Avocado

Synonyms: alligator pear, summer pear, aguacate, palta
Scientific Name: Persea americana (old nomenclature: Persea gratissima Gaert.)
Family: Lauraceae (Laurel Family)

Habitat

Native to Central America. Now cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide, e.g. South Africa, California, Brazil, Israel and Spain.

Constituents

Flesh: about 25% oils, provitamin A, vitamins B, C and E, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium. Avocado oil: triglycerides, unsaturated fatty acids, e.g. palmitoleic acid, partial glycerides and phospholipids, sterols, carotenoids, provitamin A, vitamins D and E.

Description

The avocado we know as a tasty ingredient of salads and dips is actually the fruit of an evergreen tree which has dark green leaves up to 40 centimeters long and grows to a height of 10 to 20 meters. The small, inconspicuous yellow-green flowers are arranged in branched clusters of several hundred blooms which do not develop into fruits until the tree is about ten years old. There can be as many as a million flowers on a single tree but only a small proportion of these develop into fruits.

Botanically speaking, the round to pear-shaped fruit is a berry with greenish-yellow to golden flesh surrounding a large seed. Avocados never soften on the tree but fall to the ground while the flesh is hard. Once they have fallen, the water content decreases and the flesh acquires its soft, buttery texture.

Uses

The avocado fruit contains up to 25 percent oil, as well as vitamins, minerals and trace elements. The high-grade edible oil is used in cooking and skin care products.

Compared with other natural oils used for skin care, avocado oil spreads well, emulsifies more easily and is more quickly absorbed. It is particularly good for dry, sensitive and flaky skin, helping it become, soft, supple and balanced and smooth. The nutritious avocado oil can also soothe and nurture the scalp and hair.

Interesting Facts

The name "avocado" is the Spanish version of the Nahuati (Aztec) word ahuacatl, which is derived from ahuacacuahatl, literally means "testicle," an apt description of the way the avocado fruits grow in pairs on the tree. The Spanish pronounced the Aztec word "aguacate," which later became avocado.

The earliest evidence of avocado use by humans was found in graves from around 7000 B.C. In Peru, archaeologists found a water jug in the shape of an avocado dating back to the pre-Inca period (c. 900 B.C.). The Aztecs are known to have cultivated avocados. They ate the fruits and used the oil for the skin and hair care. The mashed pulp of the avocado, which they considered a sacred fruit, was used for healing wounds and treatment of gastrointestinal complaints and colic. Avocado puree mixed with oil was considered an aphrodisiac.

When the Spanish arrived in America, the fruit was found from Mexico to Peru. In 1526, Fernandez de Oviedo (1478-1557), historian and chronicler of the South American conquest, described the avocado for the first time in his book "Sumario de la natural historia de las Indias." Transported by the Spanish, the fruit reached the Caribbean, Venezuela, Madeira and the Canary Islands. Today more than 400 cultivars are known around the world.

Incidentally, avocado flowers change sex. One half of the day the flower is ready to receive pollen (female), the other half of the following day the flower sheds pollen (male). Some trees have flowers that are female in the morning and male the following afternoon while others have flowers in which the opposite is the case. Both types of tree must be present close to each other for pollination by bees, flies and wasps to take place.

Avocado seeds used to be dispersed by large mammals such as the South American giant sloth, which is now extinct. The animals would eat the avocado fruits whole including their seeds, which they would then excrete with their dung far from the parent plant. Today, the avocado tree has no natural disseminators – except for humans who raise imposing indoor plants from the seeds.

In the different cuisines of the world, the avocado with its neutral, nutty flavor, is used in both sweet and savory dishes. The Taiwanese and Philipinos drink avocado whisked with milk and sugar as dessert. Further examples include avocado ice cream in South America, sushi with avocado in Japan, avocado dips (guacamole) in Mexico and avocado with milk, coffee and rum as a beverage in Indonesia.

The pulp of the avocado oxidizes quickly when exposed to air, becoming an unsightly brown. To prevent browning when making avocado cream, rather than using lemon juice or vinegar, place the kernel in the finished cream.