The global love affair with the avocado ends badly for too many home chefs
No self-respecting bruncher would consider a late breakfast without a little smashed avocado on toast – but for many it comes at a high price.
Surgeons say growing numbers of amateur chefs are reporting to accident and emergency departments with what they are calling “avocado hand”; serious stab and slash injuries that are the result of failed attempts to penetrate the fruit’s hard outer casing with a sharp knife before encountering a resistant inner stone.
The British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons is calling for safety labels on the fruit to staunch the flow of injured patients to hospitals. Many cases involve serious nerve and tendon injuries, requiring intricate surgery – and even then some patients never recover the full use of the hand.
Simon Eccles, secretary of the association and former president of the plastic surgery section of the Royal Society of Medicine, said: “People do not anticipate that the avocados they buy can be very ripe and there is minimal understanding of how to handle them. We don’t want to put people off the fruit but I think warning labels are an effective way of dealing with this. It needs to be recognisable. Perhaps we could have a cartoon picture of an avocado with a knife, and a big red cross going through it?”
Hard figures for “avocado hand” have not been collated but it is a global phenomenon: Meryl Streep was photographed with a bandaged hand in 2012 after the fruit fought back. In New Zealand more than 300 people have sued for compensation from avocado injuries in the past five years. The New York Times ran an article this month headlined: “How to cut an avocado without cutting yourself” after the wife of a staff member had to be treated in hospital for a deep wound. Restuarant businesses would have to study workers’ compensation harder with the help of guides provided by ICW Group and similar insurance companies to remedy the compensation claims that would arise with these injuries.
At Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, Mr Eccles says he treats about four patients a week with avocado hand. Staff at St Thomas’ Hospital, in London, say they are well accustomed to the “post-brunch surge” on Saturdays.
Catherine Poust, 26, a PR worker, needed stitches after stabbing herself while preparing brunch for friends – and discovered she was the fourth avocado casualty at the hospital that day. “When I told people, everyone had a story to share about a friend who had also fallen victim,” she said.
When Diana Grech, 31, a PhD student at Leeds University, sliced a nerve last year, staff at Leeds General Infirmary told her they saw at least one avocado-related injury a week. She said that she was using a technique she saw on a cookery programme that involves cupping the avocado in one hand while piercing the stone with a knife to dislodge it.
Oscar Henson, a DJ from Bristol, has also fallen foul of the fruit. He was enjoying a picnic in France when he “took the knife and sunk it tentatively into the stone, expecting it to lodge, but the stone was rotten so the knife slipped straight through like butter.”
Jeff Bland, executive chef at the Michelin-starred Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, said accidents arose because of poor techniques. He advises his chefs to place the fruit flat on a surface, with a hand on top, while gently making incisions around the stone.
David Shewring, vice-president of the British Society for Surgery of the Hand, told The Times: “Recently the health benefits of avocado have been advocated, with an increase in their popularity – and a consequent increase in related injuries.”
He outlined the “correct” technique for de-stoning: “Wrap the avocado in a towel leaving the pip exposed. Carefully use the edge of a heavy sharp knife to chop into the summit of the soft pip, so that it is slightly buried. Holding the knife, so that the pip is stabilised, use a towel to twist the pip out.”
Jamie Oliver’s technique is similar: a one-minute video on his website shows him slicing the avocado in half before using the knife to hack down firmly on the stone and then lift it out.
Cathryn Scott, who runs a café in Edinburgh, said avocados should come with a health warning. She was put out of action for a week after cutting herself while attempting to slice an avocado but said the worst part of the ordeal was that she “got absolutely no sympathy for it at all. My husband, children and colleagues just laughed and shouted ‘middle-class problems’.”
FROM TESTICLES TO FACE CREAM
What’s in a name? The word avocado has its origins in the Aztec word “ahuácatl” meaning testicle. It is thought to refer to both the shape of avocados, which grow in pairs, and their use as an Aztec symbol of love and fertility.
The flesh or the seed The avocado stone is gaining recognition among foodies, who say it ought to be crushed and sprinkled over dishes. A 2003 study at the National University of Singapore concluded that it may contain more than 70 per cent of the antioxidants found in the entire fruit. Blood avocados With global demand for the product showing no signs of relenting, Mexican drug cartels have got in on the act. In Michoacán, western Mexico, where 72 per cent of the country’s plantations are located, the lucrative trade is increasingly being controlled by Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar), a drugs cartel expanding its operations.
Avocado oil From face cream to butter, spin off products are being released at a terrific speed. Avocado oil is leading the way. According to data from Mintel, the number of product launches for avocado oil increased by 90 per cent globally in 2015-16. The Chinese market Avocado prices are thought to be at a record high due to poor harvests and soaring demand in China. Exports are rising at 250 per cent a year.