Plant science at the dinner table: Avocados
Avocadoes are berries and the main ingredient of guacamole.
Avocados are berries (yes, berries!) in the Lauraceae (laurel) family and are sometimes called alligator pears. Some of the other members of the laurel family include bay leaves, cinnamon, camphor and sassafras. The avocadoes botanical name is Persea americana. The genus Persea consists or evergreen trees that produce berries.
Many people think avocados are drupes, like cherries, peaches and olives. Fruits classified as drupes have very hard, stony coverings around their seeds. This hard covering is called an endocarp, often referred to as a pit. Conversely, avocados are berries because their endocarp is soft and has a smooth texture.
Avocados are native to Latin America and the Caribbean. Mexico is the world’s top producer of avocados. In the United States, California is the top producer with Californian avocadoes available spring through fall.
Here are some fun facts from Michigan State University Extension about avocados:
- Avocados are nutrient-dense.
- Avocados are virtually the only fruit that contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat – the good fat.
- Avocados act as a nutrient booster, helping you to absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A, D, K and E.
- Avocados have been grown for thousands of years, dating back to 500 B.C.
- There are over 400 varieties of avocados grown in the world, but the Hass grown in Mexico and California are the most popular.
- According to the University of California, the Hass avocado got its name from a postal worker, Rudolf Hass, that purchased a seedling from a farmer in 1926 and filed a patent for that variety in 1935.
- The Hass avocado does not start to ripen until it is picked.
- California grows 90% of the avocados grown in the U.S.
- Polyphenol oxidase in the cells of the avocado causes an enzymatic reaction that turns the fruit brown after being cut. When the fruit has oxidized, it does not look good, but it is still safe to eat. To keep avocadoes from “browning,” you can squeeze a little lemon juice on the flesh of the fruit.
Avocadoes are the main ingredient for guacamole. Guacamole has become so popular in the U.S. that it was estimated the U.S. consumed 105 million pounds of guacamole on Super Bowl Sunday in 2022. The downside of this tasty treat is the U.S. and Canada’s appetite for guacamole and avocadoes is leading to deforestation in Mexico.
Here are some facts about guacamole:
- Guacamole is a Mexican dish; the name comes from the classical nahuatl āhuacamōlli, which literally means “avocado sauce.”
- Ancient Aztecs invented guacamole, they called it ahuaca-moli.
- Molli was the Nahautl word for “something mashed” while ahuactl refers to testicles, or the seed of the fruit reminded them of testicles.
- The largest serving of guacamole was created on April 6, 2018, weighing in at 8,351 pounds and took more than 350 people to prepare it.
Ready to try your own tasty guacamole treat? Try this recipe from Natashaskitchen.com.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
3 avocados, (large, ripe)
1 tomato (medium), seeded and diced
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, (1/3 bunch) finely chopped
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Cut three avocados in half lengthwise; remove pits and scrape the flesh of the avocado out with a spoon. Place in a medium bowl with a flat bottom and mash avocados with a potato masher to a chunky consistency.
- Squeeze lime juice directly over avocados while prepping the rest of your ingredients.
- Add diced tomatoes, onion and chopped cilantro. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
- Stir just until combined and serve.