Synonyms: alligator pear, summer pear, aguacate, palta
Scientific Name: Persea americana (old nomenclature: Persea gratissima Gaert.)
Family: Lauraceae (Laurel Family)
Native to Central America. Now cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide, e.g. South Africa, California, Brazil, Israel and Spain.
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.
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 centimetres long and grows to a height of 10 to 20 metres. The small, inconspicuous yellow-green flowers are arranged in panicles 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, its greenish yellow to golden flesh surrounding a large seed. Avocados never soften on the tree but fall to the ground while the flesh is still hard. Once they have fallen the water content decreases and the flesh acquires its soft, buttery texture.
The avocado fruit containing up to 25 percent oil as well as vitamins, minerals and trace elements is not only a nutritious and tasty food. The flesh also yields a high-grade edible oil which is used as food oil and in skin care products.
Compared with other natural oils used for skin care avocado oil spreads well, emulsifies more easily and is more rapidly absorbed. It is particularly good for dry, sensitive and flaky skin. The skin becomes soft and supple, flakes and callus disappear. The nutritious avocado oil also accelerates wound healing and cares for scalp and hair.
The name 'avocado' is the Spanish version of the Nahuati (Aztec) word ahuacatl, which is derived from ahuacacuahatl and 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 then became avocado.
The earliest evidence of use of the avocado was found in graves from around 7000 B.C. Archaeologists in Peru 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 skin and hair care. The mashed pulp of the avocado, which they considered a sacred fruit, was used for wound healing 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. Fernandez de Oviedo (1478-1557) – historian and chronicler of the South American conquest – described the avocado for the first time in 1526 in his book 'Sumario de la natural historia de las Indias'. With the Spanish the fruit then 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 also 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 together with their seeds which they would then excrete with their dung a long way from the parent plant. Today the avocado tree has no natural disseminators – except humans who raise imposing indoor plants from the seeds.
In the different cuisines of the world the avocado, with its neutral, nutty flavour, is used in both sweet and savoury dishes. The Taiwanese and Philipinos drink avocado whisked with milk and sugar as dessert. 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 are further examples.
The pulp of the avocado oxidises quickly when exposed to air, becoming an unsightly brown. When making avocado creams there is a good way to prevent this instead of using lemon juice or vinegar: just place the kernel in the finished cream and this will stop it from turning brown.
The plant in our products
Avocado oil is used as a moisturising ingredient in: