By Julie Etra
Mexico is first in the world for avocado production. It is hugely important to the Mexican economy, and its production represents 45.95% of the world’s international export market according to the Agriculture Secretariat (SAGARPA: La Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación).
The Mexican avocado is one of the country’s most successful exports. So far in 2018 there has been a record harvest of 1.997 million tons. The main destinations for avocados include the United States, (79%), Japan (7%), Canada (7%), Spain (2%), France (2%) and the Netherlands (2%). Other major avocado producers include Chile, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia, and Indonesia, while Chile is the second largest exporter to the USA. According to SAGARPA, the demand for the fruit has increased in 26 countries.
From 2013 to 2016, average annual sales were valued at US $740 million, with the number increasing by 15.2% annually. The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, now the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) allowed limited importation of Mexican avocados to 19 states east of the Mississippi River, starting in 1997 and during the months from November through February – those months come before the California avocado harvest, and they are cold enough in the eastern U.S. to kill avocado pests that might endanger the U.S. avocado crop. After extensive testing in 2000, Mexican avocados were allowed all across the U.S. In 2016, the U.S. imported 1.8 billion pounds of avocados, 100 million for all those Super Bowl Sunday snacks. We gotta have our guacamole and chips, after all.
Imported Mexican avocados represent a large percentage of avocado consumption in any number of countries; in Guatemala, for example, they make up close to 100%, Canada gets 95% of all its avocados from Mexico, while Japan comes in at 93%.
The name “avocado” is an anglicization of the original ahuacatl, a Nahuatl (Aztec) word meaning “testicle”; ahuacacuahuitl is Nahuatl for “avocado tree.” Persea americana is the scientific name.
Avocados are native to central Mexico but are also found throughout Central America. Remains were discovered in Tehuacán, Puebla, that date back about 10,000 years. They were cultivated in the Aztec kingdom and were found in Tenochtitlán, Mexico City, where farming was conducted in chinampas on Lake Titicaca. Evidence of its cultivation can also be found in Nuevo Leon. The “Avocado Belt of the Mexican Republic” includes Michoacán, the major area of production at 92%, and the state of Mexico. Avocados require a warm climate; it is too hot on the Oaxacan Coast, as we found out in our own garden.
The major cultivars are Fuerte, Haas, Bacon, Reed, Criollo, and Zutano, with Haas by far in the lead in commercial production. However, there are hundreds of sub species, with varying sizes, some as small as an olive and eaten primarily by parrots and trogons, who help distribute the large, hard seed.
Ancient residents of Mexico including the Aztec, Maya, and other indigenous groups thought that the form of a fruit contributed to its various properties such as promoting strength and virility, acting as an aphrodisiac, and aiding in childbirth.
In the United States avocados were “discovered” by the botanist David Fairchild who originally called them “alligator pears.” The Haas avocado is named for mailman and amateur horticulturalist Rudolph Haas. All commercial, fruit-bearing Hass avocado trees to this date have been grown from grafted seedlings propagated from a single tree that was grown from a seed Haas bought in 1926 and planted on his 1.5-acre property in La Habra Heights in southern California. The first-ever tree was patented as Haas in 1935.
The favorable growing conditions in Mexico, along with a relatively cheap source of labor, account for the profitability of avocado production. Flowering is unique in this plant. The flowers have both male and female parts, but they don’t function at the same time. Each flower is female at its first opening, male at its second. (If you are interested in the process of pollination [by bees] and formation of the fruit, check this link: http://www.ucavo.ucr.edu, and click on “Flowering” in the side menu.) Fruits are harvested with hand‐held poles and baskets and are picked when they are mature, although still hard.
Avocados are extremely nutritious. One-third of a medium avocado (150 g / ± 6 oz.) has only 80 calories, contains monounsaturated fats, and around 20 vitamins and minerals.
OK, we all know about guacamole and have our favorite recipes, and about avocado oil for high temperature frying, with its light and greaseless taste. Avocado soup, avocado sandwiches, avocado skin cream, avocado shampoo. But how about dried and powdered avocado leaves?
I had never seen or even heard of this herb being used in cooking until I came to Huatulco and tried the fabulous Oaxacan black beans, in which their inclusion is essential. You can buy small jars in the Huatulco Organic Market in Santa Cruz; I make my beans vegetarian style without the bacon fat, and my hubby is a super fan. As a powder it has the scent of anise, although when cooked the flavor changes. I add about 2 TBS after the beans are almost done, along with other seasonings. It is one thing that is always in my suitcase on my way back to the states. Essential, and not readily available in the USA.