When the conquistadors first gazed upon this pear-shaped fruit, they did not expect to find such an amazing new discovery. A regular in the diet of the Aztecs, Toltecs and Olmecs, Persea americana, the avocado, has been consumed by humans for thousands of years. Native to Mexico and Central and South America, the Spanish word aguacate comes from the Aztec ahuacuatl, literally meaning “the tree of testicles.” No doubt the name derived from the way the fruit of the tree hangs in pairs, reminding those ancient peoples of the human male anatomy.
Spanish and British shipmen embraced the fruit as a gift sent from the heavens to satiate their longing for the flavor of butter. By the time Cortés entered Tenochtitlán in Mexico, avocado was present in a number of dishes served in the Aztec imperial court, such as the ahuaca-mulli sauce of mashed avocados, onions and fresh cilantro. It is interesting to note that today’s humble guacamole was originally a delicacy served in hopes of increasing the male libido.
The conquistadors discovered that avocado seed yields a milky liquid that becomes red when exposed to air. They found that this reddish-brown, or even blackish, indelible liquid could be used as ink; some documents written in this ink are still in existence today. The English living in Jamaica called avocado “alligator pear” for its slightly bumpy skin.
Throughout the centuries, the popularity of the avocado kept spreading, until the fruit became massively grown in the early 1900s in the southern United States. California postman Rudolf Hass discovered the avocado that bears his name in 1926. His original tree is still growing in La Habra Heights, California. Little did he know that his name would be used for the most popular avocado variety in the world today.
Although the avocado is high in fat, 60% of it is monounsaturated or “good” fat, 20% is polyunsaturated and only 20% is saturated.
The edible portion of a nine-ounce Hass avocado yields about one ounce of fat. Nutritionally, the avocado leads all other fruits in beta-carotene content and exceeds even the banana in potassium content.
While other fruits gain sugar as they ripen, the avocado’s sugar content decreases as it matures. Avocados are rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, as well as calcium, iron and potassium. In fact, avocados contain more protein, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, vitamin E and vitamin K per ounce than any other fruit.
Though the avocado is calorie-dense (one half-cup of pureed flesh contains 204 calories), it packs a protein content of 2.4 grams, with 3.1 grams of fiber and only 8 grams of carbohydrates in a half-cup serving. Though it has numerous nutritional benefits, avocados should be eaten in moderation because of their high fat content.
Recently, avocados have been recognized as a good source of two beneficial compounds: beta-sitosterol and glutathione.
Beta-sitosterol is a widely prescribed anticholesterol compound that interferes with cholesterol absorption, thus promoting lower cholesterol levels. Glutathione is made up of three amino acids, glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine, which function as antioxidants, therefore improving blood circulation.
Gastronomically speaking, the avocado has transcended all borders to be absorbed by numerous types of cuisines, from its original Mexican table magic to new approaches in French, Italian and even Asian cooking. In many restaurants, it is not uncommon to find dishes ranging from pasta with creamy avocado sauces to tempura-battered avocado. In Costa Rica, the green-skinned variety (known as “Florida” avocado) is most common. Some farmers have begun to cultivate “Hass” varieties with decent results, since Ticos do enjoy the taste of Mexican and Californian cuisine. In typical Tico cuisine, the avocado can be found in salads, accompanying casados or ceviches, or in the quintessential avocado dip, guacamole. Similar in style to its Mexican counterpart, Costa Rican guacamole may include chopped tomatoes and is usually not too spicy.
Few fruits can be so versatile in the savory kitchen as the avocado. Don’t be afraid of breaking the rules and using avocado in unorthodox ways; your palate will thank you for experimenting with this exquisite tropical delicacy.
Today’s recipe: grilled avocado with curried pejibaye (peach palm) ¡Buen provecho!
Grilled Avocado with Curried Pejibaye
4 medium, ripe avocados, halved and seeded
10 pejibayes (peach palms), cooked, peeled, thinly sliced
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 medium-size tomato, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup mashed avocado
1/2 tsp. each cumin and coriander seeds
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small chipotle pepper, minced
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Makes four servings.
1. In a medium-sized pan over medium heat, cook the onion, cumin and coriander seeds in vegetable oil for approximately three minutes.
2. Add ginger and garlic and cook for one minute.
3. Incorporate pejibayes, tomato, coconut milk, mashed
avocado, cilantro, chipotle, salt and pepper.
4. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has turned into a creamy sauce. Adjust flavor, remove from heat and reserve.
5. Grill the avocados by placing them cut side down on the grill for two to three minutes. Flip and cook for another two minutes.
6. Remove flesh from skin carefully with a paring knife or spoon and reserve.
7. Arrange the dish by serving two halves of grilled avocado with the pejibaye curry on the side and topped with additional sauce.