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Are avocados the next big functional food?

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Avocados have become wildly popular in recent years, but food ingredients made from them are less common. Now, avocado growers have their eye on broader potential for the fruit, capitalising on their healthy fats and antioxidant content.

Organisations like Avocados From Mexico and the Hass Avocado Board have helped unify marketing efforts around avocados in recent years, and in the United States, growing interest in fresh avocados has started to translate into new products with avocado as an ingredient. Elsewhere, too, avocado growers are looking to highlight the ways that avocados respond to the world’s biggest food trends. New Zealand-based Ovāvo is one such company, taking avocados that cannot be sold as whole fruit and upcycling them into food ingredients.

“Five to ten per cent are not big or pretty enough to sell in supermarkets,” said Ovāvo founder Andrew Vivian. “We thought, how do we upcycle that fruit? And we started to realise how amazing avocados are.”

Processing trials

The company produces a freeze-dried powder made from the flesh of these ‘waste’ avocados, which retains the flavour, colour, texture and nutritional profile of the whole fruit. Ovāvo collaborated with researchers to trial the ingredient under various processing conditions, and found it could be used successfully in a range of foods and drinks, including pasteurized items like smoothies and ice cream, as well as in tortilla wraps, baked goods and extruded snacks. What is more, the fat content means it could be used to replace dairy fats in plant-based foods.

“New product developers are very time-poor,” Vivian said. “We thought if we could do as much of the R&D as possible, we could present it on a silver platter. Baking, extrusion and pasteurization cover a plethora of different potential products.”

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‘Just the beginning’

While many manufacturers aim to capitalise on the health halo of avocado by using the oil, a few have started to use whole avocado pulp. Irish gluten free specialist BFree Foods offers wraps with 10% avocado alongside chickpea flour, rice and pea proteins, while US-based Avo Crazy has a range of avocado-based puffed snacks, for instance.

But Vivian sees an emerging opportunity to make more of the avocado.

“The majority are using avocado oil, which doesn’t have as much of the nutritional goodness – and the water content is a limiting factor,” he said.

Indeed, the long chain fatty acids make it more vulnerable to oxidation.

“It is just the beginning,” Vivian said. “There are pretty clear signs for its future growth as the next big ingredient in food and beverage manufacturing. Avocados are viewed as a superfood and we think it could be a super ingredient.”

Over the past decade, the number of scientific studies on avocado has taken off, as researchers explore its potential benefits for the skin, eyes, joints, brain, weight management and cardiovascular system, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties.

From fresh to food ingredient

Vivian notes a parallel with almonds when it comes to growing interest in avocado. About 20 years ago, the Almond Board of California aimed to transform almonds from a snack nut to a food ingredient. Its strategy was to help boost research looking into almonds’ health benefits, to increase sales of almonds as a snack, and also to make it easier for food manufacturers to use almonds as an ingredient.

“They have taken it from an $800 million industry to a $5 billion industry, so they’ve been pretty successful,” he said.

Now, he claims those same factors are lining up for avocados.

“With avocado it’s pretty mainstream as a fruit,” Vivian said. “The next thing is the scientific studies – and science has proven there are a plethora of different health benefits around avocado.”
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