Photo from US Dept. of Agriculture
Avocados originated in Central America, where they were a staple as early as 3500 b.c.e. They originated in soutch central Mexico sometime between 7,000 - 5,000 B.C. Archaeologists in Peru have found avocado seeds buried with Incan mummies from 750 B.C. The avocado tree is a laurel and is related to bay and sassafras. Avocados are a fleshy fruit, not a vegetable. An avocado is a single-seeded berry. As well as eating the fruit, the leaves of an avocado tree can be used as flavoring. The name "avocado" comes form the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which means "testacle." Spanish conquistadores changed it to aguacate. The English word avocado first appears in a mention by Sir Henry Sloane in 1696.
Avocados have a naturally high metabolism and deteriorate faster other fruits, such as apples, pears, and kiwi.
Avocados are native to warm regions and do not keep well at low temperatures. Keeping an avocado in the refrigerator, at temperatures below 50 degrees F will cause it to darken and it will not soften further. Where an avocado comes from determines how low a temperature it can take. Avocados from Mexico are the most cold-tolerant and can be stored at temperatures as low as 40 degrees F. West coast Guatemalan avocados are the least cold-tolerant and must be kept above 54 degrees F. Highlands Guatemalan avocados are intermediate.
The most popular variety of avocado in California is the Hass, which originated in a backyard in La Habra Heights. Avocados were introduced to California from Mexico in 1871 by Judge R.B. Ord of Santa Barbara. Today, California produces about 90% of the nation's crop of avocados, mostly grown between San Luis Obispo and the Mexican border. San Diego produces 60% of this crop and is the avocado capital of the nation.
Avocados don't begin to ripen until after they are picked, so they should be kept on the tree until nearly ready to use. They can be ripened more quickly by putting them in a bag with a banana. A ripe banana emits ethylene, which in turn stimulates the unripe fruit to produce more ethylene, which hastens ripening. Do not refrigerate avocado until after it has ripened, and then only refrigerate for two or three days.
A ripe avocado will be firm, yet will yield to gentle pressure. Hass avocados will be dark green, almost black, if they are ripe. Other varieties may retain their lighter green shade. Avoid any avocado that is very soft or has blemishes on the skin.
Avocados are known for browning rapidly once cut or mashed. This can be remedied by adding an acid, like lime or lemon juice or by airtight wrapping with saran wrap. If the avocado is mashed then the saran wrap should be pressed directly into the surface. If your guacamole does turn brown, simply discard the top brown layer, it should be green underneath.
Avocado grows year round. Avocado trees produce 150-500 pieces of fruit apiece. Brazilians add avocado to ice cream. Filipinos puree avocado with sugar and milk for a dessert drink. Latin Americans wrap avocados and give them as wedding gifts.
California avocado farmers rely on Integrated Pest management to combat pests and diseases, making avocados one of the fruits with the lowest pesticide use. More and more avocados are being grown organic every year. In a year, one avocado tree can absorb the carbon dioxide emmitted by a car traveling 26,000 miles. Two avocado trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four. One acre of avocado trees can remove 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide from the air per year. Avocado orchards in Southern California remove 25-88 lbs of pollutants per acre from the environment.
One serving of avocado = 1 cup, or 150 grams. One serving has 240 calories, 184 of which come from fat. Total fat in a serving is 33 grams, 3 of which are saturated fats. Avocados have no cholesteral, 11 mg. of sodium, 13 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of protein. They contain 25% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Avocados are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and folate.
On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee
California Avocado Commission
University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources
|Monday, June 26, 2006|
Photo from US Dept. of Agriculture