AVOCADO: THE ANCIENT FOOD OF THE FUTUREby Jessica Mobassaleh
The Ancient Fruit
Believe it or not, the birthplace of the avocado is often disputed. While some claim avocados originated in South America and later migrated to Mexico, others claim just the opposite. Many believe that avocados, although having originated in Mexico, were first cultivated in South America where the cultivation wave then migrated back to Mexico. Some also say that the Incas brought the first avocado trees from Peru or Ecuador to the Aconcagua Valley in present day Chile.
In any case, avocados have as rich a history as they have flavor. Dating back to the time of the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans, avocados were the subject of many a myth.
For the Aztecs, avocado was, "the fruit of the kings" and eaten as a luxurious aphrodisiac. The Aztecs also believed that avocado was the fertility fruit and as such, Aztec families would not allow their virgin daughters outside of the house during harvesting season. The Mayans too reserved avocados for royal tables of luxury. It was said that a Mayan princess ate the first avocado and believed it to have mystical, magical powers corresponding with the Aztec view of avocados having aphrodisiac qualities. This sexual stigma about avocados carried through the 19th century where, when growers wanting to cultivate avocados commercially, had to first launch a widespread campaign to try and change the public's view of avocados. Up until this point, avocados where neither purchased nor eaten by anyone wishing to uphold a virtuous or chaste appearance. As we very well know, the grower-sponsored campaign was a success. Avocados are now enjoyed around the world in both sweet and savory ways. Brazilians make avocado milk shakes and avocado ice cream. Indonesians, Filipinos, Jamaicans, and Vietnamese make milk shake desert drinks by blending pureed avocado, milk and sugar.
In Latin America and parts of Central America, avocados are served along side white rice as well as given out as wedding gifts which again, trace back to the avocados' said "fertile" properties. Avocado pulp has even been used as an additive to adobe, a building material, by many Indigenous Populations throughout the Southwestern United States.
While avocados have been used in these various ways for centuries, Chileans and New Zealanders now use avocado in a new way. In these regions, the avocado pulp is pressed to make avocado oil.
While light yet flavorful, avocado oil is typically noted for it's mild avocado taste and subtle walnut undertone. The oil should be deep in color, similar to that of olive oil. Avocado oil however, is derived from the pulp of the avocado rather than the seed or pit, as most other oils, including olive and seed oils. Avocado oil also has a higher viscosity and a higher smoke point (255 degrees Celsius) than olive oil and is of course made without animal products or additives. Avocado oil is typically packaged in dark green bottles which prevents against the degenerative influences of light and oxygen. Like most olive oil, avocado oil is extra- virgin and cold-pressed (cold extraction by centrifugation) which means that it is only pressed once (extra-virgin) and with a cool (45 degrees Celsius) pressing mechanism which helps to maintain the life and integrity of the nutrients in the fruit. Avocado oil is a flavorful, yet healthy alternative to most oils, including olive oil and is even found in cosmetics and skin treatments due to its regenerative and moisturizing properties.
Health and Wellness Benefits
As endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the National Cancer Institute, avocado and avocado oil have been the subject of much research. Such research has concluded that the consumption of the monosaturated fats in avocados actually aid in the absorption of many other nutrients such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene, that might otherwise pass through the body without being absorbed. Further research finds that avocado and avocado oil help to prevent or promote wellness against numerous diseases and conditions such as high cholesterol (LDL), complications in urinary flow, liver disease, prostate cancer, eye disease, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. As such, avocados are part of the National Cancer Institute's National 5-A-Day Program as well as one of natures "Nutrient Boosters" and "Functional Foods". Much of the health acclaim avocados receive is due to the fact that they are trans fat free, while high in good fat/good cholesterol (Monosaturated fats) and low in bad fat/ bad cholesterol (saturated fats.) This in turn helps to increase HDL levels (good cholesterol) while lowering LDL levels (bad cholesterol) essentially helping the blood against cholesterol. Moreover, avocados are packed with micro-nutrients like beta-sitosterol, and vitamins such B6, C, D, and E. And wait, weíre not finished yet. Avocados are also packed with magnesium, potassium, lutein, dietary fibers, folate, riboflavin, and thiamine. In sum, avocados are not only delicious, but are actually one of the most nutritious fruits on earth.
The Environmental Benefits of Avocados
Avocado trees and roots provide numerous benefits to the environment such as reduction of soil erosion and storm run off and also the improvement of water quality. The biggest benefit, however, is the improvement of our air quality. Avocado trees and orchards absorb carbon dioxide and air pollutants as well as produce a tremendous amount of oxygen per year. One avocado tree can produce around 260 pounds of oxygen per year. Two developed/mature avocado trees can provide the amount of oxygen required by a family of four to breathe for one year's time or remove the amount of carbon dioxide a single car produces in over four years time. That's over 50,000 miles of driving!
Trivia (True or False?)
1. Avocados are typically grown during the summer months.
2. Placing an apple in a brown paper bag with unripe avocados speeds the ripening process.
3. Avocados belong to the genus Persea in the Luaraceae family and are fruits.
4. Avocados are also known as Alligator or Avocado Pears.
5. The Mother of all Hass avocado trees is found somewhere in the Yucatan Peninsula.
6. Avocado, which means "pear," was named by Rudolph Hass.
7. Avocados ripen on the tree.
1. False. Avocados are a year round crop.
2. True. The gases that the apple produces cause the avocado to ripen faster.
4. True. This is due in combination with their rough peel and pear like shape.
5. False. The Mother Hass tree - which still produces avocados to this day - lives in La Habra Heights, California.
6. False. The original Nahuatl name, "ahutacatl" actually means testicle which may relate to the fertility/sexual stigma previously mentioned.
7. False. Avocados are "climactic" fruit which means they ripen off the tree after being picked.