Perses Gratissima is known simply as the avocado pear. Its original Aztecs name was Ahuactl which translates as the ‘testicle fruit’, perhaps so named due to its shape and their belief in its effectiveness as an aphrodisiac. Throughout its history it has been known by many different names. The Trinidians call it Zaboca and the Jamacian call it Alligator pear. However, the name which has gained the most recognition and which it is most commonly known by is avocado. So named by the Spanish conquistadors because they were unable to pronounce the Aztec version.
In addition to its fruit, the Spaniards also discovered that the seed, if cut, yielded a milky substance and when left to the open air it turned reddish, then brown then blackish-brown. This substance was then used as indelible ink in the writing of many official documents which survives to this day.
The avocado is native to Central and South America but can also be found all over the Caribbean. It is an evergreen tree which thrives in tropical and sub-tropical climates that has rich fertile soil.
It can be propagated either from seed or from grafted cuttings; however the preferred propagation method for commercial growers is grafting, not only because quality and quantity can be better controlled, but also when grown from seed it takes a considerably longer time to arrive at the fruit production stage. The trees can grow to a height of between 60 and 70 feet and produce around 120 fruits each year.
It is classified as a flowering plant along with cinnamon and camphor. Although eaten as a vegetable it is in fact a fruit, akin to the banana but with much higher potassium (60%) content. It is a climacteric fruit which means that it matures on the tree but does not ripened until it has been harvested.
Once picked it is housed in mild refrigeration conditions until it reaches its final destination. However, it can remain on the tree for several months after maturity and picked when it is ready for transportation, thus saving on refrigeration and storage costs. Once removed from the cooler it takes between two to three days to ripen.
The fruit comes in many varieties, shapes, sizes and colours, ranging from green to blackish purple. It has a yellowish-greenish flesh which has the texture and appearance of rich, slightly green butter and its nutty to the taste. The flesh is rich in unsaturated fat and contain a wide range of vitamins including Thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin A.
The most common variety used in the US is call the Hass avocado which produces year round and accounts for the majority of cultivated avocados eaten in the US. It is medium size, ovate or egg shaped with a distinctive purplish-black pebbled skin.
It is believed to have many associated health benefits and recognised for its very high content of monounsaturated fat, higher than any other fruit and as such it is seen as an important part of the diet of those who need to control their intake of saturated fats. If taken in large enough quantities it has a positive effect on the lowering blood cholesterol levels.
It is a high calorie food largely because of its fat content and it also contains the highest fibre content of any other fruit of which 75% is insoluble fibre and 25% soluble.
Widely used in the cosmetic industry and thought to have many therapeutic benefits, such as reducing age spots, healing and reducing scars. It is used in a Myriad of moisturising creams and cosmetic preparations because of its effectiveness as a skin softener, achieving excellent results on rough, dry or mistreated skin.
In the culinary world it is recognised as having a high flash point and often used as a substitute for olive oil. The colour of the oil is a rich, attractive emerald green. When it had been cut, if it is exposed to the air for too long it quickly becomes brown and discoloured. This can easily be prevented by pouring a small amount of either lemon or lime juice onto the exposed area, cover with foil or similar to prevent it from drying out and place in the refrigerator.
The avocado can also be grown simply as an attractive decorative house plant from the pit, but will not progress to producing fruit because it needs as a pre requisite, direct sunlight and a second plant within close proximity for cross pollination purposes.