What's green and mushy and absolutely delicious? Avocados! I grew up abroad and so I'd only ever heard people from the Americas talking about them, but I'd never seen or tasted one until my family moved to Venezuela when I was in high school. You know how sometimes you try something new/exotic and it takes you a few tries to develop a taste for it? Yeah, that didn't happen here. I fell in love with the smooth, creamy texture the minute I tried it, and the relatively neutral but rich, buttery taste is a perfect accompaniment to an endless array of foods.
It's been pretty cool for me to see how far the avocado has come over the years. From being a relatively obscure food in my childhood to being a popular ingredient in many kinds of global cuisines today, the popularity of the avocado is evident everywhere. Besides being incredibly yummy, avocados also pack a solid dose of protein and a whole lot of healthy, brain-boosting fats. It can easily adapt to whatever you pair it with, whether it's a traditional guacamole, a healthy avocado toast, or even a green avocado superfood smoothie!
The word "avocado" comes from the Spanish "aguacate," which in turn comes from the Nahuatl word "ahuacatl." The fruit was named after the Nahuatl word for a certain part of the male anatomy, due to the mutual resemblance. I'd make a crude joke here, but my editors say that would be low-hanging fruit (pun intended). The earliest evidence of the human interaction with avocados comes from the Puebla region of Mexico, and dates back to around 10,000 BCE. Further evidence suggests that steady cultivation of avocado trees in this regions started a few thousand after that. Today, it's cultivated in warm climates throughout the globe, but I recently learned that there was almost a chance that they'd never have existed at all!
We all love avocados.
They're so popular that guacamole is now considered one of America's favorite dips, and let's face it - every party is better with guac.
In fact, Americans love avocados so much, we consumed nearly 1.9 billion pounds of them in 2014 alone!
Clearly, we're pretty avocado-crazy. Now try to imagine a world where they didn't exist, because that's what almost happened.
You see, the planet is pretty connected to itself. No living thing exists solely on its own, and the avocado is no different. Thousands and thousands of years ago, the avocado developed a symbiotic relationship with prehistoric megafauna like wooly mammoths ...
... giant ground sloths ...
... and glyptodons (large ancestors of armadillos). These giant creatures would eat the avocado whole and their digestive systems would break down the peel and absorb the nutritious pulp.
As for the seed? That was left intact. The avocado is actually a berry, but due to its co-evolution with these megafaunas, it developed one giant seed instead of several tiny seeds like most berries have.
That's because after the giant herbivores were done digesting the avocado, the large seed would be passed along with the rest of the animal's bowel movement. That big ol' pile of dinosaur manure even served as a nice source of fertilizer for the seed.
In this way, the avocado tree spread throughout the warm parts of the Americas.
Unfortunately, time was running out for these prehistoric megafaunas. Climate change eradicated the majority of them, leaving the avocado without the means to propagate itself further.
Still, as the mammoths were dying out, another creature was starting to rise to prominence ...
Humans developed a taste for the avocado and, even though we don't digest and pass the seeds like the mammoths and ground sloths did, we have our own ways of ensuring the survival of plants we find useful.
And that's why, thanks to your ancestors recognizing the value of this magical fruit, we have endless fields of avocados growing today.
To learn more about how avocados almost didn't exist, check out the video below:
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