Some avocado and papaya tips

Burning questions


What characteristics should I look for when selecting avocados and papayas?

Avocados and papayas share a couple of crucial qualities: They are tropical fruit; they are usually purchased in an unripe state; and they will ripen happily at home.

Yes, the avocado is a fruit. Like the tomato, it has become an honorary vegetable because it lends itself to savory preparations. But, botanically speaking, it is a fruit, Persea americana, a member of the Lauraceae (Laurel) family that also includes bay laurel, cinnamon and sassafras.

The most common avocado variety in our markets is the Hass. It is harvested and shipped green, but darkens almost to black when it is ripe. A ripe avocado is firm, but will yield to your finger's pressure if you squeeze it gently. If you are planning to buy a ripe avocado, make sure it is of uniform semi-firmness with no soft spots. If you don't need to use an avocado immediately, buy one that's still on the firm side. It will ripen at room temperature in your kitchen in a few days.

The papaya is botanically a berry. There are two types of papaya, Hawaiian and Mexican, of which the smaller, sweeter Hawaiian is the most common in American markets. Your best bet is to buy a papaya that is half green and half yellow. After a few days at room temperature, the green will disappear, the fruit will yield to gentle pressure and you should be able to detect a light fragrance. If you want to accelerate the ripening process, put the avocado or papaya in a paper bag along with a few bananas.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to burningquestions@, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.

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