let the Central American native age to creamy green perfection. Never stick an avocado in the fridge.

The other day I came across the newest in engineered food: the diet avocado. Or "Lite Avocado" or, my favorite, the "SlimCadoŽ". A hint: if they spell "light" l-i-t-e, you know it's going to taste like s-h-i-t-e. The sticker on the SlimCado claims that this oversized fruit has 50% less fat and 35% fewer calories than the regular ones.

How is this ever going to work? The most succulent thing about the avocado is its Omega-3 fatty acids -- the good fat -- so how and, more importantly, why would you put the avocado on a diet?

I put this SlimCado to the taste test. I brought home a few ubiquitous Hass avocados -- the ones with black corrugated skin that fit easily in the palm of your hand -- and some SlimCados. The SlimCado looks more like the Fuerte variety; it is about one-and-a-half times larger than the Hass and has a smooth, green skin. Since I know that, A. the Fuerte variety is supposed to be at its matured best in the fall/winter and, B. the longer an avocado ripens, the more fat it accumulates, I was already getting very suspicious of this new diet food.

I halved and pitted both types and immediately noticed two differences. As per usual, the Hass avocado's pit was smooth, hard, woody, and easily removed with a deft twist of my chef's knife. However, the SlimCado's pit looked fuzzy and squished distressingly at my finger prodding. The other obvious difference was that the Hass was mostly pale green with that moon of gold just spreading slightly from the middle, but the SlimCado appeared to be universally yellow with only a thin tinge of green on the outer edge. So, although pit and color were acting like giant red flags with Maalox spots, I reasoned that they were only superficial observations. If this SlimCado came out tasting just like the Hass, all would be well and I could tell you to go forth and SlimCadiet. However, a further annoyance was -- unlike the easily peel-able Hass -- the SlimCado seemed to want to hold onto its skin with both hands.

Now for the taste test. I cross-hatched both the Hass and the SlimCado in their skins, scooped out the cubes, and put them in separate bowls. The SlimCado had lots of brown veins running through it, but as that can happen to a Hass, I didn't mind it. I sampled the Hass and was rewarded by its buttery, melting, almost bacony taste. Clearing my palate with a sip of white Burgundy, I forked up a bit of the SlimCado. Yewgh! It had a porous, mealy, unripe pear consistency and tasted very bland with an almost grassy quality. A hint of grassiness is fine and dandy, particularly in white wines and salsa verde, but NOT in avocado. I added a simple vinaigrette to both and tried again with the same results. Hass: 1; SlimCado: 0.

My next taste test was the guacamole test -- I hazarded that when other ingredients are involved, the SlimCado's personality might improve on further mouth acquaintance. I made and pureed the two recipes exactly the same -- two scallions, two garlic cloves, and two tablespoons lemon juice -- very simple. Very pure. The only place where they differed was in the alligator pear category. Pureed, the Hass guac was smooth, green, and fairly perfect looking. The SlimCado result was greenly brown, bumpy, and looked very much like something I once discovered in my baby sister's diapers after she had gorged herself on a trio of peas, spinach, and strained meat. I hope that impresses upon you how much of a waste of time, produce space, and taste-buds this fruit is.

As disgusting as the SlimCado guac looked, it was worse with chips. Where the Hass produced a satiny and fresh-tasting puree, enhanced by the kiss of lemon, the SlimCado was mealy and tasteless with a hint of bitterness usually found in dandelion greens. To add insult to injury, when I later removed both plastic-wrapped bowls from the fridge, the SlimCado guacamole had gone blackish on top, but the Hass remained pure and untouched. I even tried adding olive oil to the SlimCado yuckamole -- which, if you're trying to save on fat and calories, makes absolutely no sense -- in the hopes that it would emulsify the junk into smoothness. It didn't.

In the end, if the taste of the SlimCado had been masked by the garlic, scallions, and lemon juice, I might have accepted the Malt-o-Meal consistency. But what is guacamole if not a showcase for the nutty, luscious taste of the perfect avocado? There's plenty of bad fat out there to eliminate from your regime, so if you want to eat healthy, for god's sake don't delete the fat that actually improves your health and HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Your heart, mouth, and taste-buds will thank you for it.

Now, I'm sure you'll excuse me while I go gorge myself on my Hassamole and dump the slimmer alternative down the drain.

Hass: 2; SlimCado: 0.

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