As we approach Superbowl Sunday, some of us are thinking about an interesting fruit, a single seeded berry actually, that is the avocado. Of course this fruit is the main ingredient in a tasty snack called “Guacamole.” If you are hosting or attending a Superbowl party, I highly recommend this tasty alternative to many snacks that are far less healthy, such as most cheese dips or any dip containing mostly mayonnaise. Guacamole is made from mashed ripe avocados mixed with any of several different ingredients such as sea salt, onion, tomatoes, lime or lemon juice, cilantro (my favorite), jalapeno or cayenne pepper. The resulting dip or spread is relatively high in calories, at about 234 per cup, (roughly one whole avocado) and more than 80 percent of those calories are derived from fat, but the fat is unsaturated and considered quite healthy. Avocados are considered a very heart healthy food in general. Two medium-size fried chicken wings with the skin on contain about the same number of calories as a cup of avocado, but lack most of the other healthy stuff found in the fruit. Chicken fat, or the oil used to fry the wings is also high in saturated fat. “Alligator pears” as avocados are sometimes called, also contain at least 20 different vitamins and minerals.
Botanically known as Persea americana, in the Laurel family, Avocados are native to south central Mexico but are now widely cultivated in most sub-tropical regions all around the world. Mexico is the world’s largest producer with about 400,000 acres yielding 1.5 million pounds a year. Southern California has about 60,000 acres, (92 percent in San Diego County) and I was surprised to learn that it is the official fruit of California. I would have guessed oranges! At least a half dozen different cultivars are commercially grown, with fruit shaped like small pears to oval shape and large, almost round fruit, the size of a grapefruit. The cultivar “Hass,” named after the man who patented it back in the 1930s, now accounts for 80 percent of all production. His single, original tree, from which all others are derived, died in 2002. This is the variety most of us see in our local supermarkets. The fruit mature on the tree but are picked when still hard and green and allowed to ripen in transport or at the market.
I am fortunate to have a friend here in Florida (Willy) who grows a local variety, commonly called the Florida avocado. These fruit are much larger than “Hass” with green skin, versus the “Hass” speckled, black skin. They are also lower in fat and calories, but in my opinion they are at least as tasty! This may be due to the fact that I can harvest these local fruit in the almost ripe stage, which could never be shipped. The trees Willy has growing are pretty large, at least 50 feet tall and just as wide and spreading. He picks them with a long handled pole with a basket designed specifically for this task. Like coconuts, this is not a fruit you would want to fall and hit you on the head! The trees are majestic and beautiful to look at and they produce fruit almost all year around.
Sadly, Willy has lost many of his avocado trees to a deadly fungal disease called “Laurel wilt” which is spread by nonnative insects called ambrosia beetles. There are pesticides recommended to kill the beetles and suppress the disease, but Willy uses no pesticides in his grove and consequently, he has also lost most of his grapefruit and at least half of his other citrus to another deadly disease called “Greening”. I will have more to say about this disease also as I continue to enjoy my Florida lifestyle. It is wonderful to be able to enjoy truly fresh fruit and vegetables even in the dead of New York’s winter time.