Avoiding "Avocado hand": avocados and Kitchen Safety

Posted in Food and Fun, Mexican Food Recipes

Folks, it’s high time that we discuss a health hazard that’s currently plaguing our country. We typically try to keep things light-hearted on this blog, but we cannot remain silent any longer. As uncomfortable as it may be to talk about, we must acknowledge the dreaded…Avocado Hand.
Now, avocado hand isn’t some kind of disease or infection—in fact, it’s not even an officially recognized medical condition. But surgeons in both the United States and the United Kingdom have noticed a recent surge in the number of people showing up to the emergency room with severe hand and finger lacerations. And when pressed for details, a substantial number of these patients have admitted that they injured themselves while trying to cut an avocado.

Avocados are a more exotic fruit than, say, apples or peaches, so it makes sense that many people don’t know the “correct” way to cut them. Also, avocado flesh can be slippery and mushy, and would-be chefs must be mindful of the large seed (or “pit”) in the center of the fruit when they’re trying to open it up. All of these factors combine to create a food that, while healthy and delicious, can be tricky to work with.

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Here are the steps for cutting an avocado safely and correctly. Please review them, lest your next attempt at homemade guacamole land you in the hospital:

1.) Using a knife, slice into the fruit length-wise until the blade touches the pit.
There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to performing this first step. The traditional way to do it is to grip the avocado in the palm of your non-dominant hand and carefully slice it with a knife held in the other hand. However, if you’re not using a very sharp knife (that is, one that can slice the avocado with ease) or you don’t have much experience in the kitchen, this can be a bit of a challenge. So, another option is to lay the avocado on a cutting board, hold it steady with your fingers, and cut into it (being very mindful of your fingers!). Either way, you’re not “stabbing” or “slashing” the fruit. You need only to pierce the skin and the soft flesh with a slicing motion until the blade is resting against the pit.

2.) Rotate the avocado around your knife.
If your knife is sharp and the avocado is ripe, then this next step should be relatively easy. Instead of trying to saw around the pit or (heaven help you) cut through it, turn the avocado while holding the knife relatively steady. You may have to occasionally use a gentle sawing motion as you’re cutting, but the point is to make the avocado do most of the work—the knife mostly just rests along the pit and slices as the avocado turns around it.

3.) Split the halves.
Once you’ve made a full circle around the avocado and you have a neat, complete slice dividing the fruit in half, put down your knife. Grip one half of the avocado in one hand, and with the other hand, twist off the second half like you’re removing the cap of a water bottle. If you’ve done the previous steps correctly, the avocado now will pop apart easily, and the pit will be nestled neatly inside one of the two halves.

4.) Remove the pit.
You have two main options for getting rid of the seed, and the one you choose to use will probably be dependent upon how you’re planning to prepare the now-cut avocado. If you’re making guacamole or eating the flesh on its own (like you would with a peach or a plum), then you can dig the pit out with a spoon—mashing the flesh is a total non-issue. However, if you need smooth and/or pretty slices, you’ll probably want to use the knife technique: hold the avocado in your non-dominant hand, and with the base of your blade (NOT THE TIP!), give the pit a firm (but not hard or forceful) whack. The knife should sink into the pit just far enough that, when you pull the knife away, the pit will come with it.

5.) Slice as you see fit.
If you’re going to eat the avocado straight out of the skin (no plate necessary), then you can probably skip this step. However, for further preparation, you can use a large spoon to separate the flesh of the avocado from the skin, or use a knife to cut the flesh into slices or cubes. If you’re using a knife, be careful not to pierce the skin as you’re cutting.

That’s really all there is to it, but here are some general tips to keep in mind, too:

  • Watch videos. If you’re having trouble visualizing any of the steps that we outlined earlier, then it may help to watch a video instead of just reading about this topic. Typing “How to slice an avocado” into the search bar on YouTube, for example, brings up more than 200,000 clips—some of which actually feature celebrity chefs!
  • Keep your knives sharp. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, dull knives are potentially more dangerous than sharp knives, as they require you to chop or slice ingredients with more force than should be necessary. And the more time or energy that you have to invest in “wrestling” with a knife, the more likely you are to slip and have an accident. Have your kitchen knives professionally sharpened on a regular basis; this will help them stay in good shape!
  • Consider buying an avocado slicer. Some adults aren’t comfortable handling sharp knives, and kids aren’t always capable of doing so safely. If your family truly loves eating fresh avocados but cutting them is always a huge ordeal, there are other options. Professionally made avocado-slicing tools do exist (what a time to be alive!), and they usually include a serrated edge for cutting the avocado’s skin and flesh, a gripper to remove the pit, and a specially designed slotted spoon for carving the fruit into slices. Many folks scoff at the idea of having “uni-taskers” in their kitchen, but what you keep in your utensil drawer is your business—no one else’s.

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Avocado hand injuries can be quite severe; it’s not uncommon for the resulting cuts to require stitches, and some folks have even reported nerve and muscle injuries that were serious enough to warrant surgical correction. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying avocados or avocado-based dishes, but if you’re going to prepare them at home, then please be careful!

And when in doubt, feel free to leave the avocado-cutting work to the professionals!