It was about the size and shape of a big pear, but it remained green even when ripe. It’s flesh was soft and buttery in texture, with a somewhat nutty flavor.
Eventually, it became known as the avocado, from the Aztec word ahuacatl.
The avocado was first introduced to the European public in 1519, by Martin Fernandez de Enciso. Enciso had seen the fruit near what is now Santra Marta, Colombia, at the time of one of the first Spanish expeditions to South America.
During those years of exploration, Europeans first tasted a number of new foods besides the avocado, including corn, chocolate, and the potatoes.
Among some indigenous tribes, the avocado was so highly esteemed that it was used as a wedding gift as well as a gift to welcome visitors.
Today, the avocado is cultivated in many places with a warm or temperate climate, including Australia, Israel, Kenya, New Zealand, North and South America, and the Philippines.
It is one of about 20 tropical fruits that have become commercially important worldwide.
Scattered throughout the tropical lands of the Americas, however, are many varieties of avocado, ranging from some no larger than a hen’s egg to others as big as a medium-sized melon, weighing up to four pounds [2kg].
Their color may vary from green to dark purple, and the skin of some varieties is rough and brittle, while that of others is thin and smooth. It is possible, though, to cultivate orchards that produce avocados of uniform appearance and quality.
When flowering, avocado trees are covered with thousands of pale-yellow blossoms. However, only 1 in 5,000 of these blossoms will become an avocado.
An unusual characteristic of these flowers is that each of them bears a stamen,or pollen-producing structure, and at the same time, a pistil, or ovary-bearing structure.
This could allow for self-pollination were it not for a marvelous mechanism in the avocado tree that programs these structures to be active at separate times.
As a result, some trees open their flowers as pollen receptors with the morning sun and close the flowers at midday. These same flowers then reopen as pollen producers in the evening.
Other trees in the vicinity will have the opposite cycle. Pollination occurs when a tree that is producing pollen is near one that is at the same time receiving pollen. Also, bees or other insects are important to the transfer of the pollen.
Thus, an intricate coordination of sunlight, heat, insects, wind and location makes possible the reproduction of this fruit.
Nutritious and Useful
The avocado has outstanding nutritional value. It is high in vitamin C, niacin, potassium, riboflavin and protein.
It is said to contain no less than 11 vitamins and 14 minerals. In some parts of Central America, an avocado with tortillas is considered a complete meal.
The avocado is also rich in fat, and it’s oil is similar to olive oil in that it contains monousaturated fats.
The oil is also used in the fabrication of soaps and cosmetics.
Almost every part of the avocado tree is useful. The wood is used as fuel. The pit, or seed, is used in South America to mark clothing, since it t leaves an indelible stain.
In some parts of the Philippines, the leaves are used to make tea. The bark of the tree can reportedly be used to tan leather.
Buying and Eating the Fruit
If you go to the market to buy avocados, do not try to judge their ripeness by the color of their skin, since this differs from one variety to another. Try gently squeezing the fruit.
If it is slightly soft, it is ripe. Avocados should be stored in warm, well-ventilated places, and you can aid the ripening process slightly by wrapping them in newspaper.
They may also be kept in refrigerator, even after they have been opened. By sprinkling the open side of the fruit with lemon juice, you may forestall the browning of the pulp.
Many enjoy eating avocados with citrus fruits or tomatoes. Their taste may be enhanced by a sharp or tangy dressing. In addition, the avocado goes well with shrimp, crab or lobster and avocados can be used to advantage in many types of salads.
Some people combine them with other fruits to make a refreshing juice.
When avocados are marshed with spices and other ingredients, a delicious spread is produced that can be used on crackers. Not to be overlooked, of course is the famous guacamole, made with avocados, onions, tomatoes, green peppers and spices.
The fruit can also be served with cooked foods, as part of a main dish. In that case, it should be added at the last moment, being kept away from heat.
Perhaps the avocado already plays an important role in your diet. In some parts of the world, however, it may be considered an exotic and rare fruit.
If you have never tasted an avocado, why not do so the next time you have the opportunity. You may find that this truly versatile fruit is also delicious!