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Originally published Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Taste

Avocado milkshakes are sinlessly good

There's probably no other produce item that inspires as much cross-cultural confusion as the avocado.

quotes My wife, from Brazil, introduced me to avocado shakes. The recipes listed look good... Read more
quotes I had a Sea Salt and Olive Oil ice cream this weekend, and it was delicious, and an avo... Read more
quotes I have got to try these out! They sound very good! Read more

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HAVING GROWN up in California, I assumed I knew all there was to know about avocados. Mash them up with salt and lime juice and you have guacamole; slice them on a sandwich with bacon, lettuce and tomato and you have a much-improved BLT; stuff them into a cylinder of rice with crabmeat and you have a California roll.

In my family, they were a standard garnish on salads, soups and anything spicy, and when I went vegetarian in my teens, avocados started finding their way into even more exotic places, like pasta, pizza — even onto my skin, which their high oil content moisturizes wonderfully.

If there was something to be done with an avocado, I had done it. Or so I thought.

I was wrong, as it turned out. This shocking discovery took place about 10 years ago in a breezy beach-side cabana on Bali, when, in my quest to try every variety of tropical juice on the island, I ordered a curiously-named one: jus alpukat. Thick and neon green, it tasted unexpectedly creamy and mild, but also familiar in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on. My mind spun, trying to place something that was the flavor equivalent of a favorite childhood blanket. Then it hit me: sweet avocado. I drained the glass and ordered another.

There's probably no other produce item that inspires as much cross-cultural confusion as the avocado. Native to Mexico — the word avocado comes from the Nahuatl "ahuácatl" — and a botanical cousin of both cinnamon and bay leaf, avocados were an early export from the New World to places with similar climates in South America, Africa and Asia. Although a lot of countries eagerly embraced the creamy-fleshed green fruit, there was clearly some disagreement on the specifics of consuming it, since about half of them chose to treat it as a fruit while the other half thought it would be more at home among the vegetables. Oddly, nowhere did it take up residence on both sides.

And the confusion doesn't go just one way. If I found it strange to be drinking my avocados with sugar, it's equally strange for people from avocado-as-fruit countries to find themselves face-to-face with a bowl of guacamole. Luckily, though, the avocado's chameleon-like nature is equally suited to both forms, which makes overcoming the initial shock considerably easier.

Once I got over mine, I was thrilled to discover there was a whole world of avocado sweets to fall in love with. Apart from the Indonesian jus alpukat — a frosty concoction of avocado and milk often laced with a shot of cold coffee and/or drizzle of chocolate syrup — there's a condensed-milk-sweetened shake in Vietnam called sinh to bo, and in the Philippines they eat avocado con hielo, a slushy, refreshing, granita-like dessert. Moving west, there's the hilariously named "avocado crazy" of Sri Lanka, a spoon sweet made of mashed avocado, cream and rum, and in East Africa, where avocados grow as big as melons, they're blended with sugar cane and lemon and sometimes layered with other fruit purées in a kind of rainbow-hued smoothie. In Brazil — the only country in Latin America to treat them primarily as a fruit — they feature in milkshakes and thick, creamy puddings, enlivened with a squeeze of tart lime juice.

For all their differences, these preparations are actually all variations on the same theme, essentially raw avocado blended with liquid and sugar. It's in the details where things get interesting, and where an infinitely customizable dessert can take shape. The sweetness, for instance, can be provided by anything from sugar to sweetened condensed milk to honey, agave or even maple syrup. The liquid component can be milk (dairy or non), juice, water or coffee. Add more liquid and you have something akin to a milkshake; add less and you have a pudding. And although the avocado's own subtle flavor is bewitching, it easily accommodates everything from chocolate and vanilla to spices and liqueurs.

And that's not all the good news. Sweets made with avocado may taste sinfully decadent, but they actually pack a nutritional wallop, the fruit being naturally rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, fiber and potassium. Add to that their high levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to lower cholesterol, and you have a treat that just might leave you better off than it found you.

But don't let that detract from the main reason you should be adding avocado desserts to your diet: because they're delicious. If you're anything like me, you'll only wish you'd found out sooner.

Melissa Kronenthal is a freelance food writer and photographer.

Avocado Milkshakes, Three Ways

For all three recipes, halve the avocado lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a blender, discarding the pit. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until completely smooth. Taste and add more sugar if desired, and/or a little more milk for a thinner consistency. Serve immediately, with a straw and spoon. Makes 2 large servings or 4 small ones.

Sinh to Bo

(Vietnamese)

1 medium Haas avocado

1 cup crushed ice

1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk, or to taste

1/2 cup milk, or as needed

Jus Alpukat

(Indonesian)

1 medium Haas avocado

1 cup crushed ice

1/3 cup cold espresso and/or a drizzle of chocolate syrup

2/3 cup milk, or as needed

1/3 cup superfine sugar, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Batida de Abacate

(Brazilian)

1 medium Haas avocado

1 cup vanilla ice cream

1/2 cup crushed ice

2/3 cup milk, or as needed

Juice of one medium lime

Superfine sugar, to taste

Note: Choose Haas avocados that yield gently to a squeeze, but don't feel mushy or smell rancid.

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