Arina Shokouhi - © 2023 - Tom Mannion

A Solution To The Great Avocado Conundrum

Avocados. We constantly see mouthwatering recipes that feature avocados. But here in the Great White North, we are often barred from trying them. Avos are always a costly extravagance. But now a British scientist has perfected a manufactured avocado substitute…

Ecovados - © 2023 - Arina ShokouhiEcovados in a classic avocado crate: It’s hard to tell the difference,
until you cut one open and find the walnut in the centre!

Arina Shokouhi (see photo, top of page) is a recent graduate from the Material Futures program at the University of Arts London Central Saint Martin’s College. She’s also a life-long avocado fan. And what she does is more magic than science – at least in my view.

Shokouhi has just unveiled a new manufactured substitute for fresh avocados that could make Guacamole a year-round pleasure for the majority of the world’s fans.

The central issue

Avocados grow only in a specific sub-tropical zone, and so are costly imports in northern climes any time of year. A friend of mine in San Diego has an avocado tree in his back yard. George is usually not one to boast. But he claims that, when they’re in season, he gives away avocados to friends and neighbours the way we try to palm off surplus zucchinis on folks who would otherwise love us unconditionally.

But here, above the 45th parallel – and in most of the continental US, in fact – avocados are priced as though they were skinned with gold. A quick survey this morning shows common, everyday avocados are selling at a princely $2.99 each. So it’s going to cost nearly $10. to take home enough of them to make a decent bowl of Guac. The vast majority of us ordinary folks won’t even consider such an extravagance these days.

Enter Arina…

She hails the avocado as ‘a modern day cultural icon’. But she is also concerned that the fruit is an environmental hog. Each 1 lb. / 450 g avocado requires 320 litres of water to reach maturity.

The fruit is also prey to excessive spoilage in storage and shipping, even before it gets to the supermarket shelf. This, in an age when food waste is one of most serious cultural issues we face.

So the plucky, newly-minted PhD launched herself on a project to create a proper substitute.

Behold, the Ecovado

That’s what Shokouhi and her research partner, Dr. Jack Wallman from the University of Nottingham’s Food Innovation Centre, have dubbed their paramount creation.

“It was designed by identifying the chemical elements of avocados, and the functionality of each molecule, to try to find equivalents from more local and low-impact sources that do not rely on threatened crops,” Shokouhi told Food Matters Live.

The main ingredients in the Ecovado include broad beans, hazelnuts, apples and canola oil. Though Shokouhi notes that other kinds of legumes and oils that are easily obtainable and inexpensive locally may be substituted when making Ecovados in other parts of the world.

A tricky task

Shokouhi says duplicating the delicate flavour of the avocado was a major challenge. The hazelnuts are key. They both add an essential hint of nuttiness avocado connoisseurs will be looking for, and help produce the ‘creaminess’ that is also an avocado trademark.

As for the physical format, the Evocado is molded in the shape of a real avocado, with a whole walnut in the centre standing in for the pit. It’s finished off with a green wax finish. It may not exactly reproduce the unique colour and texture of avocado skin. But it will keep the product inside fresh and protect it from contamination.

A great accomplishment

If the Ecovado is adopted as a product by some enterprising food manufacturer, it could revolutionize the classic Tex-Mex Menu. It could also open the way for folks everywhere to enjoy avocado salads and other dishes that only Southern Californians and others who live in similar climate zones have been able to afford on a regular basis up to now.

“Human ingenuity has made it possible to create all kinds of fakes and simulations that are so convincing that they are hard to distinguish from what they imitate,” Shokouhi says. “Ecovado is an imitation that tries [emphasis mine – Ed.] to improve upon reality, not merely reproduce it. And, hopefully, it will fool even the most sensitive of hipster tastebuds.”

Let’s hope it succeeds

I just hope the Ecovado also comes in significantly cheaper than its authentic counterpart.

~ Maggie J.