Avocados & Food Waste (EN)

#zerofoodwaste

That is my motto in everyday life, no matter whether I am at home or on the road. However, I remember situations where I had to throw away avocados because they were just not edible (anymore). The butter fruit rarely has the right consistency for eating, it is often too hard, too soft, or has turned brown all too quickly. How much food waste do avocados really create? In this article, I follow the value chain of the avocado.

Documentation on avocado food waste remains patchy. In Kenya, it is 30000 to 40000 tons of the annual production of 81000 tons, almost 50%[1]. This figure includes many causes on the production side, but not the food waste that occurs during and after export. The percentage can be considered representative of most major avocado exporters. Expect even higher wastage when we account for consumer and retail waste!

Agenda

  1. Food waste along the value chain
  2. How do I recognize ripe avocados?
  3. How do you store cut avocados?
  4. What do I do with the pit and skin?
  1. Food waste along the value chain

Many avocados get damaged during cultivation and harvesting. There are many reasons for this: incorrect harvesting practices, poor harvest management, pests and diseases all play a role[2]. This can be improved through more knowledge as well as the use of varieties that are best suited for the respective region.

During transport, avocados are not only refrigerated, but also stored in a special atmosphere. It contains more carbon dioxide and less oxygen, which slows down the ripening process[3]. But if the temperature is too cold, this leads to discoloration of the butter fruit, which is only noticed by the consumer at home. This cold damage is also known from mangoes.

For example, the British company Martin Lishman developed an electric avocado that corresponds to the shape, size and weight of the original avocado. This makes it easier to recognize which actions cause damage during transport. Agricola Ocoa, a Colombian avocado farmer, is currently trying out the electric avocado on his crop. This allows the company to develop appropriate measures to transport its avocados more safely[4]. The company Apeel Sciences has developed a plant-based coating that makes the permeable skin lose less moisture and oxygen. In the US, this has led to a 50% reduction in wastage of avocados in US supermarkets, and these avocados are already available in supermarkets in Germany.

But even shorter transport can prevent a lot of crop damage. Therefore, I recommend you to buy avocados from the region. This way you can reduce food waste caused by transport.

2. How do I recognize ripe avocados?

In retail stores, it is often difficult for both staff and consumers to tell how ripe the avocado is and when it is past the ideal eating point. With many other fruits or vegetables, such as berries, this is easier to decide thanks to the lack of skin.

Students from Harvard have therefore developed a sensor that can measure the degree of ripeness of an avocado and also indicate how many days it will keep. Researchers at the British Cranfield University use lasers and vibrations. This makes it easier and more accurate for the uninitiated to assess the ripeness of avocados without damaging the avocado.

Even if your supermarket or market trader doesn’t use these methods, you can look for avocados with different degrees of ripeness yourself—depending on the day you want to eat the butter fruit. If the avocado skin gives slightly when pressed, it is ready to eat. Hard avocados, on the other hand, need to ripen at room temperature. Another trick is to pull out the stem. When it comes off easily and the flesh underneath is green, the avocado is ready to eat. However, this is not appreciated in the market or supermarket as it damages the avocado and makes it spoil faster.

Don’t be too impatient when opening the avocado: because once cut open, the avocado will not continue to ripen in its whole state. To speed up the ripening process, it is also said to help to place the avocado between ripe bananas[5]. If you have mistakenly opened an unripe avocado, you can ripen it further by soaking it in vinegar, salt and sugar. You will find detailed instructions in the footnote here[6].

3. How do you store cut avocados?

It’s best not to store them at all, they oxidise quickly and turn brown. Instead of wrapping them in cling film, I often put avocado halves with the cut-side down in a small bowl and cover them airtight. Apply a little lemon juice before. Alternatively, store the avocado half with its pit, as this also prevents browning. This way the avocado will last 1-2 days longer. For avocado lovers, there are also cute sets to buy that simplify both storage and ripening. You don’t really need them in my opinion, but they are a nice gift idea for a big avocado fan[7].

Avocados that already have small brown spots are still safe to eat. Just cut them away. Mouldy avocados must be thrown away unfortunately (this applies to fruit and vegetables in general).

4. What do I do with the pit and skin?

You can plant the avocado pit and grow a small tree from it. In the Central European climate, it will also grow but rarely bear edible fruits.

To eat the seed, you can remove the skin and grate it finely to turn it into powder. You can add this to smoothie bowls or muesli, for example. And unlike the avocado itself, it can be kept for a long time. It is important to dry the powder well before storing it so that it does not spoil. However, there are mixed opinions on the consumption of the powder – consumer protection officials point out that it also contains the bitter substance persin, which is not considered dangerous for humans in small quantities[8]. The consumption of avocado pits has not yet been sufficiently studied, thus I am not able to make a conclusive statement. If you like the taste of avocado pits, use them in moderation and not in masses.

A US company, Reveal, processes avocado waste into a wellness drink. For this purpose, the antioxidants are extracted and utilized with some other ingredients. To date, the drink is only available in the USA . However, it seems to be an exciting and safe way to enjoy the valuable antioxidants from the avocado[9].

Otherwise, check out whether avocado pits are suitable for you as a hair treatment: there is a recipe for this in the footnote, but I use less or no oil, depending on the condition of my hair[10]. On another note, I also use the kernel as a toy for Yuna, my cat 😊

This article shows that there are many good ways to prevent food waste along the value chain, both as a producer and as a consumer. You and your company can determine the ripeness of avocados yourself and thus enjoy more avocados of higher quality with less money.

But do avocados basically fit into a sustainable consumption style? After all, compared to other fruits and vegetables, avocados have a comparatively poor environmental balance. So should we avoid them altogether? Read more about „forbidden foods“ and whether you should actually consume avocados from an environmental point of view in the next article.


[1] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lusike-Wasilwa/publication/267683079_STATUS_OF_AVOCADO_PRODUCTION_IN_KENYA/links/58f5ae67a6fdcc11e56a0129/STATUS-OF-AVOCADO-PRODUCTION-IN-KENYA.pdf?origin=publication_detail

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lusike-Wasilwa/publication/267683079_STATUS_OF_AVOCADO_PRODUCTION_IN_KENYA/links/58f5ae67a6fdcc11e56a0129/STATUS-OF-AVOCADO-PRODUCTION-IN-KENYA.pdf?origin=publication_detail

[3] https://www.hapag-lloyd.com/de/company/about-us/newsletter/2015/06/a-cool-journey-for-fresh-avocados_41181.html

[4] https://www.fruitnet.com/eurofruit/electronic-avocado-helps-cut-food-waste/185554.article

[5] https://www.rohkost24.net/avocado-lagern

[6] https://www.springlane.de/magazin/avocado-reifen-lassen/

[7] https://mr-green.ch/products/set-zero-avocado-waste

[8] https://www.verbraucherzentrale.de/wissen/lebensmittel/nahrungsergaenzungsmittel/avocadokerne-lieber-nicht-13836

[9] https://www.drinkreveal.com/

[10] https://www.smarticular.net/erstaunliche-anwendungen-fuer-avocadokerne-nie-wieder-wegwerfen/

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