Known as Aguacate or Alligator Pears: The Folklore, Food and Health Benefits of the Avocado – Sara Dilly

Avocados are a popular fruit consumed in a variety of ways including on toast underneath a sunny-side-up egg, on a rice cake, sliced up in a salad, featured on BLT sandwiches and as the infamous primary ingredient of guacamole. The scientific name of the tree that bears avocados is Persea Americana Mill. (Lauraceae) which can grow up to 65 feet tall. The most common type of avocado is the Hass, however, there are about 500 varieties of avocados, including the Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, Lamb Hass, Pinkerton, Reed and Zutano. Different types of avocados vary in size, color and shape. Avocados are classified as a fruit, according to the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources (“Name, Taxonomy, Botany”, 2018). Fruits have tough outer layers, a middle fleshy layer and encase a seed. Because the avocado is a soft, fleshy fruit with only one tough seed, it is a single-seeded berry as opposed to a drupe. This seed referred to as the “pit” can be buoyed in a cup of water by toothpicks to grow an avocado tree. When picking an avocado, the ripest ones will be browner in color and feel soft when squeezed (Wellness 2017).

Avocados originated in south-central Mexico and were cultivated as early as 500 B.C. Spanish conquistadores originally called this fruit “aguacate” while others called them “alligator pears” given their bumpy green, leathery outer-coat. The first English-language mention of the avocado was by Sir Henry Sloane in 1696, and then in 1871, Judge R.B. Ord of Santa Barbara introduced trees from Mexico into the U.S. Avocados were commercially grown in the early 1900s and by the 1950s, California was the main state shipping them. In 1935, Rudolph Hass patented the “Hass” avocado and it expanded the industry, becoming the leading California variety by the late 1970s. California remains the leading producer of avocados, warranting it the nickname of “the avocado capital of the nation”. Avocado trees grow year-round and yield about 200 pounds of fruit, averaging about 500 pieces (“History of California Avocados” 2018).

Given the extensive history and popularity of the avocado, there is some folklore surrounding this fruit. According to Aztec legend, a man named Seriokai living in Guiana, a country in South America, loved avocados and usually spent the day gathering them. One day while he was out, a tapir wandered into his camp and made Seriokai’s wife fall in love with it. The next day, Seriokai and his wife went out to collect avocados. As he climbed down one tree, his wife hit him over the head, causing him to fall and sever his leg. She ran away with the tapir and the basket of avocados. A neighbor found Seriokai and helped him heal, replacing his leg with a wooden stump. Seriokai then followed the trail of growing avocado trees that had grown as they fell out of his wife’s basket. He found the runaway couple at the end of the world, and shot the tapir in the eye. The tapir leaped off the edge from the pain, and Seriokai’s wife followed her love and jumped as well. Seriokai also jumped off, and the three are said to have turned into Orion (Seriokai), Pleiades (the wife) and Hyades (the tapir with a bleeding eye) in the sky (Neal 2017).

Aside from this and other entertaining myths, Avocados also provide substantial health benefits. Although avocadoes are high in fats, majority of the fat is oleic acid which is a monounsaturated fatty acid, or a “healthy fat”. It has also been linked to lowering LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol (Gunnars 2018). Their high potassium and antioxidant content support healthy blood pressure levels and eye health. The antioxidants are also anti-inflammatory agents (“Avocado” 2005). Avocado oil can soothe and heal skin, treating sclerosis and psoriasis. In addition to medicinal uses, avocados are also used as scents for bath and shower gels and hand soaps (Palsdottir 2016).










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